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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,
    “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.

    Christianity In America?

    Friday, March 6th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    As I point out in my forthcoming book, Preserving Democracy, one of the things that surprised Alexis de Tocqueville, when he came to what was then the new country of America, was religion. As he wrote in his classic, Democracy in America, “Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention;” As de Tocqueville noted, it was not just that Christianity played an important role in peoples’ lives, it played a key, though not direct, role in the political life of the country as well.

    “Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but nevertheless is must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions.”

    In the system of checks and balances set up by our founding fathers one of the checks was religion, not as a part of the government, but as an important force apart from the government. This way it could serve as a checks on government, lest government get too large and itself infringe on liberty. As John Adams put it, “Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate for any other.”

    Given this it should be of no surprise that those who push the hardest for the removal of religion from public discourse, also tend to push equally hard for a larger role for government. By definition a larger government means less liberty, but in the upside down world we live in they often cast their attack on, and suppression of, religious belief in the terms of freedom.

    This sort of inverted thinking is once again on display in the Obama administration’s decision to rescind the federal regulation that protects people’s “freedom of conscience.” The regulation prevents health care professionals who are morally opposed to abortions from being forced to participate in them.

    It is interesting that those who so loudly proclaim themselves to be pro-choice are so quick to deny choice to anyone who does not agree with them, and to do so in the name of freedom. The reaction of some supporters of the administration’s actions was that health care professionals “should perform the duty needed to the best of the patients interest or change profession.

    Of course this suits them very well. They would love to get rid of doctors and nurses that point out inconvenient facts, such that the fetus is not just a lump of tissue, but a genetically distinct human that is by any normal definition of life, alive. Or facts such as in the case of some late term abortions a living human does not need to be aborted as it could live on its own. Such facts do put a damper on the party line. Once only those who supported abortion remained, then they could say, “but doctors and nurses don’t have any objection to abortion, why do you?”

    If freedom of conscience is forbidden here, how about other more controversial areas? One state already allows euthanasia. If the supreme court were to suddenly find a right to die in some hitherto unchecked penumbras of the Constitution, would all doctors and nurses be required to kill their patients when they requested it? If not, why not?

    We have seen this principle in other areas. In Massachusetts, the Catholic Charities of Boston was one of the nation’s oldest adoption agencies and specialized in finding homes for children who were hard to place. But they were forced to close by the state. Why? Because in the new age of enlightenment, the idea that the best way to raise children was for them to have a father and a mother in a loving committed relationship, could no longer be allowed. This outdated notion has been officially declared to be discrimination against same-sex couples.

    The more these new ideas of rights and freedom are imposed on America, the less free people will become, and the freedom to choose certain professions will be eliminated for Christians of conscience. Medicine is clearly threatened by this change. It is not hard to see that teachers will not be far behind as they will increasingly be forced to push same-sex relationships as an equal option for children. Anything less would be discriminatory.

    Even professions one might not expect will be affected. For example, in New Mexico a Christian photographer found herself before the New Mexico Human Rights Division when she declined to photograph a commitment ceremony for a same sex couple. As a result she facing a possible injunction forbidding her from ever again refusing such a ceremony, in addition to thousands of dollars in legal fees.

    The real danger with so many of the radical secularists is that they don’t just have opinions they express and argue for, they tend to cast everything in terms of rights. As such, to disagree with their opinion is to infringe on some right and is therefore automatically discriminatory. Since it is discriminatory, the power of the state can and should be used to suppress it. Throughout history, people have always been free to do what the ruling power agreed with. Unless we are vigilant, that will be the only freedom we have left in America.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXVII

    Friday, January 9th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Chapter sixteen of Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” deals with a question, one  now routinely raised by the neo-atheists, of whether religion is child abuse.  Hitchens starts with, “the imponderably large question.  How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?”  (pg 217)  Of course one could also ask the equally imponderably large question,  how can we know how many children found comfort and joy in their faith? 

    I would suspect that it was far larger, but either way what Hitchens question once again reveals is the illogical nature of his approach,  particularly  how Hitchens attempts to jump from antidotal stories to grand universal conclusions. As a result the reader is often left agreeing with Hitchens condemnation of  particular practices yet puzzled as to how this affects even Christianity in general, much less religion as a whole.

    To see the problem  consider  the fact that all the hype surrounding  Global Warming is causing many children to be worried some to the point of losing sleep and having nightmares.   Now it would be quite reasonable to question the amount and types of information we are exposing our children to when it comes to the issues such as Global Warming. Yet  if we were to apply Hitchens reasoning to this, we would conclude that we should not teach our children about science at all.

    Still Hitchens argument get even stranger.  As examples of immoral teaching inflicted on children Hitchens points to abortion.   It is to his credit that Hitchens acknowledges the fetus to be an “unborn child” and not just a mass of flesh, and he is also correct that “this only opens the argument rather than closes it.” (pg 221)  But from this he moves to justify abortion by pointing to the fact that there are miscarriages as if abortions were just another type of miscarriage.  Frankly this would be like pointing to the fact some children die naturally before reaching adulthood and thus infanticide is just another form of infant mortality.

    To make matters even worse Hitchens attempts to justify his view by pointing to evolution.  Hitchens claims, “in utero we see a microcosm of nature and evolution itself.  In the first place we begin as tiny forms that are amphibian, before gradually developing lungs and brains.”  (pg 221) At first I did not fault Hitchens here.  This myth was invented by Haeckel who deliberately distorted his drawing of the embryo to show a progress that in reality does not happen. While this has been known to be false for over a century, it continue to appear in textbooks, and so I was willing to give Hitchens a pass on this one.

    But later in the book, Hitchens mentions Jonathan Wells and his book, Icons of Evolution, which details this fraud. Whether Hitchens’ rejection of Wells’ book is based on having read it, of if he just reflexively rejected it simply because it was critical of evolution is unclear. But either way he has no excuse for continuing to spread such a myth.

    But things get even worse for Hitchens goes on to write concerning evolution, “the system is fairly pitiless in eliminating those who never had a very good chance of surviving in the first place.”  When talking about natural processes, this is one thing but when this is used to justify family planning it comes dangerously close, if not to, eugenics. Ultimately there is a very strange paradox in this argument that Hitchens seems to be completely unaware of, for one of the major pieces of evidence that religion is child abuse that he gives is that religion opposes killing children in the womb.

    From there he move to “the mutilation of infant genitalia.”  While he attempt to equate the male and female circumcision, there is hardly any equation as they have different purposes and results.  Female circumcision is really an attempt to eliminate any pleasure from sex. In addition, it is a social custom found in Northern Africa more than a religion custom,  though it is often linked to Islam as that is the dominate religion in the area. But it is found among non-Muslims in the area, and is generally not practiced by Muslims outside of the area except among those who have immigrated.  So the common link would be the culture for the area more than religion.  

    When it comes to male circumcision, there things are hardly as clear as Hitchens states. While there is a clearly Jewish injunction to be circumcised, there is no such Christian injunction as Acts 15 makes clear. As for the secular reasons for circumcision, the best one can really say is that this is a hotly debated topic. While Hitchens writes concerning the secular reasons for circumcision that, “Medicine has exploded these claims” (pg 226), a quick web search took me to the Mayo Clinic and a page to help parents with the pros and cons.   

    In the end Hitchens’ claim that Religion is Child Abuse like the previous claims is seriously flawed.  However, his use of myth as if it were science, his flirting with eugenics type reasoning,  and his strange claim that opposing abortion is an example of child abuse make this chapter one of his worse.  If this chapter were indicative  of secular rational thought, it would itself be a strong argument for religion.   But in the end he simply fails to make his case.

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

     

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great III

    Friday, May 9th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week I return to my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great,” Similar to Dawkins and Harris, serious problems abound in the early pages of the Hitchens’ book. Many are simply statements of personal opinion with at best questionable background or support, such as his claims that “Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble, or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism.” (p 7)

     

    Other statements go straight to the heart of Hitchens critique. An example of the latter can be found in his claim that “the believer still claims to know! Not just to know, but to know everything.”(Author’s emphasis) This would be a valid criticism if it were true.  But it is not. In fact not only does this fail as an accurate description of religion in general, or even of Christianity in specific, it would be hard to find believers who would actually make this claim.

     

    Now a few paragraphs later, Hitchens does qualify this statement somewhat, by restating this criticism as “the sheer arrogance to tell us that we already have the essential information we need.” 

     

    While this is a somewhat more defendable statement, its open ended nature, and the general context of the discussion leads to the conclusion that Hitchens is still referring to essential information about everything. 

     

    One problem with this restatement is that “essential” is a somewhat relative term as there are many degrees of essential.  Ask someone what essential knowledge is to live in the United States, and you will likely get completely different answers than if you ask someone who lives in a third world country. Essential knowledge for one, such as how to grow food or find it in the wild, may be completely irrelevant for someone who buys their food at a market.

     

    Yet, if one tries to provide some definition to Hitchens’ use of “essential knowledge” either his argument disappears, or the definition is invalid.  If “essential knowledge” is defined as the knowledge needed for our relationship with God, then I would say that this not only applies to Christianity, but that it has a biblical warrant.  Jude 3 speaks of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”  In the Bible we have all the knowledge that we need for our relationship with God. But even here, there are few Christians that would say that we know everything there is to know about the Bible.

     

    But a view of “essential knowledge” limited to our relationship with God renders Hitchens’ argument somewhat empty, has he spends a great deal of time contrasting this belief in “essential knowledge” with all that we have learned in science.  While we have learned a lot with science, Hitchens would hardly argue that a more detailed understanding of Gravity or knowledge of quantum mechanics is needed for salvation. Thus an understanding of “essential knowledge” limited to our relationship with God renders his argument a non-sequitur.

     

    Hitchens needs believers claiming to know everything about everything because it justifies what would otherwise be a major inconsistency in his argument.  Hitchens is highly critical of the pre-scientific beliefs of early believers and he sees this as a reason why religion as a whole is to be rejected today.  For example he says “Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Newman [may have] been laughably ignorant of the germ theory of disease or the place of the terrestrial globe in the solar system, let alone the universe, and this is the plain reason why there are no more of them today, and will be no more of them tomorrow.”(p 7)

     

    Yet when it comes to atheists, such erroneous beliefs are explained away by Hitchens, for earlier atheists were “great and fallible imaginative essayists.”  Atheists don’t claim to know everything about everything, so it is ok if they made mistakes in the past, as that is part of the learning process.

     

    This distorted view of religion can be seen in much of Hitchens’ criticisms, such as when he asks “How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to ‘fit’ with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities?” (p 7) 

     

    Though I would drop the slanting found in words such as “needless” and “contortion,” pretty much the same could be asked of atheism. Just look at the assumptions and efforts they go through trying to explain how life started, some even going to the point of arguing that life was brought to earth by aliens from another planet. 

     

    The history of Christianity can be seen as a people striving to come to a better understanding of, and relationship with, God.  This journey has been full of missteps and even back steps, of wrong turns and dead ends, but on the whole has been marked by a better understanding; and the fruits of this have been seen in what I would argue have been great advancement made by society that came out of Christianity, from the birth of modern science, to the origin of Human Rights, from end of slavery, to the advancement of civil rights.

     

    Throughout the world Christians working through their churches are ministering to those in need, not only in their local communities, but around the world. They have been, and continue to be a tremendous force for good.

     

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

    Is Christianity A Religion

    Friday, February 22nd, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Make reference to the “Christian Religion” around other Christians and you are likely to be told something to the effect that ‘Christianity is not a religion is it a relationship.” Now there is some truth in such statements as a key element of Christianity is one’s personal relationship with God. But I believe there is a lot of error, and even some danger as well with such views.

    Often the claim that Christianity is not a religion is said in an attempt to avoid some of the problems that people have with religions. These problems generally fall into two main areas, historical such as with the Inquisition or more personal reasons such as a bad experience. But attempts to avoid these problems rather than confront them are not only misguided, the chance of their working is at best slim.

    Like it or not, it is just a fact that evil has been done by Christians. Whether acting as a result of a relationship, or as a religion, Christians have at times done evil in the name of God. To say otherwise is simply not being truthful and it is well to remember that along with saying that he was the way, and the life, Jesus said he was also the truth. (John 14:6)

    This is also a sobering reminder that as Christians we are representing God and people are watching. We often think of witnessing as something we do occasionally, and probably should do more. The fact is that we are always witnessing. If you are a Christian, unless you hide your Christianity very well, you will be witnessing. So the real question is not will you witness, but rather what kind of witness will you have. Will you live your life in such a way as to draw people towards Christ, or will you live your life in such a way as to push people away.

    But back to people’s problems with religion, rather than trying to avoid the historical problems, a much better strategy is to acknowledge the failings, put them in perspective, and point to the great good that Christians have done, and continue to do, from big things like the abolition of slavery, to small things like helping people in their neighborhood. For example, how many people know about Mission Aviation Fellowship? MAF is a Christian ministry that flies 2.9 million miles a year to serve remote areas that are otherwise unreachable. MAF not only file missionaries, but also supports critical needs such as transporting doctors and medical supplies.

    The danger in these attempts to restrict Christianity to a relationship is in the implied rejection of rituals which is often at the core of such statements. Rituals are out of fashion at the moment as the formalized structure of ritual does not fit in well with our current causal approach to God. Rituals are seen as dry, meaningless, formalize, the epitome of all that is wrong with religion. Yet it is important to note that God must have thought that ritual were important to have included so much of it in the Bible. It is certainly true that ritual by itself is hollow, but it hardly then follows that ritual is the problem.

    Rituals serve many important functions. When rituals are imbued with meaning, they can focus and magnified belief. Rituals also serve as a teaching function. In fact a very good case can be made that it was the central role of ritual in Jewish life that help preserved the Jews for nearly 2000 years without a homeland.

    Perhaps one reason people find ritual so dry and meaningless, is that they were never taught the meaning and significance behind them. This is critically important today, as it is becoming increasingly common that when children leave home, they leave the Church as well. As I have cited before Josh McDowell has documented in his book, “The Last Christian Generation” how many young people see church as just a series of events with little impact on their spiritual life. (pg 59 – 61)

    Ritual teaches a habit of worship, a worship that is not based on feelings or mood. We all have ups and downs in our spiritual life. During the good times rituals amplify and focus our worship to make it even better. During the lows ritual can carry us through to return to the good times.

    One other benefit of ritual is that it can help maintain the view of the Holiness of God. Much of our understanding of God is a balancing of seemingly conflicting views. We cannot understand how God is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet God is one. We cannot understand how Jesus could be God incarnate. We do not always understand how God’s Love lines up with God’s justice. Currently the idea of God as our Father and friend is dominated, and he is. But at times this attitude about becomes so casual as to conflict with another truth, the truth that God is God almighty.

    Here is a quick test, what does the Bible mean when it says that “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:8)? What does the Apostle Paul mean when he says “we know what it is to fear the Lord?” (2 Cor 5:11) If these verses don’t have much meaning or even seem to conflict with your view of God, perhaps you could use some more ritual in your worship.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XIII

    Friday, January 4th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In the last part of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I discussed Dawkin’s speculations on the origin of religion.  In Chapter six Dawkins continues his speculations or the Roots of morality with all the same faults and some new ones.  I looked forward to this chapter with great interest, as not only is Morality a key issue in life, it is also behind one of the arguments for the existence of God.

    Thus I was disappointed, thought hardly surprised, when Dawkins began with what at best can be considered a strawman argument.  He says “many religious people find it hard to imagine how, without religion, one can be good, or would even want to be good.” (pg 211)  Since “many” is a somewhat vague term when talking about the vast majority of the world’s population, Dawkins’ statement is undoubtedly true in some sense.  Still, it really misses the key issue of the origin of morality.  As I wrote in my book Christianity and Secularism, concerning this subject, “this does not mean that only people who believe in God are moral. A person can be an atheist and still be a very moral person, and a person who does a tremendous amount of good.  The real question is where do morals come from?”(pg 179)

    But before moving to that question I would like to address some comments Dawkins makes concerning a letter that claimed that evolution was by blind chance, atheism was nihilistic, and if true would mean that life was without meaning. Dawkins objects saying “for the umpteenth time, natural selection is the very opposite of a chance process.” (pg 214)

    Here Dawkins equivocates a bit. Equivocation is using the same word or phrase with different meanings.  Dawkins is correct in that evolution is not a chance process, in the sense that it is governed by natural laws, and the forces that govern evolution are constantly selecting the most likely to survive, weeding out the rest. So when talking about evolution as a process, it is a process with a goal. But chance does play a role, as it is by chance that certain features appear so that the process can either select or reject them. 

    However, if instead of talking about the process of evolution, we consider the occurrence of evolution or the result of evolution, chance plays a huge and even dominant role. Evolution does not teach that human being appeared because evolution purposed for them to appear, they appeared by chance.  In fact, the more science studies origin of the world and the condition needed for intelligent life, the more they must fall back on chance to explain why we are here.  So Dawkins’ rebuttal depends on a narrow and somewhat different meaning for evolution.  Thus the equivocation. 

    Dawkins then goes on to point to his book “Unweaving the Rainbow” to argue that atheism does not mean a meaningless nihilistic existence.  Again there is some equivocation here. Dawkins is correct in the sense that we can find meaning in anything.  Parents often find meaning in their children. People can find meaning in their work, or in their hobbies, or in helping others. The can find meaning in supporting their favorite sports teams, or perhaps in Dawkins case in science.  So in this sense Dawkins is correct. 

    But this is a very subjective and narrow type of meaning.  The real question is whether not there is anything more than this. If the Sun were to explode tomorrow, and all life on earth wiped out, the planet broken in small pieces, would any of this have meaning? The answer from evolution must be no. Whether you had been a Stalin murdering millions, or a Mother Theresa who had devoted your life to helping the poor, a world class athlete or a couch potato, a Christian or an atheist, would make no difference at all. All would irrelevant and without meaning.

    The simple fact is that meaning requires an intellect, a though process that can judge value.   To have a meaning beyond ourselves requires a thought process beyond us. To have an ultimate type of meaning requires an ultimate type of thought process.  In short, it requires a God.

    Now the atheist can argue that this is all there is. There is no meaning beyond the meaning we give to things. They can even argue that we should give some meaning to certain things.  But they can’t legitimately complain when Christians they charge that their view says there is no ultimate meaning.

    A similar confusion, lies behind the charge that atheist can’t be good, though in Dawkins defense it is a common error. If one believes that morality comes from God, then absence of God, would then be an absence of morality. Many falsely assume that this mean immoral, but it doesn’t.   An absence of morality would be amoral, not immoral.  Atheists, because they reject God as source for morality, are not automatically immoral; they are free to pick whatever morality that suits them.  Many adopt large parts of the morality of the society in which they are raised, which in the western world is a morality that has been strongly shaped by Christianity. 

    But this freedom to choose the good, also means they are free to choose the bad. This is why the foundation of morality is so important, and why atheists even though they may be themselves moral, have a major problem in this area.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part XII

    Friday, December 21st, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In this part of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I come to the chapter where Dawkins discusses the roots of religion. These next two chapters, this on the origin of Religion and the next on the origin of Morality both suffer from a problem that is common not just to atheist, or even to science but to everyone: the freedom of speculation, in absence of evidence.

    This is quite visible when Dawkins discusses the habit of some birds to bath in ant nests, which is called anting.  Dawkins says “Nobody is sure what the benefit of anting is… but uncertainty as to the details doesn’t – nor should it – stop Darwinians from presuming, with great confidence, that anting must be ‘for’ something.” (pg 164) 

    While not an entirely unwarranted conclusion, it clearly does not derive from the evidence, for by Dawkins own admission, no one knows what it is for. Instead it derives from Dawkins’ faith in Darwinian evolution.  His faith in evolution, is part of his world view, and shapes and in some cases determines the conclusions he reaches, particularly in those areas where there are gaps in his knowledge.

    Again there is nothing unusual about this.  We all do it. Christians have certain beliefs about the universe and God, and when we come to things that are unknown, we attempt to fill in the gaps the best we can based on how we see the world.  There is no problem for Christianity here as many Christians realize this, and acknowledge the role that faith plays.  The problem is that most atheists are very critical of Christians for relying on faith, not realizing that they are doing the same thing.

    The reliance of faith is likewise behind Dawkins belief that there must be some evolutionary benefit to religion.  This claim is a natural outgrowth of his rejection of God and the supernatural; and his faith in evolution.  Dawkins is not reaching this as a conclusion of his study of religion; it is his starting point for understanding of religion. 

    In short, he starts with a huge bias that will permit only certain types of answers.  Sure, anyone who likewise rejects religion and accepts evolution, might find his explain, that religion is a by-product of the evolution of memes; the cultural equivalents to biological genes, acceptable.  However, Dawkins is hardly driven to that conclusion by the evidence. 

    This leads to yet another problem, for there is really very little evidence for Dawkins claims about the origin of religion, and most of what there is comes from other areas of science that also have an a priori rejection of the supernatural.  Now when dealing with physics and chemistry, an a priori rejection of the supernatural, is not much of an issue. But when dealing areas such a psychology, it does become a factor, and when dealing with the psychology of religious belief, becomes key.

    In short, this chapter basically boils down to biased speculation.  It cannot be taken as an argument against religion, and to his credit Dawkins does not really try to do this.  If he did, he would immediately fall into the fallacy of circular reasoning, as the ending premise and starting premise would both be: religion is false.  Instead, Dawkins is trying to clear up some questions that follow from his main argument discussed early, that the God does not exist.

    Still his arguments in this chapter seems to be more than just a dispassionate analysis of the possible origins of religion once it is accepted that God does not exist. Dawkins seems driven to defend his hostility to religion. He admits that this puts him in a quandary for if religion is so negative, how can it be the evolutionary benefit it must be to exist in the Darwinian worldview.

    But it is not much of a quandary.  Freed from constrains of facts and evidence, for there is very little in this area, Dawkins is pretty much free to speculate anything he wants, limited only by his own imagination, and naturalistic bias.

    Such speculation is routinely condemned by atheists when theist engage in it, but the label of science puts a veneer of respectability on Dawkins speculations, as if labeling them as science somehow magically gives them some sort of special standing above other more ordinary speculations.  Since they are ‘science,’ they are more readily accepted into the mental framework and then become the basis upon which other speculations will be judged.

    While Christians realize that they have faith in the Biblical accounts and that they are speculating in some cases where we do not really know, most atheists do not realize that they do the same things.  Most of them really have no idea of how much speculation and faith underpins that which they believe.

    Actually Dawkins summed up the situation pretty well in his first sentence of the chapter, when he said “Everyone has their own pet theory of where religion comes from and why all human cultures have it.” (pg 163)  If you exclude a belief in God and sin up front, then one theory for religion is as good as another. Dawkins should have just left it at that.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part IV

    Friday, August 31st, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3 

    August 31, 2007, Wausau, Wi  I ended part III of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” by pointing out that atheism, like all world views, involves a component of faith.  It is not the completely reason and evidence based system that it claims to be.  This time I want to look at what is at best a strange line of argument made by Dawkins, but it is an argument which is increasingly common among atheists.

    On page 20, Dawkins writes, “A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts – non-religious included – is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to another.”

    To anyone even remotely familiar with the assaults to which Christians and Christianity are routinely subjected, Dawkins statement will come as somewhat of a surprise. To justify this strange claim, Dawkins points that “In Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants are euphemized to ‘Nationalists’ and ‘Loyalists’ respectively.”  Yet this hardly is showing any deference to religion. What Dawkins’ neglects is the historical fact that the conflict in Ireland existed long before there was any difference in religion.  In fact it is more likely that the difference in religion was caused by the conflict rather than the conflict caused by the difference in religion.

    Another way Dawkins’ attempts to show that religion has some sort of preference is that religious leaders are sought out for their opinions on moral issues.  While he says he does not want them excluded from such discussions as he puts it “why does our society beat a path to their door, as though they had some expertise compare to that of, say, the moral philosopher, a family lawyer or a doctor?”

    One reason perhaps is that, while Dawkins may not like it, religion is a source of moral teachings. So why wouldn’t we seek the opinions of those trained in a moral teaching for their advice on morality?  A lawyer is trained in the law, so that might make a lawyer a good source of legal advice, but what is legal and what is moral are two different things.  There are many things that are legal and yet immoral.  For example, most everyone, including atheists, would agree that adultery is immoral. Yet it is legal. In fact one of the big problems I see is that we, as a society are thinking more in legal terms and less in moral terms. In fact one of the universities I was associated with, required its instructors of ethics to be lawyers. Thus a common defense we frequently hear for questionable actions is, “but there was nothing illegal” as if that makes everything ok.   Much the same can be said about doctors. They are trained to give medical treatment, not moral advice.  ‘Practices safe sex, and everything is ok.’

    While the moral philosopher has at least studied morality, one could just as easily ask, what makes them automatically more qualified than a theologian? Moral philosophers may be trained to think about moral issues, but what are they using as a basis for their moral view?   At least for a theologian, the basis for their moral beliefs is pretty clear. With many moral philosophers, it is not clear at all. The situation is sort of like having two doctors, one who was trained at a school you know well, and another whom you have no idea where or how they were trained. Which would you trust with your life?

    Several of the other examples of the supposed “unparalleled presumption of respect for religion”, involve Islam, and actually argue more for a special status for Islam than for religion.  For example, Dawkins points to the recent incidence of the Danish cartoons that caused riots in the Muslim world, and how newspapers “expressed ‘respect’ and ‘sympathy’ for the deep ‘offence’ and ‘hurt’ that Muslims had ‘suffered.’” (pg 27) I know that here in the United States, many news organization refused to even show the cartoons.

    The main problem with Dawkins’ argument is that his examples are not representative of religion in general.  For example, with the Danish cartoons, while deference and respect was clearly paid to Islam, there is no such similar deference paid to Christianity.  When Andre Seranno  received a grant from the government to place  a crucifix in a jar of his own urine in the name of art, most of the complaints were that it was government funded. More importantly the newspapers were not sympathizing with the hurt felt by Christians, but instead attacking them for being intolerant and trying to stifle artistic freedom.  There was much the same reaction when, again in the name of art, a picture of the Virgin Mary was smeared in Elephant dung.  Then there was the play that depicted Jesus has a homosexual.  When Christians complained, and justifiably so, about these and many other affronts, there were no calls to understand there hurt, but rather they were label intolerant and were accused of censorship.

    In fact, the affronts against Christianity and Christians are now so common, that even many Christians accept them as a normal part of life in 21st century America.  Thus like so many of Dawkins’ claims, the claim that there is some sort of deference paid to Christianity, is simply false, and shows a massive misunderstanding of the actual situation.

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

    Part I     Part II   Part III   Part V 

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part I

    Friday, June 22nd, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

    June 22, 2007, Wausau, WiRichard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” is yet another in a long line of books which attempts to make the claim that believing in God is irrational. As with the other attempts, Dawkins ultimately ends up only demonstrating his own lack of critical analysis. There is a very simple rule in critical thinking that I teach all of my classes: Anything can be accepted if you only consider the evidence in favor, and conversely anything can be rejected if you only consider the evidence against. While this is a pretty straight forward and simple rule, it is one that Dawkins runs afoul of from the very first page.

    Dawkins, citing the John Lennon song “Imagine” wonders, “Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles’, no ‘honour killings’, no shiny-suited bouffant-hair televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (‘God wants you to give till it hurts.’) Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheading of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it.” (pp 1-2)

    This one passage reveals three major problems with Dawkins’ approach. The first we have already mentioned. This is a list that contains only negative items. What about the positive? What about the good that religion has done? As I point out in my book, Christianity and Secularism, with Christianity’s rise to dominance after the fall of Rome, it brought for the first time an ethic of kindliness, obedience, humility, patience, mercy, purity, chastity, and tenderness. (p 101) Nor, without religion, would the church have been able to try to settle disputes between rulers during the middle ages so as to avoid war, nor limit the killing of civilians. Nor would Christians have been able to stress the equality of all people, nor lay the foundations of science and human rights, nor push for, and eventually achieve, the abolition of slavery. Christians by no means have a perfect record in this area, and in fact have far too often failed to live up to the teaches of Jesus, but by no means is the record all negative as Dawkins “Imagines.”

    Dawkins second major error is to treat all religions as the same. They are not. In fact of the 15 things Dawkins want to imagine the world without, 11 of the 15 involve Islam either exclusively or in conflict with others. The simple fact is that, of all the major world religions, only Islam was founded by a military leader. Through-out its history, Islam as been spread by force of arms, and there remains today a significant percentage of Islam who support the use force and coercion to maintain and spread their religion. The issue is not one of religion or no religion and Dawkins would imagine and in fact, as I argue in Christianity and Secularism, it would be impossible to have no religion. Religions have to be judged individually on their own merits. Dawkins’ approach is the equivalent of arguing for the rejection of investigation in favor of blind faith by lumping legitimate sciences like chemistry in with alchemy and then pointing to the problems of alchemy as a reason to reject chemistry. For Dawkins, the problems of one religion are reasons to reject all religions.

    Of the remaining four items in Dawkins’ list that do not involve Islam: witch-hunts, the Gunpowder plot, Northern Ireland, and corrupt televangelists I would argue that only the first two can really be attributed to Christianity, which brings us to Dawkins’ third major error, which confuses things that involve religion with things that are caused by religion. The conflict between England and Ireland goes back much farther than the England’s change to Protestantism. In fact, this conflict is much more a cause of the religious difference, than caused by religion. As for the corrupt televangelists, con-artists can be found in most areas. That some use science to fleece people, is not a reason to reject science, why should it be any different for religion.

    As for the remaining two, these are legitimate objections. (though the Gunpowder plot failed and thus had little actual impact beyond those who planned the plot, I take it to represent the religious conflict that did exist at the time). Whereas Dawkins errs by only looking at the negative it would be equally erroneous to only consider the positive. Like most everything else that involves people there are pros and cons to religion in general and Christianity in particular. A balance approach requires us to look and both the pros and the cons. As I argue in Christianity and Secularism, when this is done for Christianity, I believe that Christianity has had a strong net positive influence in the world.