Journal of Biblical Ministry, Spring 2011

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Journal of Biblical Ministry Spring, 2011

A journal to support and encourage those in ministry by providing studies In biblical texts with application for practical ministry CONTENTS Introduction, President James L. Flanagan, Ph.D. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Articles: The Theology of Galatians J. M. Kinnebrew, Ph.D. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Atheism, Theism, and the Problem of Evil, D. Scott Henderson, Ph.D. . . . .

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The Startling Stupidity of Geniuses, J. M. Kinnebrew, Ph.D. . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 An Assessment of the New Atheists’ Arguments against the Complexity of God, the Design Argument, the Mind-Body Problem, and a Final Statement on the Atheist-Theist Dialog, Rick Walston, Ph.D. . . . . . . 37 Responses to the New Atheists: A Review of Recent Literature, Jonathan F. Henderson, M.A., Ed.S. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 The Art of Asking Questions: Dealing with Postmodernism, Marcia Bost, M.A. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 Book Review Review of Godless by Dan Barker, Part 1: Rejecting God, J.M. Kinnebrew, Ph.D. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83


Journal of Biblical Ministry INTRODUCTORY NOTE We‘re delighted to bring you the third edition of Luther Rice Seminary and University‘s Journal of Biblical Ministry. This journal has been established by our faculty with the intent of helping you fulfill the ministry God has given you in many different contexts. After a relevant article on this year‘s January Bible Study Book, the bulk of this issue is dedicated to a topic that has caught the attention of the media of late and has, sadly, caused the disruption of faith in many believers. I‘m talking about the so-called ―New Atheism.‖ In reality, there is little ―new‖ about this movement. More than 3000 years ago the Psalmist wrote, ―the fool has said in his heart ‗there is no God,‘‖ and a full three millennia later such an assertion is still a very foolish one. I‘m sure you will agree with King David‘s assessment after you have read the articles that follow.

The publishing of this journal is a fairly new endeavor for Luther Rice, and we welcome your comments and constructive criticism. Our mission is to help you become the best leader and minister for Christ that you can possibly be. If you know of a way to make this journal more effective to that end, please let us know. Now turn the page, read, enjoy, learn, and ―teach others also‖ (2 Tim 2.2)!

James L. Flanagan, Ph.D. President, CEO Luther Rice Seminary & University

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THE THEOLOGY OF GALATIANS By J. M. Kinnebrew, Ph.D. V.P. for Academic Affairs Professor of Theology & Spiritual Formation If one is to believe the anonymous second-century description, he was not much to look at—this ―man of small stature with a bald head and crooked legs . . . with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked.‖1 According to his first-century detractors, his bodily presence was ―weak‖ and his speech ―contemptible‖ (1 Cor 2.3). Still— intellectually, spiritually, and in every other way—he stands today without peer: Paul, the greatest theologian in the history of the Christian church. The great apostle has been called a ―task theologian,‖ because the extant expositions of his doctrine were written primarily to meet practical needs in the life of the church. For him, theology was no meaningless academic exercise but a relevant and life-changing activity. One of the earliest ―tasks‖ divinely assigned to Paul was that of correcting the error that has come to be known as ―Galatianism‖—the mixing of Law and Grace. How often this deadly error has reappeared in the life of the church! When it appears, it prescribes its poison in two deadly doses.  

First, it demands that the sinner should secure salvation partly by faith in Christ and partly by good works. Second, it insists that the saint thus saved should secure holiness by self-effort through keeping the Law.

Those who have had to battle this heresy have turned again and again to the Epistle of Galatians for God‘s answer. No wonder Martin Luther said, “The Epistle of Galatians is my epistle; I have betrothed myself to it; it is my wife.” The theology of Galatians is as needful today as it was in the days of Paul and as important to current ministry as it was to work of Luther.

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Acta Pauli et Theclae [Acts of Paul and Thecla], 1.237.6-9.

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It is good that the Southern Baptist Convention has chosen this Letter for its churches‘ January Bible Study. Teachers of such studies may find the following outline useful as they prepare their own expositions of the book. Following the apparent threefold charge of Paul‘s legalistic critics, he addresses a trio of important particulars:   

The Author of the Theology of Galatians (Galatians 1-2) The Argument for the Theology of Galatians (Galatians 3-4) The Application of the Theology of Galatians (Galatians 5-6)

So that is the order the current discussion will follow. The Author of the Theology of Galatians (Galatians 1-2) Paul‘s critics seem to have leveled three main charges against him and his doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. The first charge was that Paul was not a true apostle; that is, he was not a messenger sent from God. He had not followed Jesus during the Lord‘s incarnate ministry. He was not one of the original twelve, nor one of the 120 in the upper room. What right did he have, then, to claim apostolic authority for his theology? Why should the Galatians, or anyone else for that matter, pay any attention to his radical and strange ideas? To this, Paul replied that he most certainly was an apostle—sent not by men, nor by a church, but by God Himself—with a message he received from Christ (1.1). Since the gospel he preached was from God, anyone preaching ―another gospel‖(1.6-9)—be he apostle or angel—is accursed (1.8). So certain was Paul that God had spoken to him, that he felt no need to confer with the other apostles or with any other man (1.17). True, after three years he did go to ―see‖ Peter and James, but it was to get acquainted with them, not to receive approval from them (1.18-24). Fourteen years after that, he went to Jerusalem. Again, not to ―confer‖ (1.16), but to ―communicate‖ the gospel that he had already been preaching for nearly two decades (2.2). At this time, Peter, James, and John all acknowledged the divine origin of Paul‘s theology (2.9). Had Paul ―invented‖ his gospel, he would have designed one more in line with his pharisaical background. In such a case, the judaizers in Galatia would

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have been pleased; but Paul would rather please God, the Great Author of Paul‘s Gospel message (1.10). The Argument for the Theology of Galatians (Galatians 3-4) The second charge Paul‘s critics seem to have brought against his theology of grace was that it is contrary to God‘s dealings with people and contrary to the demands of the Old Testament. To this, Paul replies that his theology, far from being contrary to God‘s dealings with people, is in harmony with the experience of God‘s people today (3.1-5) and yesterday (3.6-9). It is also, Paul insists, in harmony with a correct understanding of the Old Testament (3.10-4.11; 4.21-31). The gospel of grace is that which brought the manifestation of the Holy Spirit to the Galatians (3.1-5). This same principle of grace was the basis of Abraham‘s salvation (3.6). Indeed, the impossibility of being saved by works makes salvation by grace the only option; and it is an option that is grounded in the faith of the Old Testament. To insist upon a salvation by works is to ―frustrate,‖ or ―set aside,‖ the grace of God and to make the death of Christ meaningless (2.21). The Application of the Theology of Galatians (Galatians 5-6) The third charge Paul‘s critics, both ancient and modern, have brought against him is that to adopt his theology is to invite moral laxity and ungodliness. How can the church keep sin in check if her constituents believe they are saved by grace alone, apart from good works? Paul‘s answer is both simple and profound. Those who believe his gospel of grace receive the indwelling Spirit of Christ; those who seek salvation by works do not (3.2-5). The results (―fruit‖) of the Spirit‘s presence is a life characterized by love, joy, peace, and the other traits which fulfill the Law of God (5.14, 22-23). Thus, the Law is fulfilled—not as a means of salvation, but as the result of being saved and walking after the Spirit (5.16-6.18). The judaizers can loudly proclaim the necessity of keeping the Law, but neither they nor their audience can render complete obedience (2.14-16; 3.10-13). Only the indwelling Spirit can empower one to keep the Law; but He only indwells those who, knowing they

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cannot keep the Law, throw themselves on the grace of God and accept the righteousness which comes from God by grace through faith. Having thus been saved, they are indwelt and led by the One who will empower them to live a life of love ―against which there is no law‖ (5.23). Acceptance of Paul‘s theology is not a detriment to godly living. To the contrary, it is the only hope one has of truly living a godly life. In summary, then, the Author of the theology of Galatians is God; the argument for the theology of Galatians is grounded in the experience of God‘s people and the exposition of God‘s Law; and the application of the theology of Galatians is a transformed life of Spirit-led godliness. May the entire church, with Luther, betroth herself to this wonderful epistle; with the hymn writer, proclaim, ―Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I‘m constrained to be;‖ and with the great apostle Paul commit to never ―frustrate the grace of God‖ by applying a manmade solution to a problem that God in grace has already solved!

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Atheism, Theism, and the Problem of Evil D. Scott Henderson, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Bioethics and Apologetics

Introduction Many atheists consider the problem of evil the definitive proof against the idea of an allgood, all-knowing, and all-powerful God. As Sam Harris writes: ―The problem of vindicating an omnipotent and omniscient God in the face of evil…is insurmountable.‖1 To be sure, it is the trump card most often played against the existence of the Christian God. Although various problems of evil deserve to be addressed, in this essay I aim to accomplish three things. First, based on atheism‘s worldview, I will challenge the grounds for the coherency of the atheist argument. Second, I will demonstrate that the idea of a God possessing the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence in no way guarantees a world without evil, thereby rendering the atheistic trump card benign in its affect upon the Christian conception of God. Third, I will demonstrate why the Greater-Good Theodicy fails to adequately explain evil.

Can the Atheists’ Charge Stand? Philosophers of religion who contend with the problem of evil distinguish between a defense and a theodicy.2 While the former offers a defense of the coexistence of God and evil by attempting to undercut the atheist‘s argument that the two are incompatible, the latter undertakes to explain why God permits evil in the first place. Regarding the former, it is generally acknowledged today that no logical problem actually exists between the statements, ―God exists‖ and ―evil exists‖ thus rendering the logical version of the problem invalid.3 What is left is a probabilistic form in which the existence of God and a particular class of evil, namely gratuitous evil4, is rendered incompatible. For if God is genuinely omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, then he would prefer a world 1

Sam Harris. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005), 173. 2

J. P. Moreland & William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 536-537. 3

See: Alvin Plantinga. God, Freedom, and Evil. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977).

4

Gratuitous evil is purposeless, senseless, and morally unnecessary.


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without gratuitous evil, possess the knowledge to avoid it, and have the power to prevent it. Hence, if gratuitous evil exists, then an all good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God does not. Now it is worth pointing out that the atheist is in a bit of a quandary here. For if she argues that the existence of gratuitous evil poses a real problem for the Christian God, then she must also believe that evil is real. But if evil is to be taken seriously, then that implies that such things as good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice are objectively real. The problem for the atheist is on what basis can she say that these things are objectively real? In other words, how does the atheist establish the objectivity of morality? It is one thing to say that something is immoral, evil, or unjust, it is quite another to explain why it is so. Sam Harris, one of the so-called new atheists, attempts to provide a scientific basis for morality. His claim is that: …questions about values – about meaning, morality, and life‘s larger purpose – are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. Values, therefore, translate into facts that can be scientifically understood: regarding positive and negative social emotions, retributive impulses, the effects of specific laws and social institutions on human relationships, the neurophysiology of happiness and suffering, etc.5 For Harris, that which is good is that which maximizes the well-being of conscious creatures. Science, particularly neuroscience, shows us that morality must be understood and defined in terms consistent with this definition. Though the problems with this view are multiple, one problem stands out, particularly given Harris‘s attempt to establish an objective morality. In short, Harris is a naturalistic evolutionist. As such, the evolution of human beings, and their values, is guided by a nonmoral and nonteleological process. This entails that whatever values emerge in humans generated by the evolutionary process, they could have been otherwise than they are. To understand the difficulty this presents in the attempt to ground an objective morality, one need only consider the grounding problem contained in the Euthyphro dilemma, which is most often used, ironically, to thwart the attempt to ground morality in God. Bertrand Russell captures the essence of the dilemma: If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God‘s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God‘s fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no 5

Sam Harris. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. (New York: Free Press, 2010).

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longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God‘s fiat, because God‘s fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.6 The Euthyphro dilemma is often used as a means to assess the relationship between morality and God. It proposes that two options are available, both of which are problematic for the theist. First, morality is the product solely of God‘s will. This is the divine command theory in ethics. Problematic to this view is that it entails that morality is arbitrary, for if it is grounded in God‘s will, then God could have willed otherwise than He did. As Bertrand Russell put it, ―For God, there is no difference between right and wrong….‖7 The second option in the dilemma places God at the behest of a standard of morality anterior to Himself. God wills something because it is good. In this option the sovereign God must look to some standard to guide his will thereby subordinating Himself to that standard. The first option says that God creates values by willing them, thus making morality arbitrary; the second option says that God must align His will to a standard, thus making God subordinate. Russell: “For Christian theists have long noted the false dichotomy in God, there is no the dilemma. Why should the theist be restricted to only difference bethese two options? Traditional Christian ethics recognizes that morality need not be grounded in the will of tween right and God or in some standard anterior to God. Natural law wrong…” theory asserts that there is a God, there is a moral law, and God is in fact the basis for morality, but not through his unknowable will but through His knowable nature, and we can know the effect (moral law) without knowing the cause (God) just as we can know God‘s effects in physical nature through science without knowing their divine creative cause. Thus, God‘s nature is the basis for morality. This tertium quid avoids both horns of the dilemma thereby relieving the theist of the attendant problems.

6

Bertrand Russell. Why I Am Not a Christian. (London: Unwin Books, 1967), 19.

7

Ibid.

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However, if the first horn of the dilemma (morality is arbitrary if it could have been otherwise) is a problem for the theist, then why is it not a problem for the atheist? Harris‘s attempt to ground morality may masquerade as ―objective‖ in some sense, but it is nonetheless arbitrary, since it could have been otherwise than it is. Morality for the atheist is simply the natural by-product of nonmoral processes that could have evolved in a different manner had the combination of internal and external pressures and conditions that produced human beings and their values (morality) been different. The Christian theist, however, avoids this problem by grounding morality in a standard that is neither arbitrary nor anterior to God. The irony of the atheist‘s attempt to argue against the existence of the Christian God is that he must borrow capital from theism in order to be able to advance any meaningful attack in the first place. However, upon doing so, the atheist who feels strongly that the very fact of the existence of evil threatens warrant for belief in God, unwittingly grants …the atheist’s the very thing which may be used to advance an argument recognition of for the existence of God. For if evil really exists, and theevil only ism is in the best position to provide a metaphysical makes sense ground for calling anything evil, then it follows that the if God exists. atheist‘s recognition of evil only makes sense if God exists. J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig note the following argument in lieu of any argument from evil against the existence of God. 1. 2. 3. 4.

If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist. Evil exists. Therefore, objective moral values exist. Therefore, God exists.8

Thus, the atheist not only lacks the ground necessary for establishing an objective morality, but also advances an argument, if it is to be taken seriously, that entails the very thing it seeks to discredit, namely, the existence of God. Hence, the Christian theist is in a superior position to the atheist in accounting for the problem of evil.

Can God Create a World Without Evil? Christian theists need only look to their long, rich philosophical/theological tradition to find the resources necessary to construct a plausible theodicy. Christian thinkers such 8

Moreland & Craig, 550.

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as Irenaeus of Lyons, Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, and C. S. Lewis saw the significance of the challenge the problem of evil presented to the Christian conception of God. For that reason, they spent considerable time wrestling with the problem, which is borne out in their voluminous treatments of the issue. In what follows I intend to sketch out some of the most salient insights developed by these thinkers in an effort to provide a story line that can take in account the scope and degree of evil that humans observe and experience in the world.

Beginning with Augustine, whose preoccupation with the problem consumed much of his life, several of his insights are worth noting. The first of these is his insistence on the gift of free will possessed by all human persons. Although free will is a good gift from God and is the means by which we can do good things and affirm our place in the eternal order, it is also the means by which we can bring sin into the world. So while free will is a good thing given by God, it can also be used in perverse ways. As Augustine writes: If human beings are good things, and they cannot do right unless they so will, then they ought to have a free will, without which they cannot do right. True, they can also use free will to sin, but we should not therefore believe that God gave them free will so that they would be able to sin. The fact that human beings could not live rightly without it was sufficient reason for God to give it‌. No action would be either a sin or a good deed if it were not performed by the will, and so both punishment and reward would be unjust if human beings had no free will.9 Augustine recognizes that there is an order of creation reflective of the goodness of God and that all things that exist are inherently good. One of these goods is free will, which carries with it the possibility of its use to bring about evil. Moral evils, therefore, find their cause in the willing of persons. While God is the cause of human freedom, human persons are the cause of their free acts, some of which are good and some of which are evil. It is worth noting that the atheist who maintains a real morality not only has the difficulty of grounding the objectivity of moral values, but also the difficulty of explaining how human beings are moral agents in the first place. In order for human beings to be moral agents, they must be morally praiseworthy and blameworthy for their actions, which re-

9

Augustine. On Free Choice of the Will. Trans., Thomas Williams. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993),

2.1.

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quires genuine freedom.10 However, if the universe is a purely material universe, then humans are products of determinants wholly outside of their control. All a person‘s desires, beliefs, dispositions, thoughts, and choices, are determined. If one is entirely determined, then one is not free. And if one is not free, then one cannot be held accountable for his desires, beliefs, dispositions, thoughts, and choices, since they are entirely determined by previous factors over which he has no control. Under this scenario, it makes no sense to say that humans are moral agents, since they are not free. Thus, the atheist lacks not only a foundation and standard for calling something good or evil, but also the means by which human beings should be considered moral agents. Harris, a materialist, acknowledges this when he writes: ―No one has ever described a manner in which mental and physical events could arise that would attest to its [free will‘s] existence.‖11 Augustine: Evil Although free will may directly account for moral evils in is best conthe world, one may still raise the question of the origin of ceived as a natural evils that directly result from events naturally occurring in the world such as earthquakes, tornadoes, aclack or a corcidents, and various disorders and diseases. This leads ruption of a us to Augustine‘s second noteworthy insight—the notion of thing… evil as a privation. Recall that for Augustine, every created thing is good owing to its ultimate ontological ground in God (God, understood as both the originating and conserving cause of all things). Each thing‘s essence or nature is good. Evil, therefore, is best conceived as a lack or a corruption of a thing, like blindness is to an eye. Understood this way, evil has no independent ontological status. It is not a substance. Evil only exists in other things. Moreover, nothing can be totally evil and still exist, since a total privation is nothing at all. As Augustine notes,

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Some attempt to explain freedom in terms that are compatible with determinism. This is called compatibilism. Compatibilists generally claim that freedom consists in the ability to choose in accordance with what one most desires. Freedom is inhibited when one cannot choose what one desires. Moreover, they claim, all one‘s desires, thoughts, and choices are determined by factors over which one has no control and is unable to prevent. Hence, one‘s desires are determined and they in turn determine one‘s choices. This is why compatibilism ultimately ends in determinism. (I think C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity demonstrates that we often do choose contrary to what we most desire.) One of the most damaging arguments to compatibilism is the consequence argument. It goes like this: If determinism is true, then we have no control over our own actions and thoughts. Therefore, assuming that responsibility requires control, then, if determinism is true, then we are not responsible for anything we do or think (that is, any form of compatibilism is false). 11

Harris, The End of Faith, 264.

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For what is that which we call evil, but the absence of the good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds means nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present—namely, the diseases and wounds—go away from the body and dwell somewhere else: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance—the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore, something good, of which those evils—that is, privations of the good which we call health—are accidents.12 This powerful insight relieves the Christian theist of the problem of placing the origin of evil in a direct causal relation to God. Evil exists not as a substance, but rather as a lacking in a substance. Taking his cue from Augustine, Aquinas argues that while evil is real, it nonetheless has no positive existence. Just as darkness is the absence of light, so evil is the absence of good (being).13 This important definitional starting point circumvents a common objection. Assuming that human persons possess free will, it is not self-evident that God could not have created a world in which humans always or usually do what is right. Given the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence, surely God could have chosen to create a world in which all people would always freely choose to do what is right. However, if it is the case that evil is not a thing, that is, evil is a lack, hole, or diminution in the intensity of existence, then God cannot be the cause of evil since not even God can create nothingness.14 But what if the atheist objects that given God‘s omni-attributes, surely God could have created a universe without holes or gaps? To begin with, a universe without holes or gaps would be by definition an infinite universe. Aquinas argues that it is logically impossible for God to create an infinite universe, since any created universe would be by definition, finite, limited, and contingent. Moreover, a universe without evil would also be a perfect universe. But perfection, like infinity—is an incommunicable and essential attribute of God. It is therefore logically impossible for God to impart the attribute of perfection to anything, and that any world God chooses to create would of necessity con12

Augustine. The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love. Ed., Henry Paolucci. (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1961), 11. 13

Aquinas understands the terms good, being, and beautiful as convertible.

14

See: Ric Machua, ―Review of ‗On Evil‘‖, Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Inc., 1997.

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tain ontic evil due to its dependence upon God, just as God is of necessity ontologically perfect. Ed Miller captures this when he writes: It would in fact be logically impossible to have a world without evil. Anything created by God would have to be less than God just by virtue of being dependent on him, and this means immediately that it must be less than perfect, and this means immediately the presence of various sorts of imperfections. How could God create something that was perfect, and therefore independent, and therefore uncreated? It is logically impossible.15 This immediately solves the problem of naturally occurring evil. Any world God creates would contain evil, understood as holes, gaps, or …many of the imperfections. God‘s omni-attributes in no way guarantee a world evils of the devoid of evil. The degree to which evil is realized, however, has a world are great deal to do with how humans use the good of free will impartgratuitous.… ed to them by God. In the section that follows, I will demonstrate why the widely appealed to Greater-Good Theodicy fails to account for the existence of evil.

Why the Greater-Good Theodicy Fails A thoroughgoing theodicy must account for the problem of gratuitous evil. Typically, the problem is addressed through the Greater-Good Theodicy (henceforth, G-G-T), in which the idea of gratuitous evil is denied. Every evil in the world, it is argued, is permitted, intended, or caused by God for morally sufficient reasons, namely, to bring about some greater good which could not have occurred otherwise. Hence, no evil is actually gratuitous, although it may seem gratuitous to finite humans. Despite its prevalence, Bruce A. Little16 and Kirk R. MacGregor17 note several problems for the G-G-T. First, the G-G-T is utterly counterintuitive, given our innate moral insight that many of the evils in the world are gratuitous. The suggestion that these evils only appear gratuitous due to our cognitive limitations is unpersuasive due to the universal human perception that gratuitous evil exists. We may classify this perception as proper15

rd

Ed Miller. Questions That Matter, 3 ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992), 356, emphasis his.

16

Bruce A. Little. A Creation-Order Theodicy: God and Gratuitous Evil. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004). 17

Kirk R. MacGregor. A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007).

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ly basic, belonging to the same category of properly basic beliefs such as the existence of objective moral values, a real external world, a veridical past, etc., all of which logically could be false, but in the absence of any defeaters, are rational to maintain. Additionally, the absurdity of the G-G-T is further compounded by its necessity to conceive of the universe as an overly determined system in which each evil receives its own assigned benefit. As MacGregor notes: For example, every time I am bitten by a mosquito, stub my toe, get a headache, and the like, God allows it in order to bring about some secret greater good at some specified point in world history that would not have otherwise transpired, which proposition seems outrageously ad hoc. With such evils, we should, in accord with Ockham‘s Razor, refrain from multiplying causes beyond the necessary and sufficient mundane ones detectable by common sense.18

Second, the G-G-T assigns to God the principle that the ends justify the means, despite the fact that this very principle is repudiated in Scripture and God punishes people for its employment.19 Not only does this greatly malign the character of God, which the G-G-T advocate is attempting to defend, but also misconstrues the sovereignty of God as divine planning of every activity in creation instead of divine governance over creation. Again, MacGregor notes: On the divine planning interpretation, God specifically ordains or purposes each action he permits in the universe, whether intrinsically good or evil, to further his ultimate ends. Not only does this notion further philosophically overdetermine the universe, as there is no independent reason to assume that every good fits into some overarching divine plan (much less every evil), but it also falsifies the moral goodness of God. To illustrate, suppose a person commits rape. If God ordains this rape for the purpose of bringing about a greater good, then sin is the instrument of virtue, such that God ordains the very act he condemns.20

The biblical conception of sovereignty is that of divine governance in which God intends only good, despite the fact that humans act in ways contrary to His intentions. This in 18

MacGregor, 110.

19

See: Romans 3.8.

20

Ibid., 111.

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no way poses a challenge to God‘s sovereignty. All of God‘s choices, as Little notes, ―were not influenced by anyone or anything outside Himself. God‘s choice to create and to create the way He did, as well as His counsels concerning creation, are solely His choices.‖21 Scriptural verification is evidenced by the anthropological portrayals of God as the King who sits on His throne in governance over His universe.22 In the ancient world of the Bible, kings, upon setting up their kingdoms, would appoint subordinates or satraps who were given authority and were empowered to exercise it over regions determined by the king. The king empowered them to act, but did not determine their every act. This in no way negated or undermined a king‘s sovereign rule. In a similar way, God, in setting up His created order, has empowered human persons to function as free moral agents without determining their free acts. In other words, while God is the sovereign cause of their freedom, human persons are the cause of their free acts. However, unlike earthly kings, the King of the universe knows all the free acts of all his rational creatures.23

Further evidence of this notion of sovereignty resides in several biblical passages, whose grammtico-historical exegesis counters the divine planning interpretation. They are: Romans 8.58, Ephesians 1:11, and Genesis 37.18-28; 39.11-20; 40.12-23. Rather than construing these texts as a priori operations that God causes, ordains, or purposes all things for the accomplishment of His will, the proposition of which is without textual support, these texts are a posteriori portrayals of God's operations on things that have been performed for the good of believers and for the purpose of His will. None of these texts state anything like the former, but indicate the latter. In other words, it seems that what these texts state is what God does with things, events, and choices, many of which God has absolutely nothing to do with, and indeed, He cannot have anything to do with since they are contrary to His will, thereby assuring us of God's wisdom and 21

Little, 106.

22

See: John Walton. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009). 23

Some have suggested that God‘s knowing that something is going to happen determines that it must happen, otherwise God would not be omniscient. So if a person can only do what God knows he will do, then he does not have genuine freedom, in that he could not have done otherwise than what God knows. I think there's some conceptual confusion here. One must distinguish between what must happen from what will happen, or what is certain from what is necessary. In other words, God‘s knowing what will happen is not logically the same as God‘s causing it to happen. Knowledge does not determine. While God knows what free creatures will do, and that knowledge is certain (omniscience guarantees it), it does not follow that it must happen, that it's necessary. In the same way, God's knowing how He will act in no way undermines His freedom. If knowledge determines, then not even God is free.

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power to take them and use them for our-and ultimately His-benefit. This view seems to better preserve human freedom while at the same time respecting God's absolute sovereignty over accomplishing His will without determining the ―free‖ choices (good and bad) of human persons.24

A final problem for the G-G-T concerns its incoherence regarding the commands of Scripture in which God clearly admonishes human persons to prevent the occurrences of evil in the world. If God permits, allows, or ordains evil in the world in order to bring about a greater good than would be possible without it, then God‘s commands to prevent evil would at the same time thwart the greater good for which God permits all evil. Such a state of affairs is ultimately confusing, especially in the attempt to preserve the goodness of God. For surely a good God would not command creatures to impede a greater good. It therefore follows that gratuitous evil exists.

Conclusion As the preceding discussion demonstrates, the existence of gratuitous evil fails to serve as a disproof for the existence of God. The irony of the atheist‘s attempt to launch an argument based on the fact of gratuitous evil is that it may be used to prove the existence of God. Confounding the problem further for the atheist is that a corollary of naturalism is determinism. For the atheist, human persons necessarily lack genuine freedom, which immediately removes the moral blameworthiness and praiseworthiness of human actions. These two facts alone render the atheist position inept in its explanatory power and scope, as well as contradictory in its aversion toward theism.

Further elaboration also implicates the Greater-Good defense as inadequate in its attempt to account for gratuitous evil. Though it is beyond the scope of this essay to develop a thoroughgoing theodicy, the conceptual groundwork for a theodicy capable of accounting for the complexities of the problem of evil are available for those who are sincerely seeking answers.25 24

This is not to suggest that God must ―wait‖ to see or know what persons will do so that He can act accordingly, thereby creating ―open space‖ in his omniscience. Rather, as Ludovici Molina understood it, God‘s middle knowledge of all counterfactuals of creaturely freedom is grounded ―in God‘s cognitive ability to perfectly comprehend his own creative aptitude and power.‖ See: MacGregor, 74. Also see MacGregor‘s discussion on pages 111-112. 25

I highly recommend the following: Bruce A. Little. A Creation-Order Theodicy: God and Gratuitous Evil. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2004).

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The Startling Stupidity Of Geniuses By J. M. Kinnebrew, Ph.D. Professor of Theology and Spiritual Formation Vice President for Academic Affairs

Introduction In recent years, some very angry and vocal unbelievers have played havoc on an unsuspecting church. Dubbed the ―New Atheists,‖1 this group has captured media attention and, sadly, ―de-converted‖ not a few church members, who having been taught what to believe were never taught why. 2 Preying on such an unprepared people, the ―New Atheists‖ have found it distressingly easy to persuade the general public that those who believe in God are deluded deniers of reality while they themselves are enlightened geniuses.3 This is a curious misperception, and to show it as such is the object of this article. Because of the tact taken in this article, a word of clarification is necessary. Christians must always be ready to give an answer to those who ask a reason for their hope; but they must do so, as Peter says, ―with gentleness and respect‖ (1 Pet 3.15, NIV). Accordingly, the reader should not misconstrue the title of this article or what follows as an encouragement to violate the conventions of common courtesy in either informal dialogue or scholarly debate. No disrespect of persons is intended, only disrespect of certain ways of thinking.

1

The name seems to have first been used by Gary Wolf, ―The Church of the Non-Believers,‖ Wired Magazine 14.11 (November 2006), available online here: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html?p (accessed 11/15/2010). 2

For an interesting analysis of such ―conversions‖ or the lack thereof, see Michael C. Patton‘s article ―Is the New Atheism really affecting people‘s belief in God?‖ http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2010/11/is-the-new-atheism-really-affecting-peoples-belief-in-god (accessed 11/15/2010). 3

Though it seems not to have caught on, some have attempted to tout their superior intellect by referring to themselves not as ―atheists‖ but as ―the Brights‖ (http://www.the-brights.net).


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The strategy is that of Proverbs 26.5, which enjoins the believer to “answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (NKJV).4 In setting forth some of the arguments (or assertions) of the ―New Atheists‖ in their own words, and examining the logical lapses therein, it is hoped that the fundamental incoherence of their system will be made plain to any who may have been seduced by rhetorical bluster, academic pretense, ignorant distortion, non sequitors, or appeals to authority (all tactics that abound in the current spate of atheistic fare). For reasons soon to be apparent, the issue will be pursued as if seeking the diagnosis and cure of a mental disorder. The sickness will be described, symptoms will be discussed, the source of the sickness will be sought, and a cure suggested. The Sickness Although Jesus warned against carelessly calling anyone a ―fool‖ (Mt 5.22), on occasion the Bible seems to sanction doing just that. Persons so designated in Scripture include the following:    

The obstinate who refuse wise counsel (Prov 1.7; 15.5) The mocker who makes light of sin (Prov 14.9) The materialist whose concerns begin and end with mere temporal things (Luke 12.20). And of special concern in this article . . . The atheist who says in his heart, ―There is no God‖ (Ps 14.1; 53.1)5

In his book How to Stay Christian in College, philosopher of politics and ethics J. Budziszewski recounted how he lost his faith as a university student. Citing his own intellectual prowess as a contributing factor, he made this insightful observation: ―Though

4

Verse 4 may appear to give the opposite advice: ―Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.‖ This is no contradiction, as Ken Ham‘s sensible explanation shows: http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v26/i4/answer.asp (accessed 11/11/10). 5

Commentators have long noticed that the only sacred ink spent on atheism is found in these two verses, both of which say the exact same thing concisely and without diplomacy: ―The atheist is a fool.‖ This does not mean that atheists lack intelligence, but that ―the denial of God is evidence of the moral corruption in their thinking‖ (Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World, [Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, 1997], 70). Nor is the statement aimed at atheists alone, for the following words, ―there is none who do good,‖ all have ―become corrupt,‖ etc. were quoted by Paul (Romans 3.9-12) to show that morally corrupted thinking is the plague of all mankind (Ibid).

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it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that you must be highly intelligent and educated to commit.”6 Continuing his story, Budziszewski said, “It was agony. You can’t imagine what a person has to do to himself . . . to go on believing the nonsense I believed [in order] to shut out belief in the gospel.”7 He then likened what he had to “do to himself” to the malicious acts of a vandal dismantling a computer—stripping it of all its hardwires and circuits until nothing is left but the motherboard and shell.8 Sustained unbelief requires such internal vandalism, precisely because everything within and without (i.e., conscience and creation) declares that, whether one wants Him to or not, the God of Scripture most The fact of certainly does exist (Rom 1.18ff). Not only that, but His God’s existence existence is ―self-evident.‖ As Budziszewski said in his is “What We book of the same title, the fact of God‘s existence is 9 Can‟t Not “What We Can’t Not Know.” Know.” The Symptoms

Is there, as Budziszewski asserts, a special form of ―stupidity‖ reserved for the intellectually gifted person who refuses to acknowledge God (Prv 3.5-6)? If so, it should manifest itself repeatedly throughout the corpus of the ―New Atheism,‖ for one can hardly imagine a group more esteemed in their respective fields or more militantly opposed to acknowledging God. Even the briefest survey confirms that signs of such ―stupidity‖ run deep. Statements that, on their very face, are utterly absurd flow from tongue and pen without the slightest hint of embarrassment or even the awareness that a faint blush might be warranted.

6

J. Budziszewski, How to Stay Christian in College (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004), 19, emphasis added. His full testimony is found in the article ―Escape from Nihilism‖ found here: http://www.leaderu.com/real/ri9801/budziszewski.html (accessed 11/11/10). 7

Budziszewski, How to Stay Christian in College, 19, emphasis added.

8

Ibid.

9

J. Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know (Dallas: Spence, 2003).

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Journal of Biblical Ministry Gawking at Hawking Take, for example, scientific icon Steven Hawking‘s recent announcement—ubiquitous in the media as his latest book was being rolled out—on the subject of cosmogony (the origin of the universe). Regarding the existence of the cosmos, Hawking said: Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist . . . . It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper [the fuse] and set the universe going. 10 Hawking, it should be noted, is universally praised for his sophisticated scientific theories, especially those regarding ―quantum gravity.‖ In contrast, this writer probably knows much less about gravity than Newton did even before he was clocked on the head by an apple (or so the legend goes). Still, this humble neophyte has the highest confidence in rejecting the expert Professor Hawking‘s statement on at least two seemingly irrefutable grounds.11 First, every schoolboy knows that gravity operates inside the cosmos. The ―law of gravity‖ is not a ―thing‖ with ontological existence; it is a human formulation to explain what humans observe regarding the motion of physical objects in a material universe. ―Laws of physics‖ have no existence independent of the physical things they govern. Therefore, no law of physics—not gravity, not the law of conservation of mass, not the law of entropy, no physical law at all—could be the ultimate cause of the physical cosmos, for without the physical cosmos there could be no physical laws; and if there were no physical laws, physical laws (being nonexistent) could not have brought the universe into existence.12 10

Quoted by Michael Holden, ―God Did Not Create the Universe, Says Hawking,‖ http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6811FN20100902 (accessed 10/20/10). 11

Only refutations originating from the one and only known universe will be deemed worthy of consideration (those grounded in hypothetical ―multiverses‖ are not)! 12

One might object that Hawking meant ―gravity itself‖ and not the ―law‖ or scientific formulation that describes what gravity does. That does not negate the argument, for however gravity is to be understood—whether that magnetic force inhering in all objects of mass that attracts other objects of mass to itself (Newton) or the effect on matter of a space/time curvature (Einstein)—it is still true that gravity apart from a material, physical, space/time cosmos is incomprehensible. If it cannot exist without the physical space/time cosmos, it could not have been the cause of that cosmos. This ―chicken-egg‖ conundrum is the plague of any naturalistic explanation of creation.

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Second, when anyone as (reputedly) brilliant as Prof. Hawking says, ―the universe can and will create itself,‖ one has to wonder at the astounding absence of thought. This is not a matter of cosmological opinion. It is much simpler than that. So, it boils down Whether one holds to a ―young earth view‖ or an ―old to this: did the earth view‖ does not matter in this regard. Advocates universe exist of either view must admit that the universe arrived just before it was a tad too late to do what Hawking has suggested. For created? in order for anything to do anything, it must first exist. If it does not exist, it cannot do anything. So, it boils down to this: did the universe exist before it was created? If it did, then whatever Hawking is calling the creation of the universe is not truly the creation of the universe. And if he wants to do cosmology, he must keep looking for the real beginning of the cosmos (and stop pretending that he has already unraveled that mystery). On the other hand, if he is serious about the universe having been created (i.e., having had a beginning), he cannot say that it created itself (even though he does). For prior to its creation, the universe did not exist; and if the universe did not exist, it could not create anything—not even itself. Failure to see the blatant error in a statement like ―the universe can . . . create itself‖ is a confirmation of Albert Einstein‘s lament that, as a rule, ―the man of science is a poor philosopher.‖13 According to Einstein, the ―professional scientist‖ often behaves like ―someone who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest.‖14 This reality should cause esteemed personalities like Hawking to exercise caution regarding pronouncements outside their realm of expertise; for when they venture away from what they do best, they often fall victim to that special kind of ―stupidity‖ about which Budziszewski warned. Unfortunately, the ―New Atheists‖ do not share Einstein‘s compunction. To the contrary, Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and 13

Albert Einstein, ―Physics and Reality,‖ Journal of the Franklin Institute, (1936) 221:349, quoted by Don A. Howard, ―Albert Einstein as a Philosopher of Science,‖ Physics Today, (December 2005), 34. 14

Howard, 34, quoting a private letter from Einstein to Prof. Robert A. Thornton.

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nearly all others of their tribe make such rationally flawed assertions all the time; and they do so ex cathedra with all the confidence of the pope. Examples abound, but just a few should suffice to make this point. God and Brussels Sprouts It has often been observed that atheism unwittingly lives on the postmodern vestiges of theistic thought. In other words, even in stating their objections, atheists must assume positions that only make sense in a theistic world. This is perhaps most clearly seen when the atheist brings up the problem of evil. ―How,‖ he will ask, ―can you believe in an omnipotent, loving God when there is so much wickedness in the world?” An appropriate response to this objection might be, ―Are you delusional? There’s no wickedness in the world.‖ Of course, the Christian does not really believe that; but the atheist should, for if there is no God, there is no good or evil. There is only what is: amoral matter in motion. As Dan Barker put it, “we are simply naturally evolved biological organisms in an amoral material environment.”15 To say that something is ―good” or ―evil,” one must have an absolute point of reference by which to assess the matter in question. If the thing being examined is somewhat close to that objective standard, one might pronounce it ―good.” If it is even closer, ―very good,” and if it lines right up with the standard, ―perfect.” If it is far removed from the standard, it will be counted ―evil.” But if no external and absolute standard exists, there is no way to reasonably speak of anything as ―good” or ―evil.” As Norman Geisler and Frank Turek said, ―without an objective standard of meaning and morality, then life is meaningless and there‘s nothing absolutely right or wrong. Everything is merely a matter of opinion.‖16 Christian philosopher William Lane Craig puts the implications of naturalism in their starkest terms: Mankind is a doomed race in a dying universe. Because the human race will eventually cease to exist, it makes no ultimate difference whether it ever did ex15

Dan Barker, Godless (Berkley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2008), 58.

16

Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 171. For expositions of the ―moral argument‖ for theism, see pp. 169-93. Also see C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, Macmillan, 1952), throughout.

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ist. Mankind is thus no more significant than a swarm of mosquitos or a barnyard of pigs, for their end is all the same. The same blind cosmic process that coughed them up in the first place will eventually swallow them all again. 17 It is undeniably ―stupid‖ for one to argue that God cannot exist because evil does, and at the same time to argue for a worldview that in the end must admit that there is no such thing as true ―evil.‖ Gregory Koukl shows the absurdity of the atheist‘s argument in the following imaginary conversation: “I can’t believe in God.” “Why not?” “Brussels sprouts.” “Brussels sprouts? What do Brussels sprouts have to do with anything?” “Did you ever taste those things? They’re awful.” “I agree with you about Brussels sprouts, but some people do like them. What does the fact that you don’t like Brussels sprouts have to do with God’s existence?” “I can’t believe in a God who would create something that tastes so awful to me.”18 Such is the logic of an atheist who says there is no God because the world is evil when his primary premise (materialistic naturalism) makes all moral valuations mere personal opinions. The same lack of consistency applies when the atheist decries the ―immorality‖ of religious inquisitions, witch hunts, suicide bombers, and ―forcing your religion down my throat.‖ One caveat is in order here. Whenever this point is raised, the atheist will almost always turn the issue into whether or not one can live a ―good, moral life‖ without believ17

William Lane Craig, ―The Absurdity of Life without God, Reasonable Faith—Chapter 2,‖ http://www.bethinking.org/resource.php?ID=129&TopicID=9&CategoryID=8, (accessed 11/26/10). 18

Gregory Koukl, Tactics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 133-34.

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ing in God. Of course, from a spiritual and biblical perspective, the answer to that question is no because it is a despicable evil to refuse to acknowledge one‘s Creator. But from an external merely human perspective, an unbeliever can indeed live a life that is outwardly moral and good. In fact, unbelievers may set a better example in their behavior than some Christians.19 That, however, misses the point. The point is this: Though an unbeliever may be able to do good things, he cannot really say why what he is doing is ―good‖ and why to do the opposite would be ―evil,‖ for there is no external measurement by which to judge. As columnist Jeff Jacoby noted, ―Mao and Seneca approved of murder; we disapprove. Who are we to say they were wrong?‖20 Even if the atheist protests that he does have a standard of morality, such as ―the moral course of action is whatever is best for the most people,‖ he cannot say why promoting the ―best‖ for the most people is right. If people are just amoral matter, like all other creatures, why would it be moral to help them survive and immoral to not care? There does not seem to be a logical way around the fact that real objective morality is only possible in a theist‘s world. Just as inescapable, it would seem, is the deep seated knowledge that objective moral absolutes are real. Really, Richard! Read Ryrie!21 ―New Atheist‖ expositions of Christian doctrine betray an inexcusable failure to comprehend what Christians really believe. One of the most commonly stated objections to theism, repeated ad nauseam by all of the movement‘s authors, is framed by Richard Dawkins in these words: Seen clearly, intelligent design will turn out to be a redoubling of the problem [of origins]. . . . This is because the designer himself 19

But see C.S. Lewis‘ remonstrance in the essay ―Man or Rabbit?‖ chapter 12 of God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), available online here: http://www.merelewis.org/CSL.gitd.1-12.ManOrRabbit.htm (accessed 11/21/10). 20

Jeff Jacoby, ―Created by G0d [sic] to be Good,‖ Jewish World Review, November 15, 2010, http://jewishworldreview.com/jeff/jacoby111510.php3 (accessed 11/15/10). 21

A reference to Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor, 1989), an undergraduate level systematic theology accessible to any minimally literate seeker. Any elementary theology could have been referenced, but what then of the marvelous alliteration?

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(/herself/itself) immediately raises the bigger problem of his own origin . . .. Indeed, design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?22 Now if one seeks to forge a career out of denying the existence of the Christian‘s God, surely he should take just a minute or two to find out what it is he is denying. As Blaise Pascal said, ―let them at least learn what is the religion they attack, before attacking it.‖23 It would hardly take more than a few minutes for Dawkins and his cadre of Godslayers to discover that the God Christians profess is an eternal One, i.e., He never came into being; He always was. To ask ―who made God,‖ then, is like asking, ―how thick is the sixth wall of the Pentagon?‖ or ―How much milk does the average Brahma bull produce?‖ The Pentagon, by definition, has only five walls; bulls, by definition, don‘t produce milk; and the eternal God, by definition, was not ―designed!‖ Is this some sort of ―special pleading‖ in order to avoid answering the question, ―who designed the designer?‖ Of course not; the question is simply nonsensical (stupid). It is not nonsensical, however, to assert that something (or Someone) has existed forever. As a matter of fact, until ―Big Bang‖ cosmology won the day in science, atheists routinely made that very claim for the cosmos. With current evidence for a true beginning of the universe, however, they have had to retreat from that claim, seeking refuge in the astounding asserSuch assertions, it tion that the cosmos literally came ―by nothing and for nothwould seem, are ing‖24 or, equally absurd, that it ―created itself!‖ 25 Such the offspring of a sertions, it would seem, are the offspring of a special form special form of stuof stupidity reserved for only the most extraordinary brains. pidity reserved for only the most extraordinary brains.

Another example of New Atheist ignorance regarding the faith they seek to discredit can be found in Dan Barker‘s distorted rendering of the atonement. When some Christian critic

22

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co), 120-21.

23

Pensees, Sec. 3.194, http://www.classicallibrary.org/pascal/pensees/pensees03.htm (accessed

11/21/10). 24

See Quentin Smith‘s absurdly circular argument in ―Simplicity and Why the Universe Exists,‖ http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/quentin_smith/simplicity.html (accessed 11/10/10). 25

See Hawking‘s quote at the beginning of this article.

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Journal of Biblical Ministry unwisely accused Barker of becoming an atheist because he did not know ―the true meaning of love,‖ he retorted, I do understand what love is, and that is one of the reasons I can never again be a Christian. . . . Love is not blood and suffering. Love is not murdering your son to appease your own vanity. Love is not hatred or wrath, consigning billions of people to eternal torture because they have offended your fragile ego or disobeyed your rules. 26 Of course, Mr. Barker is right. Love is none of those things, but none of those things are found in the love story told by the Bible. In that love story, the entire human race has rebelled against the Source of Life and is lost and bound for Hell. Spiritually, they are dead already (Jn 3.36); Hell is just the intensified, eternal continuation of that death. To that lost race of ―walking dead,‖ God the Son, an eternal and immortal member of the personal, divine Source of all things (in other words, the very One humanity has rebelled against) comes and voluntarily pays the only price that would suffice to redeem the rebels from death to life. That price was His Own Life. The Father overseeing this redemptive project sent His Son, not out of ―vanity,‖ but because He ―so loved the world‖ (Jn 3.16). The Son was not ―murdered,‖ but freely gave His own life to ransom the lost, knowing that He would afterwards ―take His Life back again‖ in resurrection power (Jn 10.17-18). Now Barker may reject this story; but if he does, he should reject it as he finds it—not make it into something else, reject that something else, and act as if he has analyzed and rejected Christianity. The thought that God would murder His Son to appease His vanity should be rejected, but that thought is not found in the Bible. The reasons for rejecting a vainglorious, murderous ―god‖ do not suffice for rejecting the God depicted in Scripture. Being summoned to do one thing—disprove the biblical story—Barker, instead, does something far easier. He refutes a monstrous fairy tale of his own making and on the way out the door says, ―There! I rest my case.‖ Only one problem: he didn‘t present one!

26

Barker, 89.

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Did Barker, who was employed as a Christian evangelist for two decades, really forget the doctrine of the atonement? Or did he preach for twenty years, never knowing it? Either circumstance might be seen by some as evidence of a strange and curious stupidity. Or is it that he is deliberately distorting what he knows the message to be? If there is a chance that such deception could result in eternal loss for him and his hearers, that might seem to be more stupid still. So far examples have been given of these ―Brights‖ offering the following blindingly brilliant illumination to those with simpler minds: 

Something that did not exist (the cosmos) created everything that does exist (the cosmos), so there is no God.

The real existence of something (evil) that cannot really exist (again, evil) proves the real nonexistence of God.

God, who had no maker, cannot exist; because if He did, who made Him?

The Gospel, which tells the story of God sacrificing Himself to save His fallen creation, would be a simply horrible story if it told of God murdering an innocent bystander to fulfill His bloodlust. Therefore, there is no God.

A Fool’s Errand Perhaps the most obvious lapse of logic in all the writing, speaking, and debating of the ―New Atheists‖ is simply all the writing, speaking and debating of the ―New Atheists.‖ The entire enterprise is quite enigmatic. It is quite literally ―a fool‘s errand.‖ Why would anyone who embraces a worldview that denies the real existence of (1) mind, (2) morality, and (3) free will spend his only life (1) promoting reasons for atheism, (2) decrying the “immorality‖ of religion, and (3) seeking to persuade others to come around to his view of things?27

27

Cf. Michael C. Patton, ―Conversations with an Atheist Concerning the Irrationality of Atheistic Rational,‖ online here: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/05/conversations-with-an-atheistconcerning-the-irrationality-of-their-rational/ (accessed 11/21/2010).

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What possible difference could any of it make? If the atheistic worldview is true, success in such an endeavor is irrelevant at best, and impossible at worst. As the atheist scientist William Provine said: ―There are . . . no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That‘s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.‖28 If further evidence of a ―special form of stupidity‖ is required to make Budziszewski‘s point, it is recommended that the reader flip at random to any page of Richard Dawkins‘ book The God Delusion and try to find one argument that does not depend on unproved assumption, circular reasoning, equivocation, ad hominem, or some other form of logical fallacy.29 In concluding this section, a quick and final reference may be made to the movement‘s ―patron saint,‖ the late Carl Sagan, who seriously wondered, ―if time will one day flow backward and effects precede causes.”30 The Source To discover the etiology (origin) of a disease or dysfunction is important for at least two reasons: 

First, if the cause of the malady can be discovered, one might be forewarned and avoid exposure to the carrier(s)

28

―Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?‖ Access Research Network Origin Research Archives, 16.1, http://www.arn.org/docs/orpages/or161/161main.htm (accessed 11/21/2010), emphasis added. 29

Cf. fn. 16. For a convenient catalog of Dawkins‘ arguments with concise and competent refutations, see Andrew J. Wilson, Deluded by Dawkins? (Eastbourne, England: Kingsway, 2007). 30

Carl Sagan, ―Introduction‖ in S.W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (NY: Bantam Books, 1989), ix, emphasis added. Sagan‘s Introduction was noticeably missing from later editions of the book. It is suspected that the citizens of Wonderland emerged from the rabbit hole and took their lexicon from him!

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Second, if one knows what causes a disease, even if he has already been exposed and contracted the ailment, he might gain an important clue toward the cure.

Idiopathic diseases (those with no known cause) are frustratingly difficult to prevent and treat, but the condition under investigation in this article does not seem to be of such an idiopathic nature. What, then, is the source of the enigmatic ―stupidity‖ found in minds commonly expected to be immune from such a thing? Two biblical passages seem to offer important etiological clues.

Reasons from Romans In Paul‘s epistle to the Romans, the apostle traces the downward spiral of the heathen mind in these unforgettable and fearful words: The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

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And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.31 Etiology in Ephesians In a similar though much shorter passage, exhorting the Ephesians not to return to their old lifestyle, Paul drew this picture of their former intellectual darkness and the catastrophic life that accompanied it: The Gentiles . . . walk in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.32 The spiritual importance of the intellectual life, its formation and its fruit, stands out vividly in these two passages. As John R. W. Stott noted: ―Scripture bears an unwavering testimony to the power of ignorance and error to corrupt, and the power of truth to liberate, ennoble and refine.”33 Causal relationships are not thoroughly established here, but as one seeks a chronological sequence or ―etiology‖ of intellectual and spiritual degeneration, the picture emerging from the apostle‘s words looks something like this:

31

Romans 1.18-32, NKJV, emphasis added.

32

Ephesians 4.17b-19, NASB, emphasis added.

33

John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today series. Reprint ed. (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 177.

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1. Knowledge has been given to everyone through the revelation of the natural world (Rom 1.19, 20). This knowledge includes a revelation of the existence of God and certain of His attributes (His eternal power and ―Godhood‖) as well as his moral demands (vss. 20, 32) 2. That natural revelation has been rejected, suppressed, and dismissed by those who do not want to retain the knowledge of God in their mind (Rom 1.18, 21ff) 3. Such an ―inner hacking‖ of the hardwires of conscience and mind results in a callous heart that is ―past feeling‖ (Eph 4.19, NKJV) 4. That hardened heart gives rise to two things: a. Externally, people with such hardened hearts will hand themselves over 34 to a career of gross sin and immorality (Eph 4.19)35 b. Internally, they will become morally and spiritually ignorant; the locus of that ignorance being ―in them‖ signifies that they bear the blame for it, for they chose it (Eph 4.18)36 5. That self-chosen ignorance keeps them from ―the life of God‖ (Eph 4.18) 6. Since ―the life of God‖ is ―the light of man‖ (John 1.4), their understanding, bereft of that life and light, is darkened; that which should have been their guide— reason itself—―is in darkness‖ (Eph 4.18)37 34

As the hardening of Pharaoh‘s heart was both human and divine, so in Romans God is said to have ―given them over‖ to sin, and here the act and the fault is their own. The verb carries the idea of handing one over to his enemy. 35

The noun ―practice‖ (NKJV, ―work‖) is used elsewhere of a trade or business (e.g., Acts 19.25). It should not be taken literally as that here, but it is more than the ordinary inadvertent commission of sin. 36

S.D.F. Salmond, ―The Epistle to the Ephesians‖ in The Expositor’s Greek New Testament, W. Robertson Nicoll, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 3.339. Cf. Rom 1.18, 28; 2 Pet 3.5 as further examples of ―willful ignorance.‖ Note, too, that the knowledge of God was once ―in them‖ as a result of God‘s revealing work (Rom 1.19). This prior work they had to reject in order to make room for the subsequent ignorance. 37

Charles R. Erdman, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians: An Exposition (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), 96.

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7. Since they have no functional understanding or reason in regard to the fundamental issues of life (such as the existence of God, the purpose of being, etc.), their ―walk‖ (way of life) is ―futile,‖ devoid of true purpose or meaning (Eph 4.17)38 What is to be done for those who have run such a course? Obviously, since Paul was describing the past life of those who, by the time of his writing, had become ―saints . . . and faithful in Christ Jesus‖ (Eph 1.1), the prognosis is not without hope. There is a solution. There is a protocol for the church in quest of a preventative tactic and healing strategy. There is a cure for those who will take it. Unfortunately, The Solution Paul‘s description of mankind‘s universal problem in Romans 1.18-32 follows his introduction of the only solution in verses 16-17:

the church at large has a very superficial and anemic understanding… these things.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; for as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” A deep understanding of the gospel message, with its revelation of the righteousness of God and the way of faith, leads to the true salvation of those who believe. Such an understanding will equip the church to withstand the specious arguments and darkened ―wisdom‖ of the world‘s competing philosophies. Unfortunately, the church at large has a very superficial and anemic understanding of these things. Decades of catering to the lowest common doctrinal denominator and unhealthy emphases on entertainment and social programs have produced a generation of young adults who are too easily persuaded to leave their parents‘ faith. Columnist Drew Dyck,

38

This does not mean that an atheist may not have noble goals or reasons to get up in the morning. But at the end of life his assessment must be that of the preacher who only considered life ―under the sun‖—―What was the point?‖ (Eccl 1.2; but cf. 12.1, 13-14).

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noting that intellectual challenges unmet during their formative years is a major reason that ―twenty-somethings‖ leave the church, said: There's nothing wrong with pizza and video games, nor with seeker-sensitive services, nor with low-commitment small groups that introduce people to the Christian faith. But these cannot replace serious programs of discipleship and catechism. The temptation to wander from the faith is not a new one. The apostle Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus to strive to mature every believer, so that "we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph 4:14, ESV).39 How many pastors and youth ministers have engaged the arguments of atheism, naturalism, communism, pantheism, and other worldviews that are promulgated in the classrooms, coffee houses, podcasts, and The phrase bookstores their young members frequent? How many have “preaching to taught the fundamental doctrines of the faith in such a way that the choir” the critic‘s clumsy misrepresentations of doctrines like the atonemust be rement (―God murdered His Son‖) and the Trinity (―God sent his vised… Son, who was also Himself‖) are easily recognized and rendered harmless? The meaning of the phrase ―preaching to the choir‖ must be revised for the current day. It used to mean that the message being preached did not really need to be communicated at all, because both the speaker and the audience were already in full agreement. Today, there should be no such assurance that the hearer in ―the choir‖ or in the pew is on the ―same page‖ as the preacher in the pulpit. When the preacher speaks with doctrinaire assurance about moral issues like same-sex marriage, or with sketchy ambiguity about creation, the fall, and the atonement, he is not equipping the church to ―give an answer‖ to others or to themselves. He may even find that he has offended the cultural sensibilities of some member who is ignorant of the biblical teaching on such topics.

39

Drew Dyck, ―The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church,‖ Christianity Today (November, 2010), 5. Online here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/november/27.40.html?start=5, (accessed 11/20/10).

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One precious truth should embolden the servant of the Lord, and that is this: Much of what he seeks to convey has already been placed inside every unbeliever‘s psyche. They already know. They cannot NOT know. Even if they deny having such knowledge, remnants of it are still there (Romans 1.32); and a fanning of those embers holds promise. If the preacher accurately interprets special revelation, what he says will ―ring true‖ to the one who has unwittingly received the witness of general revelation; for the books of creation and conscience are read by all, and none of God‘s revelations contradicts the others. Finally, anyone who has begun to be persuaded by the arguments and assertions of the ―New Atheists‖ would do well to look at those arguments again with perhaps a new realization that the ones making such arguments are apt to misstep when arguing outside of their narrow field of expertise. Rather than comparing the views of Dawkins, et al. with the ―folk Christianity‖ inelegantly set forth by Sunday school teachers or televangelists, the seeker should interact with theistic scholars who deal with the issues from a sound philosophical and biblical perspective.40

The Summation In summary, this article has sought to establish the following: 

The ―New Atheists‖ are portrayed by themselves and others as having brought to bear brilliant and unanswerable arguments against theism.

The truth is that there is nothing ―new‖ in the arguments of the ―New Atheists‖ and certainly nothing ―unanswerable.‖

In fact, much of what the ―New Atheists‖ have to say is embarrassingly flawed logically, factually, and philosophically.

The cause of the ―stupidity‖ displayed in the arguments and assertions of this group is found in their own willful rejection of truth. 40

The paths taken by former atheistic scholars Anthony Flew, Alistair McGrath, and Francis Collins are set forth by the converts themselves in a video here: http://www.god-cares-for-you.org/god-questions/AtheistsNoLonger.htm , (accessed 11/25/10).

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This rejection has resulted in darkened minds and a ―futile‖ lifestyle, manifested in the foolishness of what they say in defense of their views.

The church might lessen the impact of the ―New Atheism‖ and other deleterious movements by making a renewed commitment to serious discipleship and conversation with the competing worldviews.

The church may enter into this enterprise knowing that she has a Divine Ally working both externally (through creation‘s witness) and internally (through the Spirit‘s work in the conscience).

Those who have lost their faith as a result of the ―New Atheism‖ should investigate the answers that serious Christian scholars have offered in response to the New Atheists‘ challenges and ask the God Who might exist to show them if He truly does (Jn 7.17). As Pascal argued long ago, with all that is at risk, not to do at least this much would be the height of stupidity.

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An Assessment of the New Atheists’ Arguments against the Complexity of God, the Design Argument, the Mind-Body Problem, and a Final Statement on the Atheist-Theist Dialog By Rick Walston, Ph.D. M.A. Apologetics Student, Luther Rice Seminary President, Columbia Evangelical Seminary INTRODUCTION

The Basis of the Assessment Many people find comfort in beliefs that do not correspond with reality. Children are particularly comforted by belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. While adults have more sophisticated beliefs, it is undeniably accurate that normal, mature, and healthy adults are also comforted by beliefs that are not true. This is undeniable because many adults have diametrically opposing beliefs. For example, atheists believe that there is no God. Theists, however, believe that there is a God. Some believe that atheistic evolution is true while others believe that theistic creationism is true. Since these opposing beliefs cannot all be true, some must be false, yet many people find comfort in these beliefs. Thus, when this work identifies a position as either ―true‖ or ―false,‖ it does so on the basis of logic, and not on the basis of whether or not one can or does find existential comfort in that particular belief. Thus, it does not follow that a pronouncement of a view as logically false implies that the worldview has no personal value for the holder. It may. While the New Atheists and theists differ on the discovered truth itself, they agree— generally speaking—on the process or epistemology. Certainly not the only method of discovering truth, the standard view of discovering truth in Western philosophy since Plato has been the method of the observance of a relation that exists between two things. This is our commonsense view of truth, and even atheists have agreed with this method. Bertrand Russell, for example, said, ―The third of the above requisites leads us to adopt the view—which has on the whole been commonest among philosophers—that


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truth consists in some form of correspondence between belief and fact.‖1 New Atheist Sam Harris argues at length for logical coherence in which he gives the example of the reality of correspondence between the use of his term ―mother‖ with the physical reality of his mother. He argues that, aside from semantical games that one might play with the term ―mother‖ (biological or adoptive), the reality is that truth is apparent in this logical coherence between two things. In an apparent attempt to be thorough and clear on this point, Harris goes on to give another example of going to a friend‘s home for dinner and how that person‘s home address must correspond to a real, singular location: ―When going to a friend‘s home for dinner, I cannot both believe that he lives north of Main Street and south of Main Street and then act on the basis of what I believe.‖2 Harris goes on to give more examples of correspondence including personal identity, speech, and his brother. Harris concludes that, ―Certain logical relations, after all, seem etched into the very structure of the world.‖3 Theists agree with atheists on this method of discovering truth as represented by the comments of theist Dallas Willard. In his online article, ―Truth: Can We Do Without It?‖ Willard argues for the concept of correspondence truth. He gives examples to make his point. A child who is asked what happened to the cookies must give a satisfying answer that corresponds to the reality of the missing cookies. He gives other very practical examples: Someone says, ―The broom is in the closet.‖ You know how to find out whether or not that statement is true, don't you? You go look at the broom in the closet. There are various ways truth shows up, sometimes not as directly as with the broom. If someone says, ―There's gas in your tank,‖ and then your car sputters to a halt and your gauge goes down, you don't have to climb into the tank; you know you're out of gas. Truth is the same everywhere it shows up. It's not always directly verifiable, but truth is always that matching up of an idea to reality.4 1

Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1999), 88.

2

Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005), 53-55. 3

Ibid., 54.

4

Dallas Willard, ―Truth: Can We Do Without It?‖ 7 Sept. 2010. <http://www.dwillard.org/articles/printable.asp?artid=66>.

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So the atheist and theist have this common ground: correspondence theory, which is the common view of truth held by rationalistic theists and atheists. Truth, therefore, according to this schema, is the correct relation of correspondence between the mind and reality. The opposite of truth is falsity, which is the incorrect relation of correspondence between the mind and reality. The atheist and When an examination is done by theists or atheists or theist have this when there is a debate between them, there is an implicitcommon ground: ly agreed upon epistemological foundation from which correspondence they both proceed. Due to the reality of a similar epistetheory… mology, I am in a solid position to make an assessment concerning the arguments of the New Atheists and theists. If the primary frameworks from which they set out to discover truth were utterly different, no unified assessment could be applied to both. But, in this case, it can be. This will always be a solid point from which both groups can begin their search for truth and reality.

The Complexity of God In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins offers what might truly be a new atheistic argument for the non-existence of God. In the chapter titled, ―Why There Almost Certainly Is No God,‖ Dawkins delineates this argument. Theists discount the atheistic evolutionary hypothesis that the world as we know it developed by natural selection without an external designer. Dawkins points out that theists believe that such design, and such complex design at that, would very likely never have happened without a designer. Then, Dawkins offers his rebuttal: if theists can discount the atheistic evolutionary hypothesis of complexity without design, then atheists may likewise take into account the staggering improbability of a vastly complex deity who exists without prior cause (or design). Thus, using the theists‘ own argument, there is a logically sufficient reason to discount the God hypothesis.5 Theist Alvin Plantinga has responded to Dawkins‘s argument in his article, ―The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ‗ad absurdum.‘‖ 6 In stating Dawkins‘ argument, Plantinga 5

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Mariner Books; Reprint edition, 2008), 137-39.

6

Alvin Plantinga, ―The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ‗ad absurdum‘.‖ 3/01/2007. 1 September 2010. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/marapr/1.21.html>

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first recounts that astronomer Fred Hoyle compared the hypothesis of non-theistic evolution to the overwhelming improbability that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the junk lying around. While Hoyle used this illustration to show the unlikelihood of evolution, Dawkins has taken Hoyle‘s illustration and turned it against the argument for theism. Dawkins says, ―My name for the statistical demonstration that God almost certainly does not exist is the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit.‖7 The point that Dawkins is making is that a God who knows what theists propose he knows, and can do what theists propose he can do, would be necessarily incredibly complex. After all, argues Dawkins, a God who can create and design the complexity that we see all around us must himself be at least as complex as the things that he created and designed. Putting it another way, Dawkins says a designer must contain at least as much information as what it creates or designs, and information is inversely related to probability. Therefore, he thinks, God would have to be monumentally complex, hence astronomically improbable; thus it is almost certain that God does not exist.8 While this seems at first to be a strong proposition, Plantinga points out that God is not truly complex. Neither in much of classical theology, nor even according to Dawkins‘ own description of complexity, is God complex. First, Plantinga points out, much of classical theology has long held that God is a simple being. Thomas Aquinas wrote that the absolute simplicity of God can be demonstrated in several ways. For there is neither composition nor quantitative parts in God, since He is not a body; nor composition of form or matter; nor does His nature differ from his suppositum; nor His essence from His being; neither is there in Him composition of genus and difference, not of subject and accident. Therefore, it is clear that God is in no way composite, but is altogether simple.9

7

Dawkins, The God Delusion, 137.

8

Plantinga, ―The Dawkins Confusion.‖

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Of course Dawkins is not a theologian, so this rather sophisticated theological concept of God‘s simplicity would easily have eluded him. The next point in Plantinga‘s rebuttal to Dawkins‘s complex-deity model is less esoteric, however. While perhaps only theologians or theistic philosophers may be aware of the simplicity of God, Plantinga implies that even Dawkins should have thought better of his argument. More remarkable, perhaps, is that according to Dawkins' own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are ―arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone.‖ But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts.10 Furthermore, not only does God have no parts, but he has no parts that are ―arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance Flew…finds the alone‖ as Dawkins describes complexity. ―Therefore, given the complexity definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex.‖11 argument “bizarre.” Anthony Flew, a former atheist who converted to theism, also points out what he sees as the fallacy in Dawkins‘s argument. He says that he finds the complexity argument ―bizarre.‖12 ―What is complex about the idea of an omnipotent and omniscient Spirit, an idea so simple that it is understood by all the adherents of the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam?‖13 Finally, apparently feeling confident in his ―Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit,‖ Dawkins 9

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Volume one. God and the Order of Creation. Edited by Anton C. Pegis. (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997), 34. 10

Plantinga, ―The Dawkins Confusion.‖

11

Ibid.

12

Antony Flew, There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 111. 13

Ibid.

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moves from his polemic and comes back around to his apologetic for a developed and complex world without superintending design. He then argues that the atheistic evolutionary hypothesis is in fact a ―concept of stunning simplicity‖ as revealed in Darwin‘s theory of natural selection.14 Approvingly appropriating Daniel Dennett‘s argument, Dawkins says that Dennett is a ―scientifically savvy philosopher‖ who pointed out that evolution counters one of the oldest ideas we have: ―the idea that it takes a big fancy smart thing to make a lesser thing. I call that the trickledown theory of creation. You‘ll never see the spear making a spear maker. You‘ll never see a horse shoe [sic] making a blacksmith. You‘ll never see a pot making a potter.‖ Darwin‘s discovery of a workable process that does that very counterintuitive thing is what makes his contribution to human thought so revolutionary, and so loaded with the power to raise consciousness.15 Dawkins‘s final comment in the quote above is his key point. He goes on to explain that to truly understand, i.e., have one‘s consciousness raised, one must be ―steeped in natural selection, immersed in it, swim about in it‖ before one can ―truly appreciate its power.‖16 Dawkins says that other sciences do raise our consciousness: astronomy allows us to truly understand how small we are in the overall structure of the universe, a ―speck of debris from the cosmic explosion.‖17 Geology raises our consciousness by showing us the brevity of our existence ―both as individuals and as a species.‖18 But, Darwin‘s natural selection does far more than any of these other sciences. It destroys the ―illusion of design‖ in biology and it ―teaches us to be suspicious of any kind of design hypothesis in physics and cosmology as well.‖19 It is more than a little curious that Dawkins says that to truly understand natural selection one must be ―steeped in natural selection, immersed in it, swim about in it‖ before

14

Dawkins, The God Delusion, 142.

15

Ibid.

16

Ibid., 143.

17

Ibid.

18

Ibid.

19

Ibid.

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one can ―truly appreciate its power.‖20 This very statement sounds myopic. One who is steeped in, immersed in it, and swim about in nearly any topic will likely become a believer of that topic. During the Korean War, some American POWs held in prison camps ultimately confessed to waging germ warfare, even though they hadn‘t. Some pledged allegiance to communism, and twenty-one GI‘s refused to come back to the United States once they were freed.21 Please understand, I am not for a moment suggesting that belief in evolution is the same as the brainwashing that these American soldiers underwent; I am only pointing out that the human brain can be mightily influenced by being steeped in, immersed in it, and swim about in nearly any topic; even topics that are diametrically opposed to one‘s oath as a solider. Furthermore, if evolution is such an obvious reality, then why must one be steeped in, immersed in it, and swim about in natural selection before one can ―truly appreciate its power‖? And, even so, what shall Dawkins say of Anthony Flew‘s conversion to theism? Indeed, not many have been more steeped in, immersed in, and swam about in natural selection than Flew.22 Richard Dawkins indeed offers a unique argument for Dawkins’ argument the atheistic perspective in the denial of the existence ultimately fails of God. Dawkins believes that it was a sort of coup de philosophically due grâce that would put theists out of their misery. As far to the fact that God as the methodology of his debate, I find his ―complexiis spirit and simty‖ argument to be a stroke of genius. If theists believe ple… that the complexity of the world is simply too astounding to have come about without some overarching designer, and if the thing made is less complex than the thing doing the making, then God himself must be so complex that the sheer improbability of his existence is astronomical and, thus, utterly improbable.23 He has turned the tables on the theists. However, Dawkins‘s methodology notwithstanding, his religious philosophy is fatally flawed. Some time during undergraduate-level training for budding theist theologians, they are taught that God is not a being of material substance. Thus, when their holy 20

Ibid., 143.

21

Julia Layton, "How Brainwashing Works." 10 May 2006. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://health.howstuffworks.com/brainwashing.htm> 30 September 2010. 22

Flew, There Is a God.

23

Dawkins, The God Delusion, 137-39.

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books refer to the ―eyes‖ of God as seeing all, or to the ―hand‖ of God being able to hold his devotees in the protection of his power, young theologians are introduced to reality of anthropomorphisms.24 God is spoken of as having these physical parts for the sake of human comprehension, but in reality He is Spirit. Thus, God does not consist of physical parts. Next, likely at the graduate-level studies in theology, seminary students learn that God is a simple being. This is a bit more sophisticated in thought and harder to comprehend. But, an analogy will suffice to help clarify this reality of God‘s being. Just as one cannot extract the eggs or sugar from a cake once it is baked, so too the attributes of God are not quantitatively identifiable. Of course, all analogies break down, and one might point out that with the correct scientific tools one may indeed extract the eggs or sugar from a baked cake; but, no such method is applicable to God since, as noted above, He is Spirit and not a physical being. So, according to theistic belief, while Dawkins‘ complexity argument is a swift methodological move to reflect back the theists‘ argument that complexity is commensurate with improbability, it ultimately fails philosophically due to the fact that God is spirit and simple; he is neither physical nor complex. Had Dawkins taken the time to study orthodox Christian theology, it might have saved him from the embarrassment of putting forth his so-called ―Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit‖ (the charge of a complex God).

The Design Argument Certainly not limited to discussions between New Atheists and theists, the teleological (design) argument for the existence of a deity is one of current interest due to recent scientific insights. Dawkins argues that the design argument is without merit. First, he states that this argument is still ―in regular use today.‖25 The ―this argument‖ that he is referring to is William Paley‘s teleological argument. In essence, Paley‘s argument was that the nature of God could be understood analogously to his creation. Paley introduced the famous metaphor of the watch and the watchmaker. If there is a complex watch, there has to be a watchmaker; likewise, the complexity of creation indicates a creator. Living organisms, Paley argued, are even more complicated than watches, ―in a

24

Keith N. Schoville ―Anthropomorphism.‖ Bible Study Tools. 7 Sept. 2010. <http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/anthropomorphism.html> 25

Dawkins, The God Delusion, 103.

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degree which exceeds all computation.‖ How else to account for the often amazing adaptations of animals and plants? Only an intelligent Designer could have created them, just as only an intelligent watchmaker can make a watch.26 Next, Dawkins points out that there was a time when the design argument had made significant contribution and impact on the discussion of God‘s existence. He says that the ―young Darwin was impressed by it when, as a Cambridge undergraduate, he read it in William Paley‘s Natural Theology‖—also known as Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity.27 Indeed Darwin was impressed. Regarding Paley‘s teleological argumentation, Darwin said, ―I did not at that time trouble myself about Paley's premises; and taking these on trust I was charmed and convinced of the long line of argumentation.‖28 But Darwin was not long impressed with Paley's design argument. According to Dawkins, ―Unfortunately for Paley, the mature Darwin blew it out of the water. There has probably never been a more devastating rout of popular belief by clever reasoning than Charles Darwin‘s destruction of the argument from design.‖29 In essence, Dawkins says that this passé argument is anachronistic in a world that has scientifically matured. Christopher Hitchens also attacks the design argument but from a different angle. He says that it is an example of humanity‘s sheer self-centeredness. In his chapter, ―Argument from Design,‖ he says that ―religion teaches people to be extremely self-centered and conceited. It assures them that God cares for them individually, and it claims that the cosmos was created with them specifically in mind.‖30 He argues that the design arguments are nothing more than the result of human solipsism.31 Hitchens is not using the term solipsism here in its philosophically technical sense, but rather in the popular way indicating acute engrossment and preoccupation with one‘s personal feelings and 26

―William Paley (1743-1805),‖ University of California Museum of Paleontology. 3 Sept. 2010. <http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/paley.html> 27

Dawkins, The God Delusion, 103.

28

―William Paley (1743-1805).‖

29

Dawkins, The God Delusion, 103.

30

Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve,

2009), 74. 31

Ibid., 77.

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desires, i.e., egoistical and self-absorbed. As almost a direct response to Hitchens, Anthony Flew gives an analogy in his book, There Is a God, in the chapter titled, ―Did The Universe Know We Were Coming?‖ Flew speaks of entering a hotel room on your next vacation. Without telling the hotel management of your favorite amenities, you are surprised, but pleasantly so, to discover your favorite music playing as you enter your room. Your favorite painting is over the bed and your favorite fragrance hangs in the room‘s air. The mini-bar is stocked with your favorite beverages, including your preferred brand of bottled water, and your favorite cookies and candy are also there. Then, the latest book by your favorite author sits next to your bed on the nightstand, and in the bathroom you find your favorite personal care and grooming products. Flew points out that with each new and delightful discovery, you would be less inclined to think that all of these things were mere coincidences. In fact, you would likely wonder how the hotel management knew your likes and desires so specifically. Regarding all of this, Flew says, ―. . . you would certainly be inclined to believe that someone knew you were coming.‖32

Some astronomers have begun to espouse “the Anthropic Principle.”

This analogy is, according to Flew, ―clumsy‖ in comparison with the extreme precision of the universe. This extreme precision of the universe is what he, and others, calls the fine-tuning of the universe; this fine-tuning reality is a fairly recent scientific insight. This fine-tuning of the universe is seen in the fact that the laws and constants of nature are precisely tuned so as to allow for the possibility of carbon-based life forms, i.e., humans.

In noting the sheer fine-tuning and the utter implausibility of the many coincidences that would be necessary to produce and sustain life, some astronomers have begun to espouse the ―The Anthropic Principle.‖ Danny Faulkner, professor of astronomy and physics at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster, explains that this means that the universe ―possesses many properties that make the universe suitable for [the existence and sustenance of] life.‖33 Thus the ―The Anthropic Principle‖ implies that someone or something knew we were coming and arranged physical matter in such a way so we could enjoy our favorite thing: life itself.

32

Antony Flew, There Is a God, 114.

33

Danny R. Faulkner, ―Fingerprints of the Divine Around Us‖ in The Big Argument: Does God Exist. Josh Ashton and Michael Westcacott, compilers. (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006), 34.

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The implication is that the universe was created through intentional and intelligent planning. Physicist Freeman Dyson writes: ―The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known that we were coming.‖34 Hitchens points out what he considers to be the fallacy of this idea. He says that our solipsism allows us to overlook the design flaws. Things get old and decay. Other planets in our solar system are either too hot or too cold to support life. The same is true on certain portions of our own planet. ―Meanwhile, the sun is getting ready to explode and devour its dependent planets like some jealous chief or tribal deity. Some design!‖ 35 While Hitchens certainly makes his point, Sam Harris does so more eloquently: Biological truths are simply not commensurate with a designer God, or even a good one. The perverse wonder of evolution is this: the very mechanisms that create the incredible beauty and diversity of the living world guarantee monstrosity and death. The child born without limbs, the sightless fly, the vanished species—these are nothing less than Mother Nature caught in the act of throwing her clay. No perfect God could maintain such incongruities.36 So Flew, Faulkner, and Dyson see the ―glass as half full,‖ i.e., The Anthropic Principle, which argues that, ―the universe knew we were coming.‖ Hitchens and Harris on the other hand see the ―glass as half empty,‖ i.e., they focus on the negative, but real, aspects of the universe‘s design. Remember, Hitchens says that religion (and specifically the teleological argument) assures people ―that God cares for them individually, and it claims that the cosmos was created with them specifically in mind.‖37 To this the theist answers, ―Exactly.‖ Hitchens however adds to this theistic care and design the notion that this ―teaches people to be extremely self-centered and conceited.‖ Why is this a necessary outcome of being cared for by the deity? Should we become self-centered and conceited, extremely so,

34

Freeman J. Dyson, Disturbing The Universe (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 250.

35

Hitchens, God Is Not Great, 80.

36

Harris, The End of Faith, 172.

37

Hitchens, God Is Not Great, 74.

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simply because we realize that we are dependant beings? It is, after all, only because the deity has so chosen and allowed that humanity is here at all. The Apostle Paul said, ―For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‗We are his offspring‘‖ (Acts 17:28).38 In this passage, Paul cites both the Cretan poet Epimenides and the Cilician poet Aratus. The point is that more than one religious tradition sees the dependence we have on God. This should humble us, not make us arrogant. However, let us allow Hitchens‘s premise and say that perhaps some have become selfcentered and conceited once they came to believe that the fine-tuned cosmos is what it is so that they may exist. How—Hitchens does not explain—would this human selfcentered conceit actually prove that God does not exist? A self-centered and conceited child normally makes us think the exact opposite of what Hitchens implies: ―This child must have parents who spoil her!‖ A child with no self-esteem and who hangs his head in self loathing normally makes us wonder if the child has any parents at all. It seems obvious that Hitchens‘ premise only proves that some people are self-centered and conceited, a point which theists readily concede. In fact, the sin of self-centeredness is a basic concept of hamartiology (the doctrine of sin) within Christian theology. Sam Harris does a better job of using the design argument against the belief in God‘s existence. He says that evolution has within it the ability to create incredible beauty and diversity as well as monstrosity and death. He says that the tragedies of evolution‘s process includes, ―the child born without limbs, the sightless fly, the vanished species.‖ 39 From this Harris argues that a perfect God would not allow such incongruities between nature‘s beauties and its monstrosities. However, the theist will point out that in every major theistic religion (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) there is some form of a concept of evil entering into the cosmos. For the Christian, this is called The Fall, and it was a result of human sin. This perversion or corruption of God‘s good and perfect creation does not come from God. In the three main theistic views (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), God will ultimately rectify this incongruity between good and evil within his creation. So, on this point, Harris is correct: ―No perfect God could maintain such incongruities.‖40 But, the key word in his statement is ―maintain.‖ The perfect God will not always

40

38

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New International Version.

39

Harris, The End of Faith, 172.

Ibid.

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allow such incongruities between nature‘s beauties and its monstrosities. On this topic, the Apostle Paul is clear: The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Rom 8:19-22).

The point here is not that a philosophical proof of compatibility of God and evil both existing in the same universe undeniably proves that God exists. Such would be far too simplistic. The point here is simply that theists do have some good reasons to believe that God and evil are temporally cosmically compatible and not mutually exclusive.

The Mind-Body Problem The theistic view of the afterlife requires a soul that survives in a postmortem, disembodied state. Generally speaking, theists believe that there is a distinction to be made between the mind (soul) and the body (brain). This is called metaphysical dualism, which argues that there are two kinds of reality: material and immaterial. These two realities are obviously connected, at least in this mortal physical form in which we presently find ourselves. How, exactly, the mind and body are connected and interact is still being debated. But, the mind transcends the brain, as indicated by consciousness, and shall do so even after death. This transcendent mind is sometimes referred to as the soul.41 The generally agreed upon position of atheists is that the mind and body are one. This is called metaphysical materialism. Consciousness is entirely dependent upon and reducible to the workings of the physical brain. Therefore, one‘s thoughts or ideas are

41

Of the dualism positions, I personally accept J. P. Moreland‘s version of Substance Dualism. Moreland sees Cartesian dualism as erroneously reducing the soul to the mind. Next, Cartesian dualism distinguishes between two separable substances: mind and body; however, Moreland sees the body as being a biological and physical structure that depends on the soul for its existence and animation. Nonetheless, I use the term mind-body problem and Cartesian dualism in the broader and generic sense of a separation between soul/mind and body.

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merely the outcome of physical brain functions. Thus, metaphysical materialism is the view that the mind (i.e., human thought, consciousness) is attributed to the brain‘s highly developed nervous system and not to a separate (but derivative) entity called ―the mind.‖ Humans, in all aspects, are solely material. Predictably, materialists deny the concept of a soul or a state of disembodied immortality. This argument by atheists is not so much a direct argument against God‘s existence. It is, rather, a sort of domino-theory argument. For the atheist, if there is no discernable soul, there will be no future state of disembodied immortality, and thus no God, or certainly no need for God. Thus, other nonphysical things, such as thoughts and ideas, are merely the outcome of physical matter or chemical reactions. However, according to the theists, if one can demonstrate that there is a mind-body separation or differentiation, this speaks to the reality of immaterial transcendence and ultimately points to the reality of God‘s existence.

New Atheist Sam Harris does not so much say that metaphysical materialism (aka physicalism) defeats the God hypothesis as he says that it renders theism‘s belief in God based on substance dualism as naïve.42 Harris points out that Descartes ―accentuated this dichotomy [mind and body] by declaring that two substances were to be found in God‘s universe: matter and spirit.‖43 Interestingly, in a less polemic tone, Harris agrees to a ―dualism of this sort‖ but argues that it is not ―spirit‖ in the sense as Descartes (and theists) meant it. It is, rather, for Harris ―how our minds generally comport themselves.‖44 Harris goes on to say that, ―As science has turned its rectifying light upon the mysteries of the human mind, however, Descartes‘ dualism (along with our own ‗folk psychology‘) has come in for some rough treatment.‖45 He says that three centuries of purely physical research has been undeniably successful in overthrowing Cartesian Dualism of mind and body as a mere ―concession to Christian piety.‖46 Rather than the argument of sheer biochemical, natural, and physical realities in the physical brain giving rise to mind manifestations, e.g., consciousness, this New Atheist 42

Harris, The End of Faith, 208.

43

Ibid., 207.

44

Ibid.

45

Ibid.

46

Ibid.

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gives what might be a novel argument to this issue. Harris defends the atheist position of metaphysical materialism through an argument for materialist monism. But he does so, surprisingly, upon the foundation of an Eastern form of meditation, Buddhist meditation, to be exact. Harris appeals to what he calls ―the wisdom of the East.‖47 This is not a concession to a theistic religion as one might at first think. Buddhism is not theistic. But, since it is a religion that encourages people to transcend their physical reality for something more in tune with ultimate reality, it is a bit surprising to see Harris espouse the Buddhist fundamental dogma. Harris says, ―Almost every problem we have can be ascribed to the fact that human beings are utterly beguiled by their feelings of separateness.‖48 This separateness is the ego, the ―I‖ of self-consciousness that is at the heart of dualism. The escape from the idea of separateness (the ―I‖ of self-consciousness) is at the very heart of Buddhism. Harris appeals to Thus for Buddhist thought, to understand the world in what he calls terms of self is not only to see it wrongly but to be led by “the wisdom greed, desire, and attachment. One‘s sense of ―self‖ of the East.” springs not only from delusion, but from the desire to identify and claim some part or parts of the universe as one‘s own, as one‘s possession, and say of them ―this is mine, I am this, this is my self.‖49

Harris says that the truth of materialistic monism can be discovered by the wisdom of the East, particularly through their meditation that leads one to believe in monism through an experiential exercise in which one realizes that one is not ―self,‖ separate from the body, but one is one with one‘s self, i.e., body and mind are one, and it is all physical. According to Harris, the oneness of physical materialism is discoverable through being enlightened via mystical meditation. In fact, Harris calls it, ―nondualistic, empirical mysticism.‖50 And, so as to leave no hint of confusion as to the basis of his epistemology, Harris supplies a very long quote from Buddhist literature that reinforces

47

Ibid., 214.

48

Ibid.

49

Rupert Gethin, The Foundations of Buddhism (Oxford University Press, USA, 1998), 146-47.

50

Harris, The End of Faith, 215.

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his ―nondualistic, empirical mysticism‖51 Thus, his entire argument for his nondualistic, empirical mysticism is self-introspection. He states that ―Meditation, in the sense that I use it here, refers to any means whereby our sense of ‗self‘—of subject/object dualism in perception and cognition—can be made to vanish, while consciousness remains vividly aware of the continuum experience.‖52 J. P. Moreland has written an exhaustive monograph in which he deals with various objections to the dualistic approach. Moreland says that, ―The truth is that naturalism has no plausible way to explain the appearance of irreducible, genuinely mental properties/events in the cosmos, nor do . . . emergentistic monist explanations when compared to the rich explanatory resources of theism and Argument from Consciousness (AC).‖53

Nonetheless, Harris seems hopeful that his emergentistic-monist method of attaining the realization of oneness will find its way into the scientific community. ―While much of the scientific research done on meditation has approached it as little more than a tool for stress reduction, there is no question that the phenomenon of selflessness has begun to make its way into the charmed circle of third-person, experimental science.‖54 For Harris, while meditation‘s arrival in the charmed circle of third-person, experimental science is a positive advancement, it is not necessary for verification of the truths discovered in meditation. He says, ―Scientists are making their first attempts to test claims of this sort, but every experienced meditator has tested them already.‖55 Harris‘s argument against the theistic concept of dualism is an utterly fascinating foray into the subject. How does he attempt to refute Cartesian dualism, that there is a consciousness of self that is separate from the physical body of a person? How does he support naturalism, that there is no consciousness self and thus no distinction to be made between the body and mind? He attempts to do so through subjective, first51

Ibid., 216.

52

Ibid., 217.

53

J. P. Moreland, Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument (New York: Routledge, 2009), 192. 54

Harris, The End of Faith, 220.

55

Ibid.

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person, meditative experiences, in which one typically transcends the physical reality (which is really an illusion) for a spiritual reality that all is one. It is interesting that Harris says, ―Your consciousness, while still inscrutable in scientific terms, is an utter simplicity as a matter of experience.‖56 But, one must ask, whose subjective experience will be the criterion for truth? From the theist‘s perspective, truth is not subjective. Harris attempts to answer that by contrasting ―Western philosophical and theological traditions‖ with Eastern thought. He says that Eastern spirituality is superior to Western traditions and, therefore, we should opt to follow the experience of Eastern meditative processes to discover the truth of our non-dualistic nature. Speaking of the West and its spiritual traditions in comparison with Eastern spiritual traditions, Harris says, ―In spiritual terms, we [in the West] appear to have been standing on the shoulders of dwarfs.‖57 However, how does he establish that this is true? How does he show that Eastern spirituality with its built-in monism is better than Western spirituality that typically holds to dualism? He doesn‘t. He simply states it as a fact without attempting to prove the point other than to say that Eastern spirituality leads to monism, which is the correct view. This appears to be a classic case of begging the question.

A Final Statement on the Atheist/Theist Dialog One of the egregious errors of the New Atheists is their venomous hostility and ongoing acrimony toward religion in general and theists in particular. They often decry theists as fundamentalists and yet they speak with such rancor as to place themselves in the same category. How they define fundamentalism appears to be founded in the ideas that those who yell loudly,58 call people names,59 and who make baseless accusations60 are fundamentalists. If that is the case, then according to their own definitions the New Atheists are themselves expressing a type of fundamentalism by their actions. While this, obviously, does not refute their views on the topic, it is nonetheless hypocritical.

56

Ibid., 219

57

Ibid., 215.

58

Hitchens, God Is Not Great, 7.

59

Dawkins, The God Delusion, 326.

60

Ibid., 322.

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This is easily revealed by such bombastic and baseless accusations as this one: ―Religion poisons everything. As well as a menace to civilization, it has become a threat to human survival.‖61 One would like to think that Hitchens is simply waxing hyperbolic but such is too generous. Here‘s another such statement: ―The attitude of religion to medicine, like the attitude of religion to science, is always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile.‖62 Religion is ―always necessarily problematic‖ and ―very often necessarily hostile‖ to medicine? David Bently Hart points out that even in medieval Western society Christians set up and ran lepers‘ hospitals. ―There was, after all, a long tradition of Christian monastic hospitals for the destitute and dying, going back to the days of Constantine and stretching from the Syrian and Byzantine East to the Western fringes of Christendom, a tradition that had no real precedent in pagan society . . .‖63 That hardly sounds necessarily problematic and hostile to medicine. Also, Hitchens‘s statement that the attitude of religion to science is ―always necessarily problematic and very often necessarily hostile‖ is wildly overstated. These bombastic statements themselves are so hostile and indiscriminate that had a Christian or a Muslim uttered them, they would likely have been dismissed as the rantings of a religious fundamentalist. Yet, these are the words of one of the well-known and celebrated Brights of the New Atheists.64 Contrary to the New Atheists claims, there have been and are many scientists who are theists. One such scientist is Francis S. Collins (to whom we will return below), the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health. He led the successful effort to complete the Human Genome Project.

Here are a few other acrid statements by one of the most outspoken New Atheists,

61

Hitchens, God Is Not Great, 25.

62

Ibid., 47.

63

David Bently Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 30. 64

The term Brights is their self-description. According to them, the Brights are those with a naturalistic worldview and whose worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements.

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Hitchens. Creationism is stupidity.65 Hitchens‘ statement is hardly an invitation to dialog. He goes on to say that the ―faithful‖ contrive foolishness.66

Furthermore, it appears that Hitchens would ban religion from the marketplace of ideas. In what sense can an honest dialog or even debate take place between scientific scholarship and foolishness? ―Religion has run out of justifications‖ writes Hitchens, ―Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important. Where once it used to be able, by its total command of a world-view, to prevent the emergence of rivals, it can only impede and retard—or try to turn back—the measurable advances we have made.‖67 My sense is that one would be hard pressed to find such a dismissive and belittling commentary about atheism by true theistic scholars. One such theistic scholar is J. P. Moreland. In his monograph, Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument, Moreland talks about his critique of atheistic arguments regarding the mind-body problem. He Sadly, painting states that he has put in his work, ―. . . important citations from a caricature of prominent naturalists so students . . . will see for themselves that religion is exmy characterization of naturalism is not a caricature but, rather, actly what the one that self-reflective, prominent naturalists accept.‖68 But, New Atheists ly, painting a caricature of religion is exactly what the New Atheconsistently do. ists consistently do. New Atheist Sam Harris, speaking of the mind-body issue of consciousness says, ―The problem with religion is that it blends this truth so thoroughly with the venom of unreason.‖69 The problem with that statement is that it is terribly overgeneralized (―The problem with religion‖), as well as acridly dismissive (―so thoroughly with the venom of unreason‖). Without taking into account specific religions and specific teachings, and discerning the differences between the various religions and the various arguments, this statement is simply a caricature masquerading as fact. What possible 65

Hitchens, God Is Not Great, 78.

66

Ibid., 81.

67

Ibid., 282.

68

J. P. Moreland, Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument. New York: Routledge, 2009), Preface, x. 69

Harris, The End of Faith, 204.

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invitation to scholarly dialog can be found in such statements? None whatsoever. New Atheist Richard Dawkins is not left out of this discussion on the venomous hostility and ongoing acrimony toward religion. He says: Imagine, along with John Lennon, a world with no religion. 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 persecution of Jews as ‗Christ-killers,‘ no Northern Ireland ‗troubles,‘ no ‗honour killings,‘ no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money (‗God wants you to give till it hurts.‘).70 Certainly when Dawkins describes ―religion‖ this way, even theists can say, ―amen.‖ But, his argument here is both extremely selective as well as acrid. This is hardly an insight from this researcher only. Publisher’s Weekly reviewed Dawkins‘s book on Amazon.com with these words: The anti-religion wars started by Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris will heat up even more with this salvo from celebrated Oxford biologist Dawkins. For a scientist who criticizes religion for its intolerance, Dawkins has written a surprisingly intolerant book, full of scorn for religion and those who believe. . . . While Dawkins can be witty, even confirmed atheists who agree with his advocacy of science and vigorous rationalism may have trouble stomaching some of the rhetoric: the biblical Yahweh is ―psychotic,‖ Aquinas's proofs of God's existence are ―fatuous‖ and religion generally is ―nonsense.‖71 Now, please understand that this researcher is not in any way implying that only the New Atheists are guilty of this acrimony. Various religious people have long committed this same egregious error of venomous hostility and ongoing acrimony toward atheists. But, it seems that this boorish behavior has now risen in the ranks to the scholarly level. This is a problem. Thus, the main thing that makes these New Atheists qualitatively different from scholarly atheists of the past is their shrill, intolerant tone and utter disrespect for religious people 70

Dawkins, The God Delusion, 23-24.

71

Publisher’s Weekly. (Oct. 18) <http://www.amazon.com/God-Delusion-RichardDawkins/dp/0618918248> 20 Sept. 2010

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of all stripes. There is no call to dialog. There is only a feverish fundamentalistic dismissiveness along with gross exaggerations, acridity, and absolutist rhetoric.

Astoundingly, the New Atheists take this hostility even further. They believe that since religion is the cause of most of the world's problems, teaching children about God is actually child abuse.72 Publishers Weekly says that Dawkins argues that religion closes ―people's minds to scientific truth, [and] oppress[es] women and abuse[es] children psychologically with the notion of eternal damnation.‖73 It seems to follow logically, at least by inference if not implication, that since child abuse is against the law, the New Atheists would like to see religion outlawed. If teaching children about God is child abuse, then religious homeschooling, religious elementary and secondary schools, and church Sunday school programs should all be abolished. Though the New Atheists accuse most religious people of being intolerant fundamentalists, it seems apparent from just this small sampling (many more examples could be piled on) that the New Atheists themselves are intolerant with their own fundamentalistic fervor. In his book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Collins points up more of Dawkins‘ fundamentalistic fervor. Among his many eye-popping statements [Richard Dawkins has said]: ―Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. . . . Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion.‖ On the other side, certain religious fundamentalists attack science as dangerous and untrustworthy, and point to a literal interpretation of sacred texts as the only reliable means of discerning scientific truth.74 While the New Atheists appear to be angry and fundamentalistic in some of their condemnations, one point bears noting: not every New-Atheist condemnation and accusation is incorrect. Overlooking the bombastic nature of some of their writings for the mo72

See Dawkins, The God Delusion, 349-387 and Hitchens, God Is Not Great, 217-228.

73

Publisher’s Weekly.

74

Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2006), 4-5.

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ment, theists could both learn a lot from these writers as well as find things for which they need to repent. A critic‘s condemnation should almost always be mined for the truths therein, and the New Atheists‘ condemnation of religion hold some nuggets of truth that theists need to hear. They are partly correct when they decry the mindless inculcation of religion upon children. One need only look at the adherents of some of the sects of Islam to see that children are being taught to hate in the name of their god. As Collins points out, some churches in the Christian tradition promote a ―religious fundamentalists attack [against] science as [being] dangerous and untrustworthy, and [they] point to a literal interpretation of sacred texts as the only reliable means of discerning scientific truth.‖ But, discernment must be employed: not every religion and every religious tradition is serving up mindless inculcation of the worst forms of ―faith‖ to children. Next, while wildly overstated both by Dawkins and Hitchens, wars and hatred have indeed been promulgated in the name of religion, including the three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But, on the other side of the ledger, as David Bently Hart points out, many of the so-called ―religious wars‖ were in fact political wars that used religion as their tool.75 Also, in his book, Death By Government, Rummel has shown that human government (most of it atheistic) and not religion is the number one killer of all time, killing almost 170 million innocent people in the twentieth century alone.76 This accounts for more deaths than all of mankind‘s prior wars throughout history. In their book, Christianity on Trial, authors Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett sum up the issue well: Whatever Christianity‘s role in the conflicts of the last two millennia, its hands were clean during the bloodiest century on record—the one just past. The body count from the two great barbarisms of the twentieth century, communism and Nazism, is extraordinary enough on its own. Communism‘s toll ran to perhaps 100 million . . . Adolph Hitler‘s death machine was equally efficient, but ran a much shorter course. . . . Communism was and is proudly atheistic, while Nazism . . . embraced a form of neopaganism. Both were hostile to the organized religions in their midst, and neither genuflected before any power other than man himself.77 75

David Bently Hart, Atheist Delusions, 88-98.

76

Rummel, R. J., Death by Government. (Transaction Publishers, 1997), 9.

77

Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett, Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry. (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002), 109.

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Does God exist? This is an important dialogical matter, and following the Principle of Noncontradiction (A is not non-A) epistemologically, either atheists are correct or theists are correct. In either case, this is a matter of grave importance and should be the subject of much research and good will in dialog. If atheists are correct, then too many people are caught up in and live a lie from which they should be freed. But, atheists are going to reach religious people only if they lay aside the angry tones, the name calling, and the holier-than-thou rhetoric. If theists are correct, atheists are missing a grand opportunity to recognize the fount of truth that they claim to love so much. But, if theists are going to reach atheists, they must lay aside the haughty arrogance that sometimes comes to those who feel that God is on their side. It is the responsibility of the scholars in this debate to be examples to the laymen. How are we to conduct ourselves in this grand dialog? There is not much that is sadder than to see a fight break out among the parents at a children‘s sporting event. The children are locked in a friendly battle for victory while playing by adult-imposed rules. However, some adults in the stands sometimes take it upon themselves to go outside the boundaries of decorum and respect and acceptable social rules and in so doing they set a destructive example for the children. Likewise, if we are going to help each other, the Brights and the scholastic theists must learn to conduct themselves with cultivated maturity and civility.

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SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aquinas, Saint Thomas. Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Volume one. God and the Order of Creation. Edited by Anton C. Pegis. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997. Collins, Francis S. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. New York: Free Press, 2006. Carroll, Vincent and Shiflett, David. Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against AntiReligious Bigotry. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York: Mariner Books; Reprint edition, 2008. Faulkner, Danny R. ―Fingerprints of the Divine Around Us‖ in The Big Argument: Does God Exist. Ashton, Josh and Westcacott, Michael, compilers. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006. Dyson, Freeman J. Disturbing The Universe. New York: Basic Books, 2001. Flew, Antony. There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. New York: HarperOne, 2008. Gethin, Rupert. The Foundations of Buddhism. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1998. Goldman, Emma, ―The Philosophy of Atheism.‖ Josh, S. T. Atheism: A Reader. New York: Prometheus Books, 2000. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. Hart, David Bently, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve, 2009.

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Layton, Julia. "How Brainwashing Works." 10 May 2006. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://health.howstuffworks.com/brainwashing.htm> 28 September 2009. Moreland. J. P. Consciousness and the Existence of God: A Theistic Argument. New York: Routledge, 2009. Plantinga, Alvin. ―The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ‗ad absurdum‘.‖ 3/01/2007. 24 September 2009. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/marapr/1.21.html> Publisher’s Weekly. Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier. 30 September, 2009. <http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6363543.html?pubdate= 8%2F21%2F2006&display=archive&q=> Rummel, R. J. Death by Government. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1997. Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1999. Schoville, Keith N. ―Anthropomorphism.‖ Bible Study Tools. 19 Feb. 2010. <http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelicaldictionary/anthropomorphism.html> The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984. ―William Paley (1743-1805),‖ University of California Museum of Paleontology. 23 Sept. 2009. <http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/paley.html> Willard, Dallas. ―Truth: Can We Do Without It?‖ 14 Sept. 2009. <http://www.dwillard.org/articles/printable.asp?artid=66>.

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Responses to the New Atheists: A Review of Recent Literature Jonathan F. Henderson, B.S., M.A., Ed.S. Adjunct Professor of History In the story of his religious conversion, G. K. Chesterton recalled that one thing he found curious in his investigation of Christianity was the nature of its critics. It was not Christianity‘s alleged contradictions he found alarming, but rather that any stick seemed ―good enough to beat Christianity with. What again could this astonishing thing be like which people were so anxious to contradict, that in doing so they did not mind contradicting themselves?‖ 1 Hardly had the dust of 9/11 settled when a new breed of critics formed a queue, sticks in hand, to deliver their blows to religion. These authors—the most prominent of which are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens—sought to engineer the renewed ―clash of civilizations‖ discourse after 9/11 into a contemptuous attack upon religion in general. Bypassing the circles of academia, they delivered their salvos against belief directly before the general public and quickly found tenure on the New York Times Best Seller list. Less known than these authors, however, are the academics who, like Chesterton in his generation, choose to sit out the pep rally of shouting and hand waving in order to think critically about the merits of what was actually being asserted. The most surprising thing about these critics of the New Atheists is that they emanate from the faithless as readily as they do the faithful. The purpose of this article is to review two such responses, each from a different side of the religious divide. Terry Eagleton is an unrepentant Marxist who teaches English Literature and Cultural Theory in Great Britain. David Bentley Hart is an Orthodox Christian philosopher and writer who teaches in the United States. Both offer reasoned rejoinders to the excesses and unwarranted claims of the New Atheist movement and, al-

1

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 80.


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beit for different reasons, provide valuable insights to Christians wanting to meaningfully engage their atheist interlocutors Eagleton‘s book Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate is based on lectures he delivered at Yale University on the topic of religion, science and philosophy. Although an atheist, Eagleton cannot imagine that the faith of his pious Irish forbearers is the toxin that ―poisons everything‖ or that the choice to imbue children with the ethics of Christ constitutes child abuse, both of which the New Atheists contend. Such claims, Eagleton argues, can only be sustained upon trite or maligned caricatures of Christianity to which the New Atheists tenaciously cling. For example, the God (or lack thereof) of Hitchens and Dawkins is not the transcendent God of classical Christian theAlthough an atheist, ology, but rather the ―mega-manufacturer or cosmic chief Eagleton cannot imexecutive officer‖ of nineteenth-century rationalism, what agine that the faith one theologian has called ―the idolatrous notion of God of his pious Irish as a very large and powerful creature.‖ 2 How else can forbearers is the anomalies in the created order, such as ―junk‖ DNA or toxin that „poisons the panda‘s thumb be thought of as obstacles to belief in everything‟… God‘s existence? As Eagleton points out, the traditional view of creation ex nihilo points us to the ―mind blowing contingency of the cosmos—the fact that like a modernist work of art it might as well never have happened.‖ 3 This view of creation testifies not to how clever or powerful God is to have made everything with such limited materials, but to ―the fact that the world is not the inevitable culmination of some prior process, the upshot of some inexorable chain of cause and effect.‖4 Such a line of causality would have to be part and parcel of the world itself and, consequently, could not count as the cause of it. It is not that science has no value in informing us about the world and its origins—quite the opposite. It just does not go back far enough. Its scope of inquiry excludes questions like why something rather than nothing exists in the first place, or why the world is even comprehensible to the human mind, something Albert Einstein said we should not have expected at all.

2

Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 6. 3 Ibid., 8. 4 Ibid., 9.

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To believe Ditchens (the amalgam Eagleton employs to characterize Dawkins and Hitchens) is to believe that answers to our deepest existential longings obtain from the same methodology we would use to understand the process of photosynthesis, that life will yield its meaning only through a Baconian interrogation of empirical data. Hence, Hitchens makes the crass claim that ―thanks to the telescope and the microscope, [religion] no longer offers an explanation of anything important.‖5 As an atheist, Eagleton is open to speculate whether or not such questions are even meaningful, but he has the humility to believe their ubiquity across the drama of human history endows them with a worthiness that Ditchens too readily dismisses. As for Ditchens‘ gospel of science, Eagleton allows that this enterprise itself could very well have a theological provenance. The contingency of the world denies us access to a priori laws about how it might be governed, requiring us instead to observe how it actually works. Thus, the classical view of creation, particularly as expressed by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), supports the inductive basis of science and, as Eagleton mischievously adds, the career of Richard Dawkins. When these self-proclaimed ―Brights‖ reach the conclusion that “The command for God does not have to be evoked to explain the processes of justice and rightthe natural world, they arrive at Christian theology circa 13th eousness is so imcentury. mediate that they trump accepted norms of social and ethnic loyalties…”

Favorite targets for Ditchens are the ethics of Christ and His atoning sacrifice. For example, in The God Delusion Dawkins renders Christ‘s teachings about the kingdom as if they are primarily teachings about family relations, in which he sees justified the ―kidnapping habits of religious cults.‖6 Waving away any need for historical or grammatical considerations, Dawkins fails to see what Eagleton does in this passage: that the command for justice and righteousness is so immediate that they trump accepted norms of social and ethnic loyalties. ―Justice is thicker than blood.‖7 That Dawkins the scientist will not admit Christ‘s attitudes toward Samaritans, women of ill-repute, or the care of his mother to inform his hermeneutic betrays an attitude toward evidence that is decidedly unscientific. Eagleton sees the death of Jesus in a much more noble light than does Ditchens, who views it as a residual and barbaric belief from our violent Iron Age past and takes no 5 6 7

Eagleton, 7. Ibid., 31. Eagleton, 31.

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pains to differentiate between martyrdom and maniacal suicide. Jesus did not rush to his death like a suicide bomber, a contrast that Eagleton bears out explicitly. ―Martyrs, as opposed to suicides, are those who place their deaths at the service for others. Even their dying is an act of love. Their deaths are such that they bear fruit in the lives of others.‖8 As a Marxist, Eagleton predictably has social justice at the core of his interpretation of the meaning of Christ. ―The stark signifier of the human condition is one who spoke up for love and justice and was done to death for his pains.‖9 The addition of salvation through grace to this story only ennobles the sacrifice of Christ even farther from the crass rendition by the New Atheists. One striking realization that comes from reading Reason, Faith, and Revolution is the degree to which One striking realizaChristians have allowed atheists to frame the discustion that comes . . . sion about reason and faith. The formula is familiar: on is the degree to which the one side is reason, propelling human progress inChristians have alexorably from a dark past into a utopian future; oppolowed atheists to site reason is faith, a superstitious phenomenon born frame the discussion of our ancestors‘ fear of death, which impedes this about reason and progress at each step. This fairy tale of progress simply faith. does not bear itself out historically. There are rational beliefs we now know to be untrue; we know things to be true today that are not wholly rational. This is not to say that Eagleton takes the postmodern plunge into relativism. Indeed, as a Marxist he cannot. Rather, he demonstrates that the relation between faith and reason is much more complex and symbiotic than the rationalist will admit. This is a point with which David Bentley Hart firmly agrees. In Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, Hart states up front his aversion to the modern age‘s favorite creation myth about itself: the story of ―the triumph of critical reason over ‗irrational‘ faith, of the progress of social morality toward greater justice and freedom, of the ‗tolerance‘ of the secular state, and of the unquestioned ethical primacy of either individualism or collectivism.‖10 Central to this myth, and a favorite theme of the New Atheists, is that Christianity has been the basis of violence and ignorance across the last twenty centuries beating down, as it were, each attempt of humanity to 8

Ibid., 26. Ibid., 27. 10 David Bentlely Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), xi. 9

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raise itself to a more civil and rational plateau. But what happens when the historical evidence is brought to bear upon this thesis? A few examples are in order.

Critics of Christianity often point to the destruction of the ancient library at Alexandria to demonstrate Christianity‘s distain for the life of the mind. Distrustful of secular learning, Christians destroyed the ancient library, burned several hundred thousand scrolls and delayed the progress of civilization for centuries, the story goes. The problem, Hart tells us, is that it lacks any evidence at all. Most of this ancient library‘s holdings were probably burned by Julius Caesar when his war with Pompey led him to Alexandria around 48 B.C. If not by Caesar, then certainly by Emperor Aurelian whose war to unite the failing Roman Empire led him to burn the museum which housed the library in the third century A.D. What is certain is that a Roman army invaded this region and burned a pagan temple called the Serapeum in 391 and that the library which gave Alexandria its reputation for erudition in the ancient world was certainly gone by this point. Indeed, even Eunapius Sardis (345-420 A.D.), a contemporary of great learning who never missed an opportunity to castigate Christians, is silent on this event. It strains credulity that the Christian destruction of such an iconic library did not catch the attention of this antiChristian polemist for whom books would have been a precious commodity. But this does not stop one atheist from describing the time when ―a mob of Christian zealots attacked the ancient library of Alexandria, a place where works of the greatest rarity and antiquity had been collected. . . . The whole collection of parchment and papyri was torched, the library itself was pulled down and the loss to Western Civilization is beyond calculation or even imagination.‖ 11 Likewise, the Galileo affair, far from being a generalization of the relation between Christian culture and the sciences, is largely the clash between Galileo and Pope Urban VIII, two men of ―titanic egoism.‖12 Rarely is it mentioned that Galileo gained wide support by prominent members of the Roman Catholic Church, including his close friend Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, the man who would later be Urban VIII. Even Galileo‘s public acceptance of Copernican‘s cosmology did not earn him the censorship of the Roman Catholic Church, and it was the pope himself who encouraged Galileo to publish his view. The only caveat was that Galileo had to describe it as a hypothesis and conclude that perfect knowledge of the natural order was beyond the comprehension of human beings. When Galileo did publish his views in the form of a dialogue, he included these 11 12

Hart, 36. Ibid., 62.

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words, but he did so in the mouth of a character who was clearly a malicious lampoon of none other than Urban VIII. Thus, the house arrest of Galileo was to a large extent the result of the clash of two uncompromising personalities, a scientist demanding the absolute vindication of his ideas and a pope unable to countenance open defiance from within the church, particularly as the Protestant challenge to his authority was growing in earnest. In the end, not only did the pope hold a more tentative view of scientific knowledge than Galileo, but he turned out to be correct about one very important thing: ―the Copernican model was in fact only a hypothesis, and a defective one at that, and Galileo did not have either sufficient evidence to support it or a mathematical model that worked particularly well.‖13 Modern research bears this out. To extrapolate from Galileo‘s infamous clash with the Church that religion impedes science is ignorant or dishonest. As historian of science David C. Lindberg concludes, there is nothing in the historical record to warrant ―that the advent of Christianity did anything to diminish the support given to scientific activity or the number of people involved in it.‖14 Hart goes on to destroy many of the other historical shibboleths favored by the New Atheists. The Inquisition was not the Church‘s approbation of religious violence and the wanton burning of witches, but its imposition of the rule of law to reign in mass hysteria and public torture permitted by the state. The religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth century were not the final To extrapolate throes of a religious Europe but the birth of modern secular from Galileo‟s inEurope. ―Far from the secular nation-state rescuing Westfamous clash with ern humanity from the chaos and butchery of sectarian the Church that strife, those wars were the birth pangs of the modern state religion impedes and its limitless license to murder. And religious allegiancscience is ignoes, anxieties, and hatreds were used by regional princes rant or dishonest. merely as pretexts for conflicts whose causes, effects, and alliances had little to do with faith or confessional loyalties.‖15 To read these episodes as the New Atheists do is to neglect the complexity inherent in all human motivation. The New Atheists approach history not to unravel these complexities and learn from them, but only to glean what they decided in advance what they should mean. Hart is best when he answers the claim that Christianity has been pernicious to the moral advancement of civilization, an assertion made by Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris 13 14 15

Hart, 65. Cited in Ibid, 67. Ibid., 89.

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alike. The polytheistic culture of the Romans gave religious sanctions to a host of practices that Christianity opposed, such as cruelty to slaves, human sacrifice, and the abandonment of unwanted babies. Hart recalls an episode from the Roman historian Tacitus, in which an entire household of slaves were executed because of the crime of one of them. In this particular case, it meant the execution of about 400 men, women and children. Despite public outcry, the Senate concluded that these innocents must be killed because the ―ancient ways must be honored.‖16 It was against this pagan culture that Christianity offered a ―kingdom not of this world,‖ a revolutionary outrage against the Roman moral order. Polytheistic pluralists of Roman culture never objected to the blood sports of the Roman Coliseum. These entertainments, barbarities by any modern measure, were terminated only after an angry crowd murdered a Christian who protested the gratuitous violence of these games. The cults of the Roman Empire, Hart cogently argues, could never had generated the concept that each individual soul has dignity, that charity to the weak was a virtue, or that the construction of almshouses, hospitals or feeding the poor all had religious significance. The New Atheists, who chide Christianity for its alleged cruelty and intolerance, might be surprised to learn that one of the earI find it ironic that liest critics of Christianity wrote with contempt about the reChristians should ligion‘s acceptance of ―the lowborn and uneducated, slaves, have much to women and children,‖ and other neglected elements of learn from him 17 Roman society. Any stick, Chesterton wrote, seems suffiabout the defense of their faith. cient to beat Christianity. In summary, Hart answers the historical arguments of the New Atheists with great erudition. He demonstrates that many of the moral sensibilities valued by the New Atheists and considered ―modern,‖ actually have their source in the Christianity. Atheist Delusions is well documented and supported with notes and citations from recent scholarship and is certainly a treasure trove for those wanting an answer to the claims by the New Atheists. Concerning Eagleton‘s Reason, Faith, and Revolution, I find it ironic that Christians should have much to learn from him about the defense of their faith. As an atheist he does not allow himself recourse to literal biblical narratives, a strategy that obtains no currency with nonbelievers to begin with. To defend their God against flaws in creation, Christians often fall back upon theodicies based on the Fall and its harmful effect upon the pristine order of creation. Alternately, as Eagleton argues, if God indeed created the world out of love and not out of necessi-

16 17

Hart, 122. Ibid., 115.

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Journal of Biblical Ministry ty, then the claim of the New Atheists against God‘s resourcefulness is tantamount to saying that ballet is a terrible way to get to the bus station. Perhaps a positive effect to come from the New Atheist movement is a renewed and honest investigation into Christianity‘s philosophical and historical foundations, an endeavor in which Christianity ultimately has nothing to lose.

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The Art of Asking Questions: Dealing with Postmoderism Marcia Bost, M. Ed, MAPW Adjunct Instructor of English Introduction To begin our graduate class in understanding the writing process, the professor asked where knowledge was found. There were several responses including mine that knowledge could be found in rocks. I was thinking of Luke 19:40 where Jesus says the stones will cry out in testimony of Him if the crowd is silent.1 I was quickly told by another student that knowledge is not the same as facts, and the consensus reached by the rest of the class was that knowledge was made by the discourse group. If I had known the right question at that point, I might have been able to challenge this postmodern conception of knowledge. In situations such as this one, the art of asking questions can offer Christians a way to begin dialogs and open minds. The examples offered here are mostly from the field of rhetoric, but some theorists claim, as will be discussed later, that ―rhetoric leads to the creation of truth.‖2 Thus, rhetoric is in the thick of the philosophical debates of today and may have a wider application. I would caution that this article is not presented as the answer to the conundrums of modernism and postmodernism, but as a guide to asking questions about those viewpoints. It is most definitely not from the perspective of one who has all the answers, but of one who is still forming the questions to effectively challenge those ideologies. In addition, it reflects the reading I have done in pursuit of my doctorate at a secular institution and as such is likely to be idiosyncratic.

1

The New International Version of the Bible will be used unless otherwise indicated. James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Productions, 2001), 221. 2


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The Acceptability of Questions Like Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16-34), we Christians sometimes find ourselves among people who worship strange gods that they do not really understand. We need to know something about the ideologies that they hold and be able to discuss these ideologies using their language and terms. From that secular viewpoint, questions provide an acceptable means entering into dialog. For example, current rhetorical practice sees itself the great emancipator ―through constant reflection on, and self-scrutiny of, all that we take for granted.‖3 According to Jasinski‘s description of this perspective, those who are analyzing texts should not focus on seeking the truth [the traditional pursuit of philosophy from the time of Plato], but rather on the ways words and symbols create and support power structures and on the possibility of multiple meanings and interpretations of a text. Critical thinking, then, involves questioning any idea that is presented, especially one that is perceived as ―given.‖ A big part of secular higher education today, critical thinking is the emphasis of Georgia State University‘s Quality Enhancement Plan (an important part of its SACS Accreditation). GSU describes critical thinking in this way: Course assignments will align with the University‘s definition of critical thinking: a ―wide range of cognitive skills and intellectual dispositions needed to effectively identify, analyze, evaluate arguments and truth claims; to discover and overcome personal prejudices; to formulate and present convincing reasons in support of conclusions; and to make reasonable, intelligent decisions about what to believe and what to do.‖ 4

3

Some in the field of rhetoric/ composition who critically reflect on their work post their musings in a sidebar. I will share some of my questions in a similar manner. Is knowledge only made by groups of people talking to each other (discourse groups)? What presumptions about reality are part of a pedagogy of consensus and discourse group knowledge? Can knowledge be made or discovered in other ways? If one insists on knowledge being made by discourse groups, does that marginalize or shut out others who are outside the privi-

Jasinski, 118. Bassham, Irwin, Nardone & Wallace, 2005, p. 1. Qtd in 2.21 Quality Enhancement Plan, Georgia State University website. http://www.gsu.edu/sacs/161.html accessed 10 October 2010. 4

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While the idea is one of challenging power structures and particularly what is perceived as the Judeo-Christian culture, this strategy can be also be used to question the modern and postmodern tenets that have led to critical thinking. Categories of Questions: The kind of question asked is important. James Sire, in his scholarly investigation of worldviews, divides philosophical questions in three principle types: epistemological (how do we know, as posed by Descartes); ontological (what is really real, as posed by Plato) and linguistic (what language games are being played, as posed by Wittgenstein).5 Sire proposes that the first question to be asked should be the ontological one because any epistemological question already assumes some reality.6 If I had read his book before my professor posed his question about knowledge, I would have known to question the ontological assumptions about reality which are the foundation of the pedagogy of consensus and discourse group knowledge Modernism A brief survey of philosophy will be necessary to understand which questions might be effective. According to Chuck Colson, the whole modern way of thought began one winter day in 1666 when French philosopher Reneé Descartes huddled near his stove and thought of the one fundamental principle that he could not doubt: Cognito, ergo sum (I think: therefore I am).7 Descartes appears to be asking the following question: how can I know? Notice that this question is different from the one that Christians usually pose: what does God say to us through the Bible? Sire points out that Descartes exemplifies the ―tone as well as the substance‖ of the modernism: ―the declaration that human reason (while known and experienced to be fallible), resting on the existence of God, whose existence is proved by human reason, has the ability to acquire ‗perfect knowledge of an infinitude of things‘ [in Descartes‘ words]. ―8 Thus, Descartes puts the human mind on the throne and in charge of determining truth and meaning—a philosophical proposition that led to the Enlightenment and ultimately to Marxism (also referred to as materialism) and Science (also referred to as naturalism).

5

James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 29. 6 Sire, 72-73. 7 Charles Colson, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1989), 26-27. 8

Sire, 62.

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A deeper look at his reasoning will allow us to see how he changed the questions being asked. Although Descartes‘ proposition and his reasoning led him to confirm that God is the one who gives knowledge, he does so by circular reasoning. In ―Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences,‖ Descartes states: I found that the existence of the Being was comprised in the idea in the same way that the equality of its three angles to two right angles is comprised in the idea of a triangle, or as in the idea of a sphere, the equidistance of all points on its surface from the center, or even still more clearly; and that consequently it is at least as certain that God, who is this Perfect Being, is, or exists, as any demonstration of geometry can be.9

How has public morality been affected by Descartes putting the human mind in charge of determining truth? Who is determining the terms of discussion? What viewpoints are being marginalized by those terms?

In other words, he uses an analogy, comparing the definition of God to the definition of a triangle and a sphere, and he claims that he can prove that God exists because perfection and existence are a part of the definition of God. By positioning himself as the one who makes the definitions, Descartes has made himself the one who determines what is knowledge and is setting the criteria by which to judge knowledge. In his encyclopedia of rhetoric, Jasinski points out that the one ―who is able to control the power of definition has a crucial linguistic resource at his or her disposal.‖10 In other words, the persons who formulate the definitions can guide the debate on their own terms, whether that debate is about knowledge or truth or public policy. We Christians need to be very alert to the definitions that explicitly or implicitly shape discussions and to question those terms.

Even though he may have begun the modern era of objectivism [as Jasinski terms it] , Descartes was reviving an old debate from ancient Greece. The ―modern‖ or ―objectivist‖ tradition is defined by a search for ―some permanent, ahistorical matrix or framework to which we can appeal in determining the nature of rationality, knowledge, truth, reality,

9

Descartes, Renee, ―Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences,‖ Under Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext93/dcart10.txt [Accessed 4 March 2006]. 10

Jasinski 152.

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goodness‖ and the like.11 However, this search for a rational foundation was doomed by the hyper skepticism of Descartes and his philosophical descendents. As philosopher Tom Morris points out in his primer on philosophy, some belief is necessary to move forward and find evidence that supports that belief. In discussing William James‘ essay ―The Will to Believe,‖ Morris points out that ―we can‘t just sit back and wait for the world to give us evidence of what is true. We need to move forward with an openness of mind, and even the first glimmerings of a positive conviction, in order to discover some truths.‖12 In other words, we must have confidence that something is there to be discovered before we begin questioning. Descartes‘ question opened the way for modernist philosophy which believed that humans through rational research could find the answers. Indeed, scientific advances seemed for a while to support the centrality of human reason. Since the main focus of this article is on the questions that can be asked of postmodernism, the reader is referred to two books that challenge the claims of Marxism and Science. Lee Strobel‘s The Case for the Creator recounts comprehensive discussions with eight scientists and philosophers examining the scientific research that supports the Biblical account of Creation instead of naturalist evolution. naturalism. Francis A Schaeffer in A Christian Manifesto describes the Marxist philosophy of materialism. Both Morris and Sire also describe and refute Marxism and Naturalism. Both also point to the fact that sincere questioning from the modernist viewpoint can lead to faith in God. Morris starts with the ultimate questions of philosophy and shows how the Christian belief in God is rational. Sire points out that human reasoning helped C.S. Lewis come to faith.13 I would add that G. K. Chesterton is another such example of one who came from rationalism to faith. We as Christians should be aware of this possibility and pose questions that might lead in that direction. Challenges to Modernism: Post Modernism In the philosophical realm, secular challenges to the Cartesian philosophy have led to many questions about modernism and to the formation of postmodernism. Charles Jencks, writing about postmodernism in general and architecture in particular, puts the

11

R.J. Bernstein, qtd. in James Jasinski, Ed., Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Productions, 2001), 220. 12

Tom Morris, Philosophy for Dummies: A Reference for the Rest of Us, (New York: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 1999), 77. 13 Sire, 87.

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beginning of the postmodern movement in the 1960‘s pop art and counter culture. 14 He asserts that its goal is pluralism and theorizes that postmodernism bridges the gap between premodern worldviews which emphasized the past and the modern philosophies which emphasized the future.15 Jencks theorizes that in every field of study ―the postmodern‖ is a complexification, hybridization and sublation of the modern—not its antithesis.‖16 In the field of religion, according to Jencks, atheism became panentheism and Nieche‘s ―God is dead‖ view became a ―creation-centered spiritualiIf postmodernism is “spirty.‖17 From this analysis stems Jencks‘ contention itual,” which spirit? Is that that postmodernism is ―spiritual.‖ 18 If we accept his spirit friendly, unfriendly, or analysis of the movement of which he is a part, we indifferent to people? Is can ask which spirit? In line with their value of pluralthere evil in the world? ism, the postmodernists might answer that any and How is that evil defined, all spirits are acceptable. We can further ask about discovered, and combatthe problem of evil and suffering. ed? In 1966, Jaques Derrida gave a speech that is largely credited with founding the literary theory of deconstruction (a large component of postmodernism) when he critiqued the use of language in any philosophical undertaking. Derrida used concepts from linguistics to build on and critique the ideas of previous philosophers: Nietzsche (no being, no truth), Freud (critique of consciousness), Heidegger (the destruction of metaphysics)19 and Levi-Strauss (the nostalgic search for the Ideal in primitive societies).20 Derrida declared that there is no center for philosophy because ―the center‖ transcends the center (according to Western philosophy) and so there cannot possibly be a center.21 The center, which he equated with God or any If language and words are as indeterminate as postmodernists claim, how can we rely on the meanings of words that they use? If we can never fix the meaning of any word, why are we spending so much time producing them?

14

Charles Jencks, ―Introduction,‖ The Post-Modern Reader,. (New York: St. Martin‘s Press,

1992),18.

15

Ibid, 12-13.

16

Ibid, 33. Ibid, 34. 18 Ibid, 37. 19 Jacques Derrida, ―Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences,‖ Criticism: rd Major Statements. 3 ed. Charles Kaplan and William Anderson, Eds. (New York: St. Martin‘s Press, 1991), 519. 20 Ibid., 533. 21 Ibid, 519. 17

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absolute referent, was a myth to Derrida.22 Instead, he saw an Abyss—bottomless hole in the center of existence and in any system of philosophy. The reader can perhaps grasp the concept by imagining the Earth, the moon, and the sun as donuts. Instead of building his philosophy on some proposition that cannot be doubted, Derrida looks at language as an unstable tool for determining meaning, since all words are defined by other words, which ultimately contradict themselves. Language is, in short, ―an instrument whose truthvalue he criticizes‖23 In conclusion, Derrida wrote that he saw the birth of an Idea and turned away his eyes from the ―monstrosity‖ he helped birth (534). The question that Derrida deals with is epistemological— how do we know? However, he apparently had answered the ontological question in the negative—there is no reality, only language that constantly changes. Nevertheless, Derrida offers a useful concept when he proposes an Abyss. When anyone takes the omniscient, omnipresent, almighty God out of one‘s life and philosophy, one is left with a mighty big hole for which one must account. This very conundrum had already been discussed three centuries before by French mathematician and thinker Blaise Pascal:

Are we asking the right questions? How might our world view affect the questions that we ask? Why would Derrida think of an abyss in the center of his conception of reality? Is Derrida perhaps unconsciously acknowledging that taking God out of the center leaves a huge, gapping sinkhole? Is Derrida perhaps confirming Pascal’s meditation, widely summarized as the existence of a God-shaped vacuum in each of our hearts?

What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss

22 23

Ibid, 527. Ibid., 516.

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can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.24 This meditation is part of Pensées, begun in 1660, after a religious experience, but unfinished when Pascal died in 1662. Thus, Derrida seems not to be expounding a new idea, but merely the old disbelief, one that was exposed 300 years before. Derrida‘s meandering comments did not stay within the English subfield of literature, but bled over to the emerging academic subfield of composition. As Derrida himself pointed out: ―…in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse…‖25 Kenneth Bruffee in ―Collaborative Learning and the ‗Conversation of Mankind‘ ‖ champions collaborative learning as the method that best mirrors how knowledge is made and initiates students into the academic discourse community. In laying this philosophical brickwork, Bruffee asks and answers the epistemological question. He surveys the historical answers to this question and gives these categories:   

Pre-Cartesian (before Descartes)– revelation by God Cartesian – three places of authority including universals, genius, and the text. Post–Cartesian – social construction26

However, previous to this historical survey, he has already questioned the existence of ―absolute referents‖ (as he identifies the pre-Cartesian and Cartesian answers) and then proceeds as if indeed none survive.27 His use of the word ―if‖ in this context may be strategic hedging to avoid making an absolute statement about there being no absolutes. Bruffee‘s contention that the discourse community must simultaneously conserve and critique28 is disingenuous at best because he appears to want to conserve the idea of knowledge being a social construct while dislodging any other answer to the epistemological question. While his discussion may only have had the purpose of asserting his authority as an advocate of this pedagogy, it has the practical effect of limiting the debate by disregarding the ontological question.

24

Blaise Pascal, Pascal's Pensées, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1958. Under Project Guttenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18269/18269-h/18269-h.htm. [Accessed 18 October 201 ], 114. 25

Derrida, 519. Kenneth Bruffee, ―Collaborative Learning and the ‗Conversation of Mankind,‖ Susan Miller, Ed. The Norton Book of Composition Studies, (New York: W.W. Norton Co., 2009), 557-558. 27 Ibid., 557. 28 Ibid., 559. 26

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What then is postmodernism? Jencks has indicated that it is a spiritual pluralism. Derrida has discussed it as a philosophy based on words that cannot be defined. Bruffee sees it as governed by group discourse. In answer to that question, Jean-François Lyotard simplified the term with this description: ―incredulity towards metanarratives,‖ 29 which is his term for all overarching stories or frames of reference by which societies explain themselves. No doubt, the account of God‘s grace and salvation in the Bible would be one of those metanarratives towards which some express their incredulity. By incredulity, Lyotard means that those who are postmodernists reject the story of modern science as material progress, even as the science rejected all religious narratives, ―finding most of them to be fables.‖30 He further declares that the use of any narrative can no longer be used to provide a foundation for science, for philosophy, or for universities and all their fields of study. He carefully avoids making an absolute statement that there are no valid metanarratives, a linguistic trick to avoid the charge of merely replacing one metanarrative with another. However, postmodern philosophy does indeed form such a story that legitimizes the questioning and ―complication‖ of any and all other frames of reference. Sire points out the centrality of metanarratives to all worldviews: While the Enlightenment with its progeny, modernity, has tried to reject such stories a primitive superstition, happily replacing them with universal rational, propositional knowledge, that very attempt is story-ful. Naturalism itself relies on evolution (cosmic, geological, biological, cultural and psychological) to explain the universe in general, what we are as human beings and how we got this way. Post modernism tends also to be historicist, seeing the whole of how we understand ourselves and God (if any) to be bound up with the ebbs and flows of culture and societal change.31

29

Jean-François Lyotard, ―What is Postmodernism?‖ in Charles Jencks, Ed. The Post-Modern Reader. (New York: St. Martin‘s Press, 1992), 138. 30 Ibid. 31 Sire,100.

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Although he does not elaborate on the irrationality of postmodernism, Sire goes on to point out the essential contradiction: the rejection of all metanarratives is itself a ―story‖ about other overarching stories.32 However, a basic principal of philosophy is that a proposition should not contradict itself. Because Morris is describing how philosophy asks and answers quesWhat is really real for the tions, he explains the contradictions of relativism. He postmodermist? Why is writes that relativists think that any viewpoint is as good postmodernism skeptical as another. ―Is relativism suggesting that this is the ultiabout metanarratives, while mate, absolute truth about truth? In that case, it actually proposing its own story? asserts what it denies, and so it‘s self-defeating, simply logically incoherent as a philosophical position.‖33 This How can postmodernism kind of relativism leads in short order to the postmodernclaim to be pluralist when it ists‘ pluralism, in my opinion. Thus, both the postmodern embraces and complicates rejection of metanarratives and its claim to pluralism are the materialism of modernself-contradicting and illogical. ism (which rejects God)? By the use of the term postmodern, those who base their philosophies and theories on its rather vague propositions claim that it is the latest thing—coming after premodernism and modernism. However, the debate goes back the Greeks, as some rhetorical theorists imply by quoting the Sophists. Jasinski provides this summary of the Sophist attitude: ―People cannot in any ultimate sense, determine knowledge or truth, but they can make determinations about what is better or worse for them and their community‖ which will be based on rhetoric.34 Jasinski points out that Plato attacked the Sophists because of ―their skeptical or relativistic approach to knowledge‖35 The Sophist approach to knowledge is mirrored in the claim that truth is created by rhetoric, and not just discovered and that reality is created by discourse.36 Thus, the postmodern

32

Sire, Ibid. n. 19. Morris, 46. 34 Jasinski 219. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid, 221. 33

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Postmodernism is generally skeptical of any story about God, but almost 80 percent of Americans believe in the Christian God— how can postmodernism be pluralistic? How is the premodern/ modern/ postmodern debate different from the debate between the Sophists and Plato?


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reliance on the discourse community for answers to ultimate questions is not even a modern position, but ancient in origin. Therefore, we can question the postmodernists‘ contention that their philosophy is spiritual, that it is pluralistic, that it transcends metanarratives. We can question whether it is indeed postmodern [and thus the most up-to-date thinking] and not a throwback to an ancient debate. The postmodernists seem particularly proud that they are pluralist [in contrast to those religious people who are so discriminatory as to claim one truth]. On the other hand, almost 80 percent of Americans have some variety of Christian belief. 37 Thus, we can effectively pose questions as to whether postmodernists are actually open to all ideas. Conclusion This has been an extremely brief survey of modernism and postmodernism and the questions that can be posed about them. The books by Sire and Morris provide a broader basis for understanding worldviews and the ways to question them and even some answers. For those who wish to read more, an annotated reading list follows. Postmodernism can be a slippery concept, especially since those who follow it cannot agree about what the term means or even about what the words they use mean. I felt the same way when I first encountered the pluralism on an Evangelism Explosion visit. However, we cannot ignore this ideology and hope its influence goes away. Both Morris and Sire, as Christians who have grappled with the challenges of pluralism championed by postmodernism, recommend examining our basic presumptions. ―We should realize that we live in a pluralistic world. What is obvious to us may be ―a lie from hell‖ to our neighbor next door. If we do not recognize that, we are certainly naïve and provincial, and we have much to learn about living in today‘s world.‖ 38 We should inform ourselves and not hesitate to engage postmodernists in discussions. Asking questions can be a way to start those conversations. As an art, the asking of questions must rely the wisdom of applying insights to particular situations. As James 1:5 reminds us, if any one lacks wisdom let him ask of God. The debate between human consensus and the foundation of truth is an old one. We as Christians can speak from that firm foundation given by the truth of the Bible. On the other hand, postmodernists have a huge hole in their minds, hearts, and lives that they are unconsciously seeking to fill. We know the God who can fill all abysses. 37

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life,―U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Summary of Key Findings,‖ http://religions.pewforum.org/reports [Accessed 20 October 2010]. 38 Sire, 21.

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ANNOTATED READING LIST Modern / Postmodern Texts that Need to be Questioned Derrida, Jacques. ―Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.‖ In Charles Kaplan and William Anderson, Eds. Criticism: Major Statements, 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin‘s Press, 1991. 515-534. In this original text of his 1966 address at John Hopkins University, Derrida challenges words as an effective means of expressing truth or indeed any ideas. Jasinski, James. Sourcebook on Rhetoric: Key Concepts in Contemporary Rhetorical Studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Productions, 2001. In an encyclopedic form, this book summaries the major themes in the study of rhetoric in both the ancient and the modern world. Jencks, Charles. ―Introduction.‖ The Post-Modern Reader. New York: St. Martin‘s Press, 1992. The book is a collection of writings about postmodernism by those who extended the philosophy and its critique of modernism. Lyotard, Jean-François. ―Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?‖ The PostModern Reader. Charles Jencks, Ed. New York: St. Martin‘s Press, 1992. 138150. In a rather dense and meandering discourse, Lyotard discusses the condition of knowledge in highly developed technical societies. He asks if knowledge is possible through consensus of a society. He seems to doubt everything, even Marxism and seems to characterize all communication as language games. Christian Texts that Provide the Tools and Testimonies Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy: the Romance of Faith. New York: Doubleday, 1936.

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Chesterton explains how his study of modern philosophy led him to question it and to embrace Christianity. He states in his preface: ―It is the purpose of the writer to attempt an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it.‖ Colson, Charles. Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages. Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1989. Colson analyzes the effects of modernism and urges the church to confront the culture. Lewis, C. S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1955. Lewis recounts how he rejected Christianity after his mother‘s death from a long and painful illness and how the ―hound of heaven‖ pursued him through his studies in literature and philosophy. Morris, Tom. Philosophy for Dummies: A Reference for the Rest of Us. New York: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 1999. Morris explains how traditional philosophy approaches the questions of wisdom, truth, and many others. Easy to read and even funny, this book is the best one to read first. Morris does not set out to prove, as Descartes does, a foundation that cannot be doubted, but instead shows that belief in God is rational and provides a logically consistent way to reject radical skepticism through his principle of belief conservation. Schaeffer, Francis A. A Christian Manifesto. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1981. Dr. Schaeffer gives a clarion call for confrontation with the secular humanist viewpoint as a whole, not just individual manifestations, such as abortion. Sire, James W. Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept. Downer‘s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press Academic, 2004. A literature professor, Sire provides an overview of the concept of worldview, from both secular and Christian scholarship. He advocates that the ontological

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question (what is really real) should be the first question asked in any dialog on philosophical questions of truth and life. This book builds on his earlier book, The Universe Next Door, and expands his definition of worldview to include narratives that we live by. He provides a list of questions that are answered by most worldviews. Strobel, Lee. The Case for the Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence that Points towards God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Strobel interviews eight experts in various fields who illustrate how science now points to a Creator.

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Review of Godless by Dan Barker Part 1: Rejecting God By J.M. Kinnebrew, Ph.D. Professor of Theology and Spiritual Formation Vice President for Academic Affairs Introduction Godless (Berkley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2008) is a well-written and vivid portrayal of a heart-wrenching pilgrimage from faith to utter unbelief. It traces the 19-year (19641983) spiritual journey of author Dan Barker that took him from being a zealous Christian evangelist to what he is now, an outspoken and equally zealous proselytizer for atheism. Barker‘s story and his missionary message are laid out in nineteen chapters (356 pp.) that are divided into four sections as follows: 1. 2. 3. 4.

―Rejecting God‖ (Autobiographical) ―Why I Am Not a Christian‖ (Apologetical) ―What‘s Wrong with Christianity‖ (Polemical) ―Life Is Good!‖ (Autobiographical Reprise)

This short article is a review of ―Rejecting God.‖ Upcoming articles will look at the remaining sections of Godless. The first section of Barker‘s book consists of four autobiographical chapters recounting (1) the author‘s conversion as a boy and his ―call to ministry‖ at age 15, (2) his eventual doubts and ―de-conversion,‖ (3) the subsequent fallout from others because of his apostasy, and (4) his ―new calling‖ as an apostle of atheism. Rejecting God In this autobiographical section, the author engages in a lot of amateur psychoanalysis as he seeks to understand and explain why he so readily believed things that he now considers utterly unbelievable. The solution to this puzzle, he implies, can be found in his religious upbringing, his father‘s unfulfilled desire for ministry, his adolescent concern about what to do with his life, the apocalyptic end times message of the charismatic movement of the sixties and seventies, etc. Clearly, his purpose in psychoanalyzing his own case is to cast doubt on the validity of all religious conversion. The psychology of preaching, he explains, is ―set up‖ to ma-


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nipulate people and lead them into the delusion that they are created and loved by God (16-17). The particular brand of preaching to which he was accustomed, as exemplified in the Kathryn Kuhlman crusades for which he regularly organized choirs, might deserve such a charge. (He details, for instance, the manipulative practice of pushing perfectly mobile seekers up to the stage in wheel chairs, the all-encompassing organ music, the dramatic stage presence of the famous white-robed healer, etc.) The accusation of psychological manipulation in other venues, however—the authority figure proclaiming ―truth,‖ the uncritical audience eager to find ―truth,‖ etc.—is just as applicable to Barker‘s own presentation as it is to that of any revivalist, for Barker is no less a ―preacher‖ than Billy Graham—he just has a different ―gospel‖—“Good news, everybody! Do what you want; there is no God!” His stated intent in writing, after all, is that ―a Christian reader will read this book and join us‖ (xv). The psychology of preaching…is “set up” to manipulate people…

Barker stands as a self-proclaimed authority—having given nearly 20 years of his life to Christian ministry. And it would be a mistake to presume that his audience is any more critical or disinclined to accept his message than the ordinary Sunday church crowd is to hear their pastor‘s weekly homily. Both groups show up voluntarily to listen to a one-sided monologue, the general tenor of which they know before they get there. His audience, unlike the average churchgoer, actually has to give an offering ($14.95) before reading the sermon! From the start of Barker‘s Christian life, and even that of his parents (who moved from a legalistic, staid fundamentalism to a dynamic charismatic community—and eventually followed their son into atheism), it seems that emotion was always the driving force. Intellect—if in the car at all—was forever relegated to the back seat. By his own admission, even when he was in college he had no use for books and classes, for he was too intent on ―doing the real work of the ministry‖ (18). This neglect—and even despising—of the mind was a defining characteristic of the charismatic movement in which Dan‘s ministry flourished. As Richard Dawkins put it in his (emotionally-charged!) Foreword to the book, in Dan‘s circles thinking was a ―socially unacceptable habit‖ (x).

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This is sad, for it led him, as it has many others, to conclude that there is no sound intellectual basis for faith. As a matter of fact, Barker defines faith as a lack of reason (39). It seems that when he finally began to pay attention to the intellect that he had let languish for so many years, Dan fed it only one type of food—that prepared by skeptics— whether theological skeptics like Tillich and Bultmann (37) or ―enlightened writers in science magazines‖ (38).1 Perhaps he considered that since he had spent two decades in churches and in Christian circles he had already been exposed to all the so-called reasons people should believe; but clearly he had not.2 Beginning Arguments Though he says that he had previously read Christian apologists like Schaeffer, Lewis, and McDowell (35), Barker‘s overstatement of the arguments for atheism, his seeming obliviousness to the logical lapses in those arguments, and his weak glossing over of arguments for theism and Christianity all reveal that he has not deeply considered—or worse, is not telling his readers—why Christian thinkers, both ancient and modern, have concluded that their faith is warranted. More is to be said on that in the next section, for though he takes a lot of ―hit and run‖ jabs at theism in part 1, the sustained and reasoned arguments that he thinks merit an atheistic position are found in Part 2. Nevertheless, in the final chapter of Part 1, ―The New Call,‖ Barker quotes excerpts from several of his many debates and gives the impression that his best moments are unanswerable. Lest that impression seem to stand without challenge, a few of his points are given below with short counterpoints. 

Barker stereotypes ―religious conservatives‖ as people who do not want to learn, grow, or ―move on,‖ saying that they ―have consistently resisted progress, prefer1

Strangely, one of the arguments that most impressed Barker came from an OMNI magazine article whose author asked if those who demand equal time for Intelligent Design in science classes would also agree to ―a chapter about evolution inserted between Genesis and Exodus‖ (38). Barker apparently missed the irrelevance of the question—why would inserting a foreign and contradictory element in a ―holy book‖ that nobody is required to read or believe be equated to giving two dispassionate sides of an issue to a class that everybody is required to attend? The thought that the two situations were analogous is telling, for science classes that give only the evolution story are ―sacrosanct‖ to naturalists like Barker, for whom evolution is, in reality, an article of faith. In effect he is saying, “If your religion is going to foist its story on my church, you have to let my church tell its story in your church.” 2

The weak appeals from his lifelong Christian friends to ―cry out to God‖ or ―just believe‖ are indicative of the kind of shallow ―faith‖ to which Barker had been exposed for all his life. The rejection of that kind of Christianity is no argument for the view that he now espouses.

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ring to maintain tradition for the sake of tradition alone, even if the tradition is bad‖ (67). Having spent my entire religious life among conservative Christians, I have never met one who would say that tradition for tradition‘s sake must be retained. On the other hand, things that are true often become traditional for that very reason and should be ―conserved‖ (hence, ―conservatives‖). History shows that people Barker calls ―religious conservatives‖ have led the way in moving society on to a better place. They were among the first to employ the scientific method of discovery, to spur the industrial revolution, to promote the spread of knowledge through print, and to reform such social evils as slavery, infanticide, and neglect of the poor. 

He cites the imprecatory prayers of exiled Israel (Ps 137.9) and the illustrative metaphors of Jesus (Lk 12.47-48) as though they are positive endorsements of infanticide and slavery. The weak responses of his presuppositionalist Calvinist opponent (Doug Wilson), who reportedly answered, ―Yes, it‘s moral to throw little babies against rocks and beat your slave‖ (paraphrased) are treated by Mr. Barker as if these are the normative explanations for these Scriptural pictures. An honest assessment, however, must take into consideration the cultural context, historical circumstance, and original audience for whom these words were written: o In the case of Psalm 137, the psalmist writes as a slave in Babylon, a nation that, without mercy, had tortured, raped, killed, and plundered his hometown friends and family. The slaughter of innocent children was (and still is) a brutal fact of war, and it would be done to Babylon just as they had done to Jerusalem and so many other cities. The delight the psalmist seems to have taken in this cannot be echoed in the Christian‘s heart of course, for he is to love his enemy and bless those who persecute him; but the truth of the Word of God is not invalidated by the psalmist‘s words. After all, Babylon was so judged, in the triumph of the Persian ruler Cyrus; and those who were used by God to so judge Babylon did count themselves blessed, and happy to have triumphed over the brutal empire (one might reasonably argue that the psalmist was indicating the glee of Cyrus‘ soldiers, not his own delight—for it was not the Israelites that conquered Babylon, but the Medo-Persians). If anything, the historical fulfillment of this prophecy vindicates the Word of God even if it does offend

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Barker‘s moral sensibilities (sensibilities that do not, unfortunately, extend to the innocent twenty-first century babies in a mother‘s womb!)3 o In the second instance, Jesus‘ use of the slave-master relationship to illustrate spiritual truth is no endorsement of slavery. He elsewhere speaks of a judge who takes bribes, a steward who extorts from his master, a guy who makes a shady real estate deal (not letting on that the field he is going to buy has a treasure hidden in it), etc. We are not to imagine that the One Who preached the Sermon on the Mount also advocated crooked judges, employee extortion, or real estate fraud. As for slavery, it was the driving force of the Roman economy in Jesus‘ day and offered an illustration that all could understand. Many of the first Christians were themselves slaves, hardly a circumstance you would have expected if they thought the founder of that religion advocated slavery! One has only to read the epistle to Philemon to see how the followers of Christ, who had no power to change government policies, dealt with this explosive subject in the beginning. In modern times, Christians led the way in the abolition of slavery, and it flourishes now only where the Christian ethic of love has never appeared or has since been rejected. Surely Barker knows this, yet he saddles the Bible and Christ with this evil institution. 

Recounting the 4 ―Laws of Thermodynamics,‖ Barker asks, ―Since the First Law states that energy/matter cannot be created, doesn‘t that rule out the creation of the universe?‖ (72). Of course he knows better, but he is willing to use a ruse to confuse an opponent (or the reader). His question deliberately confuses Cosmogony (study of the origin of the universe) with Cosmology (study of the order of the universe). The Laws of Thermodynamics (along with all other laws of physics) apply only to how a universe that already is works; they have nothing to do with how the universe originated. The creationist‘s use of the Second Law is meant to show that what is understood of how the presently existing universe works would seem to preclude the scenario of upwardly organizing matter necessary for an unguided evolution from mindless matter to mind and man. The creationist‘s use of the second law has merit; Barker‘s use of the first does not. 3

Barker‘s wife (and presumably Barker himself) is an ardent advocate of abortion rights, administering the nation‘s ―longest continually operating abortion charity.‖ One more thing might be said about this, and that is that in a moral universe—the only kind that a moral God could create—―what goes around comes around,‖ i.e., evil is punished and good is rewarded. Ironically, the atheist incessantly charges the biblical God with injustice, and yet when evil is judged with like-evil, he still shouts, ―unfair!‖ It would seem there‘s just no satisfying some people.

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Recounting a debate with a Muslim scholar who referred to God as both ―just‖ and ―infinitely merciful,‖ Barker makes the point that God cannot be both just and merciful, because justice demands the exact severity of punishment that a crime deserves while mercy requires that one is punished less than deserved (79). This is a problem, but not for the Christian. Paul recognized the divine dilemma and showed how it is solved in the just and merciful sacrifice of Christ. God has a right to decide what is just, since He is the One whose Law has been offended; and because justice was served at the cross, He can extend mercy to all who will come to Him for it. This, Paul says, made it possible for God to be both ―just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus‖ (Rom 3.26). So score one for Barker against Islam‘s Allah, but not against the God of the Bible.4

He mentions a debate with Dinesh D‘Souza in which D‘Souza rightly comments on the egalitarian outlook of Christianity, where ―there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.‖ (Gal 3.28). He then derides D‘Souza for The point is that not knowing that the apostle was only talking mutual respect about Christian men, women, slaves, freemen, given across raetc. And then throws in the canard that Paul cial, gender, and was anti-Arab since ―he goes on to say that the class lines …was descendents of Ishmael . . . should be ‗cast out.‘ This is hardly universal equality!‖ (82). born out of ChrisFirst, the apostle did not say that Arabs should be tianity. ―cast out.‖ He simply recounted what did happen in Genesis and used that story as an analogy of the spiritual question before the Galatians of whether to live by faith or by flesh. Second, of course D‘Souza knew the apostle‘s argument was being made to a Christian body and that he was talking only about the people in that body. The point is that the mutual respect given across racial, gender, and class lines was a new sociological development in the ancient world and it was born out of Christianity. It is NOT found in nations where Hinduism (with its caste system) or Islam (with its slavery and misogyny) are the foundational world views. And though secular na4

The objection that it is not just to make an innocent third party bear the punishment of the guilty is irrelevant since Jesus, though innocent, was not a ―third party.‖ In the biblical narrative, He is declared to be God Himself, and as noted above, the offended party who set the laws in place has every right to decide how the violation of those laws is to be dealt with. The amazing thing is that He dealt with it in such a self-sacrificial way that the criminal might still be saved.

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tions now uphold such values, they inherited them from founders who were theistically oriented if not specifically Christian. It is by no means assured that these values will hold sway if atheistic naturalism (with its Darwinian survivalist paradigm) should ever burn out the last vestiges of Christian theism. 

Finally, Barker says that Jesus came to ―uphold the old theocratic . . . prescriptive laws—not to overthrow or improve them (Matthew 5.17).‖ He then adds, ―We freethinkers want to do the opposite. That‘s why I love . . . my ‗new calling‘‖ (83). So, despite vows to the contrary, there may be a moral element as to why Mr. Barker chose the atheistic worldview and forsook the ―old . . . prescriptive‖ one under which he had lived for so long. Just a possibility. Only God (if there is one) can know that for sure—and if there is one, He surely knows. Conclusion

The story Barker tells is one that is being lived out by many current and former ―believers.‖ Christians should read this book prayerfully to gain insights into the intellectual and spiritual struggles that many of their friends, even some in ministry, are facing. The book may help readers see apostates in a new light. In that light, empathy, not demonization, will be seen as the proper attitude and response. Barker inadvertently gives Christians hints on what not to say and what to say in dealing with the atheist. This look into the mind of a ―former Christian‖ is valuable for apologetic ministry. A final warning must be given. One should prepare for reading Godless by first reading a strong Christian apologetics book, and that book should not be far from reach while going through Barker‘s disturbing work.5

5

Suggested ―antidotes‖ include: Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001); William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008); Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004); Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds. Passionate Conviction (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2007); and William A. Dembski and Michael R. Licona, eds. Evidence for God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010).

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