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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part IX

    Friday, October 26th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Oct 26, 2007, Wausau, Wi —  In the last installment of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I looked at Dawkins’ attempted refutation of Aquinas arguments for the existence of God how some of the recent discoveries in science have put atheists like Dawkins in paradox when it comes to the definition of natural and supernatural.  But there are even more problems with Dawkins’ attempted refutation of Aquinas arguments.

    To summarize (and simplify), Aquinas had argued that an infinite sequence of linked events such as cause and effects was impossible and since the natural world is based on such linked events, there must have been something such as  a first cause, to have starting the whole process going in the first place.

    In many respects the theory of the Big Bang confirms Aquinas as it shows that there was in fact a beginning to the universe, that the chain of sequences we see all around us did have a beginning.  This is perhaps why Dawkins does not try, as some have to avoid this argument by claiming that infinite regression is in fact possible.  

    Instead, as we cited last time, Dawkins uses the example of cutting gold in half, again and again.  Eventually you reach a single atom. If you cut the atom into pieces you no longer have gold.  Thus the atom is a natural terminator to the sequence, and since this sequence has a natural terminator, Aquinas’ regression might also have a natural terminator.

    Again, there are many problems with Dawkins’ argument.  Perhaps the most surprising is that this argument actually parallels Aquinas’, as key for Aquinas is that infinite regression is impossible, and to refute it Dawkins cites a regression that does not go on forever.

    While Dawkins does this to claim that Aquinas’ first cause might be natural, there is a major problem.   Aquinas’ arguments are based on things that are inherently linked, such as cause and effect where one is depended in some fashion on the other.  A chicken comes from an egg. No egg, No chicken. The egg came from an earlier chicken, no earlier chicken no egg.  And so on and so on.

    Yet the sequence that Dawkins cites has no such link.  If you have a piece of gold there is no way to tell if it was cut from a large piece or made by combining smaller pieces.  In short, there is no inherent link between a piece of gold and cutting, in the way that there is between chicken and an egg. 

    Thus the sequence that Dawkins cites to try and refute Aquinas is a completely different type of sequence than Aquinas was referring to.   Another way to look at this is to see that that a block of gold is made up of smaller pieces of down to a single atom of gold.  While it may be divided in a series of cuts, down to a single atom, even as a block of gold, it still exists as group of atoms. Any sequence of dividing the block happens only as we may choose to cut it.

    The sequences that Aquinas was referring to were truly sequential, with each step depending on the ones before it.  A chicken cannot be fully grown and still in its egg at the same time.  It is in its egg before it can hatch, it must hatch before it can grow to maturity, it must grow to maturity before it can lay other eggs.  If this was the same type of sequence as Dawkins, then the all could and would exist simultaneously. So Dawkins supposed refutation seem to have completely missed its mark, and actually provides some support for Aquinas.

    Much the same can be said for many of the other arguments in this chapter. While Dawkins does ok on some of the weaker less convincing arguments for God’s existence, on the stronger arguments, it is hard to take Dawkins’ refutation seriously, for his simplistic approach to the subject means that he does not take these arguments seriously and therefore, as with these arguments from Aquinas, fails to really address them.

    However, this may not be totally his fault.  After the philosophers of the 17th and 18th century, these arguments were considered to have little more than historical importance and were not taken seriously, and this is probably what Dawkins was taught in school.  As a scientist, he may not be up to date with current philosophical discussions. But over the latter part of the 20th century, philosophers began to realize that the finding of science had undermined the earlier rejection of these arguments.  As such they are once again being seriously considered.

    So we are still left with the regression of sequences like cause and effect. These cannot go on forever, but must have a beginning, a first cause. This first cause cannot itself be caused, for if it were, it would not be the first. It cannot be part of the natural universe, because if it were it could not then have caused the natural universe.  Since time is part of the natural universe, and was created when the universe was created, this first cause must be eternal. And it must be powerful enough to have caused the universe. 

    Thus Aquinas’ argument still leaves us with an eternal supernatural first cause, powerful enough to have created the entire universe. While not a complete description of God, it is a good start.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part VIII

    Friday, October 19th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Oct 19, 2007, Wausau, Wi — In the last installment of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I looked at some of the problems in Dawkins’ attempted refutation of Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God, or at least the lead up to his main argument.

    To recap, Aquinas’ first three arguments all deal with the impossibility of an infinite regression of linked events.   Such a regression can either go on forever, with no beginning, or it can have a beginning.  Aquinas’ argument is based on the claim that it would be impossible for such regressions to go on forever, but there must have been a beginning to the sequence, a first cause, a first mover, etc.

    When Dawkins’ gets to his main refutation, surprisingly he seems to concede the main force of the Aquinas’ argument, that infinite regressions are impossible, arguing instead that the beginning of the sequence might be natural.

    To justify his position Dawkins writes “Some regresses do reach a natural terminator”  (p 78) and goes on to give the example of cutting a piece of gold into two pieces and then taking one of those pieces and cutting it in two to get two more pieces, and  how this cannot go on forever. Eventually you will get down a single atom of gold, and if you cut that in half, you no longer have Gold.

    While true, like so much of Dawkins criticisms, it really misses the point, and in fact may even be seen as arguing in favor of Aquinas.   It misses the point because the arguments of Aquinas are not based on just any sequence but particular types of sequences.

    In reality, Dawkins argument raises a huge, and little discussed issue that goes to the core of the difference between atheists and theists.  Just what are the natural and the supernatural?  Until recently, the natural world has been understood as the physical universe in which we live which is governed by the laws of nature. The supernatural was then something else, something beyond the natural universe, where the laws of nature as we understand them did not apply.

    Atheists then argued that reality applied only to the natural universe, and that there was nothing beyond the natural universe.  A more nuances argument along these lines was that, while there may be something beyond the natural, since our understanding and knowledge was limited to the natural universe of our existence, it was impossible to know anything beyond the natural.

    This view of natural and supernatural worked well for theist and atheist alike, until in the middle of the twentieth century it began to cause problems for those committed to denying the supernatural.  This was because the discoveries in science, such as the big bang, made it increasingly clear that the natural world had a beginning.  The science clearly showed that at the big bang, reality as we know it, including space, time, and the physical laws that govern how the universe works came into existence.  In short, the natural universe came into existence.   This was very disconcerting to atheists, who had denied the Bible’s claim of a creation, believing instead the universe was eternal.  In fact much of the work in cosmology since has been aimed either directly or indirectly at trying to avoid this conclusion, but to no avail.

    Thus those denying the supernatural were put in a very difficult position, for if the universe had a beginning, it either popped into existence out of nothing for no reason, a proposition that would be akin to magic, and would fly in face of everything they believed, or it came from something that was not part of the natural world and thus would fall under the definition of the supernatural.

    So far most skeptics have avoided this dilemma by effectively reversing their claim that reality is restricted to the natural into the natural is anything that is real. Thus as science has begun to investigate (or speculate) about be a reality beyond the creation of the universe, since scientists are investigating that reality, that reality is automatically assumed to be part of the “natural” universe.

    Yet while such a view may seem to avoid some difficulties, it has may others. For example, much of the rejection of the supernatural is based on the inviolability of the laws of nature.  Miracles such as raising Jesus from the dead, or the parting of the Red Sea, are rejected because they would violate the laws of nature, and the laws of nature cannot be broken and they always apply.  Since they cannot be broken, miracles are impossible.  But what do such arguments mean, if there is a part of natural world where the laws of nature do not apply?

    In short, secularists like Dawkins are caught in a huge paradox. If they stick to the old understanding of natural and supernatural their arguments for rejecting the supernatural at least make some sense, even if they are based on assumptions that Christians would reject.  But then the reality beyond the Big Bang would by definition be the supernatural.  On the other hand, if they expand the concept of natural to include the reality beyond the creation described in the Big Bang theory, they may avoid the problem of seeing this reality as supernatural,  but at the cost of having their arguments against the supernatural fall completely apart.  Either way they have major problems.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part VII

    Friday, October 12th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Oct 12, 2007, Wausau, Wi —This week I return to my extended review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” In the prior parts of this review, I have shown how Dawkins’ simplistic approach to the subject of religion regularly leads him into trouble.  This is especially true when in chapter 3 he begins to deal with the arguments for God’s existence. 

    Not too surprisingly Dawkins starts with the classical proofs for God set forth by Thomas Aquinas.  His view of Aquinas’ arguments is clearly set forth when he says, “The five ‘proofs’ asserted by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century don’t prove anything, and are easily – though I hesitate to say so, given his eminence – exposed as vacuous.” (pg 77) Reading his supposed refutation, it would seem that Dawkins should have hesitated a little longer. 

    To understand the problem with Dawkins refutation, it is first necessary to know a little about Aquinas’ arguments.  It is impossible to fully cover details of these arguments here, but I hope to cover enough to show the serious flaw in Dawkins attempt at refutation. (For those seeking a more in depth discussion of some of these arguments and some of the objections raised by critics should see Chapter two of my book Christianity and Secularism).

    Aquinas’ first three arguments all deal with the impossibility of an infinite regression of linked events.   For example an apple comes from a tree, and the tree grew from a seed, and the seed came from an earlier apple, and so on and so on, further and further into the past. Such a regression can either go on forever, with no beginning, or it can have a beginning.  Aquinas’ argument is based on the claim that it would be impossible for such regressions to go on forever, but there must have been a beginning to the sequence, a first cause, a first mover, etc.

    Unfortunately for Dawkins, he seems too busy finding fault, to have actually have understood the argument.  Dawkins’ first attempt at an argument is to claim that Aquinas’ arguments “make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress… there is absolutely no reason to endow [a terminator of the sequence] with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins, and reading innermost thoughts.”  (pg 77)

    Now it is true that these arguments do not give us a complete picture of God, but neither Aquinas, nor others defending these arguments claim that they did.  After all the main purpose of these arguments is to primarily demonstrate one attribute of God: his existence.  That these arguments do not give us a complete picture of God, is not an argument that they don’t succeed in the purpose for which they were intended.  That a scalpel cannot perform all the tasks needed in surgical operation, is not an argument that a scalpel is useless at the task for which it was intended.

    Yet while these and other arguments for God’s existence don’t need to go beyond demonstrating the existence of god to be effective, often they do.  For example, the arguments based on the impossibility of infinite regression, not only demonstrates the existence of a first mover, first cause or creator, they also tell us more.  For example, for something to be the true beginning of a sequence, it cannot itself be part of a sequence, and therefore must be eternal, which is also an attribute of God. 

    Since everything in the natural universe, is base on cause and effect, an eternal creator could not be part of the natural universe, and thus, must be beyond the natural, or in other words is supernatural in nature. Thus these arguments not only argue for existence, but the existence of an eternal supernatural creator.  While not by any means a complete description of God, it is at least a good start.

    At this point Dawkins’ takes a bizarre side trail to expose what he claims is incompatibility in the out understanding of God.  According to Dawkins, since God is supposedly omniscient, he already knows “how h is going to intervene to change the course of history.”  But since he already knows, he cannot change his mind, and since he cannot change his mind he cannot be omnipotent. 

    Like so many of the supposedly devastating critics of atheists, much of this argument turns on exactly how you define omnipotent.  If it is defined as the ability to do anything, then Dawkins is correct, God is not omnipotent. He cannot, to use another supposedly devastating critique, create a rock that is too heavy for him to move.  On the other hand, if omnipotent is defined as God being so powerful, that his desires are not limited by his ability; that his he can do whatever he desires to do, then there is no problem at all.

    In fact, not only is there no problem, but Dawkins’ supposed refutation, simply demonstrates yet another characteristic of God: that he is unchanging.  So rather than a refutation, now we have these arguments show the existence of an eternal unchanging supernatural creator.

    More next time.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part VI

    Friday, September 14th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Sept 14, 2007, Wausau, Wi  Last time in my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I showed the superficiality of Dawkins’ view of God.   From there, Dawkins begins a discussion of the Founding Father, trying to claim that, “contrary to [The American right’s’] view, the fact that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation was early stated in the terms of the Treaty of Tripoli, drafted in 1796 under George Washington and signed by John Adams in 1797.” (pg 40)

    Once again, the simplicity of Dawkins’ approach leads him into error.  United States is not a Christian nation in the sense that government has established Christianity as the official religion of the United States; which is basically what the Treaty of Tripoli says for it clearly refers to “The Government of the United States.”

    The problem for Dawkins’ is that there is a difference between the government and the nation as a whole. A country is more than just its government.  This is true of all nations, and is particularly true of the United States where even within the government there is a difference between the federal and the states.  Nothing shows this clearer than at the very time Dawkins claims that the Treaty of Tripoli showed that the United States was not a Christian nation, many of the states still had established religions, all of which were Christian.

    Dawkins goes on to claim that, “the genie of religious fanaticism is rampant in present-day America, and the founding fathers would have been horrified…  the founders most certainly were secularists who believe in keeping religion out of politics, and that is enough to place them firmly on the side of those who object, for example, to ostentatious displays in the Ten Commandments in government-owned public places.” (pg 41-2)

    Dawkins’ view is common among secularists, but it conflicts with the actual history.  In fact, as I detail in my book, Christianity and Secularism, the phase  “Separation of Church and State” which is the defining phrase for secularists is not only absent from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, it did not even enter into Constitutional law until 1947, when it was inserted by the Supreme Court.

    While secularist do mention it very often, the very first clause of the First Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” Perhaps the only thing that secularist mention even less, would be the second clause, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The founding father thought that religion was important enough to make this the very first part of the First Amendment.

    Dawkins’ view is even further called into question by the fact that Congress, the day after approving the First Amendment passed a resolution calling for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving.  If the founding fathers were so intent on getting religion out of politics as Dawkins’ claims, how could the very same people who approved the First Amendment the very next day pass such a resolution?  The simple fact is that if Dawkins’ view of their goals were correct, they couldn’t have.

    Rather than being horrified by rampant religious fanaticism as Dawkins’ claims, the British historian Paul Johnson has a much more actuate view when he pointed out that the current dominance of secularism “would have astonished and angered the founding father.” (see Christianity and Secularism, pg 19)

     While it is true the founding fathers did not want an established religion, it was because they saw religion as extremely important, so important that it needed to be the very first thing protected in the Bill of Rights. 

    The founding fathers believed in checks and balances.  The reason they saw religion as so important, is that it was the one thing strong enough to check the growth of government.  They did not fear religion, what they feared was that one group would gain power and use its position to dominate and suppress opposing points of view. In short, that a single view of religion would become a tool of government and used to suppress differing religious views.

    The founding fathers’ view of religion dominated until the middle part of the 20th century.  By then secularism’s distain for religion had grown to the point that religion came to be seen, not as something so important it needed to be protected from government, but something so dangerous that government  it need to be protected from it.

    Thus, starting with the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education ruling, the Supreme Court has effectively rewritten the constitution, allowing the court to reshape American society.  What we have now is what the founding fathers’ feared most, that one religious view, in this case secularism, has gained power and has used that power to reinterpret the First Amendment, and is using the new interpretation to dominate and suppress all competing religious views.

    Thus in the name of freedom, prayer in public schools was prohibited. In the name of freedom, Bible reading in public schools was prohibited.  In the name of freedom, prayer at graduations was prohibited, even if voluntary and done by students.   In the name of freedom, the Ten Commandments were banned from public schools.  In the name of freedom, Christians are routinely told that their values and beliefs are illegitimate in the political process because they are “religious.”  Thus on many issues such as abortion or definition of marriage or family, secularists say you are free to have whatever views you want, just as long as you keep them to yourselves, as only their views can be represented and promoted by government.  That is hardly view of freedom and democracy the founding fathers wanted.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part V

    Friday, September 7th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Sept 7, 2007, Wausau, Wi  So far, in my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I have showed how Dawkins’ arguments in the first chapter of his book concerning religion in general and Christianity in particular are seriously flawed. In chapter two Dawkins turns to the more specific question of God. 

    He starts the chapter with what can at best be characterized as a stereotypical rant, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all the fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, and unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniac, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

    The main justification that Dawkins’ gives for this statement is that Winston Churchill’s son, Randolph, came to a similar conclusion when he read the Old Testament for the first time while in the army. 

    As a result, his views were not based on any serious in depth understanding of the text.  No attempt was made to put any of the books into an historical context.  No attempt was made to put the books into any cultural context.  There was simply a superficial reading.

    Dawkins goes on to write that, “It is unfair to attack such an easy target.” The reason it is so easy is that what Dawkins has done here is to create a strawman view of god that he can then easily knock down, not an accurate depiction of God based on any scholarly analysis of the text.

    Dawkins goes on from this to state his alternative to god, “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.” His alternative is a little confusing because it seems to be, not an alternative to god, but a reason why a god could not exist.  But even as a reason why a god could not exist, it still does not make very much sense because it is based on the premise that a god would be a part of the universe and therefore that would need to evolve.  But a god who created the universe could not be part of the created universe without falling into the absurdity of self creation.

    From there Dawkins goes on to expand the view of religion that sees progress from “primitive tribal animisms, and, through Polytheisms such as those of the Greeks, Romans and Norsemen, to monotheisms such as Judaism and its derivatives, Christianity and Islam.” (pg 32) While this seems like a nice neat theory that fits Dawkins bias to see evolution everywhere, as I discuss in my book, Evidence for the Bible, if anything the opposite is true.  Monotheism seems to devolve into polytheism, and the tendency would seem to be to create more gods, not fewer. Even in modern times, as Western civilization as moved away from Christianity, God has been replaced by many other things, wealth, fame, country, science, nature. Now even in science there are those pushing the concept of Gaia or mother earth.

    While Dawkins purports to discuss polytheism at this point, instead, he quickly switches to ridiculing the Trinity.  That his discussion of the Trinity occurs in the section on polytheism shows once again the superficiality with which Dawkins approach religion.  After quoting a passage from St. Gregory, Dawkins takes one of his characteristic swipes at religion, saying “his words convey a characteristically obscurantist flavor of theology, which – unlike science or most other branches of human scholarship – has not moved on in 18 centuries.”

    The first problem with this is that there was nothing particularly obscure in St. Gregory’s discussion of the Trinity.  That Dawkins finds it obscured is simply more evidence of his superficiality.  Anyone, reading a technical discussion in a field of study where they are not familiar with the key issues, problems, or terminology, is likely to find that discussion obscure.

    Dawkins’ claim that theology has not “moved on in 18 centuries” is equally as false.  Sure the basic doctrines such as God, Jesus Christ, and salvation, have not changed.  But why should they?  If scientists 18 centuries from now still believe in gravity will that be a reason to reject science because it is not moved on?  On the other hand, to say there has been no development in theology in the last 18 centuries is simply false. 

    In fact, just in the last hundred years there’s been tremendous development in our understanding of the Bible, as our understanding of Biblical languages, archaeology, and history have improved.  Granted, these have not challenged the foundations of our faith, and in fact if anything, have strengthened them, has they have demonstrated the reliability of the Bible, and have refuted most of the arguments put forth by critics such as Dawkins, which is perhaps why Dawkins ignores these developments.

    Dawkins’ closes the section on polytheism by attempting to forestall the criticism that the god Dawkins is attacking is not the God that Christians believe in.  His response is that all notions of god are silly and that he is “attacking god, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.”

    While this is a bold and sweeping claim, it does not match the actual arguments in the book.  It would be like claiming you are refuting all of science, when all of your argument relate to alchemy.  Likewise Dawkins’ arguments fall short.

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

    Part I     Part II     Part III    Part IV 

    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 

    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 

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

    Friday, May 25th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    May 25, 2007, Wausau, Wi— The previous parts (I, II, III, IV ) of my review of Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, focused on how distorted Harris’s view of religion was, and pointed out that his critique does not really apply to Christianity.  In part IV we looked at how Harris tried to support his erroneous views with an erroneous understanding of scripture.  But Harris not only has problems with his views of religion and the Bible, he also has problems when it come to the alternative he is supporting.

    Towards the end of his book Harris says that “it is possible to have one’s experience of the world radically transformed.” He then charges that “The problem with religion is that it blends this truth so thoroughly with the venom of unreason.”  As an example of unreason, he cites that Jesus was “the Son of God, born of a virgin, and destined to return to earth trailing clouds of glory.”  (pg. 204) But why are these beliefs unreasonable? We saw in part IV of this review, that it was Harris’ use of the Bible in an attempt to discredit the belief in the virgin birth that was itself grounded in error and irrationality. Earlier in his book he simply dismisses the virgin birth as “an untestable proposition.” What he means by untestable is not clear.

    It is certainly is untestable in the sense that we cannot duplicate the virgin birth in a laboratory, as by definition are all miracles untestable in this sense. They are unique acts of God, not repeatable events governed by natural law.  In a similar fashion all of history is made up of a series of unique acts of men. We cannot put the holocaust into a laboratory and run experiments on it to see if we can duplicate it, nor would we want to if we could. But to deny the holocaust is correctly seen as itself irrational.  Some believe in the Holocaust because the suffered through it. Most believe in the holocaust because of the historical evidence, i.e. the records and sources which because of examination are deem to be reliable and trustworthy. When the last holocaust survivor dies this will be the only way.

    This is normally how we get all of our history. It is the same for the virgin birth, Christians deem the writers of the Bible to be not only reliable and trustworthy, but inspired by God.  Not only is this proposition testable, as I show in my book, Evidence for the Bible, it is the rational conclusion to reach. And despite Harris, testing is not a concept foreign to the Bible.  After all Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “Test everything, hold on to the good.” In 1 Corinthians 15, writing about some who rejected the resurrection, he pointed out that Jesus “appeared to over five hundred of the brother at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” Paul clearly saw the resurrection, not as some abstract theological belief, but as a testable historical event, and there was a implicit challenge in his reference to “most of whom are still alive” that if you do not believe it, you should go and talk to the hundreds who saw it.  Of course with the passing of the first century, and the death of the last eyewitness, all that we have left are the sources, but the fact is that there are more sources for Jesus than we have for most events in antiquity and with the discoveries made during the twentieth century, once again it has been the critics that have had to revise their view of the Bible, and believers who were supported.

    In fact, when you look at the arguments for and against the reliability of the Bible critically, as I point out in my books, the critics have a huge problem for at best their arguments are based on an a priori rejection of the supernatural and at worst are circular.  When you get past all the blustering, and boil it down, they start with the belief that there is no supernatural. Since there is no supernatural, there can be no real miracles. Since the Bible contains descriptions of miracles, either the writers did not know what really happened or they lied. Either way they are unreliable, and thus we cannot trust anything they say unless it shown to be true by other means. This is a nice and neat little package and everything flows from the initial premise, but notice that no actual evidence is required.  Sure evidence is often thrown in, often haphazardly as we saw in part IV with Harris’ attempt to refute the virgin birth from scripture, but it is really just window dressing and not really needed to reach their conclusion.

    What Harris neglects is that all worldviews have fundamental propositions that must to some extent be based on faith.  Within the confines of his worldview, the automatic rejection of things like Jesus really being “the Son of God, born of a virgin, and destined to return to earth trailing clouds of glory.”  (pg. 204) may seem unreasonable leaps of faith.  But that does not change that fact that Harris also must have faith in his fundamental premises.  As such, in many respects, is argument is self-refuting.

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

    Part I     Part II    Part III     Part IV    Part VI 

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

    Friday, May 18th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    May 18, 2007, Wausau, Wi— So far, in our review (I, II, III)  Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, we have seen how Harris’s irrational view of religion has lead him to many false conclusions and beliefs.  Harris attempts to back up some of his claims by pointing to scripture. Not too surprisingly his use of scriptures is just as uncritical as the claims he is trying to support.

    For example, Harris writes, “Anyone who imagines that no justification for the Inquisition can be found in scripture need only consult the Bible to have his view of the matter clarified.” (p 82)He then goes on to cite Deuteronomy 13:12-16 which calls for the total destruction of any town that turns to worship other Gods.  For Harris, this is evidence enough that the Church was following the “Good Book.”  For Harris, there are no questions of historical setting or context.  That these were instructions to the Jewish nation, given before they entered Israel, and thus, might not be applicable Christians in the Middle Ages seem to be irrelevant. The Bible said it, and that is good enough for Harris to use for his attack. 

    Not too surprisingly Harris not only ignores questions about context, he also ignores all the passages that conflict with his views.  Passages such as 1 Peter 3:15-16 which says we should treat unbelievers with “Gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience” because “Christ died once for all.” Romans 12:14 which says we are to “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” or 1 Corinthians 6:12 where Paul asks “What business is it of mine to judge those outside… God will judge those outside” and of judging those inside the church Paul said “Expel the wicked man from among you.” Based on this it is far more likely that it was Pope Leo the IX who was following the teaching of the Bible, when he said the maximum penalty for heresy should be excommunication, while later Popes took the inquisition, not from the Bible, but from a revival of Roman law, as mentioned in Part I.

    While this scriptural error completely undermines one of Harris’ key claims, it is hardly the only one he makes.  In his attempt to discredit the virgin birth, Harris incorrectly claims that the Greek word parthenos (virgin) was an “erroneous translation” of the Hebrews word alma which simply means “‘young woman’, without any implications of virginity.” (pg 95) While it may be in today’s culture that there is no connection to being a young woman and a virgin, that is hardly the case of the time of Isaiah, and in fact every use of alma in the Old Testament refers to a woman who was a virgin. Nor was it Matthew and Luke who were first to translate this as parthenos, as this is how the Septuagint, a Greek translation made several hundred years before Christ,  translates Isaiah 7:14.

    Harris’ further compounds his error by claiming that Mark and John “seem to know nothing about [the virgin birth]” because they do not mention it. Yet just because they do not mentioned it  hardly means they don’t know about it. To claim that it does, commits the logic fallacy called argumentum ad silentio or an argument from silence. Then Harris finishes with yet two more errors. First he cites Romans 1:3 “born of the seed of David” and tries to claim that Paul meant by this that Joseph was Jesus’ father.  The problem with this is that Joseph is not even mentioned in the passage, David is. Thus the two options would be that Paul was attempting to say that David was the father, or that Jesus was a descendant of David. Given the context, and the fact that David had been dead for about 1000 years, it is pretty easy to conclude that the latter was Paul’s point.

    Harris concludes this comedy of errors with the truly bizarre claim that Paul’s statement in Galatians 4:4 and its reference to “born of a woman” also shows that Paul knows nothing of the virgin birth because he does not mention Mary’s virginity, which is again the irrational argument from silence. 

    Much the same could be said for his discussion of the verses that are supposed to teach anti-Semitism, though sadly here he can cite many examples of Christians throughout European history to support him.   It is significant however, the many Popes taught against anti-Semitism, and the papal states were one of the safest places for Jews during this period.  Nor is it insignificant that American Christianity looks to the Bible to justify their support of the Jews, in particular the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 to “bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”

    Harris is correct, that Christians have during their history done great evil.  But I would argue that it was not caused by following the Bible but was more from disobedience to God and his word.  If Harris wants us to use reason over religion, perhaps he should start by taking a more rational approach to understanding what the Bible actually teaches.

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

    Part I     Part II    Part III  Part V    Part VI

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

    Friday, May 11th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    May 11, 2007, Wausau, Wi— I ended part II of my review of Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.  , by pointing out that the view of religion which Harris was refuting was entirely artificial and that it did not represent any actual religion, much less Christianity.  It was also on display in his fundamental belief that religion is at the root of most wars, a false claim we exposed in Part I. 

    In fact,  it would seem according to Harris, that while virtually any evil attributed any religious group can be taken as an example of the core problem with religion in general, nothing good done by any religious group can be legitimately  used to counter this.  In fact he says “Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance and has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on par with fundamentalism.” (p 21).  Fundamentalism, for Harris being the use of violent against those who disagree.  In short, this boils down to if it is bad, it is the result of religion, if it is good, it is the result of something else. In Harris’ world view this something else is often the use of reason, which he sees as the alternative to religion.

    It is hard to take such simplistic Black and White thinking seriously; especially when it is being cloaked in the guise of reason and runs so contrary to the evidence.  The problem with Harris’ approach can be seen in the following passage when he writes, “The only reason anyone is ‘moderate’ in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought (democratic politics, scientific advancement on every front, concern for human rights and end to cultural and geographic isolation, etc). “ (p 19)

    What makes this claim so strange from Harris’ point of view is that this period when religious moderates were doing this assimilation is the Christian era.  Now we must be careful not to fall into the opposite error of Harris and assume that everything good during this period resulted from Christianity and everything bad resulted from something else. The record is much more mixed.  But as I argue in my book Christianity and Secularism,  any objective look at the historical evidence will show that Christianity has on the whole been a very positive force.

    For example, the claim of earlier historians that Christianity caused the downfall of Rome, is now rejected by most. In fact the secular historian Will Durant argues that Christianity played an important role in preserving the culture from the onslaught of barbarism. The church maintained order as civilization crumbled around it.  He goes on point out that as Rome fell leaving the Church to fill the vacuum,  for the first time in European history, “the teachers of mankind preached an ethic of kindliness, obedience, humility, patience, mercy, purity, chastity, and tenderness.”  (cited in Christianity and Secularism, pp 100-101)

    Again as I document in my book, the earlier view that the Church took civilization into the Dark Ages, and it was only when people began to break free of the Church’s hold that we had the Renaissance is a distorted view of history that is no longer accepted by historians.  Even in areas where the church clearly did great evil such as the inquisition, things are not quite so clear cut as Harris would have us believe. According to Harris, the Inquisition resulted because “the medieval church was quick” to follow the “Good Book.” (p 81) Yet reality is not quite so simple. In the eleventh century, Pope Leo IX held that maximum penalty for heresy was excommunication.  Then came the early parts of the renaissance and a revival of Roman Law that started in the city of Bologna in the 12th century. It was from the Roman legal concept of an inquisiti, that the Church developed Inquisition.

    Much of the same can be said for the items in Harris list of thing moderates supposedly assimilated.  Many have noted that science grew out of the Christian world view with most early scientists being Christians.  As for the concern for Human Right, the whole concept of human rights was born out of the idea that we are created in the image of God with certain abilities given by God, and that what God has given, no man, not even the King is in a position arbitrarily take away. This religious foundation can be seen in the Declaration of Independence when it says “All men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.”   It is no coincidence that the recent attempts to remove God as a foundation for rights have thrown the whole concept into turmoil, as no other suitable foundation has yet been found.

    Given Harris’ view that sees only bad in religion, and tries to attribute any good to some other sources, it is no wonder he reaches the conclusions that he does. But such an irrational approach cannot be the foundation for a claim that is trying to contrast religion and reason. 

    Part I     Part II   Part IV   Part V    Part VI