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Elgin’s Books

  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XVII

    Friday, February 15th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    The latter part of the Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion”  becomes increasingly speculative as he applies his view of atheism and religion to topics such as homosexuality, abortion, and children and these issues would be better treated in more general discussion of the individual topics than a specific review of Dawkins’ slant on them.

    One point Dawkins makes, however, is worthy of comment and on this point I will conclude my review.  It is when he talks about the “dark side of absolutism.” (pg 284) There is a lot of truth to Dawkins’ comments on this subject, and yet because they are true, they actually undermine Dawkins main point at the same time.

    As he has throughout his book, Dawkins points to examples of religious people being so sure they were correct that they made their beliefs into law, or in some other way forced their beliefs on others. Such as a Pakistani Doctor sentenced to death for blasphemy because he said Muhammad was not a Muslim before he invented Islam.

    The problem for Dawkins is can be seen in his claim that “Such absolutism nearly always results from strong religious faith.”  To see the problem in Dawkins statement we need to consider that nature of this dark side of absolutism and what makes it so bad.  At its core absolutism, is simply enforcing what you believe to be true on others. All societies do this to some extent. After all, that is what a law is; it is the power of the state forcing people to do some things and prohibiting them from doing others.  For example, we as a society are pretty absolute and downright intolerant when it comes to child molesters, and I would argue this is a good thing.

    Absolutism becomes dark when the truth being enforced becomes uncertain, and it is this dark absolutism that we generally are referring to when we talk of absolutism.    This is a difficult area to discuss because people do not see themselves as being on the dark side of absolutism, they see themselves as standing up for the truth, or right, or good.

    For example, currently there is a major debate over man-made global warming. Those who believe in it are trying to pass laws to prevent it. Those who do not believe it label these laws as part of the dark side of absolutism. Thus whether or not this is an example of the darker side of absolutism largely depend on what you believe.

    Dawkins is certainly correct that throughout the history of religion the dark side of absolutism has been a factor.  What he fails to see is that, contrary to his statement, such absolutism is not at all restricted to religion, and in fact it is even a prominent part of modern day atheism. 

    For example, almost everyone in western civilization, if not the world, would agree that the Taliban destruction of the Buddhist statues was an example of the dark side of absolutism. But at its core, how is this action any different than the atheist demanding the removal of a tiny Cross that was in seal of the city of Redlands, or any of the numerous other examples of the atheist desire to expunge society of religion.  Was the Taliban’s was seeking to remove any vestige of religion symbols they disagreed with really that different than the atheist desire to remove religious symbols they disagree with, particularly if they are Christian.

    But that is the problem with such absolutism; it is very difficult to see from the inside. This is particularly true when the belief that one is correct, is coupled with corresponding view that others are wrong.  Dawkins and other atheist undoubtedly sees themselves as defending reason and science, when in reality they are often guilty of the same sort of intolerance and in some cases bigotry that they are so critical of in religion. 

    I said earlier that Dawkins comments on absolutism undermine the main point of his book.  If one takes Dawkins comments on such absolutism to heart, then it is hard to reach any other rational conclusion than that it is this dark absolutism which is the real problem not religion.  In fact if you remove all the example of religious absolutism from Dawkins book, what remained would be some theories of the existence of God, some comments on the reliability of the Bible, and very little else. In short, though aimed at religion his book is really more an indictment of this dark absolutism in religion, something I and I believe most Christians also condemn, even if we don’t accept all of his examples.

    To sum up this review, Dawkins’ book fails at almost every point, except his criticism of religious absolutism, but even here he mistakenly see this as an indictment of all religion, rather than an indictment on absolutism.  He is quick to point out any flaw of particular religions or religious believers as automatically an indictment of all religion. Yet, any positive quality or action is either ignored or written off as due to something other than religion.  More damming is that his knowledge of religion is often superficial if not actually in error.  Ultimately Dawkins book is more an example of atheist’s absolutism than any serious attack on religion much less Christianity.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XVI

    Friday, February 8th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In the last installment of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I looked at Dawkins’ arguments for why we can’t use the Bible as the basis for our morality. But if we cannot use the Bible then where should we get our morals?

    For Dawkins, the answer to this question is the Moral Zeitgeist, which Dawkins sees as “a consensus about what we do as a matter of fact consider right and wrong: a consensus that prevails surprisingly widely.” (pg 262).

    Now there is some truth to this statement.  Certainly there is a Moral Zeitgeist, a general consensus about right and wrong, and Dawkins easily shows this by pointing out a whole list of historical examples of things that were acceptable during their time, but which would be condemned today. 

    In fact as I have frequently argued, to properly understand people in the past one must understand the general consensus of the times.  While very common, it is grossly unfair to condemn those in the past who broke with the conventions of their day to move society forward, simply because they did not quite meet our current standards.

    So when it comes to the existence of a Moral Zeitgeist, Dawkins is on solid ground. Where he runs into problems is when he goes beyond the existence of the Moral Zeitgeist and argues that this should be the foundation for our morality, something it cannot be. His claim that it is, is simply irrational.

    To see this consider the following statement by Dawkins, “The Zeitgeist may move, and move in a generally progressive direction, but as I have said it is a sawtooth not a smooth improvement, and there have been some appalling reversals.” (pg 272)

    While a seemingly innocuous statement, it actually completely undermines Dawkins claim. If Dawkins were correct and the Zeitgeist did in fact define our morality, then there could be no concept of progress or reversal.  Whatever the Zeitgeist said was good, would be good, and whatever the Zeitgeist said was evil would be evil. In those areas today where the Moral Zeitgeist allow slavery, slavery would be good. In those areas where family members should kill a daughter who was raped to so as to end the dishonor to the family, then it would be a good thing to kill a daughter who was raped.  That would be the moral Zeitgeist.

    If slavery were to be reintroduced, or honor killing introduced into 21st century America, and sadly both honor killing and slavery, though thankfully rare are beginning to occur here, it could not be seen as a step backward, but merely a change, for again it would be the moral Zeitgeist that ultimately determined right and wrong, and thus there would be no way to say that one Moral Zeitgeist was any better than any other Moral Zeitgeist. 

    The very fact that Dawkins talks of a “generally progressive direction” and “appalling reversals,” shows that there must be something beyond the Moral Zeitgeist that is actually the foundation for morality. 

    In fact without such a foundation, there would be no reason to even change the Zeitgeist.  Slavery was ended when Christians argued that it was immoral, regardless of what the Zeitgeist said.  In fact most of the improvements Dawkins cites were brought about by people, often with Christians in the lead, arguing that these things were wrong, thereby changing the Moral Zeitgeist of their time.

    Ultimately, Dawkins view is completely unworkable, for if it were true, how could anyone argue anything it terms of morality?  In fact all of Dawkins arguments discussed earlier about the immorality of the Bible would be meaningless. They would not be things to condemn as Dawkins attempts to do, they would simply be a different moral Zeitgeist and again there would be no way to say that our current Zeitgeist is any better or worse than any other Zeitgeist.

    In short, Dawkins wants to have it both ways. His view of morality is firmly grounded and should be accepted, so much so that he condemns those who disagree with his view.  Yet if we subject his moral views to the same scrutiny, they fall apart.

    Whether one agrees with Christian morality or not, at least Christians have a foundation upon which to base their moral views. At least Christians have a basis to say that Society has improved, and not just changed.  At least Christians have a track record that puts them in the forefront of the moral advances that society has made. Christianity does not by any means have a perfect record, but it is a good one that on the whole Christians should be proud of.  The strongest criticism that can be mounted against Christian morality is that Christians have not always lived up to the teaching of Jesus.

    In place of this Dawkins proposes a muddled view that is at best logically inconsistent, and one that conflict with his own claims. It is a view that places the greatest good on the same level as the greatest evil, with no means of saying one is any better than the other, except that one may happens to be part of the general outlook of the time.

    The most amazing thing about Dawkins’ claim is that he really believes he is the one with the rational position.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XV

    Friday, February 1st, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In chapter 7 of his book, “The God Delusion” Richard Dawkins, turn the issue of morality and the Bible.  Dawkins lays down his goal pretty clearly in the opening paragraph when he says that the Bible, “encourages a system of morals which any civilized modern person whether religious or not, would find – I can put it no more gently – obnoxious.”  As for the millions of people who do get their morality from the Bible and yet somehow seem to be civilized and modern, Dawkins claims that “they either do not read it, or do not understand it.”

    As a Christian friend of mine is fond of saying when confronted with such statements, “And yet here I stand.” The simple fact is that there are many people who do read and understand the Bible, probably a lot more than Dawkins, who reach vastly different conclusion.

    It is true that on the one hand there are the extreme fundamentalists who insist that any deviation from how they read the Bible is heresy. In fact, in some cases they even argue that if you don’t read the same translation they do, you must be a heretic.  Yet on the other hand there are the skeptics like Dawkins who, if you deviate from how they read the Bible you are picking “which bits of scripture to believe” (pg 238).  Other than the conclusions they reach, I find very little difference between the two groups, as they both have a very superficial view of scripture, and dogmatically reject any deviation from their view.

    Again Dawkins is not completely at fault here for he relies on the work of liberal scholars who are also critical of the scripture, such as Bishop Shelby Spong. But as I detail in my book, Evidence for the Bible, Liberal scholars are often little better than these other two groups. For example a while back I heard Bishop Spong being interviewed on the radio and he said that the Gospel of John that was anti-Semitic, and he knew of no scholars who would argue differently.  This means that he was completely unaware of those scholars, for they certainly do exist.  D. A Carson for example, in his Commentary on John’s Gospel, lists other possible understandings and argues quite convincingly from the text that anti-Semitism simply does not fit.

    Dawkins’ analysis of the Bible starts out by listing the acts of God he considers immoral such as Noah and the Flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah. There are two main problem Dawkins faces with these arguments. The first, as discussed in earlier installments of this review, is on what basis of morality are we to make such criticism?

    A bigger problem however, is that to really judge the morality of an action, we need to have all the relevant information the person had at the time.  Without that information, an act that seems immoral could in fact have been moral in light of the addition information.  For example, if all you knew was that John cut Mary with a knife, that might seem immoral until you find out that John was a doctor removing a cancerous growth.

    The simple fact is that we can never hope of have all the relevant information available to God so as to be in a position to pass judgment on God.  Nor does this really matter, in terms of our morality, as even in the Bible these are special cases, and not models for us to follow today.

    Another problem in Dawkins critique is that he at times fails to distinguish between the Bible describing what happened, and the Bible telling us how we should act. For example, he cites the instance in Judges where a priest cut up his concubine into 12 pieces (Judges 19).   But as the book of Judges says about the period, “in those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judge 21:25)  One of the unique aspects of the Bible is that it does not present the main figures as perfect and noble, but as flawed.   We are not so much to follow their actions, but frequently to learn from their mistakes.  But Dawkins often is too busy ridiculing to notice such distinctions.

    One of the stranger side trips Dawkins takes, is when he condemns “America’s Ten Commandment tablet-toters” arguing that they should be praising the Taliban for their destruction of Buddhist statues.  He says “I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca—or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame,  the Shew Dagon, the temples of Kyoto, or of course, the Buddhas of Bamiyan.” (pg 249)  Apparently Dawkins is unaware that much of the controversy in the U.S. is over the removal of Christian religious symbols such as crosses and the Ten Commands.  In short, those in the U.S. acting like the Taliban in their intolerant seeking to remove religious symbols they disagree with are not Christians, but atheists.

    Finally Dawkins fail to consider the historical context of the time. For example, he asked if a whole range of offenses should have the death penalty, starting with cursing your parents. This was nothing new to the age, in fact even today; in some cultures parent have the right and even the duty to kill their children that dishonor them. What was new in the Bible’s command was that parents had to “bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.”  The change the teaching of the Bible brought about was that the power to kill was removed from the parents. But like in so much of his analysis, Dawkins missed the point of the passage.  

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion Part XIV

    Friday, January 25th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In this part of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I will continue my look at Dawkins’ speculations on the roots of morality.  Dawkins rejection of God and acceptance of evolution forces him to find an evolutionary basis of morality.  He admits that “On the face of it, the Darwinian idea that evolution is driven by natural selection seems ill-suited to explain such goodness as we possess, or our feelings of morality, decency, empathy, and pity… Isn’t goodness incompatible with the theory of the ‘selfish gene’?” (pg 214-5)

    Dawkins’ goes on to argue that the idea that it is, is a misunderstanding and the evolution is not incompatible with goodness.  There are two main problems with Dawkins argument. The first is that it is really very selective and theoretical and amounts to little more than special pleading.  The second is that while Dawkins’ see evolution’s ability to account for goodness as a strength, and yet another reason we do not need religion, the special pleading nature of the argument is in reality an indication of a much deeper problem: that as put forward by those like Dawkins it is a tautology . 

    In logic a tautology is an argument that is always valid. While this sounds like a good thing, the problem with tautologies can been seen in the following example; it will either rain or not rain tomorrow.  Now this statement will always be valid, regardless of location or weather.  But while always valid, it tells us nothing about whether or not we will need an umbrella. In short it really tells us nothing at all.

    What Dawkins explanation really reveals is that evolution is a huge complex tautology.  It can explain anything the evolutionist needs it to explain.  Soon after Darwin, the theory began to be applied to societies to justify why some people were better off than others, in Social Darwinism.  It then became the basis of Eugenics, which effectively argued for selective breeding of people, to produce better people, much the way we selectively breed animals.  This culminated in Hitler’s belief in a master race, and the elimination of impure bloodlines. 

    Following WWII, this was all rejected, and rightly so, as immoral. While we continued to selectively breed animals, people were off limits.  Yet Dawkins now argues that he can explain an almost opposite morality also based on evolution.  What this means is that evolution can explain either view. Just like the statement it will either rain or not rain tells us nothing about the weather, evolution tells us nothing about morality. It only tells us about the ability to speculate to a particular goal on the part of the scientist.

    The problem with the particular answer Dawkins gives is that he cites a number of “good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous, or ‘moral’ towards each other.” (pg 219) Yet those pushing Social Darwinism, or Eugenics in the 1920s and 30s also had many good Darwinian reasons as well. So a clear question become why Dawkins’ Darwinian reasons should be preferred to these other Darwinian reasons. For most people this is pretty easy to determine as history has shown that the Darwinian reasons for Eugenics leads to some pretty immoral things.  But since Dawkins is arguing for the basis for morality, he cannot use morality to make such a choice without falling victim to circular reasoning.  Which leaves him with special pleading; his reasons are better than the reasons that led to eugenics because they give him the answer he is seeking.

    Yet even if Dawkins were correct, and our sense of morality is what it is because of evolutionary pressures to survive, it still would not follow that this is what morality should be in the twenty-first century.  Dawkins acknowledges this when he says that “those rules still influence us today, even where circumstances make them inappropriate to their original function.” (p 222) In short, even if Dawkins’ is correct concerning his view of the evolutionary basis for morality, that says nothing about what morality should be today.  In fact the only thing Dawkins would have succeeded in doing it arguing that morality is at best a residue of the evolutionary process, and there is no reason it should hold any automatic power over our actions.

    In fact the only principle left would really be “might makes right.”  Whoever has the power, would determine right and wrong.  Of course the problem here is that had Dawkins view been accepted earlier, for example before much of the progress in civil and human rights over the last couple of hundred years, there would have been no reason to make those changes, and they very likely would never have happened. 

    The belief in human rights is grounded 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.  The anti-slavery movement was not grounded in Darwinian reasons, but in religious belief, in particular in the belief that slaves were men with rights.  Luckily those views became well entrenched before Darwin put forth his theory, as I am not at all sure that had the ideas of evolution become entrenched first, whether an anti-slavery movement could have ever taken root.

    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 IX

    Friday, October 26th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part VIII

    Friday, October 19th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part VII

    Friday, October 12th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More next time.

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

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part VI

    Friday, September 14th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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