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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

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  • A Review of Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great – Summary

    Saturday, February 21st, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

    The following is an outline of my review of Christopher Hitchens’, “God is not Great

    Part I – Chapter One
    The definition of Atheism. Do “the faithful” commit more crimes? Are atheist dogmatic?

    Part II – Chapter One
    the “four irreducible objections to religious faith.”  Religion and sex

    Part III – Chapter One.
    Do believers claim to know everything?  “essential knowledge”

    Part IV – Chapter One
    Are we evil, or just partly rational?  What is ‘reason.’ Worldviews.  Reason and the existence of God.

    Part V – Chapter One
     The core weaknesses of atheism: rational evil.  Eugenics and Social Darwinism.

    Part VI – Chapter One
    the “Secular injunction” in Philippians 4:8  Truth, Justice, Lovely, Pure, and Virtue.

     Part VII- Chapter Two
    Why aren’t believers happy?  Christians who interfere in the lives of others? Charitable giving.

    Part VIII – Chapter Two.
    Hitchens and Dennis Prager.   Northern Ireland.

    Part IX – Chapter Three.
    Jews, Muslim and Pork.  Do prohibitions grow out of repressed desire? Being Holy.

    Part X – Chapter Four.
    Religion and Health.  Conspiracy theories. the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc or false cause.

    Part XI – Chapter Four.
    Cardinal Alfonso Lopez de Trujillo and condoms, and the politicization of science.

    Part XII – Chapter Four.
    Religion and Medicine, The fallacy of Hasty Generalization, the Black death. The germ theory of disease. 

    Part XIII – Chapter Five
    The Metaphysical claims of Religion. Atheist’s demand for proof. Religion vs. the behavioral sciences.

    Part XIV – Chapter Five
    The secularization of society.  The fallacies of appeal to the people and appeal to misplaced authority. Ockham’s razor.  Do we need God to explain the universe? probable arguments. deductive logic and inductive logic.

    Part XV – Chapter Six
    Hitchens distorted view of religion. Religion and Superstition.  Miracles, evil, and the problem of evil.

    Part XVI – Chapter Six
    Arguments from design. Paley. Hitchens argument concerning death and the universe.  Design and purpose.

    Part XVII – Chapter Six
    Specific arguments for Design.  Myths used to support evolution. evolution is unfalsifiable.

    Part XVIII – Chapter Seven
    The Old Testament.  Hitchens view of revelation. The Ten Commandments. Slavery. stoning of children for disobedience

    Part XIX – Chapter Eight
    The New Testament. “if English was good enough for Jesus…”  The flat earth.  Biblical scholarship.  Dating the New Testament.

    Part XX – Chapter Eight
    Reliability of the Gospels, Liberal Scholarship. Two major Errors of Hitchens.  The “other gospels.”  Virgin birth. Bart Ehrman.

    Note:  I skipped chapter Nine as it dealt with the Koran.

    Part XXI – Chapter Ten 
    Miracles.  Hume. The resurrection. The nature of miracles.  Freewill.  Proof and evidence.

    Part XXII – Chapter Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen    
    Chapter 10: The lost of belief.  
    Chapter 11:  The origin of religion. The Melanesian “cargo cult” Marjoe Gortner. Mormonism. Chapter 12:  The end of religion
    Chapter 13: Does religion make people better? Martin Luther King.  Abolition.   

    Part XXIII – Chapter Thirteen   
    Who is a Christian. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Hitchens refutes the majority of his  own book.

    Part XXIV – Chapter Thirteen   
    Are atheist immoral? The foundations of morality. Marriage.   

    Note:  I skipped Chapter Fourteen as it deals with eastern religions.

    Part XXV – Chapter Fifteen
    Is Religion Immoral? Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous. doctrine of blood sacrifice. Atonement.  Anti-Semitism. Corporate Guilt.

    Part XXVI – Chapter Fifteen
    Atonement. religious laws that are impossible to obey.

    Part XXVII – Chapter Sixteen
    Is religion child abuse. Abortion.  Evolution myths. Eugenics. Circumcision.

    Part XXVIII – Chapter Seventeen
    Atheists and the evils of the 20th century.  The definition of religion. “the totalitarian mind-set.”

    Part XXIX – Chapter Seventeen
    Hitchens attempts to link 20th century evils to religion. Christians who risked their lives to save others.  Fascism and Christianity.

    Part XXX – Chapter Seventeen
    The problem with focusing on the evil in others.  

    Part XXXI – Chapter Eighteen
    The Resistance of the Rational.  Galileo. Socrates. Gibbon. The Fall of Rome.

    Part XXXII – Chapter Nineteen
    A New Enlightenment.  Lessing. Faith and Reason. Worldviews.

    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 XXXI

    Friday, February 13th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In  my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” I have come to chapter 18, A Finer Tradition: The Resistance of the Rational.  The chapter struck me as a very strange chapter, for it left me with the feeling that Hitchens lives in somewhat of a fantasy world, where atheists are a small but noble underground valiantly fighting in the face of great odds against some dark and evil empire.

     Hitchens view of history is a very black and white one, where everything bad is in some way connected to religion and anything good must be the result of something other than religion.  Thus Hitchens writes, “When we read of the glories of ‘Christian” devotional painting and architecture, or ‘Islamic’ astronomy and medicine, we are talking about advances of civilization and culture.” (p. 254)

    As much as he likes, Hitchens cannot have it both ways.  He cannot have religion “at all times and in all places” subjecting non-believers to “ruthless suppression” (p. 254) on the one hand, but a completely absent force when it comes to the “advances of civilization and culture”  on the other.  People are much too complex to allow for such a nice, neat compartmentalization of their various and diverse aspects of their lives.

    A good example of this is Galileo, whom Hitchens mentions as one who “might have been unmolested  in his telescopic work if he had not been so unwise as to admit that it had cosmological implications.” (p. 255)  Hitchens contrasts this with those  did kept “their innermost thoughts from the scrutiny of the godly.” (p. 255)  Yet the story of Galileo is not so straight forward and simple as atheists like Hitchens seem to believe. 

    As Dava Sobel has written in her excellent book “Galileo’s Daughter,”  Galileo “remained a good Catholic who believed in the power of prayer and endeavored always to conform his duty as a scientist with the destiny of his soul.”  (p. 11-12)  As I point out in Evidence for the Bible “Rather than a conflict between science and religion, or even between science and Christianity, the conflict was at best a conflict with the Catholic Church”  as his works “were published and studied by protestants without conflict.” (p. 85)

    Rather than the titanic struggle between faith and reason that atheists like to claim, this was more an issue of a bureaucracy attempting to maintain its hold on power, as this occurred during the Protestant Reformation.  Even within the Catholic church Galileo had many supporters.  His primary opponents were the Aristotelian professors who were driven more by conflicts between Galileo’s discoveries  and the teachings of Aristotle than any conflict with the Bible.

    Similar problems plague many of Hitchens’ other examples.  Hitchens sees “the original collision between our reasoning faculties and any form of organized faith” in the trial and death of Socrates.  For Hitchens the matter is simple he was “indicted for godlessness and knew is life forfeit.” (p. 255) But like Galileo, things are not quite so simple. 

    In the decade  leading up to his trial, the democracy of Athens was twice over thrown for short periods by pupils of Socrates. When the democracy was restored for the second time in order to resort peace a general amnesty was issued; an amnesty that many must have been unhappy with given the numbers that had been killed. 

    Rather than religion as the driving force, the trial of Socrates was driven more by a mixture  of an attempt to prosecute Socrates despite the amnesty that had been granted and fear that his continuing to gather young students around him without any change in his teachings would spawn yet more attempts to overthrow the democracy of Athens.  

    Much of  Hitchens’ accounts are so vague as to be hard to judge.  For example, writing about Gibbons, and his monumental work “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” he simply says that Hume “warned him that there would be trouble , which there was.” (p. 267)  Exactly what he means by “trouble” and what kind of  trouble Gibbons faced is not stated.

    One source of the problems was the fact that Gibbons argued that Christianity was a cause of the downfall of Rome, a view that other historians have since questioned.  Frankly it is much more likely that the growth of Christianity was a result, rather than a cause of the downfall of Rome. Yet it would seem that in Hitchens’ world, while atheists are completely free to attack, criticize, and ridicule the views of theists, theists must not respond less they be seen as part of some “ruthless suppression.” 

    Again this is not to argue the opposite, that the history of Christianity is all good.  But Hitchens’ black and white approach to these questions hardly supports his claim to be on the side of the rational.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXX

    Friday, February 6th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    I am continuing in my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and his defense of atheism in chapter 17.  Last time, I looked at how Hitchens deftly attempted to shift the blame for the secular evils of the twentieth century onto religion effectively arguing that Christians are to blame because they did not do enough  to prevent the evils committed by atheists.  But there is a deeper issue here, one that is a problem for all groups, theists and atheists alike.

    As I wrote earlier pointing to the evils committed by atheists, is not so much an attack against atheism per se, but rather atheist’s reasoning.   As I wrote in Christianity and Secularism, it is “to point out that any system that involves people can be directed toward evil. I am sure neither Charles Darwin nor Karl Marx intended evil to come from their works. Still, they planted the seeds for the greatest evils in history.” (pg 118)

    The key issue here is that good and bad people can be found in and out of religion.  While history has show that secular regimes have been by far the worst, that could change. Not all religions are the same. The 20th century evils could be eclipse by radical Islam if its adherents can acquire the weapons of mass destruction they are seeking.

    Nor is it impossible that in the future a radical form of Christianity could appear that could be a similar threat.  One of the surest ways to run into problems is to focus too much on the evil in other groups, while assuming your own group is somehow immune.  The danger from evil is ever present and history has clearly shown that being religious or an atheist is not an automatic safeguard.  

    This is nothing new. As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 7:3, we can see the speck in the eyes of others, while missing the beam that is in our own.  Instead of pointing to the past evils committed by others as an example of how bad the current group is, we should instead focus more on current evils and how to stop them and how to prevent evil in the future.   This is not to say that we should ignore past evils, we shouldn’t.  We should learn from them, not in an us-versus-them way, but seeking the common traits, traits that can appear in any group, so that we can avoid them.

    We should also focus more on the beam in our own eye.  One of the easiest ways to fall into evil, is to think you are immune. For Christians, this means acknowledging the great evil that has been done at times in the name of Christ.  But for atheists, it also means acknowledging the great evil done by atheists.  Neither can just blame it on the other.

    It is a simple fact that criticism from within a group will be far more effective at limiting evil than criticism from those outside, as criticism from others is often confused as an attack.  While I could be wrong, I believe that if Muslims in general were to be as outraged over those who target and kill the innocent in the name of Allah, as they have been over cartoons of Mohammad  and stories about alleged mishandling of the Koran, there would be a lot less terrorism.  Likewise, if it were not for the clear and consistent condemnation of the few who have bombed abortion clinics or murdered abortionists, not only by the majority of Christians, but by all anti-abortion groups , I believe there would have been more bombings and murders.

    One of the reasons I believe that the teachings of Christ are so important is not because it automatically makes me a better person, but because it teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).   In addition it teaches that we have hope.  While we are saved by grace, that only begins a process of discipleship in which we should continually strive to be more like Jesus.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXIX

    Friday, January 23rd, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    I am continuing in my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and his defense of atheism in chapter 17.  As I pointed out last time, given how he has attempted to attack religion in the first sixteen chapters, this is pretty much a no win situation for Hitchens, as he has put himself into a box he cannot now escape.  Still that does not deter him from trying, and what follows is a highly selective view of history, in which he attempts to justify his claim that these secular regime, hostile to at least traditional religions and boasting of their scientific foundations, were in fact actually religious rather than secular. 

    Much of Hitchens’ supporting evidence is inconsistent and is at best little better than “grand conspiracy theory ” type thinking that attempts to find the sinister hand of religion pulling the string behind these otherwise  benign atheist fronts.  But some of the problems that run throughout this chapter can be seen in a couple of revealing quotes.  On page 241, Hitchens acknowledges that “Many Christians gave their lives to protect their fellow creatures in this midnight of the century, but the chances that they did so on orders from any priesthood is statistically almost negligible.” 

    This sentence alone is would be enough to fatally damage Hitchens claim. He attempts to write off these Christians who died to protect others, not to mention the many others who likewise risked their lives without dying,  as acting “in accordance only with the dictates of conscience,” hoping thereby to exclude the influence of religion upon their actions. But does religion consist solely of following the orders of a priesthood? 

    It is just a fact that many Popes throughout history have condemned persecution of the Jews by Christians, and that within Christian Europe , the further a Jew lived from Rome, and thus the influence of the Church, the more they were at risk from persecution. This does not absolve Christianity from guilt when it comes to the persecution of the Jews, nor should it.  But if Christians acting in direct contradiction to the dictates from the Rome, can still be seen as religious in their persecution of the  Jews in the Middle Ages, how can Christians risking their lives to save Jews in the 20th century, be seen as secular, simply because they were nor explicitly ordered to do so by a priesthood?  The double standard implicit in Hitchens’ argument is staggering.

    Ultimately, Hitchens’ argument ignores the role of religion in shaping one’s conscience, and one’s sense of duty to our fellow creatures.  Are we really to believe that these Christians who risked their lives to save others, did so completely independent of Biblical teaching such as Lev19:6’s, command not to stand idly by the blood of your  neighbor,  or Jesus’ teaching concerning the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

    And of course, in a nice little sleight of hand,  Hitchens deftly diverts attention away from just whom these fellow creatures needed to be protected from. So what we have here is Christians  risking, and in some cases sacrificing, their lives to save their fellow human being from atheist regimes that sought their extermination, and Hitchens wants us to conclude from this that atheism is free from blame and that religion was actually the culprit.  Talk about turning things upside down.

    From here Hitchens further attempts to make his case by claiming that “those who invoke ‘secular Tyranny in contrast to religion are hoping that we will forget two things: the connection between the Christian churches and fascism, and the capitulation of the churches to National Socialism.” (pg 242)

    This is a classic example of a seemingly devastating point that is really quite meaningless.  Fascism, in the mid-1930s was a large an popular movement with many supporters even in the United States.  Given the size and popularity of  Fascism and number of Christians in Europe, it is hardly surprising that there were some connection between some Christians and Fascism, and in fact there were some Christians who were strong supporters of the fascists. But that hardly makes fascism a religious movement or Christianity responsible.  To put this in perspective it is also a fact the same could be said about Jews, but would anyone seriously claim that Fascism was therefore a Jewish movement?

    The simple fact is that if you look the major leaders of fascism, and communism for that matter, they were atheists who were seeking to apply the principles of science to the governing of society. The intellectual roots of these movements were solidly grounded, not in religion, but in the dialectic materialism of Karl Marx, the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, and philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, particularly on the death of God as an idea that should have any influence us. These leaders, both political and intellectual, saw religion at best as merely a tool to be exploited to achieve their aims, and at worst a competitor to be eliminated.

    As for the capitulation of the churches, this sadly is true, and it is a major mark against the church that it did not do more to resist such evil. But however bad the churches failure, and it was bad, it was still a failure of omission.  Thus Hitchens argument is in reality that the Christians, not atheist are responsible, because the Christians did not do enough to stop the atheists.   A very strange argument indeed.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXVIII

    Friday, January 16th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” I have finally reached chapter 17. At this chapter Hitchens has finished his main arguments against religion, the vast majority of which were examples of religious people behaving badly. Of course this leads to a natural question of what about atheists who have behaved badly.   So here Hitchens attempts to show that same standard he has used to attack religion, somehow does not apply to atheism.

    He sums up the situation writing, “When the worst has been said about  the Inquisition and the  witch trials and the Crusades and the Islamic imperial conquests and the horrors of the Old Testament, is it not true that secular and atheist regimes have committed crimes and massacres that are, in the scale of things, at least as bad if not worse?” (pg 229)

    Hitchens begins his defense with one of his typically sarcastic and false, comments that “it is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than fascists or  Nazis or Stalinists.”  (pg 230).  Hitchens “inexpensive observation” (pg 230) makes a number of errors key to this entire discussion.  The first is that the argument against secularism is not that the crimes of the secular regimes equaled those of religion, but that in a single century they far exceed those of Christianity in 20 centuries.  The Spanish Inquisition one the classic examples of the  crimes of Christianity resulted in the deaths of about 2000 people.  While a terrible crime these number hardly even compare to the 11 million dead in the concentration camps of Hitler, whose crimes don’t even compare to those of Stalin and Mao who were responsible for  the deaths of well over 100 million people.

    More importantly whereas the crimes of Christianity were the result a mixture of corruption in the church and barbaric nature of the past, the crimes of these secular movements occurred in the  enlighten modern times, and were much more inherent to these regimes, than corruptions within them. So there is hardly any equating going on. 

    Primarily such arguments against secularism are aimed at showing the problems with atheist attacks in two ways.  First, even if everything atheists said were true and characterized correctly, this would not argue in favor or secularism as secularism’s record is far worst.  Second it shows the inconsistency, and thus illogical nature of the secular arguments, for the same reasoning can equally be used against them.  Thus in reality it is not so much an attack against atheism per se, but rather atheist’s reasoning.

    Following his initial remarks Hitchens proceeds with his main line of defense  by first attempting to link these secular regimes to religion, writing, “For most of human history, the idea of the total or absolute state was intimately bound up with religion.” (pg 231)  There are a whole range of problems here, not the least of which are historical.   But there is more fundamental problem with this whole line of argument, for no matter how one attempts to make it there are tremendous problems. 

    First is the question of whether these secular movements were religious.  If these secular regimes which were strongly anti-traditional religion were in fact religious,  then one must have a definition of religion that is broader than just a belief in one or more Gods, a definition of religion that would include atheism.

    Now, as I discuss in my book , Christianity and Secularism,  I believe such a broader understanding of religion to be more accurate, and that atheism is at least fundamentally religious.  But if this is the case, then atheists are either arguing against their own views, or their arguments must only apply to some religions, not all. Either way there are problems.  The only other option would be to try and claim that their brand of atheism was not religious like these other types of atheism, but that would certainly involve special pleading.   

    On the other hand if these secular regimes were not religions, but only adopted a characteristic of religion,  there are still major problems. For such characteristic to be found outside of religion would mean that these characteristics were not and of themselves religious but rather something that could be found in religious movements or non-religious movements, and thus could not be held against religion.

    This in fact is a problem with most atheist arguments against religion, and is found throughout Hitchens’ book.   That such evils can be found in religious people, in the end is little more than a confirmation of the biblical teaching that we live in a fallen world corrupted by sin, and that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  (Rom 3:23)

    However if this latter line is taken, the argument against secularism remains, for while these evils can be found in both religious and secular people, the secular regimes of the 20th century rejecting religious morality, and instead looking to science as there guide committed the greatest evils the world has ever know.

    Based on Hitchens’ discussion, he seem to fall into the latter category, ultimately arguing,  not so much against religion, but against “the totalitarian mind-set” that has “‘total answers to all questions.”  While it allows Hitchens to distinguish his view of atheism from these other type of atheism, it likewise excludes all traditional religions that do not share such views. In short, we find that most of his arguments against religion have really been again something else.

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

    Hitchens – God is not Great X

    Friday, August 15th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Continuing my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great” brings be to Chapter Four, which is called, “A Note on Health, to which Religion Can be Hazardous.”   In one sense is completely true. That some religious beliefs can be has hazardous to your health, is a statement few if any would disagree with.  After all, in those religions that practiced human sacrifice, there was a definite health hazard for the one chosen to be sacrifice. However, I suspect that is not what Hitchens is arguing, as he is seeking a much more universal condemnation of religion.

     

    The problem is that the evidence he present does not support anything more universal.  The evidence he presents is basically a stroll through, what even many believers in religion would considered the strange and bizarre. His initial offering is the account of how the attempt to eradicate polio from the world, where blocked by a few “Muslim die-hards” who claimed that that polio vaccine was really joint conspiracy between the United States and United Nation to sterilize true followers of Islam and thereby eradicate the faith. As a result of the ensuing fatwa against taking the vaccine, predictably polio, which had been on the verge of eradication, reemerged in Nigeria, and then to Mecca, from which pilgrims took it disease back to what had been polio free countries.

     

    While a sad and even maddening account, it is hardly an incitement of all of Islam, much less all religion. The reason Hitchens gives for these clerics issuing the fatwa against taking the vaccine had nothing to do with the teaching Islam concerning vaccines, or even medical care in general. It stemmed from a belief that the vaccine was part of a conspiracy. So if anything this is an indictment against that mode of thinking that tends to see grand conspiracies, and secret forces behind events, not an indictment of religion, accept that in this instance the conspiracy involved Islam.

     

    Now perhaps Hitchens would have a point if such conspiracy theories were uniquely tied to religion, but a glance through the currently popular conspiracy theories argues strongly against this.  Consider this partial list: That 9/11 was an inside job; The Federal Reserve is part of a secret plan control the United States; the Moon landing was faked; The government is hiding evidence on UFO’s; The Trilateral Commission is trying to take over the world; and of course the many and conflicting theories on the Kennedy Assassination. (I reject all of these as false.) All are secular conspiracies.  In fact the first two are two of the three conspiracies addressed in the Zeitgeist the movie, the third being that Christianity is itself a conspiracy to control society. When it comes to conspiracy theories that do involve Christianity some are defended by a few atheists such as the resurrection was really a conspiracy, by the early disciples.

     

    Rather than being an indictment against religion one could probably make a good case that these are an indictment against secularism, for as G. K. Chesterton observed, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything.”  Still, I would write them off as a particular problem of the human species, one of many.  Such conspiracy thinking is certainly found among those who are religious, but it is hardly limited to the religious, nor is caused by religion.

     

    That Hitchens uses this as an indictment of religion in general reveals a very fundamental problem that pervades much of his book, and in fact is found in much of the writings of the neo-atheists.  The problem centers around two logical fallacies, the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, and the fallacy of Hasty generalization. I will look at Hasty generalization next time, as it is not only a problem here, but indicative of the examples throughout the rest of the chapter. 

     

    As for the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, it is also called the fallacy of false cause, and refers to claiming a causal relationship between two things, because on preceded the other.  The fallacious reasoning behind this fallacy was clearly presented by one of my teachers by the following example. There is a definite relationship between the amount of concrete in an area, and the amount of rape, the more concrete per square mile, the more rape. Therefore concrete causes rape. Now even though the premises are correct, the conclusion is absurd. The reason for the relationship is that the more concrete, the more people, the more people the more rape. People cause rape, not concrete. 

     

    Yet Hitchens’ example is not much better.  The fatwa against the vaccine was issue by people who were religious, therefore religion must be the problem. In reality the problem was not religion, but conspiracy theories, which are not inherently religious.

     

    This is a peculiar problem with so many of the neo-atheist arguments.  They are purportedly arguing against religion because it is so irrational. And yet so many of their arguments are grounded in not only error, but irrationality.  Now this was just Hitchens opening example, but, as I will discuss next time, the rest of the chapter, does not do much better.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great IV

    Friday, May 16th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week I continue my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great,” At the core of much of Hitchens’ problems with religion is that he sees it in opposition to reason. This core can be seen in many of his statements, such as when he writes, “Past and present religious atrocities have occurred not because we are evil, but because it is a fact of nature that the human species is, biologically, only partly rational.” (pg 8 ) For Hitchens’ religion comes from the irrational part of our nature and is to be resisted.

    There are many problems with Hitchens’ view. For one the idea that “evil” comes from a lack of reason is an overly simplistic one that simply will not stand any serious scrutiny. Reason is a tool of learning, a process or a way of thinking that helps us organize data into meaningful conclusions. But like any tool, such as a hammer, or a gun, whether is it is good or bad, depends on how it is used. Reason can be either good or bad, because intrinsically it is neither. A hammer can be use to build a house, or murder someone. A gun can be used to protect innocent life or take it. Likewise reason is neither moral nor immoral. Reason is amoral.

    Another problem is that the results of reason, the conclusions that are reached using it, are only as good as the raw data used and the framework in which it is applied. To use a phrase common in computers: ‘garbage in garbage out.’

    A recent and visible example of this problem can be seen in the conclusion reached concerning WMD’s in the run up to Iraq war. While critics of the war charge Bush lied, the simple fact is that the conclusion that Iraq had WMD’s was the rational conclusion given the information that was available at the time.

    This is demonstrated by the fact that this conclusion was reached, not just by Bush, or even just by those who supported the war, but was also reached by many who opposed the war. The conclusion was also reached by intelligent services around the world, again even in countries that opposed the war. In fact many of Iraq’s own general’s though they had WMDs. The problem was not that the conclusion was irrational; rather the problem was that data upon which the conclusion was based was flawed.

    Now some would argue that this is not a problem with reason itself, but a problem with the data reason had to work with. Perhaps; and if reason is seen merely as a tool, then there would be little problem. But if reason is seen as a comprehensive worldview in competition with other worldviews, such as those found in religion, then this remains a serious problem for we will never have all the data we would like.

    An even a more serious problem is that if reason is just a tool and requires a framework in which to work, how can the framework be chosen? Hitchens seems to ignore this problem and simply assume the atheistic worldview is the only rational worldview and as such religious worldviews are inherently irrational. Yet reason can function just as well using a Christian worldview as an atheistic worldview. The difference in the conclusions is not because, one is being irrational and the other rational, but rather is driven more by the different fundamental assumptions built in to the respective frameworks.

    For example, Christians look at all the evidence that points to the existence of a god who created the universe. As a result of all this evidence, the conclusion that there is a God who created the world is a rational and easy conclusion to reach. The evidence is pretty clear that the natural universe is not eternal, but rather had a beginning. Since self-creation is a logical absurdity, something else had to cause the universe to come into existence. When one begins to explore what could create the universe as it is, the conclusion that it was God is not at all hard to reach.

    Yet one of the fundamental assumptions of the atheistic worldview is that the material world is the only thing that exists. Given this belief, the only valid evidence would be evidence of the material, which is why atheists so frequently claim there is no evidence for the existence of God. In their worldview the only valid evidence would be direct material evidence sufficient to constitute proof that God exists. Anything else, is deemed insufficient and not really evidence. Thus their claim, that there is no evidence. For the atheist there cannot be, their worldview precludes it.

    How do they explain the origin of the universe? Despite the evidence to the contrary, they believe that it must have been by natural means, as that is the only thing their worldview allows, and any problems are simply explained away as a lack of sufficient knowledge.

    But there are still more problems with Hitchens’ view for as I will point out next time, evil is not always the result of a lack of reason. When unguided by morality, at time evil can be quite rational.

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

    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.