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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part V

    Friday, September 7th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    Sept 7, 2007, Wausau, Wi  So far, in my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I have showed how Dawkins’ arguments in the first chapter of his book concerning religion in general and Christianity in particular are seriously flawed. In chapter two Dawkins turns to the more specific question of God. 

    He starts the chapter with what can at best be characterized as a stereotypical rant, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all the fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, and unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniac, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

    The main justification that Dawkins’ gives for this statement is that Winston Churchill’s son, Randolph, came to a similar conclusion when he read the Old Testament for the first time while in the army. 

    As a result, his views were not based on any serious in depth understanding of the text.  No attempt was made to put any of the books into an historical context.  No attempt was made to put the books into any cultural context.  There was simply a superficial reading.

    Dawkins goes on to write that, “It is unfair to attack such an easy target.” The reason it is so easy is that what Dawkins has done here is to create a strawman view of god that he can then easily knock down, not an accurate depiction of God based on any scholarly analysis of the text.

    Dawkins goes on from this to state his alternative to god, “any creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution.” His alternative is a little confusing because it seems to be, not an alternative to god, but a reason why a god could not exist.  But even as a reason why a god could not exist, it still does not make very much sense because it is based on the premise that a god would be a part of the universe and therefore that would need to evolve.  But a god who created the universe could not be part of the created universe without falling into the absurdity of self creation.

    From there Dawkins goes on to expand the view of religion that sees progress from “primitive tribal animisms, and, through Polytheisms such as those of the Greeks, Romans and Norsemen, to monotheisms such as Judaism and its derivatives, Christianity and Islam.” (pg 32) While this seems like a nice neat theory that fits Dawkins bias to see evolution everywhere, as I discuss in my book, Evidence for the Bible, if anything the opposite is true.  Monotheism seems to devolve into polytheism, and the tendency would seem to be to create more gods, not fewer. Even in modern times, as Western civilization as moved away from Christianity, God has been replaced by many other things, wealth, fame, country, science, nature. Now even in science there are those pushing the concept of Gaia or mother earth.

    While Dawkins purports to discuss polytheism at this point, instead, he quickly switches to ridiculing the Trinity.  That his discussion of the Trinity occurs in the section on polytheism shows once again the superficiality with which Dawkins approach religion.  After quoting a passage from St. Gregory, Dawkins takes one of his characteristic swipes at religion, saying “his words convey a characteristically obscurantist flavor of theology, which – unlike science or most other branches of human scholarship – has not moved on in 18 centuries.”

    The first problem with this is that there was nothing particularly obscure in St. Gregory’s discussion of the Trinity.  That Dawkins finds it obscured is simply more evidence of his superficiality.  Anyone, reading a technical discussion in a field of study where they are not familiar with the key issues, problems, or terminology, is likely to find that discussion obscure.

    Dawkins’ claim that theology has not “moved on in 18 centuries” is equally as false.  Sure the basic doctrines such as God, Jesus Christ, and salvation, have not changed.  But why should they?  If scientists 18 centuries from now still believe in gravity will that be a reason to reject science because it is not moved on?  On the other hand, to say there has been no development in theology in the last 18 centuries is simply false. 

    In fact, just in the last hundred years there’s been tremendous development in our understanding of the Bible, as our understanding of Biblical languages, archaeology, and history have improved.  Granted, these have not challenged the foundations of our faith, and in fact if anything, have strengthened them, has they have demonstrated the reliability of the Bible, and have refuted most of the arguments put forth by critics such as Dawkins, which is perhaps why Dawkins ignores these developments.

    Dawkins’ closes the section on polytheism by attempting to forestall the criticism that the god Dawkins is attacking is not the God that Christians believe in.  His response is that all notions of god are silly and that he is “attacking god, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.”

    While this is a bold and sweeping claim, it does not match the actual arguments in the book.  It would be like claiming you are refuting all of science, when all of your argument relate to alchemy.  Likewise Dawkins’ arguments fall short.

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

    Part I     Part II     Part III    Part IV 

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part IV

    Friday, August 31st, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    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 III

    Friday, August 3rd, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    August 3, 2007, Wausau, Wi  In part II of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I pointed out that atheists, like the educated elites, have constructed a world view based on assumptions that leads them to their conclusions.   One can clearly see this in Dawkins description of the atheist’s view.  Dawkins writes, “Human thoughts and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interconnections of physical entities within the brain.  An atheist in this sense of philosophical naturalist is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body, and no miracles – except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand.  If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand it and embrace it within the natural.” (p 14)

    Dawkins starts with what seems like a statement of science about human thoughts and emotions, and from there expands it into a view of atheism.  Yet this statement about human thoughts and emotions is not a statement of scientific fact, but is at best a statement of atheistic belief or maybe even hope.  This is because we do not know how we think and feel, and there are lots of competing views. 

    In the early days of computers, it was assumed by many that as computer technology grew and developed, before long we would have machines that could really think and would someday be conscious.  In science fiction there are many examples of conscious machines such as Hal, the computer in 2001 A Space Odyssey, and Commander Data in Star Trek. 

    Yet as computer technology developed and programs grew more and more complex, the more we came to realize how little we actually understood consciousness.  As a result the whole field of Artificial Intelligence has largely transformed itself away from creating conscious machines, and into simply handling complex decision making processes. While there are still those who hope to one day create a conscious machine, many have grave doubts that it will ever happen.

    From this questionable belief about how we think, Dawkins goes on to defines an atheist as “somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world.”  This also is not a statement of science, it is a statement of faith.  Atheist often try to avoid the fact that this is a statement of faith, by claiming that this is a justified conclusion, because there is no proof that there is anything beyond the natural, and it is irrational to ask them to prove that there isn’t. 

    As I discuss in my book, Christianity and Secularism, there are several problems with this argument, but a key one is that the whole concept of proof is very subjective and is greatly determined by one’s world view.  Notice how in his statement Dawkins insulates his view from problems.  He leads in with what seems to be a statement of science to say human thoughts are explained, and thereby implies both that atheism is a scientific view, and that there is no need to seek any further explanation.  He then rejects that there is any supernatural, God, soul or miracles. Finally, those things that science can’t yet explain are handled with the “hope” that we will someday figure it out.

    As a result, Dawkins’ claim boils down to a claim that the atheist worldview is correct, because within the atheist world view there is no proof that there is anything else.  But this is circular reasoning.  This problem is not unique to atheist, it is a problem all world views must confront, and why ultimately faith and hope plays a role in all world views, even the atheist’s.

    For Christianity, the idea that faith and hope are important parts of the Christian world view is both accepted and embraced.  But for atheism they pose a major problem. This is because atheists so strongly identify themselves with science and much of their attacks on religion centers on attacking faith and hope, particularly faith.  In fact many atheists will strongly try to insist that atheism does not depend on faith and dogmatically reject any claim that is does.

    But dogmatic denials do not change the fact that the acceptance of atheism requires the acceptance of a naturalist world view that cannot itself be proven, but must be accepted on faith.  You can see this even in Dawkins statement of “hope” that the issues out there that have not yet been understood, will be eventually be understood in a naturalistic way, when by the very fact that we have not yet understood them means we do not know what the explanation will be. In short, Dawkins has faith that the explanation will be a natural one.

    As I point out in my books, while atheist often criticize Christians for having a faith contrary to the evidence,  this is actually the case with them in areas such as their claim that the origin of universe does not require something beyond the universe, or their claim that the origin of life was a natural process. In both cases, the evidence is not only strongly against them, it has been getting worse for some time.

    So a key component of atheism is faith, just as faith is a key component in all world views. As such, when the atheist like Dawkins attacks Christianity for relying faith, they are also attacking themselves.

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

      

    Part I     Part II     Part IV     Part V 

    A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part II

    Friday, June 29th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    June 29, 2007, Wausau, Wi  In  part I of my review of Richard Dawkins’, “The God Delusion” I looked at three errors in Dawkins view of religion.  Somewhat more surprising, however, is Dawkins view of atheism in America. He claims that “The status of atheists in America today is on a par with that of homosexuals fifty years ago. ”  He goes on to claim that atheist are so under siege that they “are reluctant to ‘come out.’” (p 4)  Does Dawkins really believe this? In the 1970s when I was an atheist, it never even crossed my mind that I was some sort of persecuted minority, or that I needed to hide my rejection of a belief in God. Since then, if anything atheist has only become more accepted.

    Dawkins goes on to say that “atheists are a lot more numerous, especially among the educated elite, than many realize.” (p. 4) While I have no doubt Dawkins is correct that many of the “educated elite” are atheist [and most of rest are either agnostics or simply support secularism],  I don’t think that this would  come as much of a surprise to many, but rather is pretty common knowledge.  In fact this is one of the reason his previous claim that atheists are a persecuted minority is so silly, for these elites  not only dominate Universities,  but also the news and entertainment media, and much of government, and they use their power and position to spread secular views, and attack and restrict religious views wherever they can, and they have been quite successful.

    More importantly, Dawkins clearly sees the fact that so many of these educated elites are atheist as strong evidence that he is correct. After all if these smart people believe it, it must be true.  However for those like myself, “educated elite” is not a positive term, but a negative one that refers to those who are so caught up in theory and academia that they long ago cut themselves off from reality. 

    One of the hard lessons that those in the physical sciences like physics and chemistry have historically struggled with is that nature often acts in ways that one would not expect.  The history of science is full of scientists who had really nice theories of how nature should work, only to have them dashed to pieces when they were tested.  This is a good thing as it move our knowledge forward.    However as one moves out of the physical sciences and into the social sciences the ability to actually test one’s theories becomes increasingly difficult. More over the ability of the researcher influence the results increases.  Yet this difficulty has not tempered the “educated elite” creation of new and novel theories.

    For example, until recently it was the norm for the “educated elite” to claim that men and woman are basically the same. Any behavior differences we observer were simply the result of how they are raised.  Now for those who were not fortunate enough afford such an education the ideal the men and women are the same was always pretty silly.  But then the educated elite are not the elite for nothing.

    Even though recent medical research, particularly on the brain,  has thoroughly debunked this claim and has clearly show that, to the great astonishment of many of the elite, that men and women are different, this falsehood that they are the same continues to  shaped much of the social debate in this country.  After the differences were demonstrated, many of the elites simply moved from the view that the differences don’t exist, to the view that they are not that important.  

    For example, the idea that because of these differences, a father and a mother play different roles in the raising of a child is still questioned by many of “educated elite” who continue to maintain that these roles are completely interchangeable.  It really does not matter if you have a mother and father, a mother  and mother, father and father, or whatever combination you desire, the only thing that is important is that the child is loved.  I have often hear the “educated elite” characterize the claim that the best way to raise a child is with loving mother and a loving father in a stable committed relationship  as  a bigoted and narrow minded religious view, and I should not seek to impose my religious views on society because of the separation of church and state. 

     In short, what defines so much of the “educated elite” at least beyond the physical sciences, is they have constructed a world view that is largely immune to actually testing and even when parts are disproven, this is not allowed to have much impact on the worldview itself.  Yet because it is labeled “science” this world view is somehow seen as automatically true, differing views are then rejected as religious and therefore false.  

    Where this comes into play for atheism is that this is pretty much what atheist like Dawkins have done. They construct a world view based on assumptions that cannot be tested or proven, but must just be accepted, and then when God does not fit into the world view they have constructed, they conclude He does not exist.

     Could it be that the vast majority believe in God for the same reason that the vast majority believe that men and women are different, and that the educated elite reject God for pretty much the same reason they once rejected the idea that men and women are different?

    Part I   Part III   Part IV   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.