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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s  post is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post  is here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism

    Sunday, January 8th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

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

    In reply to Paul L. LaClair post:

    LaClair,

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

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

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

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

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

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

    You can see this difference in your statements such as,

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

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

    How can Christians be Conservative?

    Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    As I mentioned on my other blog, the wife of a liberal friend of mine recently asked some sincere questions trying to understand Conservatives.  I answered her more political question there.  Here I will address the more religiously oriented questions, though they all still have a strong political component. In general she was basically asking, how a sincere Christian could be a Conservative.

    Before answering that question, I want to be clear that I do not subscribe to the opposite position, i.e. I do not question how a Liberal can be a Christian.    While politics and religion do overlap in some areas, rarely are things so clear cut as to lead to a clearly “Christian” political view, be it on the Left or the Right. Also, I want to note that the Conservative movement is itself a broad spectrum of beliefs and not all Conservatives will agree with my answers, especially since not all Conservatives are Christians.

    But back to her questions; as a background she referenced three major touch stones of the Christian faith, at least when it comes to social policy.  The first was the Sermon on the Mount; the second was Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25:40, “I tell you with certainty, since you did it for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.” (ISV)  Finally she mentioned Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches!”

    Against this background she asked three questions. How can conservative Christians oppose the workers right to collectively bargain?  How can they show a lack of concern about the uninsured as seen in their objection to Obamacare? Finally how come, since they are so against government intervention, they seek to use government to impose their view of morality on others, in particular with the Pro-Life movement? I will deal with the last two in future posts.

    As for the first question, as it turns out, this is an issue that Christians are pretty evenly split on.  But I will address it from my view.  First, I have a problem with the whole notion of “workers rights” and see this as part of the general confusion that exists concerning the whole understanding of rights.  In brief, the concept of rights developed from the belief that we are special creations of God, created in his own image, and that God has given us abilities, such as the ability to think and reason.  The basic notion is that what God has given, no one, not even the King, as a right to take away.  Thus we see in the Declaration of Independence,

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    Given this view of rights, there is no such thing as a right to collectively bargain.  Unions, and the arrangements that they make with management, are just one of many potential financial arrangements that employees and employers could enter into.  Thus I would argue that collective bargaining is neither Christian nor Unchristian, and this may very well explain the divergence of views.

    This of course does not meant that particular employers, or particular unions, have not acted in Christian and/or unchristian ways from time to time. This does not mean that employer or unions are always good. History is full of examples on both sides of greed, bad faith, and unconcern of the welfare of “the least of these.”

    In terms of the recent attempt to restrict unions in Wisconsin, and in other states, I have a particular problem.  When dealing with a company driven by profit, there is always the possibility that management is greedy and simply trying to exploit the workers.   Yet when with comes to government employees, they are not unionizing against a greedy owner, but against the people.  In addition, there is the dichotomy, at least for those on the left, that government is supposed to be a benevolent force, not driven by profit, and looking out for our best interest, as opposed to corporations who are out for profit. Yet when it comes to unions, government is just another employer to be demonized.

    Then there is the fact that it is hard to hold that state workers are in “the least of these” category when both the pay and benefits they receive are significantly better than those in the private sector who must pay the bill.  This is especially true where the public sector unions have become a significant political force, such that they have been able to elect politicians beholden to them into office.  These politicians then repay the favor by giving them pay and benefits that well exceed the private sector.

    As a result, many states such as California are in serious financial problems and have huge unfunded liabilities resulting from these union contracts.  Unions can claim that the state made the contract, but they cannot ignore the fact that these contracts were made often under a threat of strike, and often by the very politicians the unions sought to elect.

    Thus one could just as easily turn the whole question around.  Is the Christian position really to side with those workers who are the best off, at the expense of those who must pay the bills; many of whom are worse off, or who will suffer a loss of services, because the money is not there?  Is the Christian position, really to ask those struggling on fixed incomes to do will less even less, because their property taxes must rise to pay the wages of government workers making far more.

    Bottom line: I believe this is a place where Christians of good heart can and do disagree. Not because of the principles of the Christian faith, but how they are applied and how they view the issue.

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part XI

    Friday, November 9th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    Nov 9, 2007, Wausau, Wi   Last time in my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I looked at the flaws in the first three point of what Dawkins calls “the central argument of my book.”  Again, he summarizes this argument in the following six points:

    1 – The appearance of design is one of the greatest challenges to the human intellect.

    2 – The temptation is to attribute design to a designer.

    3 – The designer hypothesis is false because it does not explain who designed the designer. 

    4 – Evolution, the best explanation so far, shows that design at least for biology is an illusion.

    5 – Since in evolution, apparent design is an illusion, it could be an illusion in other areas such as physics.

    6 – We should not give up hope of finding better explanations elsewhere and the weak explanations we do have are better than the explanations that rely on God.

    When we come to point four, that evolution shows that design in biology is an illusion; this of course assumes that not only is evolution a valid theory for the origin of new life forms and biological structures, but that it is a completely explanation.

    Space here does not permit a discussion of all the problems with evolutionary theory, and in any event, these are well discussed elsewhere. So I will just mention two points that cast serious doubt on Dawkins argument. The first is that the problems with evolutionary theory have not decreased over the years, as our understanding has grown, but rather have increased to the point that, as I discuss in my book Evidence for the Bible, even the definition of evolution itself is now unclear, as supporters keep shifting the definition to avoid these problems, frequently in contradictory ways. 

    The second is that, contrary to the claims of evolutionists like Dawkins, evolution is not questioned simply for theological reasons, and not are all of those who question it are even theists. In fact, evolutionists have increasingly had to resort to the suppression of differing views, in order to maintain their dominance, as the evidence contrary to evolution and in support of intelligent design has grown.  In short, the claim that evolution has shown design to be false is simply untrue despite how much evolutionist like Dawkins might want to believe in it.

    Point five, which claims that the apparent design in areas other than biology might also be an illusion, correspondingly falls apart. Yet even if this was not the case, point 5 would still have a huge problem as it is fallacious. It simply does not follow that even if evolution shows design to be an illusion in biology, that it was therefore an illusion elsewhere.  This would be like claiming that just because some apparent suicides turn out to be murder, all apparent suicides could be murder, and therefore we can reject the concept of suicide itself.

    This brings us to last point. It can hardly be called a conclusion.  Rather it is a plea to “not give up hope.”(158)  I must commend Dawkins for his honesty.  Most atheists strongly deny that hope, and it counterpart faith, play any role in their thinking, and in fact are highly critical of theists when they express hope or faith.  But at least theists do not confuse expressions of hope, with logical arguments that make opposing views untenable.

    Dawkins’ does acknowledges that there are problems in the view he defends, but see hope in an old argument frequently employed by atheists.  Chance + enough tries = certainty.  Such reasoning has another name: The Gambler’s fallacy, and the error of such reasoning can be clearly seen in the lavish displays of wealth in such places as Las Vegas.

    Based on Dawkins estimates, where concerning the number of planets he even knocks off a few zeros “for reasons of ordinary prudence”, and where he assumes that life is a one in a billion chance, there would still be billion planet with life, and ours would only be one of them.

    This is at least better that Carl Sagan’s famous estimate of billons and billons of planets.  Yet like Sagan’s it is seriously flawed. Sagan only considered a few of the factors needed for life. Far more rigorous looks at these numbers have shown that if all of them are considered the chance of having even one planet in the entire universe that would support life, are less than 1 in 100, odds that even Dawkins says are to be laughed at. And this is just for a planet that could support life. It does not begin explain how life itself could start. The odds against life starting by chance are so incredibly huge that they are truly beyond comprehension, odds so large that even other atheists have compared them to a miracle.  (For a more complete discussion of these odds, see chapter four in Evidence for the Bible)

    So Dawkins’ hope is based on an off the cuff estimate that are not even close.  Where he estimate billions of planets with life, serious estimates of all the relevant factors show that there should not even be one planet that could support life, much less actually have life.

    So Dawkins argument has serious problems with each of his six points.  It ends with a hope that could only reasonably be called misplaced.  Rather than showing that God is untenable, the evidence points to the existence of God, and this conclusion as grown stronger over the years, not weaker, as we have learned more about life.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part X

    Friday, November 2nd, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Nov 2, 2007, Wausau, Wi—In this installment of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I come to what Dawkins calls “the central argument” of his book. About this argument he claims that if it “is accepted, the factual premise of religion – the God Hypothesis – is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist.” (pp 157, 8) This central argument centers around the apparent design we see in the natural world around us. He summarizes his argument in the following six points:

    1 – The appearance of design is one of the greatest challenged to the human intellect.

    2 – The “temptation” is to attribute design to a designer.

    3 – The designer hypothesis is false because it does not explain who designed the designer.

    4 – Evolution, the best explanation so far, shows that design at least for biology is an illusion.

    5 – Since in evolution, apparent design is an illusion, it could be an illusion in other areas such as physics.

    6 – We should not give up hope of finding better explanations elsewhere and the weak explanations we do have are better than explanations that rely on God.

    I have to admit that when it became clear to me what his actual argument was, I was both shocked and disappointed. I was disappointed because, despite his simplistic approach to the whole subject of religion up to this point, I was still expecting something a little more substantial. This was particularly the case when, in a section on Irreducible Complexity, he spends several pages refuting the claims made in a Jehovah Witness’s track.

    This again reveals a major flaw in Dawkins thinking and his approach, though in his defense, it is one common to all groups. All groups of any size, be they political, religious, or whatever, have those who are on the fringe. By their very nature of being on the fringe they often make arguments that are not representative of the whole, but despite this, opponents often see refuting the fringe to be the same as refuting the whole.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are a small group that are not orthodox Christians and thus not even representative of Christianity, much less theism in general. They are also marked by strong tendency towards anti-intellectualism. Yet Dawkins still spends several pages on one of their tracts, refuting a source that even most theists would not take seriously.

    Not only was I disappointed, I was shocked as to just how bad his argument actually was. In fact, given point six, it is more an expression of hope than an actual rational argument.

    If taken as an argument, there are problems with each of his six points. At first blush, point one may seem reasonable, particularly since it claims the problem of apparent design is only “one of the greatest challenges.” Yet it has a hidden assumption that is very much a problem. In short, apparent design would only be a problem if there wasn’t a designer.

    To be clear, it may be a very great challenge to discover the identity of the designer and perhaps how they executed their design, but the design itself would not be. To see this, imagine that that the first explorers to Mars were to find a watch laying on the ground. While it might be a very difficult problem to discover how the watch came to be there, the fact that the watch had been designed would probably not be an issue at all. As such, apparent design in the natural world around us is only a great problem if design is something that needs to be explained away without resorting to a designer. Thus Dawkins argument falls victim to circular reasoning right off the bat, as his initial premise assumes his conclusion.

    This circular reasoning probably underlies the slanting found in point two when Dawkins talks about the “temptation” to attribute apparent design to a designer as if it this were somehow inherently a false choice to be resisted. While no doubt this is Dawkins’ view, to build it into his argument in this fashion is illegitimate and perhaps shows that even he sees the weakness of his argument and feels a need to push the reader with his choice of words, rather than relying on the strength of his reasoning.

    The problem in point three, who designed the designer, again results from Dawkins’ simplistic approach to the entire subject. The key problem for Dawkins is that whether something was designed or not designed, only comes into play for things that had a beginning. The issue of design is inherently linked with the question of how something came into existence. It is therefore meaningless when discussing things that have always existed. By definition design must precede existence. As such, when talking about an eternal God, the question of who designed God is an irrational question, akin to asking ‘What is the difference between a duck?’ It may at first sounds like a question, but the more you think about it the less sense it makes.

    So, Dawkins third points, is simply false, at least if one is referring to a God such as the eternal God of the Bible. I will look at the problems in the remaining points next time, but it is important to remember that if the premises of an argument are flawed, the argument itself is unsound. Based on the first three points, Dawkins argument already fails.

    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.  

    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.

    Childhood Gods

    Friday, October 5th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Oct 5, 2007, Wausau, Wi  In many  respects, there is nothing like the simple faith of a child, so uncomplicated, so pure.  Like their faith, a child’s view of God is so simple and straightforward. Jesus, recognized this when he said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (MT 19:14)

    But like so many things that are beautiful about childhood,  their desirability declines with age.  While a young child trying to recite John 3:16 as “only forgotten Son” may bring a smile, the older the child is, the less humorous is such a mistake.    The innocence that is so wonderful in a child, in an adult becomes an sad naiveté.

    It is the same with our understanding of God. While we are the children of God, and should humble ourselves like children, as we grow, so should our understanding.  The apostle Paul recognized this when he told the Corinthians “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Cor 13:11)  He went on to say, “Brothers, stop thinking like children.  In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” (1 Cor 14:20 ) 

    While a child like view of God may be admirable in a child, or even in a new Christian, such a view in an older Christian is a indication of a lack of maturity and growth.  More importantly, it is spiritually dangerous.

    This is because children should lead a sheltered life where they do not have to confront things until they are ready. In fact I would argue that one of problems today is that children are exposed too far too much too early, and that we as a society would be much better if we let children be children.

    But a child’s view of God can leave one ill equipped to face the real world. A childlike view of God say that if I just believe and am good then God will bless me and my life will go smoothly. There is some truth to this.  If we have faith in God, and follow His commandments, God will bless us, the first and biggest blessing be the salvation.

    But like so many truths we learned as children, as we grew up we found that things were not always as simple as we once believed.  While God will bless our faithfulness, that does not mean we will receive the blessing immediately, or that bad things will never happen to us.

    The belief that  “If I believe and follow God commandments I will be blessed”  often becomes, if things are not going well, there is no blessing, and if there is no blessing , then that is a sign that there is a problem, a sign of a lack of faith, or an indication of sin.  Again like most false beliefs, there is a grain of truth in this. Sometimes God does withhold His blessing because of a lack of faith, or sin. 

    The problems is that this is not always the case.  Just consider the persecution some Christians have suffered for their faith. Can we really say that if Peter or Paul had simply had more faith, or had sinned less, they would not have be crucified by the Romans?  How about all those who suffered persecution down through the ages, or who suffer persecution today?  Is their suffering an indication that God is dissatisfied with them?  Hardly. 

    The simple fact is that bad things do happen to good people.  Those who faithfully trust and follow God still come down with fatal illnesses,  are involved in auto accidents, are robbed, or murdered, or suffer the loss of a loved one, or even a child. 

    When tragedy strikes, it is quite natural and even proper to ask “Why God?” But for some, tragedy sadly results in more than just the question of why; but it becomes a crisis of faith.  This is because people find it impossible to reconcile their view of God, with their suffering.  ‘Why would a loving God have allowed this to happen to me?”    

    Basically there are only three ways to answer that question.  The first is that the tragedy happened because there is no God to prevent it. Not too surprisingly such an answer results in a loss of faith.  The second is that a loving God wouldn’t have allowed it, and therefore God is not loving. This answer results in anger at God, which leaves one separated from God.

    However, the third way does not question God, either His existence or His love, but ultimately questions our view of God. It is to struggle with God, to seek an answer, and ultimately results in deeper understanding of God and thus a deeper faith.  A faith that is not based on childlike view of God, but on a deeper understanding of who God is, not a God whom we challenge in difficult times, but one whom we can seek comfort in.

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