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Hitchens – God Is Not Great II

Friday, March 14th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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This week in my review of Christopher Hitchens, “God is not Great,” I will look at what Hitchens calls the “four irreducible objections to religious faith.” According to him religious faith “wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.” (p 4)

One immediate objection to these objections, is that Hitchens is committing a mistake common to so many atheist critiques, which is that these objections don’t really apply to religion as a general concept for religion is simply too diverse. They really apply mainly to Christianity. But casting them in terms of religion in general allows the atheist to talk of the problems of one religion as if they apply to all religions.

Frankly, it is hard to apply them even to all of Christianity. For example, Hitchens first objection is that religious faith misrepresent the origins of man and the cosmos. Yet within Christianity, there is a whole range of opinions on origins, from a special creation in 7 days all the way to views that are virtually indistinguishable from those held by Hitchens, except that they would ultimately say that God was behind it all.

Now perhaps Hitchens considers merely attributing the origin of man and the Cosmos to God as objectionable, but even here there are problems. One huge problem is that scientist can’t explain the origins of man or the cosmos, and as I describe in my book Evidence for the Bible there are serious problems explaining how the process started in the first place.

Similar problems apply to his second objection, that religion combines “the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism.” Frankly it is not even clear how this really applies to Christianity, much less religion in general. Granted the NT does teach that we are servants of Christ, but I find this hard to square with Hitchens’ claim that this is the maximum of servility as our position is also the Children of God who can say of God “Abba Father.” (Romans 8:15-16) As for his claim that religion is at the same time, the maximum of solipsism, or extreme egocentrism, this is a complete mystery. One could try to guess at what he means, but an argument that has to be guessed at is hardly a cogent one.

Hitchens third objection is “that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression.” Again his one size fits all objection, hardly fits at all. After all can one really describe some of the other first century religions whose worships centered around visits to the temple prostitute, as sexually repressed? Sure, an over regulation of sex has been a feature of some religions, and some forms of Christianity, but some is not all.

There is also the problem that what constitutes sexual repression is somewhat of a relative concept. For some any restrictions on sex is “sexual repression.” Is saying that sex should be restricted to the confines of marriage, sexual repression? We are certainly seeing the results of 40 years of sexual freedom, and they are not good. The breaking of the link between sex and marriage, has resulted in a huge increase in single parent households and the problems they bring. And often it is the children who often suffer the most.

Contrary to the modern myths, men and women are different, and sex can have consequences. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control released this week, one in four teenagers, aged 14–19 has at least one sexually transmitted disease. In African-American girls the rate is 50%. And the study did not even include all sexually transmitted diseases. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun “There are 19 million sexually transmitted diseases in the United States – costing the health care system $15 billion a year – and almost half occur among the 14 to 25 age group.” And this is with modern medicine, antibiotics, and birth control. Given all these problems and we have only mentioned a couple, is it really all that unreasonable to think that when God said that sex should be only between a husband and wife, that perhaps he was not just trying to be a killjoy, but perhaps he really did have our best interests in mind?

Hitchens fourth objection is that religious faith is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking. There is a rational problem with considering this an objection to religious faith, because it tends to be circular. The purpose of Hitchens objections is to say that religious false. But to say something is grounded on wish-thinking is to say that something is false. Thus, Hitchens is basically saying that religious faith is false, because it is false which is a circular argument and thus irrational.

So Hitchens four irreducible objections to religious faith, are hardly even sound objections to religious faith in general, much less Christianity in particular. That he sees them as some insight into religion is sad.

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

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.

Free Will

Friday, December 14th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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Dec 14, 2007, Wausau, Wi —  Last time I looked at the issue of Free Inquiry and the skeptic’s false claim that they were free to go wherever the evidence leads, while Christians were limited by their religious beliefs.  But there is a deeper more subtle problem with the skeptic’s claim that they are free to go wherever the evidence leads them.  This problem concerns freedom itself.

Inherent in the skeptic’s belief to be free is the belief that they are free to make a decisions.  In fact much of the skeptic’s criticism of religion centers around the concept of freedom.  Skeptics believe that Christians surrender their freedom to false religious beliefs.  Christians choose certain behaviors, not because they want to, but because the Bible says so. The problem for the skeptic, however, is how they can account for this freedom in the first place. 

Now this problem can be difficult to see because the freedom to choose is something we all just take for granted.  Of course we have a freedom to choose.  Our entire view of our daily lives, our interactions with others and everything we do is dependent upon our freedom to choose.  In fact it is difficult to conceive of how we would view the world if we didn’t make the assumption that we have a freedom to choose.  For example, the entire legal system and its concept of punishment for crimes is based on the assumption that the criminal had a choice whether or not to commit the crime.

The problem for the skeptic is not so much that we have free will, but rather how can they explain that we have free will.  While the concept of free will is difficult for every one religious believers and skeptics alike, it is particularly difficult for the skeptic who has a naturalistic view of the world.  For the skeptic, the natural universe governed by natural laws is the only thing that exists.  Miracles are rejected because they would violate the laws of nature.  For the skeptic, everything is governed by the laws of nature.  There is no room for God.

What the skeptic often over looks is that free will, the freedom to choose, is inconsistent with their naturalistic view of a universe governed by natural law.  Now again, this can be difficult to see because the idea that we have free will, that we have the freedom to make some decisions, is something we just take for granted.  We don’t even think about it.  We certainly don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how it can happen.

For the skeptic, we’re simply animals, the result of a long evolutionary process.  Our origin and everything about us, just like everything else in the universe, can be explained by the laws of nature.  There is no soul.  There’s nothing beyond the material body.  Our actions are completely explained by the electrochemical interactions taking place in our brain and in the rest of our body, or at least will be once science can figure everything out.  But therein lies the problem.  If everything can be explained by the electrochemical interactions taking place in our brain and in our body, where is there room for freedom of choice?

Now skeptics often claim that what we call consciousness is the result of the electrochemical interactions in the brain, and it is our consciousness that makes our decisions.  But while this may be a nice explanation for the skeptic, again how does this happen.  Even if for sake of argument we assume that they are correct and consciousness is nothing more than the electrochemical interactions taking place in our brain, how do those electrochemical interactions actually make the choice?

The simple fact is that the concept of choice is incompatible with a universe governed by natural laws.  A rock falling down the side of a cliff, does not make a choice to bounce right or left when it hits the side of the cliff.  Every aspect of its fall is determined by the laws of nature.  A choice, on the other hand, transcends the laws of nature.  It is not determined by the laws of nature; it is determined by something else.  If it was determined by the laws of nature it would not be a choice. 

So if choice is nothing more than the result of consciousness which is itself the result of the electrochemical interactions taking place in our brain, then at some point these electrochemical interactions that are governed by the laws of nature must somehow transcend the laws of nature so as to make a choice.

But if skeptics are correct and somehow our consciousness does transcend the laws of nature so as to make a choice, than this would violate one of their fundamental starting premise is which is that everything is governed by the laws of nature.

So the skeptic is caught in a real quandary.  They must either deny freewill, which is virtually impossible for them to account for anyway, or they must accept that there are things that are not governed by the laws of nature.  If they deny freewill, they are denying something so obvious that we simply take it for granted. Yet if they accept that there are some things not governed by the laws of nature, they deny one of their fundamental premises. 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 XI

Friday, November 9th, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion Part X

Friday, November 2nd, 2007 by Elgin Hushbeck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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