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Elgin’s Books

  • Christianity and Secularism

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

    Monday, March 26th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post is here. His comments are in blue

    “Elgin, it’s not default thinking. It’s empirical thinking. It’s responding to what works.”

    Yet the vast majority of your reply only further demonstrates the contrary. Since you are leaving the discussion I will simply respond to a few points. If you think I skipped something important just let me know and I will address it.

    “That’s right but the difference is that science can take the next step into application.”

    There are several key problems here with the word “application.” For one thing there are significant areas of science that have no application, at least not currently. In addition much, if not most of scientific knowledge precedes any application. Thus making application a prerequisite for any knowledge would invalidate at least parts of science.

    In addition it is unclear what are the limits this application. What kind of application must there be for knowledge to be consider legitimate? Then there are the areas of knowledge, such as history, which are commonly accepted as legitimate, but for which the concept of application is, at best, unclear. Can we legitimately say that Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States? What would be the application of such knowledge?

    The key difference between naturalism and my view is that I focus more on the method of knowledge. Thus applications confirm the usefulness of the method, not just the results. This is an important distinction for it allows me to talk about knowledge in areas such as history, where there is little or no application, but where the methods can still be applied.

    “It isn’t just that “God” is unproven, it’s unprovable according to all we know.”

    This goes back to my comments at the beginning of our discussion concerning the concept of proof. But in any event, the real point is that “to all we know” really means, “to all the naturalist believes” and is again a classic example of default thinking.

    ME: “Yet, I provided evidence, in the form of a rational argument,”

    YOU:” Because that’s not evidence. Read your statement again. Where’s the evidence?”

    This basically demonstrates my point. That which does not support you, you simply ignore. Whether you choose to accept it or not a rational argument is evidence. Reject this and you reject the core of the scientific method upon which your view depends. Your selective acceptance of reason, i.e., you accept it when it reaches the conclusion you like, is hardly a rational position, but instead just more evidence of the flaws within naturalism.

    Concerning your answer to the argument that you requested.

    “1. Knowing that cause and effect as we understand them lead to a seemingly inescapable paradox, you posit an answer based on a series of assumptions.”

    It is only a paradox for naturalism. There is no paradox at all for my view, and in fact this argument is quite consistent with my view. While they are clearly assumptions, they are the assumptions of naturalism, which is the point of the argument. The only real problem with this argument for the naturalist is that it points to a conclusion that naturalism refuses to accept.

    “Maybe there is something about the nature of space-time, and therefore causation that we don’t yet know,”

    I already pointed this out in an early note. While true, it is irrelevant to the point of the argument. The point of the argument is that the evidence we currently have points to something naturalism says cannot exist. Your refusal to accept what, in any other context would be an obvious conclusion, clearly demonstrates that naturalism is inconsistent. Naturalism claims to be empirical relying only on the evidence, but then rejects the current evidence in favor of some hypothetical future possibility. At this point the naturalist abandons the scientific evidence in favor of faith and hope. Faith that naturalism is true, and hope that some evidence that avoids this may be found in the future. Again this is fine. Naturalists would certainly not be the first people in history to hold on to their beliefs in spite of the evidence to the contrary, but it does show that your claims to be open to evidence to the contrary are clearly false, and so perhaps you will not be so quick to ridicule those who disagree with you in the future.

    “That’s a more likely explanation, since that has been the course of scientific discovery to date.”

    Actually the course has been the opposite. For 200 years, naturalist based science has consistently attempted to avoid any concept of a start to the universe, probably because of the implications. From early theories of a steady state universe, to more recent theories that postulated various form of a cycling universe, every attempt so far has had to be discarded as more evidence came in. The course has been opposite of the one you describe. In fact if we just go by the “course of scientific discovery to date” that would be a much better reason to call into question any new theory that the universe did not have a beginning. All previous attempts to make this claim were subsequently overthrown by the evidence, so why shouldn’t any new theory suffer the same fate?

    “2. Out of all the possibilities one could imagine, you settle arbitrarily on a conscious creator.”

    Once again you show that you cannot squarely face the argument as presented, but must instead change it into something you are more comfortable with. In this case so you can divert the argument onto your beliefs on the origins of religion, beliefs which, btw, cannot be verified. Again the argument says nothing about consciousness one way or the other, and so this attempt at refutation is no more valid than the last time you raised it. In short, you cannot refute an argument that does not mention consciousness, by talking about consciousness. You need to deal with the argument, not some straw man of your own creation.

    “We naturalists aren’t in a quandary, as you claim. We merely observe that there are questions we can’t answer yet”

    This is not only a statement of hope, it is a statement of denial, as the only way to not be in a “quandary,” or at least think that you are not, is simply to ignore the argument. Yet this is inconsistent with the principles of naturalism as you have stated them. You can ignore the problem the argument reveals, but that does not make it go away, it just demonstrates your claim to simply follow the evidence is false.

    “if you do, we naturalists will listen and alter our views based on the new evidence – if that ever happens. Y’all refuse to do the same, which is intellectually dishonest.”

    Except that when I demonstrated that the assumptions of naturalism are inconsistent with the best scientific evidence we have, you ignore the evidence and hope things will change in the future. You talk about evidence and reason, but have repeatedly show that you will quickly discard them when they do not support your belief in naturalism. So who is being intellectually dishonest?

    “I don’t mean to be rude but what you’re doing is not interesting or productive.”

    That is fine, as there really is no place left for the discussion to go. I and others have pointed out a number of fallacies and errors in your claims, which for the most part you have just ignored. To move forward, you would need to actually address these fallacies and errors, providing either explanations for why they are not fallacious or in error, which for many would not be possible; or attempt to restate the arguments so as to remove the fallacies and errors. However, instead of refuting or correcting them, you have basically denied that naturalism can be rationally evaluation. This not only conflicts with your claim on the importance of verification, but make further discussion difficult at best, unless you resort to repetition of previously refuted argument, which you have done.

    The only other way to more forward would be for you to face the implications of the argument based on origin I cited, but to do this would be to acknowledge the fatal flaw in naturalism, which you clearly cannot do, for to do this would be to abandon naturalism. Instead you have appealed to hope. This is fine, but it against precludes further discussion because I cannot know what may or may not be discovered in the future, and you have again precluded naturalism from being evaluated. But realize that this is a hope that runs contrary to you claims, and is in fact exactly what you are so critical of others for doing.

    But, in any event, I do what to thank you for an interesting discussion.

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Saturday, January 14th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post is here. His comments are in blue


    “Elgin, you’re a bright fellow, so if you will select what you think is your best and most devastating argument against my position, I’ll give you a response along the same lines. Feel free to reference your argument by date and time of your post.”

    Well the refutation of naturalism rests on several points.  One line of argument is it’s many internal inconsistencies that I and others have pointed out.   Another is the very practical one centered on the numerous errors and fallacies of its defenders, not only here but elsewhere.  At my blog (, for example, I did extensive reviews detailing the errors and fallacies of the Neo-atheist books of Hitchens (, Dawkins ( and Harris (  If the supporters of a position cannot put forth a rational defense of  that position, why should it be accepted?

    Still if I had to pick just one I guess it would be the argument based on origins that I laid out early.  This is because; it depends on the framework of naturalism.  For convenience, I will repeat it here and expand a bit.

    The current evidence supports that the natural universe as we know it had a beginning and could not have existed forever. 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.

    Granted the first premise is provisional given the advancement of science, but for some time this has been the scientific position and seems pretty sound. The point here is that for the naturalist to question the validity of this premise would be to question the validity of science; something they cannot do and remain consistent.

    As for the two options this is simply an expression of the law of the excluded middle. To question this would be to call the entire foundation of science and thus naturalism into question.

    Now the naturalist could just accept that the universe came from nothing, and some do. But this explanation would conflict with the scientific method. It is basically magic.  If “it came from nothing” were to be seen as a legitimate explanation for events, it could explain anything, and there would be no need for science. Naturalists could argue that this was a special case, but that would only be an admission that the rules they use elsewhere do not apply here, i.e., that naturalism does not explain everything.

    So that leaves the claim that it came from something.  But if this is true, this would only demonstrate that there was something else beyond the natural world, and that naturalism is not the complete description that naturalists claim.

    Again this is a deductive argument, which means that if the premises are true, and naturalism would have to say that they are, and the structure is valid, which it is, then the conclusion must be sound, or in other words, the conclusion is obvious, and it no matter how you go about it, it refutes naturalism.

    Thus for me, it is no wonder naturalists refuse to face squarely this argument. They can’t and remain naturalists, at least not in any universal sense.

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Saturday, January 14th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post is here. His comments are in blue


    “Your emperor has no clothes. You keep insisting that I should debate with you about the intricacies of his magnificent garments.”

    What I have done is ask that you respond to the irrationalities of your argument. You want to talk about reason, yet you refuse to acknowledge that reason has anything to say about your position. It would appear that you have fallen into what I call default thinking.  This is where someone assumes that their world view is by definition correct and then demands that anyone who disagrees prove them wrong within their framework.

    For example, a theist who had fallen into default thinking, might take as their starting point, or default, the belief that God exists and is the foundation of everything, and then demand that critics point to something that was beyond the realm of God. I know that you would disagree with such a view, but I hope that you can also see the rational errors in this view.  It is ultimately a tautology.

    “To be more specific, a debate over whether and how a Great Unicorn might relate to a God would be comically and exclusively academic, since neither entity is known to exist.”

    Even scientifically this is incorrect.  For example, if science restricted itself only to entities known to exist, it would vastly limit its reach.  For example, the sub -atomic particle charm was ultimately postulated because someone did not like the idea of only 3 particles and figured 4 was better number. They were wrong on the ultimate number but this only demonstrates that even errors can be useful at times. In any event, they postulated what a fourth particle might be like. Once they had an idea of what it might be like, they set out to look for it and eventually found it.

    Still, none of this affects, the two fallacies I pointed out with your argument, and as such your earlier argument remains irrational.  Your questions in this note are irrelevant, given this underlying irrationality, except that you have simply added additional errors to the previous fallacies.  None of it actually addressed the linguistic point that I was making and the fallacy of equivocation that I pointed out.

    “Notice how this takes us back to a naturalistic framework, where we insist that fact claims be verified.”

    A nice example of your default thinking.  I have no doubt that viewed from within your framework, your framework looks fine and theism doesn’t.  However, you claim that in your framework facts must be verified, but what I, and others have been pointing out is that you simple ignore all attempts to apply the same standards to your framework itself, and to the arguments you use.

    “We’re saying there’s nothing else beyond what we can verify but we’re only saying it provisionally, just as we say everything in science provisionally”

    The core problem is, that this is a statement that you cannot verify. It is a statement that must just be accepted.  You make your assumptions, others make theirs and come to different conclusions. The real problem is that you then attempt to ridicule those who do not share you assumption, demanding that their assumptions be verified.  Thus in short you are holding those you disagree with to a different standard than that to which you hold yourself. You demand that their assumptions be verified, when yours cannot.  So just who is the emperor with no clothes?

    “if you provide us with more evidence, then we’ll expand our conception of the universe”

    Yet, I provided evidence, in the form of a rational argument, that reality consisted of more than the natural world, and thus, that the claims of naturalism were false.  Yet you basically ignored it.

    “It’s a practical philosophy, in other words, a philosophy that guides us toward living more productive and useful lives.”

    Again you assume that only your worldview does this. Yet all the productivity and usefulness that you claim as the benefits of naturalism fits equally as well in my world view. In short I see “naturalism” as a subset of my views, and that naturalism ultimately only artificially limits and restricts for no rational basis. I would add to this the numerous studies that show that practicing theists tend to lead longer, happier and more fulfilled lives. Given the evidence, why would I ever want to restrict my concept of reality?

    “Notice also that I didn’t say that God does not exist, only that God is not known to exist. Therefore, any fact claim about “God” lacks the necessary framework for reliability” and “every fact claim about God is a fact claim about something no one knows anything about.”

    These are arguments rooted within the framework of naturalism. The structure and logic of the arguments are ok. It is the underlying premises of naturalism that I would reject.   Thus from my point of view, I not only believe in God. I believe there is considerable evidence that He does exist, and that we can in fact know something about him. I understand that you disagree with these statements.  The big difference between us from my point of view, is that you artificially, and irrationally, restrict reality to the natural world, and given your presuppositions, are thus incapable of acknowledging any of the evidence for God as long as you stay within your framework.

    Before you revert back to your arguments grounded in culture to explain my views, I would point out that again not only are they irrational, they are very unlikely to be persuasive in my case because I grew up as an atheist and opponent of my current views.  My journey to my current views certainly has a spiritual component, but it also has a significant intellectual component, where I found the argument I used to defend my beliefs simply did not stand up to the same sorts of critical analysis I was using on those with whom I disagreed. In short culture had very little to do with my current views.

    “The point of the Great Unicorn example is not to get into the internal logic of your enterprise but to illustrate its absurdity”

    This is really turning things on their head.  The principles of logic are not tied to any particular framework, but instead rest on 3 fundamental laws: the laws of Identity, the Excluded Middle, and Contradiction which is also sometimes called the Law of Non-Contradiction.  Granted, not all world views accept these laws, but they are accepted by most theists, and are key to the scientific method and thus to naturalism.

    While these must operate within a framework such as theism or naturalism to reach a sound conclusion, errors that result in fallacies or invalid arguments are often independent of the framework. Thus the errors I have pointed out in your argument are not based on my framework, but ultimately go back to violations of these fundamental laws of thought. This is why I, and others, have pointed out that naturalism is self-refuting, for these laws form one of the foundations of naturalism, yet naturalism violated these laws.  Thus it is internally inconsistent and thus self-refuting.

    I will handle you specific argument to me in a separate post.

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Thursday, January 12th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post is here. His comments are in blue


    I am assuming that I am included in your comments to,

    “You guys are a hoot, expecting people who are rooted in reason and scientific method to accept your “philosophy” as a legitimate discipline.”

    What is “a hoot” is your describing yourself as “rooted in reason and scientific” when your arguments have been filled with irrationalities and errors. I have repeatedly pointed these out, but for the most part you have simply ignored them.

    Your argument above is a case in point. You claim to be “rooted in reason” yet when presented with a rational argument that conflicts with what you want to believe in, you refuse to deal with it rationally. Instead of dealing with the actual reason and evidence presented against your position, you make grand claims about your position and question your opponent’s legitimacy as if that was an actual argument. This is sophistry not rational argument.

    “Put your claims to the test: Consider the wealth of scientific and technological advancements spawned by science. Now try to name one advance in science or technology spawned by academic philosophy without being checked and verified.”

    This is another case in point. What you apparently are blinded to is the fact that historically science is a branch of philosophy and the scientific method is grounded in philosophy. The problem is not between science and “philosophy,” as the two overlap too much. Remove what you label “philosophy” from the scientific method and you would gut the scientific method leaving it useless.

    The real problem is that you conflate the scientific method with your world view of naturalism to the point that, in your mind, the two are indistinguishable. As such any arguments that refute your world view are taken as an attack on science. This is why you can make such irrational challenges as you have, because you fail to see the distinction between the two.

    Thus, you see one side as “the wealth of scientific and technological advancements spawned by science” as if that somehow uniquely represents your views. In a previous note I pointed out that, “Naturalists in the past have argued that the advances of science justify their assumptions.” In your reply, you denied this, but here you are making an argument that assumes it.

    So one problem that I have with your argument is that I see, “the wealth of scientific and technological advancements spawned by science” as also supporting my view as well as yours. So the contrast your argument requires to be valid does not exist. There are additional problem and assumptions in your argument, but this is sufficient to show its irrationality.

    “There’s no need for a war between science and philosophy, the two should complement each other. But you guys seem to think that you can play internal logic games, completely overlooking the multiple assumptions you’re making, call it philosophy and imagine you’ve said something useful.”

    This is really amusing. I agree there is no war between science and philosophy. As I said above the two are closely related. The problem is not with science, but with naturalism. So you defend your views by conflating them with science, and then immediately follow this with a claim that we are “completely overlooking the multiple assumptions” we are making.

    More importantly, I and others here have repeatedly pointed out the problems with the assumptions made by naturalism, problems you have repeatedly just ‘overlooked.’

    Still, if you think we are making “multiple assumptions” fine. I certainly would not deny this as everyone, including you, makes assumptions. So that is not really at issue. The question is: are these assumptions reasonable and consistent. What I and others have pointed out is that the assumptions of naturalism are not. They are internally inconsistent, and therefore naturalism is self-refuting. And to be clear, to say that naturalism is self-refuting, says nothing at all about science. Science is common to both my world view and yours. What is in question here is not science, but our different world views.

    Now, if you think my assumptions are flawed, the please tell me what these assumptions are, and then demonstrate why they are problematic. In short, “put your claims to the test.”

    “In this discussion, you’re being driven not by reason but by the fact that you don’t agree with me.”

    I cannot speak for others, but I don’t see any difference between “reason” and “disagreeing with you.” I disagree with you because I believe your position to be at least on some points irrational, and my replies have detailed the reasons and evidence for my objections.

    “There’s nothing rational or objective about your arguments; they are merely self-justifying rationalizations for the result you want, and the proof of that pudding is that you keep trying to making wishful thinking respectable and to put it on a par with science.”

    Yet another case in point. You make the claim that my arguments were “self-justifying rationalizations” but claiming something and demonstrating it are two different things. You have made a lot of claims. I have challenged a number of them that I disagreed with by citing the reason and evidence for my disagreement. Much of this you have just ignored.

    More to the point, I have pointed out a number of irrationalities and errors in your arguments. While you have disagreed with my points you have not demonstrated any flaws in my actual reasoning, or errors in my evidence. Saying you disagree, is not quite the same thing as demonstrating an error. Instead, you have done, what you did here, repeat lines of argument that have already been addressed and refuted.

    “If you really weren’t challenged by the arguments against your point of view, you would have called me a fool and moved on.”

    Talk about, “self-justifying rationalizations,” how can you believe this, and yet claim to be on the side of reason?

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post is here. His comments are in blue


    In relation to your claim that my argument involves consciousness you said:

    “Yes it does. It has to, if you’re going to offer an apologetic for theism, as Plantinga does.”

    While, an argument for theism would involve a concept of consciousness, I was not making an argument for theism. Look at the conclusion of my argument it does not mention God. I put forth an argument that demonstrated a key, and I believe fatal, flaw in the claims of naturalism.  While this could be a first step towards building an argument for theism, it is not itself an argument for theism as many other steps would be necessary.  Thus it does not involve consciousness, and your claim that “it has to” is again simply in error.  But while not sufficient to demonstrate theism, it is more than sufficient to refute naturalism, which was the point I was making.

    I find this to be a common problem among non-theists; they always want to jump to the conclusion of god, and then claim there is no evidence.  Any attempt to demonstrate the problems with their thinking or any attempt to build towards theism that involves a multi-step argument is effectively rejected, seemingly regardless of the soundness of the individual steps.  Arguments are evaluated not on their merits, but on whether they could lend support to theistic claims.

    For many non-theists, arguments such as the one I put forth are really crucial, because much of their rejection of theism is based either formally or informally on the concept that the natural world is the only thing that exists, or at least is the only thing that we can know about.  During the latter part of the 20th century, such views became increasingly untenable, which is why theism is once again under serious discussion.

    So my argument still stands, and still refutes the claims of naturalism.

    In relation to my pointing to the historical role of the Judeo-Christian world view as a refutation of your claim that theistic thinking had retarded scientific progress you replied simply,

    “You seem to have met yourself coming ’round the barn.”

    Sorry, but it is not at all clear what your point is, or even the relationship of this statement to my refutation of your claim, and as such it hardly refutes what I said.  Perhaps you could clarify your argument.

    Science, Religion, and Naturalism, continued

    Monday, January 9th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Paul L. LaClair’s post is here.  His comments are in blue


    “That the universe as we know it had a beginning does not mean that we understand the origins of that universe in the only context we know, which is space-time, beyond saying that a Big Bang appears to have occurred; in other words, we still have no idea why it happened that way.”

    You are side stepping the argument I made, by trying to add additional conditions that were not part of the argument. I did not claim that we understood the origins. Again the argument I made is a simple deductive argument (technically a disjunctive syllogism). The only way to refute it is to show that the logic is invalid, or that one of the premises is false. If the premises are true, and I believe they are, and the logic is valid, which it is; then the conclusion must be sound.

    Still, you have pretty much supported my argument, if “in the only context we know” is the natural world. Then any other means would be the “non-natural explanation” of the argument.

    Granted there may be some other option that we have no evidence for or understanding of, but in that case, who is the one that is relying strictly on the evidence, and who is the one ignoring the evidence because it points to something that their worldview says cannot exist?

    “In no way does anything we know suggest that consciousness predated matter, which is theism’s seminal claim.”

    Again my argument said nothing about consciousness. This is the classic straw man fallacy. Change the argument to something you think you can more easily refute.

    “On the contrary, everything we know about consciousness says that it is the product of an organic (material) brain.”

    You already mentioned this, and I already addressed this point by pointing out how irrational such a line of reasoning is, but you have yet to reply to my objections. In case you missed it, here are my comments from an earlier post:

    As for your 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 that remain unanswered.

    “The naturalist does not assume that ‘theirs is the only set of assumptions that allows for the advances of science.’”

    Ok. That just means that the naturalists I was referring to did not understand naturalism in the same way you do. I raised that point because this was the common objection made by naturalists in the past to the claim I made that “There is nothing that makes the naturalists assumptions inherently better or worse.”

    “[The naturalist] merely observes that scientific method is the only reliable means by which science had advanced,”

    Something I would agree with, though if taken rigorously it becomes circular.

    “and draws the logical conclusion from that: there is no reason to engage in wishful thinking about a god or gods, since this thinking has not led to any scientific advance but on the contrary has tended to retard scientific progress.”

    There are several problems with this statement. The first is the phrase “wishful thinking about a god or gods.” I see two ways to take this phase. If taken literally, I would agree that we should not engage in wishful thinking about god or gods. Thus this would result in a statement that I, and probably most theist, could actually agree with. However I suspect that this was not your intent and that instead, you were simply using the phrase, “wishful thinking” as a way to denigrate theistic thought. If so this is slanting and hardly makes for a rational argument.

    “since this thinking has not led to any scientific advance but on the contrary has tended to retard scientific progress.”

    Assuming “wishful thinking” was a reference to all theistic thought, (and if not I apologize in advance) then you are again repeating old arguments that I have already addressed, but which you have ignored. As I pointed out the last time you used this line of argument:

    [This] is simply wrong and either ignorant of the 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.

    But to expand on this a bit further, there is a reason that science developed in Western Europe when it did. Classical thought certainly played a role, but so did the Judeo-Christian world view of a world created by a rational God, a rational God that created a universe that could be figured out using reason. One can certainly argue that such a view is not required for science, but this does not change the history that it did play a key role in what actually happened. This can be seen in Kepler, who after discovering his laws of planetary motion wrote, “O God, I am thinking thy thoughts after thee.”

    The supposed conflicts between science and religion have been greatly exaggerated, and in some cases even invented. There is no inherent conflict between them unless science is taken as a description for all reality, and at the same time restricts itself only to the natural world, i.e., the naturalist world view. So I can fully understand why you think there is a conflict, but the conflict you see stems not from anything in science, but rather is just an expression of your worldview imposed on science.

    I would argue that naturalism is somewhat harmful to science because of its naturalistic bias. In fact I see no inherent difference between theists trying to ban certain lines of inquiry because it disagrees with their understanding of reality, and naturalist trying to ban certain lines of inquiry because it disagrees with their understanding of reality. Yet the naturalists I have talked to in the past have condemn the former while supporting the latter.

    Free Inquiry

    Friday, December 7th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    Dec 7, 2007, Wausau, Wi —  An issue that commonly comes up in discussions with skeptics is the role of free inquiry.  Skeptics frequently see themselves as being free to ask questions and to go wherever the answers may take them, while religious believers are bound by the teachings of their religion.  Religion, then, is automatically seen as bad because it limits our ability to learn.  As with many of the criticisms of skeptics this view is not only self-serving, but false.

    Built into our very being is the desire to seek explanations.  Parents see this desire all the time in young children and their seemingly never ending question of “Why?”  To be sure these questions can at times be very frustrating for the parent, or even teacher, who has reached the limits of their own personal knowledge, but such questions are the foundation of our quest for knowledge, of our seeking to understand.

    Over time, most cultures have decided that questions can dangerous to the status quo, and this decision is not completely without reason.  All societies are based on some sort of agreement, either formal, as in the case of laws, or informal as in the rules of etiquette.   Some of these agreements are arbitrary, such as where on the road should one drive. But just imagine what would happen if tomorrow the societal agreement about driving was somehow removed from everyone’s memory. It would be chaos. And this is just driving.  Such societal norms govern virtually every aspect of our interactions with each other, often without our even realizing it. For us, the reasons are lost in antiquity and it is now just how things are done. 

    Thus there is, and must be, some sort of balance between norms and questions.  Societies that stress the norms too much stagnate.  Societies that question the norms too much, loose the cohesion to remain a society and collapse. Loss of societal cohesion was one of the factors in the fall of Rome.

    So whether from desire to maintain society, or just simply the frustration at not knowing the answers, at some point all societies teach their children to limit their questions in some fashion. 

    One of the things that made Western Civilization different is that at during some periods in our history there have been groups that encouraged questions, beginning with the early Greek city states. Granted such freedom of thought was not unlimited, nor necessarily was it for the general public, as questions could still lead to dangerous ideas that could undermine society.  But it was allowed for a few, and still had some limits, as Socrates sadly found out.

    As we saw last time, contrary to how history is commonly taught, this freedom of inquiry appeared again in the Middle Ages.  The Middle Ages were a time or great intellectual development that, rather than suppressing inquiry, actually laid the intellectual foundations for the Renaissance and modern science.  To be sure there still were some limits on inquiry, and a thinker who strayed too far beyond those limits could find themselves, like Socrates, in trouble.

    Modern critics act as if these limits were some sort of aberration to be condemned.  The problem is that, at least until very recently, the norm has never been free inquiry, but rather limits on inquiry and normally quite strong limits.  What was unique about the Middle Ages was not that there were limits, but rather that those limits were loosen enough to allow for intellectual development, development that led to things like our current understanding of human rights, democracy and science. In addition these were not seen as contrary to Christianity, but were developed from it.  The origin of Human Rights for examine has its roots in the belief that we are all created in the image of God, and what God has given no one can arbitrarily take away, not even the King.

    Contrary to the skeptic’s self-perception, they also have limits on inquiry.  During the Middle Ages, if one questioned church orthodoxy, one could be in trouble. Today, if one questions scientific orthodoxy, one can also be in trouble. The history of science if full of people who questioned the established science of their time, to find themselves ridiculed, rejected, denied employment, or otherwise punished. The theories of some of these people were later shown to be correct and have since become part of the established science of today. 

    This limiting of inquiry continues today, as scientists who question the theory evolution a little too much, or who begin to consider the possibility of intelligent design have found out. The only thing that has really changed is where the limits are and what the societal norms for punishment should be if one challenges those limits.  Contrary to the charges of skeptics the punishment during the Middle Ages was not always burning at the stake. As with most things punishment was determined by the norms of the time. During some periods it was simply excommunication from the church.

    So the skeptic’s view that religion limits inquiry while they are free, is simply false. While it is true that Christians have at time suppressed inquiry, history shows that this is the norm. It is also true that contrary to the norm, Christians played a role in expanding inquiry.  After all as Paul wrote, “Test everything, hold on to the good.” (1 Thess 4:7)

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

    Historical Understanding

    Friday, November 30th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Nov 30, 2007, Wausau, Wi   One huge difference between Christians and their critics is the framework in which judgments are made. Often it is the differences in the framework which results in their vastly different conclusions, more than the actual evidence.  One key difference is over one’s view of history.

    Critics often see religion in general, and Christianity in specific, as a vastly negative force in history.  For example, they see the Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages” where the former brilliance of Rome was suppressed by the Church. When the iron grip of the Church weakened, this former brilliance broke free again in the Renaissance.  In fact for them the Western History of the last 1500 years has been marked by a struggle to break free of the Church and its flat earth view of the world, so as to embrace a more rational view based on science. 

    Despite the popularity of such thinking is it nevertheless false and misleading.  For example, it never was church doctrine that the earth was flat, nor did even a large number of Christians believe in a flat earth.  This is a myth that originated among the critics of Christianity in the 18th century.  As for the so-called Dark Ages, historians have long since realized that this was a somewhat self-serving view of history spawned by those in the Renaissance who saw themselves as restoring the glories of Rome, and not an accurate depiction of the  period historians now refer to as the Middle Ages.  

    In reality the Middle Ages were a time or great intellectual development that, rather than suppressing inquiry, actually laid the intellectual foundations for the Renaissance and modern science.  It was from the so-called Dark Ages of Church repression that we see the origin of Universities, the beginning of experimental science, and many discoveries and innovations like the incorporation of things like the decimal system and gunpowder. It is from this period we see the invention of eyeglasses, pendulum clocks and the compass. Magna Carta comes from this period, as does the jury system and habeas corpus, along with the beginnings of representative government in the English Parliament, and the French Estates-General.   

    As the historian Will Durant summarized it “It would be unwise to look down with hybritic pride upon a period that produced so many great men and women.” Durant went on to add “we shall never do justice to the Middle Ages until we see the Italian Renaissance not as their repudiation but as their fulfillment.” (Age of Faith, pg  1082, 1085)

    To be sure, not everything was rosy. Like any period in history the complete picture was far more mixed. When compared with today’s standards, the Middle Ages often fall short.   But judging the Middle Ages by today’s standards about as valid as saying that Newton, Galileo, or other early scientist, didn’t even know what would now be called High School science, and therefore were stupid.  

    A more accurate standard would be to judge based on the historical norm up to the period in question.  This is why Newton and Galileo are seen as great. While they may not have passed a High School science test of today, they made discoveries and scientific advances unknown until then.  

    Unfortunately, history is so badly taught, and poorly understood, that the average person has little understanding of even recent history (or in some cases even current events outside of sports or music).  This lack of any historical understanding is why Britain and America are frequently condemned for having slaves.  Until recently, slavery was an almost universal institution, and one that still exists in some areas even today. Thus what was aberrational about Britain and America was not that they had slaves, but that they led the way in abolishing the slave trade and then slavery itself. 

    Significantly other notable exceptions to the historical norm of slavery were Ancient Israel, and the Middle Ages.  While the Bible allowed slavery, it regulated it to the point that slavery virtually disappeared from Ancient Israel. Likewise, during the Middle Ages, under the influence of the Church slavery disappeared from most of Western Europe, only to be reintroduced after the Middle Ages.

    Another example would be that, while we frequently hear of the atrocities committed by the early settlers of the Americas on the native inhabitants, one of the reasons we are able to do this is that the atrocities were documented by early churchmen seeking help in stopping them. Until then such atrocities were the norm, what was aberrational was the attempt to prevent them.

     So when judging the actions of those in the past, we must be careful to factor in what was historically the norm for their time.  What if in a couple of centuries from now, standards have change such that eating meat, driving your own car, watching football, or anything number of things we current do without a second thought, is then seen as barbaric and/or immoral? Would we consider ourselves fairly condemned for our failure to follow such future standards? 

    Instead of focusing on condemning those who followed the norm of their time, would it not be better to focus on those who broke from the norm to help bring us our modern understanding? But to do this would in many cases, be to acknowledge the positive impact of Christians, such as those in the forefront of the anti-Slavery movement.   

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part VI

    Friday, September 14th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Zeitgeist – The Response

    Friday, August 24th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    August 24, 2007, Wausau, Wi — This week I thought I would address some of the responses to Zeitgeist, The Movie and my review.  Perhaps the one of the most absurd attempts to defend the movie was the claim that you cannot invalidate the claims in Zeitgeist, without first validating the claims made in the New Testament.

    The irrationally of this statement is easily seen by simply turning it around.  One could just as easily, and in fact given the actual evidence, more easily, claim that one could not invalidate of the historical claims made in the NT without first validating the claims in Zeitgeist, which given the errors shown in my review of the movie,  would be impossible. While I believe the claims in the NT are historically accurate, I would never make such an argument, because is it irrational on its face.Some messages took objection to my claim that the December 25th date was not biblical but a later tradition and therefore those parts of the movie based on this date were invalid.  These objections took two main forms.  One was to claim that there is no proof December 25th was a later tradition.  This of course ignores the statements in Luke that points to the spring as the time for Jesus birth.  But it also reveals a common line of argument with such claims which is to point to anything that can be seen as supporting them as valid evidence, while everything that conflicts is simply ignored.

    The other approach was to claim that the Church did set the December 25th date, even if it was later, and that this shows the claims in the movie are correct.   There are two problems with this argument either one of which would be fatal. The first is that the movie claims that the beliefs of Christianity derived from date. But how could this be true if the connection was only made hundreds of years later?  The other problem is that when the connection was made, it was not to commemorate the date, but to use the celebration of Christmas, to replace the pagan celebrations that occurred on this date. So no matter how you look at it the movie’s claim that Christian belief derived from the winter solstice simply wrong.

    A more general defense was found in a number of messages, which was even if some of the details of the movie were incorrect, the main message of the movie that religion basically is just a means of control, was correct.  In fact it was commonly called the most powerful form of control that exists.

    Such arguments have a number of problems.  If the purpose of religion is to control, then how, by whom and for what purpose? This might make sense when dealing with a religion that has a clear hierarchical power structure, but not all religions have such a structure. In fact, one of the problems with Islam is that it lacks any formal power structure that could control its radical extremes.Many Protestants churches have a very democratic power structure (which was historically an important factor in the emergence of democracy in Europe and the US.) How does “control” fit as a purpose for these groups? Applied to specific groups and individuals, “control” might be an explanation, but as a blanket explanation, it fails miserably.But even if true, religion is hardly the main means of control. Government is far more powerful and invasive. More importantly, while religion is often, and should always be, voluntary, government, by its nature is not. Just look at the massive amount of control Government has over our lives in the US, and we are classified as a “free” society. Consider the amounts of control totalitarian governments have over the day to day lives of their citizens. So government is much more a source of control.In fact one of the benefits of religion is that it can provide a check and balance on government, sort of like the separation of powers set up in the Constitution. In fact this was why the founding fathers viewed religion as so important, yet independent of government, for it could provide a check on government.The real danger occurs when government becomes completely dominated by any single group so as to use it power to suppress and restrict competing groups for then the ability for checks and balances disappears. In European history, Christianity was at times too closely allied with, and in some cases was, the government. That was a problem. Today the danger lies with secularism, which has come to dominate government, and is using its power to restricting the influence of religion. Completely remove the influence of religion and you remove any ability it has to check the control of government.

    To see this just look at the last century where you had a declining influence of religion in America you had a corresponding increase in the growth of government, and a corresponding decrease in freedom. Sure we now have much more freedom to use certain words formally considered vulgar, but in exchange we now have speech codes on what opinions and thoughts are acceptable. Express a politically incorrect opinion, however true it may be, and you can be sent to sensitive training, or even lose your job. (In Europe, which even more secular, you can go to jail). So in 21st century America, I fear Big Government much more than Big Religion.  And it is not coincidence that those who seek to limit religion the most, also seek to expand government the most.

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

    Review: Part I     Part II     Part III      Responses II