The Atheist Delusion

There has been a torrent of books by the so-called New Atheists in recent years, diatribes from the pens of biologist Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, 2006), journalist Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great, 2007), writer Sam Harris (The End of Faith, 2004) and their ilk. Whatever their expertise in their specialisms, they have arrogantly marched forth into the fields of their own incompetence, and thereby done us all a great favour in showing that the New Atheism spawns intellectual pygmies of the philosophy of religion. As philosopher David B. Hart has remarked,

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

Their writings have drawn back the curtain to reveal the clanking machinery, the hollowness and the intellectual bankruptcy of the New Atheism. For this we are forever grateful, and when their other ideas have been discarded and relegated to footnotes, historians will surely point to their feet of clay displayed by their poor judgment, their bias, nastiness, ignorance and inability to structure logical argument in their writings on religion. As Hart confirms:

The best that we can now hope for [from New Atheists] are arguments pursued at only the most vulgar of intellectual levels, couched in an infantile and carpingly pompous tone, and lacking all but the meagerest traces of historical erudition or syllogistic rigour: Richard Dawkins triumphantly adducing “philosophical” arguments that a college freshman midway through his first logic course could dismantle in a trice…

The author of The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker can never again be taken seriously as a clear thinker: he has well and truly shot his bolt and missed his target.

Not that he is unaware of his crass ignorance. When challenged by biophysicist and theologian Alister McGrath about his ignorance of Christian theology, as displayed in The God Delusion that was aimed mainly as an attack on the God of Abraham, Dawkins replied

Yes, I have, of course, met this point before. It sounds superficially fair. But it presupposes that there is something in Christian theology to be ignorant about. The entire thrust of my position is that Christian theology is a non-subject. It is empty. Vacuous. Devoid of coherence or content

A puerile and unworthy answer. And how absurdly self-refuting. One cannot expect to be taken seriously writing a lengthy diatribe attacking Christian theology and not hold the presupposition that Christian theology is a subject that has content, and that it is therefore something that one can be ignorant about. Otherwise, Dawkins is a presbyopic old fool tilting at windmills. Dawkins is free to believe that there is no God, but he is self-evidently a fool to pretend that theology has no content when he is spending so much time attacking it. And if theology has content, what a fool to attack it without understanding it.

We begin our analysis by noting that those who attack religion have long had a penchant for the illogical and the self-refuting. One wonders whether their inability to spot self-referential gibberish and the fallacies within their own thoughts are the very causes of their atheism. We marvel how the manuscript of the sceptical eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, ever made it to his publishers when within its pages he had declared

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity and number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning methods of fact and existence? No. Commit it to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion!

From its own content, Hume’s essay should have joined the great conflagration since he could not have failed to notice that the answer was ‘No’ to both questions concerning itself.

Moving to the following century, we had the mathematician W.K. Clifford declaring in his 1877 essay The Ethics of Belief that

it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

Doubtless Clifford believed his own maxim, but as he could not provide sufficient evidence for the truth of this moral and ethical statement, he was, by his own definition, always wrong to believe it, and, of course, even more blameworthy to propagate a wrong belief.

In the twentieth century we had the so-called logical positivists, and their great champion and atheist A.J. Ayer, with his Language, Truth and Logic (1936), who, like Dawkins, taught that all religious discourse was meaningless. Ayer set out the central tenet of logical positivism that a sentence can only be meaningful if it has verifiable empirical import. However, that statement is itself empirically unverifiable, and so the central tenet of logical positivism is, by its own definition, meaningless.

The same degree of inconsistency and self-referential meaninglessness infects the writings of the twenty-first century New Atheists. If existence is defined as limited to what is natural, and what is natural is defined in terms of what natural science can reveal, then the definition of existence is self-limiting, and the supernatural is eliminated, not in reality, but by definition. If the supernatural is defined as an effect or entity that violates the inviolable, then we would all agree that there can be no supernatural according to that definition. Theists are not so stupid as not to understand language, truth and logic. They have, after all, a couple of thousand years’ head start over the New Atheists. And some rather bigger hitters.

Science itself does not refute the existence of God, but definitions can be drawn as narrowly as one likes to exclude entities and events – in language and in logic, but not necessarily in reality. If atheists want to draw up definitions that exclude God, so be it: but they cannot from a narrow definition infer the non-existence of an entity in reality that was deliberately excluded from their contrived narrow definition. But this is, essentially, what they do. If I define that there is no copper in the universe, I cannot influence the reality of whether copper really exists in the universe ‘out there’, only that there is none in the universe of my own linguistic convention. The New Atheists seem to be infected with postmodernist, Kuhnian and constructivist ideas that reality is what I (or my group) think it to be. In postmodernism and Kuhnian science, reality is constructed not found. This is a far cry from the traditional demarcation that fiction is whatever I care to believe irrespective of reality, whereas fact is what is real, irrespective of what I believe. The constructivist approach of New Atheism is the classic philosophical fallacy of confusing methods, presuppositions and descriptions of reality with reality itself. So when atheists speak about the universe, they are speaking about the universe limited to their own definition, a concept of their own creation. When theists talk about the universe they are talking about the universe of God’s creation, as defined by the revelation they accept. And they are not the same universe. And the real universe can be something different again. C.F Wiezsacker in The Relevance of Science notes that

It is not by its conclusions, but by its methodological starting point, that modern science excludes direct creation. Our methodology would not be honest if this fact were denied…Such is the faith in the science of our time…

As the mathematician David Berlinski has remarked

The attack on traditional religious thought marks the consolidation in our time of science as the single system of belief in which rational men and women might place their faith, and if not their faith, then certainly their devotion. From cosmology to biology, its narratives have become the narratives.

Atheists are usually prepared to admit that the universe has the appearance of design, an honest observation that they are quick to couple with the assertion that a mere appearance of design does not automatically infer a designer because it could all be an illusion. Quite so. But the plausibility that something with the appearance of design might have that appearance because it is actually designed is ruled out by atheists not by evidence and conclusions but by presuppositions and prejudice.

So, for example, the geneticist Richard Lewontin will accept the atheist scientific mythological narrative

in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs…in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories.

Why? Because he “cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door”. Fine. Thanks for the honesty. At least Lewontin’s prejudice is there for all to see. See more about atheist mythology.

Richard Dawkins loves straw man arguments. Hart warns that he is severely challenged in even the most elementary of logic and that he has a

philosophically illiterate inability to distinguish between…theoretical claims about material causality and logical claims about the mystery of existence

Dawkins argues that there are two competing explanations for the apparent design in the universe from which we must choose:

1. A hypothesis involving a designer, that is, a complex being to account for the complexity that we see.
2. A hypothesis, with supporting theories, that explains how, from simple origins and principles, something more complex can emerge.

He does not inform his readers (is he even aware of it himself?) that the first hypothesis is not one that Christian theists have ever held. He has invented the concept of a ‘complex being’, which cannot be the Christian God since their God is always held to be simple. So, by not actually stating the Christian hypothesis, and introducing a hypothesis held by no-one, Dawkins sets up an argument that is a mere illusion to reach a conclusion that is a mere deception. As we noted earlier, and as Hart confirms,

Numerous attempts have been made…to apprise Dawkins of what the traditional definition of divine simplicity implies, and of how it logically follows from the very idea of transcendence, and to explain to him what it means to speak of God as the transcendent fullness of actuality, and how this differs in kind from talk of quantitative degrees of composite complexity. But all the evidence suggests that Dawkins has never understood the point being made, and it is his unfortunate habit contemptuously to dismiss as meaningless concepts whose meanings elude him. Frankly, going solely on the record of his published work, it would be rash to assume that Dawkins has ever learned how to reason his way to the end of a simple syllogism.

Then there is his ‘Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit’. Dawkins was not at all amused when atheist cosmologist Fred Hoyle, who held that life must have come from an extraterrestrial source because of its improbability originating here, stated that

the probability of life originating on Earth is no greater than the chance that a hurricane, sweeping through a scrapyard, would have the luck to assemble a Boeing 747.

Not wanting to let a good argument get the better of him, Dawkins recycled the argument to turn it against theism: if any cause is inadequate to bring life into existence because life is improbable, then God is inadequate for the same reason. Any theist will instantly recognize the fallacy of such a position: life is indeed exceedingly improbable if it is brought about by raw, undirected, unintelligent and random causes, but there is no such improbability if it is brought about by a designer. As Hoyle had rightly stated: it is utterly improbable that a hurricane can assemble a aircraft from scrapyard junk, yet there is nothing improbable about an aircraft emerging from Boeing’s Seattle factory – it happens all the time. Random outcomes can be exceedingly improbable: intelligently designed outcomes need not be.

With regard to the appearance of design (which Dawkins describes as a mere ‘illusion’), Fred Hoyle had also stated that

The universe looks like a put-up job

and the physicist Paul Davies remarked that

Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks surprisingly like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves…change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal.

It is entirely reasonable to ask the question why things are as they are when they seem to be anything but arbitrary. Only after proper inquiry and exhausting all answers could we possibly conclude that such a question is meaningless – not at the start of the inquiry as does theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, another demi-god in the atheist cult’s pantheon. [Update: Hawking in his 2010 book The Grand Design and his appearance on Larry King Live in September 2010 now ascribes it all to the law of gravity, natural law and M-Theory; but laws are merely descriptions of properties and behaviours, so they are a circular argument, and M-Theory is highly speculative and suffers from the same circularity.]

The obvious answer to the question is the one that theists have always offered – the universe looks like a fix and a put-up job because it is a fix and a put-up job. That’s not a proof, of course. But neither is it reasonable to think the answer false because it is obvious – it is a most reasonable working hypothesis until falsified. To suggest that it is not a reasonable working hypothesis until falsified is to betray prejudice, emotion and ulterior motives. As Berlinski notes

It is emotionally unacceptable because a universe that looks like a put-up job puts off a great many physicists. They have thus made every effort to find an alternative. Did you imagine that science was a disinterested pursuit of truth? Well, you were wrong.

The contrived mechanism that Richard Dawkins has borrowed from these physicists is the idea of the multiverse: if there are an infinite number of universes, there must be the possibility, however improbable, that at least one of them has the physical laws and conditions just right to permit human existence, and obviously we’re in such a one. This chimes with his argument for evolution – given enough universes any universe is possible, including this one; given enough time in this universe, anything is possible, including the emergence of Richard Dawkins.

But of course, this is just a metaphysical argument and not a scientific one according to Dawkins’ own definitions of what would constitute science. Quite why belief in a plurality of universes with no creators is superior to a belief in a single universe with a single Creator is given by Dawkins as follows

The key difference between the radically extravagant God hypothesis and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis is one of statistical improbability.

Note that it’s all down to statistics and probability. Quite apart from the word games that Dawkins is using, begging the question by using terms such as ‘radically extravagant’ and ‘apparently extravagant’, the idea that one can apply the laws of statistical probability to the existence of God and other universes is breathtakingly stupid. Yet this nonsense becomes the centrepiece for his argument in The God Delusion against the existence of God. Dawkins’ argument in Chapter 4, Why there is almost certainly no God, can be summed up as follows

1. “The universe is improbable”
2. “The temptation [to explain the appearance of the universe by an appeal to a designer] is a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable.”

Firstly, we do not concede to Dawkins the benefit of the first premise, so his argument doesn’t get out of the starting blocks. ‘The universe is improbable’ is a starting point for an argument where this is a given, not necessarily what pertains in the present universe. It is an atheistic premise. The universe is only improbable if there is no God, so to start with the improbability of the universe is to assume the proposition to be proved in the premises, a logical fallacy known as begging the question, petitio principii, more of which below. So the argument starts out as a hopeless fallacy, but as we see, Dawkins soldiers on with his argument that if the universe is improbable,

It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable

Such as a Creator. Well, given a premise that is begging the question, Dawkins manages to wade even deeper into the quagmire of the fallacious argument. Why an improbable universe would demand an improbable creator, never mind a more improbable creator, Dawkins declines to say. So we shall allow him to sink without throwing him a lifeline. Atheist arguments such as this are fallacious in attempting to force a dilemma where none can exist. This is cheeky rhetoric, smoke and mirrors, not the standard we expect from those who according to New Atheist Peter Atkins, colleague of Dawkins at Oxford, are “beacons of rationality, and intellectually honest”.

Dawkins confuses tendencies and categories that are incompatible and incommensurable. When theories are incommensurable, there is no way in which they can be compared with each other to determine which better explains the observable data. Probabilities belong to the world in which things happen because they might; creation belongs to the world in which things happen because they must. There is nothing contingent or chancy about divine creation; there is everything contingent and chancy about emergence of intelligent life and complexity from randomness. Creation is explained by reference to creators; chance events are explained by appealing to chance.

Theories of probability assign numbers to events. Quite apart from the fact that the eternal being of God, as understood by Christians, is not an ‘event’, the hypothetical emergence of some improbable Creator would have to be an improbable event in virtue of the process that controls the probability of such an event. Just which processes are in operation designed to yield a Deity as a possible outcome, by which Dawkins can determine the probability of such event, Dawkins does not say, nor can he. Having failed to know and establish the laws, conditions and circumstances by which the Deity’s probability is assigned, Dawkins also neglects to tell us how long the conditions have been in operation. Taking a leaf out of Dawkins’ writings on the probability of the improbable, we would have to admit that, after all, the Creator probably has all the time in the world. In truth, Dawkins can say nothing about the probability or improbability of God, and the very concept, the cornerstone of his argument, turns out to be an absurdity.

In formal logic, ‘All ravens are black’ is equivalent to ‘all non-black entities are not ravens’. One cannot rationally hold the one without the other. On his own admission, Dawkins holds the view that there are improbable events, and since he also denies God he must believe that ‘All improbable events are not God-caused events’ – this, at least, is what he is at pains to prove with regard to the appearance of life and the universe. But that logically also means that ‘All God-caused events are not improbable events’. So, the universe need not be improbable. Indeed, IF God exists, the appearance of the universe would NOT be improbable. To know whether the universe is improbable, one would first need to know whether God exists.

To say ‘If God created the universe, then the universe is not improbable’, would thus seem to be uncontroversial (except, it seems, to Dawkins). One does not have to accept that God DID create the world – there’s a big ‘IF’ in there as a get-out. But IF there is a God who actually made the world, THEN there can be nothing contingent or improbable about its existence. Again, this can be stated two ways that are logically identical:

If God created the universe, then the universe is not improbable.
If the universe is improbable, then God did not create the universe.

Thus, if the universe is improbable (Dawkins’ “begging the question” premise) then we will all agree that God did not create it. Big deal: Dawkins’ conclusion is nothing other that what he logically sneaks into the premise ‘the universe is improbable’, i.e. that God did not create the world. The sleight of hand is obvious, and it’s all the more amateurish because Dawkins cannot hope to establish the proposition that the universe is improbable. The most that one might say without begging the question is that a universe such as ours would be improbable had it not been created by God. A starting point with some intellectual integrity would be: If God does not exist, then the emergence of the universe would be improbable. We can perhaps all agree on that, theists, creationists, agnostics, evolutionists and atheists alike. But by quietly ignoring the ‘if’ part of the foundation on which we all agree, and making the ‘then’ part his starting proposition, his premise, i.e. ‘the universe is improbable’, Dawkins is just trying to pull a fast one. No rational thinker worth his salt should let him get away with that sleight of hand: that is not a logical deduction or inference from the position on which we all can agree.

This, then, is the atheist delusion.

19 Responses to “The Atheist Delusion”


  1. 1 Oliver K. Manuel July 7, 2010 at 3:40 am

    With all due respect, I cannot explain, except by some creative intelligence, the formation of you and me, the elephant and the tree, from supernova debris!

    http://www.omatumr.com/Origin.htm

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  2. 2 Oliver K. Manuel July 7, 2010 at 11:34 am

    A supernova origin for the Solar System was the conclusion of my quest as an outspoken atheist to rewrite the book of Genesis from a scientific point of view.

    But creative intelligence seems to be required for the remaining steps:

    1. How else could

    a.) ~ 100,000,000,000,000 atoms come together to form a living cell, and

    b.) Continuously exchange with other atoms of C, H, O, N in the environment (food, water and air) over the lifetime of the living cell?

    2. How else could

    c.) ~ 100,000,000,000,000 living cells come together to form you and me, the elephant and the tree, while

    d.) Continuously live, reproduce, die and be discarded as waste over the lifetimes of you and me, the elephant and the tree?

    The same creative intelligence that causes discrete energy levels in the H+ and e- pairs that form Hydrogen atoms (quantum mechanics) may also explain the empirical facts of life summarized above.

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    http://myprofile.cos.com/manuelo09

  3. 3 Oliver K. Manuel July 11, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Science rests on spiritual principles:

    “Truth is victorious, never untruth.”
    Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.6; Qur’an 17.85

    “You will know the truth, and
    the truth will set you free.”
    Bible, John 8.32

    Spiritual guidance will, in my opinion, become increasingly important for survival in the future, now that science and our freedoms are controlled by the scientific-technological elite that President Eisenhower warned about in the farewell address on 17 January 1961:

    “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.”

    “Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a SCIENTIFIC-TECHNOLOGICAL ELITE.”

    “It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system – ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our FREE SOCIETY”. {Caps added for emphasis.}

    http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm

    It appears that an invisible government that includes Al Gore and many world leaders now controls the UN’s IPCC, the US National Academy of Sciences and the federal research agencies NAS controls through budget review, the Alliance of National Science Academies worldwide, and the European Space Agency, etc.

    This group generates “science” in the same fashion that the Truth Ministry generated “truth” in George Orwell’s book, “1984.”

    http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/1984/

    Oliver K. Manuel
    http://www.omatumr.com/

  4. 4 moriahbethany July 17, 2010 at 12:34 am

    It is pretty obvious from your attacks on Richard Dawkins that you have not read his books. Many people who are “atheists” have a very good grasp of what is in the Bible as well as knowledge of the history or religions and how Christianity came to be…which is exactly why they are not religious now. Feel free to read my blog if you feel like arguing furthur.

    ScientistForTruth responds

    This seems to be a common method of argument: you haven’t read this book, or you don’t know anything. It doesn’t engage with the argument at all and is really just a vacuous ad hominem. Dawkins is quoted verbatim from his book The God Delusion. I’ve gone to the trouble of demonstrating that he is wrong. Show where I’m wrong, if you want to make a sensible contribution.

    ‘Many people who are “atheists”…’ doesn’t convey any sense of proportion. Doubtless there are thousands who are familiar with the claims of religion, and thousands are ‘many’. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett and their acolytes are not among that number, however, and they are the ones making the big noise. Dawkins’ ignorance of the Christian faith is now legendary, and his only defence to making such an utter fool of himself in The God Delusion is that puerile retort that he doesn’t need to know about Christian theology because there is no content to Christian theology. Again, I quoted him verbatim, so all can see what an idiot he has made of himself thereby.

    This particular post doesn’t promote any particular belief as an alternative to the New Atheism: that is not its purpose – the whole purpose (as is pretty evident throughout to anyone who cares to read) is to expose the bankrupcy of thought of the current breed of New Atheists. Many of the ‘old atheists’ (speaking as a former one myself) are doubtless pretty embarrassed about the appalling grasp of religion, philosophy and basic logic by the likes of Richard Dawkins. Better to be silent and be thought an ignoramus on a subject than to open one’s mouth and leave no-one in any doubt.

    This particular commenter has written on comments to their post ‘Why I don’t read the Bible…anymore’:

    As for the New Testament, it’s full of miracles, all it takes for me to not believe is the fact that I know turning water into wine, rising from the dead, causing the crippled to walk because these are things I have never seen before.

    There’s clearly something awry with the sentence, but that aside, it has to be one of the worst arguments imaginable: I can’t believe anything I’ve never seen before. I wouldn’t go putting that argument around very widely if I wanted to be taken seriously.

  5. 5 moriahbethany July 18, 2010 at 2:14 am

    In response to when I wrote,
    “As for the New Testament, it’s full of miracles, all it takes for me to not believe is the fact that I know turning water into wine, rising from the dead, causing the crippled to walk because these are things I have never seen before.”

    You write,

    There’s clearly something awry with the sentence, but that aside, it has to be one of the worst arguments imaginable: I can’t believe anything I’ve never seen before. I wouldn’t go putting that argument around very widely if I wanted to be taken seriously.

    Let me clarify, these are things that we have no physical evidence for and no living person (including myself) has ever seen them.
    It amuses me that you think that this merits me not being taken seriously.
    You have the burden of proof. If you tell me that something exists or happened, you should prove it, I shouldn’t have to prove that it didn’t.

    ScientistForTruth responds

    Clearly you have a very naive view of evidence and proof. As I mentioned in the post, atheists set the definition of reality to exclude everything supernatural. If you do that, no evidence can be adduced for a supernatural event because all evidence and testimony for such is ruled as inadmissible. You betray such prejudices by using terms such as ‘physical evidence’ and ‘no living person’. Nobody has to accept the burden of proof to convince you on your own arbitrary and self-appointed terms. Why should anyone bother to rise to the challenge of convincing you when you have such a naive view, any more than we should waste time with those who think the moon landings were staged in an aircraft hangar?

    There are lots of historical events where there are no living eyewitnesses, and no remaining physical evidence. My great uncles perished in the great naval Battle of Jutland in 1916, but there are no living eyewitnesses now, and their bodies soon decomposed as they went down with the ships. I believe that they perished in the Battle of Jutland based on reliable witnesses, long since dead. The burden of proof is not on me now to prove that they did drown there, it is on the one who says that the Battle of Jutland never took place or they were never on board because there is no longer any physical evidence, or any surviving eyewitnesses. You can’t come around decades afterwards when there has been ample opportunity to check the veracity of accounts and simply say, ‘Well all the eyewitnesses are now dead, and there are no bodies any more, so the burden of proof shifts to you’. Sorry, history doesn’t work like that.

    Whether you like it or not, the miracles in the New Testament were witnessed by thousands, and their eye-witness testimony was remarked upon while many were still alive. Anyone could easily check out the accounts out for decades. Paul says around 25 years after the resurrection:

    1 Corinthians 15:4-9 …he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also…

    There were still hundreds of witnesses – he could have said ‘check it out if you don’t believe’. Things weren’t weren’t done in a corner, and weren’t some figment of the imagination that no-one could verify like Mohammed’s night flight to Jerusalem. Not even the enemies of Christianity could deny that the miracles took place – how easy it would have been to debunk Christianity if they had examined the named witnesses had these events not occurred! No, the argument even by Christianity’s detractors wasn’t about the reality of the miracles, the argument was about the source of the miracles. The Pharisees said it was by the power of Beelzebub rather than God: it would have been impossible and untenable to attempt to deny the miracles themselves – they were undeniable. Likewise, the record of Luke (a physician), considered to be an extremely accurate contemporary historian, second to none in the ancient world:

    Acts 3:2 – 4:22 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple…And [Peter] took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength…And all the people saw him walking and praising God: And they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him. And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering…And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, and Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?..And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name…So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done. For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed.

    If one denies miracles, then the account simply gets pigeonholed as false, but we should admit that it gets pigeonholed according to one’s own presuppositions, not according to the veracity of the historical account: the account is not judged as false because there has been any evidence found against it, or any inconsistencies, or anything untrustworthy about the witnesses, or anything dodgy about the historian, but because nothing can be allowed to challenge the atheist preconceptions, so this evidence (yes, evidence) gets discarded or explained away. It is plain simple prejudice – it must have been a mass delusion, or a hoax, or a conspiracy…Likewise, those who have a preconception that man did not land on the moon will explain away any evidence for the landing on the basis that such evidence had to cooked up in the first place to sustain the supposed hoax. The more evidence is produced for the truth of the moon landings, the more complex the conspiracy web is spun for the conspiracy theorist, the more ‘wonderful’ and deeper the conspiracy becomes. Like the wonderment that Dawkins expresses about the universe because it is so improbable from the atheist perspective.

    Atheists should realize (as I pointed out in the post) that they are simply constructing a view of reality in which everything has to be forced to fit their worldview. As such, they are social constructivists.

    On the extract given above, perhaps you would advise what would persuade you of the truth of the account. If the answer is ‘nothing’, then nobody should even bother to waste their time in discussion with you: the ‘burden of proof’ argument is just a figleaf to try to suggest that you are still rational, when you are not.

  6. 6 Geof August 3, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Speaking as a post-christian (sorry, but I have given up on the supernatural) I have to agree with Freddy Ayer. Yes, your presentation on this topic was meaningless.

    ScientistForTruth replies

    The point was that A.J. “Freddie” Ayer’s positivism was meaningless by his own definition. However, pointing out the inconsistencies and fallacies in rational arguments, as this post does, is far from meaningless. If you think it is then it is little wonder that you have given up on Christianity as you either have no interest or capacity for rational argument.

  7. 7 David August 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Dear Scientis for Truth

    I have appreciated your scientific arguments on several websites regarding global warming. Your arguments hear are equally rational and a pleasure to read. You have far more formal training in logic then me, however I think I may have a logical approach to this subject that is logically unassailable.

    Marconi stated this…”The inability of science to solve life’s mystery is absolute” This intrigued me and gave rise to thoughts of the absolute. I attempted to frame some of my thoughts in comments on a post hosted by EM Smith. Forgive me for not having taken the time to write it more clearly, but I would be intrested in how your more formal phlosiphy evaluates it, so here is one version of my attempted articulation while debating Mr Lynn.
    first comment
    David January 13, 2010 at 6:16 pm
    Mr Lynn responds January 13, 2010 at 8:50 pm Mr Lynn
    david responds … January 13, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    And here perhaps my best attempt January 16, 2010 at 12:52 am

    Mr. Lynn responds on January 16, 2010 at 5:30 pm Mr Lynn

    I respond here with a question to Mr Lynn, and several short posts. David January 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm ( Mr Lynn never answers this question.

    Here I give a simple mathmatical condensation of my 29 point premise.January 17, 2010 at 7:56 pm

  8. 8 David August 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    oops, the post at E.M site was Darwin, “Expelled”, and Religious Science
    January 4, 2010 by E.M.Smith

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/author/chiefio/

    ScientistForTruth responds

    Thanks, I’ll take a look some time.

    ***************************

    Now taken a look. I actually made a comment on that blog posting too! See January 6, 6:15am, where I wrote:

    I appreciate your balance and fair-mindedness. There never was an essential conflict between science and religion, though some have tried to start and fan the flames of such a conflict for their own nefarious ends. The conflict idea arose in the nineteenth century, and is thoroughly discredited by historians of science and religion. Steven Shapin, Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, notes that

    “In the late Victorian period it was common to write about the “warfare between science and religion” and to presume that the two bodies of culture must always have been in conflict. However, it is a very long time since these attitudes have been held by historians of science.”

    If we are dealing with natural science and the natural world then you will find that in general theists use naturalism as a working assumption – that is, that there is cause and effect, laws of physics, and phenomena occur principally by second causes. Of course, theists are not philosophical or epistemic naturalists because they believe that there is something beyond the natural world, but there is no reason why this should clash with natural science, which by definition is limited to the study of the natural world.

    The problem arises when science becomes institutionalized: science in the service of atheism, Islam, Christianity, Marxism etc. This always tends to weaken and ultimately destroy science. This is what we have been seeing in climate science – science in the service of what has many of the trappings of a religion, as well as politics.

    Unfortunately, most of the damage being done in science today is by militant atheism which is seeking to impose its philosophical naturalism (a religious viewpoint) onto science – and this is bound to cause conflict. But as Alvin Plantinga has pointed out,

    “People like Dawkins hold that there is a conflict between science and religion…the truth of the matter, however, is that the conflict is between science and naturalism, not between science and belief in God…”

    I find that many atheists do not seem to realize that they are subverting science to the service of their religious worldview: an attempt to institutionalize it, which will cause serious damage to scientific endeavour.

    In relation to the other comments on that blog, I am always amazed and sickened by the arrogance of atheists, who are often so blind that they cannot see the folly and illogicality of their arguments.

    Mr Lynn was making the point that religion inhibits the search for truth because it provides answers whereas scientists must search for answers. I think that’s a most daft suggestion – a very large proportion of the best scientists in history have been theists, and not a few were clerics, so faith doesn’t seem to have inhibited them. There’s more than a little ‘begging the question’ in his argumentation as well. The computer you are reading this on was actually designed by rational people. It would be less than helpful to say that the search for how your computer came into being is more important than the knowledge of who made it, that somehow knowing who the manufacturer was is a hindrance to investigation. The argument that Mr Lynn is using is just the same as saying that children find it more fun to put on blindfolds and have to grope around trying to figure out their surroundings rather than being informed where they are, so why don’t we make science like that? Let’s rule out all possibility of revelation and then science will be more fun and fulfilling!

    I don’t believe in the slightest that Mr Lynn’s desire to exclude the possibility of God flows from some elevated view of scientific method – no, such people are atheists first, and they justify their scientific stance from there. In other words, their scientific view is based on a matter of faith, a presupposition that God does not exist.

    It is nonsense for atheists to state that only theists have faith and so are somehow supplanting science. Nonsense! Their presuppositions are matters of faith, for which they have no grounds for believing whatsoever. Any atheist who tells you otherwise is either lying or stupid.

  9. 9 David August 23, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Thanks for your time insight and clarity

    ScientistForTruth responds

    Thanks for your encouragement

  10. 10 David August 26, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Thought I nay save you the trouble of going through random posts, so for your consideration…

    COSMLOGICAL ARGUMENT EXPRESSED MATMATICALLY IN RELATIONSHIP TO CAUSE AND EFFECT.

    Field one = 0
    Zero is neither cause nor effect in an absolute sense. “Nothing can come from nothing. Zero is, in a sense, the ultimate atheist and believes in nothing. It is however useful in exploring the “first cause” dilemma.

    Field two is 1 through any number.
    Field two is the domain of science, and can be both an effect and a cause. Two plus two equals four. Four is the effect, two and two are the cause.

    Everything in this field demands both cause and effect. Everything in this field is relative. It must be able to be measured and quantified. It is subject to time, which runs in one direction, and space.

    Classical mechanical theory and quantum physics still require relativity, and to be quantified. A photon is something, and quantifiable. The Higgs field, if found will be quantifiable. The Singularity must be described in other then absolute terms. Every effect is proceeded by a prior cause. There can be no effect without a prior cause. All causes are themselves an effect. Cause and effect is a chain and it, with the arrow of time, moves in one direction. In this sense science to me is the study of how all things in the cosmos interact, and the laws that govern those interactions. Science is constrained to time and space and relativity. Science cannot contain absolutes. I maintain that science is, in its essence, “cause and effect” .

    Field two is incapable of giving one hypothetical “first cause” no matter how wrong, which is not relative and in turn demands another prior cause. And this is the dilemma of field two. It cannot explain itself. It is perfectly suited to examine and explain how it operates. However it cannot logically explain how it came to be, yet it cannot always have been. To state that everything came from nothing (Field one) is not science. To state that “everything” always was, is an assertion of ignorance, not an explanation. Steady state theory, brane theory, cyclic big bang theory, all, in essence, state that everything in field two is a complete mystery, and always will be.

    Any attempt, via field two tools to explain “one“, the “first caused” will invariable lead scientist to infinite energy beyond time and space explanations. When a scientist says something is beyond time and space he is not saying what it is, he is saying what it is not. He is making a confession of the limitation of his tools. A confession of inability, is not an answer. Logically and mathematically Field two cannot explain or deny field three, or itself, it can only explain things within itself, and due to the arrow of time, every number but one. Any adjective used which can be quantified by a number, can in turn be an effect, or resulting sum from a proceeding cause. Marconi stated, “The inability of science to solve life’s mystery is absolute.” Field two cannot explain absolutes.

    Science can eventually explain everything in field two, “One through any number” except for “one”, the first caused. “One” is unique in this field, in that it can never be explained without relating to field three. One is the “first caused” anything that is measurable and quantifiable. Field two is the perfect agnostic and logically states, I cannot know.

    Field three is infinity. It is not a number. It cannot be measured. Nothing on its own, or combined inclusive, ever done in field two can equal field three. One trillion times one trillion, is no closer to measuring field three then one plus one. It is not subject to time or relativity. It is a concept that cannot be denied or defined by field two. The human brain, being a field two construct, cannot explain, yet cannot deny the existence of field three. Any attempt to imagine the end of space for instance is forever met by the inevitable question, “What is beyond that? What came before that?

    Field three is undeniable, yet forever immeasurable, and forever beyond the scope of field two, “one through any number“. Science can only deal with things which can be measured. Field three is transcendent, and beyond field two.

    Any attempt, via field two tools to explain “one“, the “first caused” will invariable lead scientist to infinite energy beyond time and space explanations.

    Given that field two cannot explain itself, the only logical answer to what caused the “first caused” is in field three. Field three is the “first cause:, beyond the laws of “cause and effect” saying to field two, I exist, you cannot deny me, and you cannot measure me, I can cause you, you can never cause me. I can live without you, you cannot live without me, I am transcendent. You can only know me by transcending field two.

    Intelligent Design

    The paradox of “cause and effect” demands an eternal and infinite beyond time and space causeless cause. The existence of anything relative, one photon for example, requires something absolute.

    Many atheist scientist, upset with past travesties of mankind, done in the name of religion, rebel at the word “God”, because of past abuse to control people. I however have made a very vague definition of God as a “eternal and infinite beyond time and space causeless cause. Science deals with phenomena, it takes a different tool for noumena.

    The scientist, realizing that “the 12 inch ruler of his (field two) mind, can never measure infinity” can still use his tools to investigate field three. How? He can look in field two for a proxy report on the attributes of the infinite energy beyond time and space causeless cause. He can look for evidence of intelligence, and many other qualities.

    If science has found that a random manifestation of the first forces could have had billions of possibilities, and that everyone of them, except the one which happened, would have resulted in rapid dissolution and entropy, short circuiting all forms of life and most elements, would they then consider this evidence of I,D,? If the answer is yes, then why not investigate this? If the answer is no, then why is it no?

    From there, after one admits that this could be possible, it is logical that effort must be made to see if any “knowing” of the absolute is possible. If the absolute is beyond cause and effect and scientific principals then it may be logical that the consciousness has to likewise transcend time and space. I will not go into details here, I will simply say there is a history of brilliant men from many disciplines, and that the mystics who have described this “knowing” have remarkably similar tales to share, regardless of the different discipline they come from, they, and many others, have had glimpses of experiences that profoundly change them in remarkably similar ways. This is the field of religion. “Science is fit indeed to discover the laws of an already existing and functioning cosmos, but powerless to detect the law framer and sole operator.” Science and religion are two different fields, and not in conflict.

  11. 11 Rich August 31, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    In an interview with Brian Magee A.J.Ayer was asked what was wrong with Logical Positivism. He replied, “Almost all of it was false”. Maybe we can cut him a little slack for his honesty.

  12. 12 baike January 16, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    I enjoyed your blog post. I will visit again. Please have more theological discussions.

  13. 13 Gordon Sirmond February 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    “If God does not exist, then the emergence of the universe would be improbable.”

    I think I can agree with that. But… if the emergence of the universe is improbable it still is not impossible, just as my throwing 1 million cosecutive 6′s on a non loaded die is improbable but, I’m sure you’ll agree, not impossible.

    Perhaps if you go back and refine your rguement to consider the possible as well as the probable it may come out differently (but I’m sure that somehow it won’t)

    “In truth, Dawkins can say nothing about the probability or improbability of God, and the very concept, the cornerstone of his argument, turns out to be an absurdity.” and apparently neither can you as you start from the premis that God exists and as such yourself and Dawkins are opposite sides of the same coin and have the same amount to add to any debate, rational or not, – absolutely zero

    ScientistForTruth responds

    Not so! I don’t use probabalistic arguments for the existence of God. Dawkins is arguing on the basis of probability and improbability, which is a nonsense concept, an absurdity, when applied to God.

  14. 14 Bruckner8 February 22, 2011 at 7:06 am

    I’ve been a self-proclaimed Agnostic ever since I was “kicked out” of CCD class in 6th grade, for “asking too many wrong questions.”

    My simplistic take has been “It takes equal amounts of faith to believe in God, as it does to NOT believe in God.” Each one takes “belief.” Agnosticism is the absence of belief, in fact, the complete lack of curiosity, if you will. I really don’t care, since it’s unknowable.

    You’re hypothesizing that it’s knowable, and always leads to the Christian God. I get it.

    One of your arguments is the recognition of Intelligent Design (even by Atheists!). I take great issue with any implication of “design” and “intelligence,” since both of them involve some kind of value judgment. We assign arbitrary meaning to patterns. We assign wonderment to Newton’s gravitational work, and Einstein’s further development. We assign awe to discovery of hexagons, golden ratios, and harmonic series within seemingly unrelated natural phenomenon.

    To all of that, I say “So what?” I’m not impressed. The same brain that is capable of abstracting religion is also capable of abstracting value-added meaning from these patterns. Basically, you’re admitting that there’s an inherent emotion (“gee, I feel good/awe/wonderment/etc”) to the observation.

    That completely takes it out of the realm of science.

    PS: I don’t “diss” believers or atheists. More power to both sets of people for using their current information to come to a conclusion. But both of them add in more emotion than they’re willing to admit. Obviously, I’m human, typing in this window, and I have emotions. My first instinct, however, is to REMOVE the emotion from the scenario/argument. Just as you claim Dawkins is being “irrational” I claim that intelligent design proponents are being equally irrational, because their entire argument rests on an emotion; the value judgment of intelligence, a design, and a causing designer.

  15. 15 Mike A April 11, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Your blog is interesting and erudite. I share your concern about post-modern science but remain optimistic that hard facts will finally win over Marxist distortion. Whether that is mere naïve optimism remains to be seen, I admit.

    Your stance on religion and atheism piques me, however. First, you assert that “atheists set the definition of reality to exclude everything supernatural”. Some may, but it is not a defining characteristic of all atheists. All that they have in common as far as I can see is having concluded that there are no compelling reasons to believe in the existence of any god.

    Your evidence for miracles drawn from the Bible is inadequate, comparable to asserting that Communism is the answer to all the world’s troubles after reading Das Kapital but ignoring Kravchenko, Conquest, Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn. Why should I take Paul’s word for anything when he clearly isn’t an impartial witness? Where are the contemporary letters or chronicles or inscriptions mentioning this preacher who raised the dead and fed thousands from a tiny amount of food? If Jesus existed he made remarkably little impression at the time.

    The point about the Pharisees – “..the argument was about the source of the miracles. The Pharisees said it was by the power of Beelzebub rather than God: it would have been impossible and untenable to attempt to deny the miracles themselves..” – isn’t as good as it looks. If they had denied that the miracles happened at all, and thus denied Jesus’ supernatural abilities, we cannot know what the outcome would have been. But they could not have gone on to argue that Jesus was in league with devils, a much more satisfactory attack than simple denial, without agreeing at the start that the miracles had worked; so their apparent endorsement proves nothing.

    The fundamental point about the Bible and religious experience is that it is all subjective. The only evidence we have is a set of stories, with next to no independent evidence which can be checked against anything hard. The scientific method, in contrast, requires recorded, verifiable and repeatable evidence. If you want to know about the age of the earth you can test rock samples using established techniques; there is no analogous method of testing the truth of religious teachings. The truth of the Bible, Koran or other such books can be assessed where they treat of real events and there is other evidence, and they do not necessarily emerge from such tests with credit.

    There are some 10,000 religions in the world according to scholars, of which Christianity is one (divided, incidentally, into over 30,000 sects and branches). How can one be sure of the truth? It’s not merely a joke to say that religious people are atheists about gods and religions other than their own; I don’t suppose you have any time for Odin. Why so sure that your god is true – is there anything apart from events in your own mind?

    You seem to be sure that it is more sensible to believe in divine creation than in the big bang and evolution, and dismiss Dawkins and others on the basis of their ignorance of religion. But must one be expert in a subject in all cases before rejecting it? I am not familiar with all the key beliefs of homoeopathy, but I don’t think that is necessary in order to be sure that it is hogwash. Besides, there are several possible reasons to be an atheist and one is that religions are incompatible with the world, its history and our experience. What a religion teaches is irrelevant if it is simply wrong about, say, how the earth formed and developed; it would then clearly be unreliable. We can in fact go further. From the big bang onwards the universe and our solar system developed without the slightest need for any external interference and indeed if you believe that a god was involved you must also believe that it took care that its work was absolutely undetectable. The development of life on Earth started with single cells and stayed at that level for a very long time, apparently more than 3Bn years; after that development progressed through Ediacarans, early vertebrates, dinosaurs and all the rest to the present day when 99% of all known life-forms are extinct. No religious works come close to describing this astonishing process and with what we know today about biology we can say with confidence that it was all self-regulating. We know (and this is where Dawkins is an acknowledged expert) that eyes, bat sonar and all the other extraordinary adaptations shown by living things have evolved in line with Darwin’s insight; bear in mind too that when Darwin published in 1859 he did not know several vital bits of the puzzle such as the mechanism of inheritance, and these gaps were filled in during the hundred years afterwards to confirm evolutionary theory in the most remarkable way.

    It is hardly hollow or intellectually bankrupt to argue that because the processes by which we come to be here are largely understood and need no gods by way of explanation, and because no religious teachings truly reflect these processes, there is no proof that any such teachings are true and hence no basis for religious belief.

    ScientistForTruth responds

    It would take quite an essay to answer all your points (for which thanks)! Here are a few brief comments to start.

    1. ‘First, you assert that “atheists set the definition of reality to exclude everything supernatural”. Some may, but it is not a defining characteristic of all atheists.’

    I can’t agree with this. In Christian theology everything created is part of the natural world, including incorporeal entities such as angels and demons, and the actions of all natural things are natural. The only supernatural being is God, whose actions alone are supernatural, and who alone made the natural world. Logically, therefore, it is impossible for an atheist not to exclude everything supernatural. Perhaps you have a different understanding of the word ‘supernatural’, in which case we are then differing because of different definitions.

    2. ‘If Jesus existed he made remarkably little impression at the time.’ On the contrary, he made a remarkable impression by his rising from the dead, which impelled his followers to spread this news far and wide throughout the Roman world, and beyond.

    3. ‘so their apparent endorsement proves nothing.’ We are left with the record that both his supporters and his detractors agreed that he worked miracles. Denial of the facts would have been futile given the number of eyewitnesses and the type of healings. Ascribing the miracles to demons was also an utterly foolish idea since this would not even convince the common people who knew better ‘These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?’ As I mentioned above, demons cannot act supernaturally. This was obvious to the pharisees, for example immediately after great healings we have the pharisee Nicodemus coming secretly to Jesus and stating ‘Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.’ And we have the challenge from the man healed to the Pharisees: John 9:30-34 ‘The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes…Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.’ This was orthodox doctrine so the Pharisees had no answer other than the totalitarian one: ‘They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.’

    4. ‘If you want to know about the age of the earth you can test rock samples using established techniques; there is no analogous method of testing the truth of religious teachings.’ Estimates of the age of the earth are forever changing. This means that all estimates have been wildly inaccurate, except perhaps the latest one, which in the light of the history of science would be a rather bold and arrogant claim. The age of the earth has been estimated by scientific methods as follows over just 150 years: 1850 25 million years, 1900 90 million years, 1950 2500 million years, 2000 4500 million years. What makes you think it wont be radically different in 2050?

    5. ‘There are some 10,000 religions in the world according to scholars, of which Christianity is one (divided, incidentally, into over 30,000 sects and branches).’ Please cite your sources for these scholarly numbers.

    6. ‘But must one be expert in a subject in all cases before rejecting it?’ Not always. If a position is illogical and the argument fallacious then one has reasonable grounds to doubt the conclusion. However, this is not what Dawkins is doing. He builds a straw man because he doesn’t properly understand theology (and doesn’t care to), then knocks it down. Christians don’t believe in the straw man God that he knocks down, so he isn’t engaging with the Christian argument at all. He rejects Christianity when he can’t be bothered to find out about it. He’s entitled to do that, but he is deceiving his acolytes into thinking that he has rejected it after properly considering it.

    7. ‘From the big bang onwards the universe and our solar system developed without the slightest need for any external interference’ That is a narrative for which you have provided no evidence.

    8. ‘if you believe that a god was involved you must also believe that it took care that its work was absolutely undetectable.’ Most Christians do believe that things in the world fall out according to secondary causes, for example in the Westminster Confession of Faith from the 1640s this is stated that God ‘ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently’. Primary causation is very unusual, which is why when it is detected incontrovertably (in genuine miracles) it is evidence for God.

    Of course I don’t believe that God’s work is or was absolutely undetectable. You may not be able to see or understand the ordering of second causes, but the finished article is pretty evident. The Church has maintained for thousands of years that ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.’ I’m not running the argument from design here, as I think that’s suspect. I’m simply taking issue with your assertion that a theist must believe that God’s work is undetectable. It’s screamingly obvious if you are a theist.

  16. 16 Mike A April 15, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    [ScientistForTruth has interlaced his answers below in italics]

    1. Re natural and supernatural, I find your argument from theology fascinating. If the natural world includes incorporeal entities such as angels and demons, and the actions of all natural things are natural, do you then believe that angels and demons are perfectly normal and understandable parts of the environment? I do indeed have a different understanding of the word ‘supernatural’, as I should unhesitatingly place such entities as angels and demons there.


    ‘do you then believe that angels and demons are perfectly normal and understandable parts of the environment?’ Not necessarily understandable with traditional scientific apparatus. How would you detect and measure something that is not ‘material’ in the conventional sense: not baryonic and with no rest mass? The same problem plagues the cosmologist’s idea of ‘dark energy’ and ‘dark matter’: these are inventions to ‘save’ certain phenomena within certain paradigms. Do they really have existence beyond being mathematical fudges to save appearances? No-one really has a clue what these things are.

    If angels are incorporeal, and are not made of atoms or energy that can be related to mass via the e =mc^2 relation they are not ‘normal and understandable’ according to the physics and apparatus that is currently at our disposal. They have properties that we have no means of understanding using the mathematical and physical tools we have developed thus far. This condition has always prevailed, of course, in the baryonic world we inhabit – for example, the existence of radio waves was at one time unknown, and we did not have the mathematical tools or physical tools to understand or detect them. But before man discovered them he was bathed in radio waves from radio sources in the universe since his appearance on earth. But radio waves are still emitted by baryonic ‘stuff’ in some sense like us, and propagate through the dimensions we also inhabit; being able to understand the nature of angels with the physical tools and mathematical tools at our disposal seems some way off!

    It’s too easy to say that if there is no way to detect conventionally, and there is no mathematical basis then there is no possible existence. That might be the ‘safe’ sceptical position that science has to take where physical science is limited to what is currently understood physically. I use science instrumentally this way myself.

    Given (for the sake of argument) that incorporeal entities do exist, how could we know anything about them other than by revelation? Is God going to keep all men in all ages in the dark about reality until they manage to work it all out using science? Of course, if you don’t believe in God you don’t have to answer such a question, but I hope that you can see that if you can see a glimmer of a possibility that God exists then a whole world suddenly crystallizes, and you can’t simply toss away the thousands of questions that atheists do.

    2. ‘If Jesus existed he made remarkably little impression at the time – on the contrary, .. his rising from the dead, which impelled his followers to spread this news far and wide.’ I would of course question whether he did rise from the dead, which is a belief not confined to Christianity. My point about impact was that before his followers preached the new religion no-one else seems to have been much impressed. If such amazing events had been widely believed to have occurred, there would surely be some surviving evidence from non-Christian sources of the huge impression created.

    I’m no great fan of apologetics, especially evidential apologetics, but I engage in some of it below just to engage with your argument. There is no level of evidence that is acceptable by someone who has his mind made up. Jesus himself predicted this when he told the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

    Jesus’ followers started preaching literally weeks after the resurrection, so this period ‘before his followers preached the new religion no-one else seems to have been much impressed’ is a period of a few weeks. Even those weeks have events in them that are recorded in the Bible, which you choose to discount. Well, everything can be discounted if you choose to discount it; but I suggest that if it were not for the claims of Jesus everyone would be delighted to have as much information as they have of events a couple of thousand years ago.

    There are, of course, surviving evidences from non-Christian sources once the movement gets underway. For the record, what evidence from non-Christian sources would you find convincing? Let’s say an archaeologist turned up a Roman record from the first century that they had inspected the empty tomb, and it was indeed empty. Would you find that satisfactory evidence? Probably not – there would always be some way of justifying one’s preconceptions, such as that the disciples came secretly and stole away the body, the story that the Jews and the Romans put about at the time as a damage limitation exercise.

    But, of course, both the Jews and the Romans, who had vested interests in squashing reports of a resurrection and ascension could have brought the movement to a screeching halt by producing a body if there was no resurrection.

    3. ‘We are left with the record that both his supporters and his detractors agreed that he worked miracles. Denial of the facts would have been futile given the number of eyewitnesses..’ We have only the Bible as evidence that these events occurred, that people behaved in a such and such a way and that they said such and such. The Bible was written by believers who wanted others to believe and it is not reliable evidence. Here I suppose we are bound to disagree! As I said previously, it is all subjective and all we have is a set of stories with next to no independent evidence which can be checked against anything hard.

    You say that now, but that certainly was not the case in the first century. The apostle Paul’s statements about the witnesses to the resurrection positively invite people to check it out if they have any doubts – most were still alive, though some had died: check it out! Paul was writing to people in Corinth, a famous cosmopolitan trading port, among whom a number would have had opportunity to travel and find out for themselves and enquire of these hundreds of surviving eyewitnesses. 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

    No-one seriously doubts that Paul wrote this letter, and it was not a secret letter. You say that the Bible is not reliable as evidence, but again we have to ask why the Jews and other detractors, who tried to suppress Christianity everywhere, didn’t take Paul up on his information and check it out. Of course it’s not conclusive, but I think you should be asking yourself why no such records exist. Could it possibly be that the results of investigation were simply too damaging for the detractors to record? Oh, dear, how are we going to explain away several hundred eyewitness accounts? As I mentioned before, the Pharisees could brush off the odd man by saying ‘you were born in sin; you know nothing’, but a few hundred folk are more formidable.

    Of course, you can’t ask these eyewitnesses today. That’s exactly why we have the New Testament, which contains plenty of eyewitness testimony. If you wish to discard all that, please let us have a list of writers who were operating in the Jerusalem area whose works have come down to us so that we can check what they said, and whose testimony you would trust. Is that a big zero? Now, if there were writers in the area at the time who simply failed to mention the events, then you would have a point. But if you can’t produce any annals from anyone because they weren’t there, or their writings have been lost, then your argument is no better than an argument from silence, or worse, i.e. you can’t find any contemporaneous contrary evidence or omissions, but you choose to dismiss all the positive eyewitness accounts that we do have because, not surprisingly, if they are an eyewitness to the resurrection they probably are going to believe what they saw, so you discount them as biased ‘believers’ for that very reason. What strange logic! What strange historical method! If you discount all those who believed what they saw with their own eyes, who could possibly be left as a reliable eyewitness? And what use would records be of people who were not eyewitnesses, or who did not record the testimony of eyewitnesses? They wouldn’t be credible authorities would they?

    4. ‘Estimates of the age of the earth are forever changing. This means that all estimates have been wildly inaccurate, except perhaps the latest one.. ..What makes you think it wont be radically different in 2050?’ Well, I can’t be absolutely certain, but your argument here is just a little mischievous. In 1850, for instance, the estimate you quote was the best that could be made; then again, radioactivity was only discovered in 1896 and dating of rocks using radioactivity had to be developed from scratch. In 1927 an estimate of up to 3 Bn years was published, and the current estimate of 4.54 Bn years is supported by measurement of several samples. I would say that future estimates will further refine this figure but not alter it significantly; I may be wrong but I think the odds are with me.

    My point was that natural science deals with what is contingent and probable, and its view of the world is a very changeable one. Science never gets at underlying reality or causation, and it does not deal with facts or Truth. This statement seems almost unbelievable to the general public, I know, but a course in the history and philosophy of science will demonstrate that this is indeed the case. Nor can science ever tell us what we should or ought to do.

    You cannot calculate or express the ‘odds’ of being right on a scientific position. It is a commonly held idea in every age that science is homing in on ‘truth’, but this is a laughable concept. Professor Steven Goldman (both a scientist and philosopher) puts it this way:

    …science has a temporal character, not a once-and-done-with kind of truth, that you discover X, you put X in the bank, and now you move on to Y.

    A scientific theory is never once and done with. Science is intrinsically historical, or temporal…in the sense that it is continually changing at every level…science is continually changing at the level of data, at the level of physical instruments, at the level of analytical tools—the conceptual instruments—that are available to scientists at any given time, they too are continually changing, as for example new kinds of mathematical techniques are invented.

    Theories also continually change. They develop and they evolve. They develop in the sense that they become more articulated, but they also change in ways that their founders did not expect—unpredictably.

    …the difference between what scientists say they know now, and what scientists said they knew then, [is] simply startling! The reality that scientists tell us is out there is so totally different today, than what it was in 1900. In fact, in most sciences, it’s so totally different than it was in 1960! …

    … British philosopher of science Mary Hesse, in the third of her trilogy of deeply insightful books into the philosophy of science, makes the comment that we need always to keep in mind that the theories we currently believe to be true, are just as falsifiable as the theories we look back on as having been falsified.

    One might add, the theories that we currently hold to be true are as likely to be falsified in the next 100 years, as the theories that we look back on as having been falsified in the last 100 years.

    So that is, I think, a fundamental insight that is extremely valuable in terms of assessing scientific knowledge and truth claims. Science…is understood to be an evolving body of knowledge, keyed-to assumptions that are themselves always conjectural and corrigible…

    Quite so.

    5. ‘There are some 10,000 religions in the world according to scholars, of which Christianity is one (divided, incidentally, into over 30,000 sects and branches).’ Please cite your sources for these scholarly numbers’. Mea culpa here; I obtained the info a while ago from this site http://www.religioustolerance.org/index.htm#new and at the time got the impression that it was connected to the University, but on rechecking it isn’t. They appear however to be quoting David B. Barrett et al., “World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World,” Oxford University Press 2001.

    6. ‘this is not what Dawkins is doing. He builds a straw man because he doesn’t properly understand theology (and doesn’t care to), then knocks it down. Christians don’t believe in the straw man God that he knocks down.’ I have no idea of what this straw man argument of Dawkins’ may be. He is an eminent biologist to whom we are all indebted for his insights into evolutionary processes, just as we are indebted to others equally eminent in their fields, and his beliefs about religion do not have any effect on his science. Nor do I need him to hold my hand.

    I am quite sure that Dawkins knows a lot more about biological processes than I do. However, I don’t believe his religious views have no effect on his science. And regrettably, he is very active in trying to do down Christianity without taking the trouble to understand it. The words prejudiced and bigoted come to mind.

    7. ‘From the big bang onwards the universe and our solar system developed without the slightest need for any external interference. That is a narrative for which you have provided no evidence.’ It’s a big subject which has been treated by Hawking and other cosmologists, and their excellent works don’t require exegesis by me – there is an astonishing amount of published material. Everything that has happened is in line with deductions about the processes involved and there is no evidence of any outside influence having affected events. That is part of what I mean about nothing having been detected.

    You are right that there is a large amount of published material. However, your statement ‘Everything that has happened is in line with deductions about the processes involved’ is way off the mark. It would take a treatise to put you right on this, and there’s not opportunity for that here. Suffice to say that there is practically no useful deduction in cosmology from actual evidence, neither is there any prediction. It is all ‘retrodiction’. Big Bang cosmology has been a total failure in being able to predict anything, and observations have falsified it many times over. The paradigm survives because of mathematical inventions to try to explain away all the inconsistencies, such as dark matter, dark energy, inflation etc. If you have a huge, gaping inconsistency you can always say, ‘what do we have to do to the numbers, and what do we have to do to the physics to bring what is a total failure back into line with our favoured paradigm?’. So now the universe supposedly has only 2-4% baryonic matter (the stuff we made of atoms and sub-atomic particles and energies we know about) and the remainder is filled with dark energy and dark matter about which we haven’t a clue. Oh, and when the wheels fell off the BB model by sheer weight of empirical evidence, Alan Guth saved the day by proposing a period of inflation via a scalar field and a so-called ‘inflaton’, which no-one has a clue about physically, which supposedly expanded the universe by 25 orders of magnitude in a million billion billionth of a second. Some fancy fix, not a simple tweak! All this is post-hoc stuff invented to save face, and by no means a deduction or prediction. It is widely reported that BB cosmology predicted the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. That’s sheer propaganda, since the CMBR had been predicted pretty much what it has been measured as for decades based on non-BB cosmology, and the CMBR was predicted by BB cosmology to be much higher than what is actually detected. So the discovery of the CMBR was actually a finding against the BB paradigm.

    8. ‘if you believe that a god was involved you must also believe that it took care that its work was absolutely undetectable. Most Christians do believe that things in the world fall out according to secondary causes, for example in the Westminster Confession of Faith from the 1640s this is stated that God ‘ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently’. Primary causation is very unusual..’ Here we enter the world of philosophy, not my field, but there is a large point to make in that the concepts of the C17 have been overtaken by later discoveries. If, say, Descartes were to be resurrected today at Cambridge what do you think would be left of his ideas after he had familiarised himself with the accumulation of knowledge up to the present day? I take it that by primary causation you mean a god, but there are no gods and there is no purpose in the world. I mention above ‘part of what I mean about nothing having been detected’; the other part is if we can deduce the development of the cosmos using science, and there is no sign of any god having played a part, then if you believe in a god how can you distinguish the god’s part in arriving at things as we know them?

    Because science is such a moving picture, you assume the same must be true of theology, but this is not the case. Descartes was, of course, deeply into science and mathematics, so, yes, he would certainly notice the difference! But the Westminster Confession is still very much current for the English-speaking Reformed Protestant community because it is handling what is understood to be revealed truth, which has not changed.

    Yes, primary causation is a causation that does not belong to the nature of things in the universe, which must therefore be God. Christian theology distinguishes two separate aspects of God’s involvement in the universe: firstly, creation: ‘something’ can’t be produced from ‘nothing’, and ‘something’ can’t create itself out of ‘nothing’. Primary causation is invoked for creation. Secondly, there is the upholding of all things, which is termed providence. Some would say that God upholds the laws of physics, but while I would say this loosely, I consider the so-called laws of physics are human constructs to make sense of the world, and this concept of ‘laws’ is really just a hangover from Newtonian mechanics. What I do believe, however, is that God not only made things, but he endowed them with their properties: he generated the properties and maintains them still. You can attempt to deduce all sorts of things from the fact that things have certain properties, and the assumption that things will continue to exhibit those properties (a theistic presupposition, I would argue) – that’s what science does. But why things have properties and continue to have properties is not something that science can answer – the starting point for science is in attempting to measure properties on the assumption that those properties will persist, and that there is something meaningful to discover. Since you mention the concept of ‘detection’, how would you scientifically detect for God’s upholding of all the properties of everything in the universe? Surely, you could only detect it by comparing with what would happen if he ceased to do so, and where will you find such an example? Science simply cannot go there. Are not atheists proceeding on assumptions for which they have no grounds, like the chicken that expects that its food ‘naturally’ turns up every day because it always does, except one day the farmer brings not food but his hatchet? I agree with James Hannam’s assessment at the conclusion of his book ‘God’s Philosophers’:

    …the most significant contribution of the natural philosophers of the Middle Ages was to make modern science even conceivable. They made science safe in a Christian context, showed how it could be useful and constructed a worldview where it made sense. Their central belief [was] that nature was created by God and so worthy of their attention…Without that awareness, modern science would simply not have happened.

    Many historians of science have come to the same conclusion. Atheists proceed in science on the basis of principles and presuppositions that come directly from Christian theism. In the context of Christian theism the principles are rational; without the theological underpinnings the scientific enterprise is irrational. Having used the ladder of Christian theism to stand on the shoulders of giants, atheists now like to kick the ladder away. Or to change the metaphor, they climb onto God’s lap so that they can reach to slap him in the face.

  17. 17 Mike A May 9, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    I am sorry to have taken so long, but my lady wife has had me building shelves of no less than three varieties; L-shaped for the store cupboard, quick and dirty bookshelves for my office, and granny shelves with a dinky moulded edge for photos. So I have been gainfully employed.

    ScientistForTruth responds

    When you answer at such length, neither can I respond so quickly! To make it clearer (especially for other readers) what is going on I have formatted your reply so that text from one of my previous answers is in blockquotes, and I have interlaced my comments in italics within your comments. And as I mentioned before, I’m no great fan of apologetics, especially evidentialism, but I’m replying to your questions because you have sincerely raised them.

    1. ‘do you then believe that angels and demons are .. parts of the environment?’ Not necessarily understandable with traditional scientific apparatus. How would you detect and measure something that is not ‘material’ in the conventional sense.. ‘dark energy’ and ‘dark matter’.. are inventions .. No-one really has a clue what these things are.

    [Mike A] I certainly do not know what dark matter and energy are, but I do not believe that nobody has a clue. They are postulates along the way to understanding the expansion of the universe, hard to understand but not impossible for a few clever people. How many of us understand particle or quantum physics, or the maths of bridge construction? There are those who do and others yet unborn will take us further.

    [SFT] No, dark matter and dark energy are postulates to rescue a failed theory. Big Bang and expanding universe theories have been so falsified by observations that the most fantastic entities have to be invented to persuade us that the emperor has a fine suit of clothes. “Hard to understand but not impossible for a few clever people”. What you quote later from Dawkins could just as easily be applied here: “He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Rodrigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; etc” It’s like finding your chairs knocked over in the garden and blaming it on the gnomes. When I point out that there are no such things as gnomes, you say ‘well, there must be because the garden chairs were knocked over, so there is your evidence for gnomes’. There are lots of alternative explanations for observable phenomena without invoking dark matter and dark energy. In fact, every alternative solution of relativistic equations and modified gravity equations that I have seen does NOT require the invention of the stuff and Occam’s razor should have shaved them off long ago. I’m afraid I’m not going to fall by that sort of argument by authority or gnosticism that only the super intelligent and enlightened can understand it. Dark energy and dark matter are bunk.

    If angels are incorporeal, and are not made of atoms or energy.. they are not ‘normal and understandable’ according to the physics and apparatus .. currently at our disposal. .. the existence of radio waves was at one time unknown, and we did not have the .. tools to ..detect them. .. It’s too easy to say that if there is no way to detect ..and ..no mathematical basis then there is no possible existence..

    [Mike A] I take it this is the ‘absence of evidence / evidence of absence’ controversy, and I don’t think such arguments should be easily accepted either. But I don’t see that I ought to believe angels exist simply because they would by definition be undetectable! If we do detect clear evidence of their presence I am prepared to change my mind, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs.

    [SFT] Just for the record, please advise what ‘clear evidence’ you would accept. You accept dark matter and dark energy where there is no observational evidence, so why not angels? When the concepts of dark matter and dark energy are thrown away as so much trash in years to come there will still be angels.

    Given (for the sake of argument) that incorporeal entities do exist, how could we know anything about them other than by revelation? Is God going to keep all men in all ages in the dark about reality until they manage to work it all out using science? .. I hope that you can see that if you can see a glimmer of a possibility that God exists then a whole world suddenly crystallizes, and you can’t simply toss away the thousands of questions that atheists do.

    Does being incorporeal rule out the application of physics?

    No. All created things must ‘obey’ the ‘laws of physics’. But how would you determine what those ‘laws’ are. Laws are simply human descriptions in mathematics of the properties and behaviours of entities. How would you go about trying to determine and measure the properties of angels? Since they are incorporeal and are not made of atoms nor have any rest mass, nor energy that can be related by E = mc^2, how on earth would you devise an experiment? Restrictions on our ‘normal’ substances that they can’t go faster than the speed of light don’t necessarily apply.

    But revelation is not the same as observation and measurement; it is just a voice in the head, and given the human capacity for pattern-making there need be no surprise however amazing the results.

    No, it isn’t, but how would you know anyway, since you deny revelation? If there are things that you can’t detect physically then you are consigned to being forever in the dark about them or accepting revelation. I can’t reasonably expect to detect angels, so I accept revelation as evidence. Likewise,you can’t physically detect what your wife is thinking: thoughts are incorporeal; but I bet you accept revelation from her as evidence of what she is thinking.

    It seems to me that your god does indeed keep men in the dark;

    Not at all. You would not have the foggiest idea about the great plans of God, the dreadful state of man, and the salvation of the world had he not revealed that. His revelation is to illumine us and stop us being in the dark.

    why else does the Bible say nothing about prehistory or evolution, or why allow the church to persecute Galileo when a god would have known perfectly well that the Earth does rotate about the Sun? There was no revelation to spare him.

    What is the purpose of the Bible? Do you really think it should be a primer on prehistory and natural history? As one churchman put it (not Galileo, who simply copied it), ‘the Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go’. And what, exactly is prehistory – the time before man appeared, or the time before history was recorded by men? Either way, you do find that in the Bible. In the former category you have the creation of the whole universe recorded in the Bible. In the latter category, one really important event is the Fall of man. More than this, the Bible also reveals future events, and also activity that takes place outside of time altogether. As for evolution (of the sort that life can spontaneously generate and given enough time become the superb flora and fauna that we see today, and man), I wouldn’t expect to find that sort of mythology in the Bible, for that is all such macroevolution is. Another bit of atheist mythologizing is exemplified by your comments about Galileo. No church ever persecuted Galileo for heliocentrism. Have you, perchance, ever read what your poster boy Galileo said about his Dialogue shortly after publication? Let me tell you: He says that in the book

    I neither held nor defended the opinion of the earth’s motion and sun’s stability; on the contrary, in the book I show the contrary of Copernicus’s opinion and show that Copernicus’s reasons are invalid and inconclusive… Now, I freely confess that it appeared to me in several places to be written in such a way that a reader, not aware of my intention, would have had reason to form the opinion that the arguments for the false side, which I intended to confute, were so stated as to be capable of convincing because of their strength, rather than being easy to answer…A long time ago…I was undecided and regarded the two opinions, those of Ptolemy and Copernicus, as disputable, because either the one or the other could be true in nature. But after [1616]…I held, as I still hold, as very true and undoubted Ptolemy’s opinion, namely the stability of the earth and the motion of the sun… In regard to my writing of the Dialogue already published, I did not do so because I held Copernicus’s opinion to be true. Instead, deeming only to be doing a beneficial service, I explained the physical and astronomical reasons that can be advanced for one side and for the other; I tried to show that none of these, neither those in favor of this opinion or that, had the strength of a conclusive proof and that therefore to proceed with certainty one had to resort to the determination of more subtle doctrines, as one can see in many places in the Dialogue.

    Did you spot that Galileo states that he still held to the Ptolemaic system as late as 1633? He also believed in the false Aristotelian doctrines that the heavenly bodies travel in perfect circles, that there is no attraction by the sun, that there was no attraction by the moon that caused the tides, that comets were atmospheric vapours etc until his dying day, and all attested in his writings, and contrary to all the evidence that had been marshalled against such positions for decades by proper astronomers such as Kepler. You don’t see the truth in many apologies for atheism – that Galileo says he wrote the book to show how daft heliocentrism was.

    And despite all our efforts we cannot yet predict earthquakes, when a few revelations would come in very handy. If I saw a glimmer of a possibility that God exists a whole world would not crystallise; I would be acutely puzzled, because there is no evidence whatever for divine interference or activity in the world – why exist and do nothing? And what are the thousands of questions that I toss away?

    You are saying how you would behave if you had a glimmer, but you are wrong. You are begging the question as well. This reminds me of the person who heckled an open-air preacher that he wasn’t afraid to die. ‘Of course you are not’, the preacher replied, ‘you are not dying, are you?’

    2. ‘… There is no level of evidence that is acceptable by someone who has his mind made up. .. I suggest that if it were not for the claims of Jesus everyone would be delighted to have as much information as they have of events a couple of thousand years ago. ..There are, of course, surviving evidences from non-Christian sources once the movement gets under way. ..For the record, what evidence from non-Christian sources would you find convincing? Let’s say an archaeologist turned up a Roman record from the first century that they had inspected the empty tomb.. there would always be some way of justifying one’s preconceptions…

    I would consider any evidence which was sound after suitable tests. The Turin Shroud, in spite of inconsistencies, still appears more likely to be a C14 forgery than C1; the ‘James ossuary’ described a few years ago certainly was forged.

    No disagreement here. I’m not interested in such medieval frauds either.

    There is as much evidence for Mohammed as for Jesus and, I would say, as much evidence in favour of Islam and its god as for yours. But if Islam is right you are worshipping incorrectly; why do you cleave to Christianity in the face of ‘evidence’ that Islam is a superior revelation?

    It’s one thing to say that there is as much attested historical evidence for Mohammed as for Jesus as living persons, it’s quite another to weigh the veracity of their claims. I accept your ‘if…then’ logic but that doesn’t take us anywhere, since I don’t accept the premise that Islam is right or better revelation, or indeed revelation at all. The Koran is clearly the ravings of a madman, and I think even the most bigoted of atheists would not say the same about the teaching of Jesus.

    3. The apostle Paul’s statements about the witnesses to the resurrection positively invite people to check it out .. 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, .. And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred .. he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also..” No-one seriously doubts that Paul wrote this letter, and it was not a secret letter.

    The letter was from believers to believers; one of its main purposes would surely have been to bolster faith. But even today people are convinced that they have seen all sorts of things which are not real. You must be aware of the dreadful frauds “faith-healers” get up to; even professional magicians find that when members of their audiences describe their tricks they often think they witnessed things which would really have been impossible, and make them far more marvellous than they really were.

    True enough there have been lots of charlatans, and lots of people taken in. But I haven’t heard of any cases of tricksters, faith healers and magicians allowing themselves to undergo capital punishment by professional executioners, and then come out of the grave three days later. Really, I haven’t.

    You say that the Bible is not reliable as evidence, but again we have to ask why the Jews .. didn’t take Paul up .. I think you should be asking yourself why no such records exist. Could it possibly be that the results of investigation were simply too damaging for the detractors to record? ..

    Well, if they thought Paul might be right there would be no point in confirming it; if, as seems more likely, they thought he was a dangerous agitator, there would be no need – but the Bible is hardly a neutral account in any case. You can’t fight a mass religious or similar movement with reason; you make it hard to keep going by detaining or killing the leadership and persecuting the followers, and sometimes such tactics work and sometimes they don’t. It’s curious that more Jews didn’t convert if the evidence at the time was so strong; for example Josephus remained a Jew even though he apparently was very complimentary about Jesus in the Antiquities. There is however debate about whether someone altered what he first wrote.

    For the first four hundred years after the day of Pentecost, the number of those who believed the Christian faith doubled about every ten years. That’s a pretty spectacular rate of growth, and for the first few decades most of the converts were in fact Jews.

    .. please let us have a list of writers who were operating in the Jerusalem area whose works have come down to us so that we can check what they said, and whose testimony you would trust. .. if there were writers in the area at the time who simply failed to mention the events, then you would have a point. But if .. your argument is no better than an argument from silence, or .. you choose to dismiss all the positive eyewitness accounts that we do have because, not surprisingly, if they are an eyewitness to the resurrection they probably are going to believe what they saw, so you discount them as biased ‘believers’ for that very reason. What strange logic! ..

    I suppose there are old Russian proverbs for all purposes, but the operative one here is “he lies like an eye-witness”. Joking apart, they are notoriously unreliable and people will swear that they have seen the most amazing, impossible things. I don’t know all the surviving writings from this time, but one quote about the main biblical sources is “..written thirty-five to sixty-five years after Jesus’ death by people who did not know him, did not see anything he did or hear anything that he taught,..who spoke a different language from his and lived in a different country.. [Bart D Ehrman]”.

    Oh, yes, Ehrman has made quite a lot of money from you atheists by writing books to confirm your prejudices. I have listened to many hours of lectures by Ehrman, and find him very unconvincing. A lot of poppycock.

    There were stories that someone, not consistently named, was said to have performed miracles, to have been executed and afterwards to have risen from the dead. These stories were not all repeated by the same people; there is debate even among biblical scholars about how much is reliable, and it is quite possible that once the stories began they were picked up, conflated and repeated. There is no record of a bright star, comet or supernova around the time of Jesus’ birth; there is no record of a ‘world-wide’ census ordered by Caesar Augustus at that time, though there was one of Judea (not Galilee) in 6-7CE after the death of Herod the Great (4BCE); nor is there a record of the massacre of the innocents, though Philo and Josephus decry Herod’s murders of his own family members. At the crucifixion Matthew describes some sort of earthquake, mentioned nowhere else.

    “There is no record of…” That’s quite wrong, as you know. These are all recorded in the Bible, which has been shown to be a first class historical record. I know what you mean of course – there are no records outside the ones you choose to discount. But since you discount every one of them, then there wouldn’t be, would there?

    Again, you have picked the old canards, but since you discount all the evidence in the Bible you have only a very fragmentary record outside it. Where exactly outside the Bible would you expect to find evidence of a local earth tremor during the crucifixion?

    As for the massacre of the innocents: well, we know that this would have been completely in character to do. Herod was totally paranoid, and not only killed members of his own family, and others who were admired, but arranged to have a whole multitude slaughtered at his death to give the province something to cry about. You must admit that it is entirely plausible. I accept the Bible as evidence on this one.

    There is no record of a worldwide census? It doesn’t say that it all took place across the Roman empire on the same day, but was rolled out over years. Roman censuses had been taking place in Italy for centuries, and Augustus did roll it out in Judea, including when Quirinius was governor of Syria. The word used in the Greek need not mean ‘all the world’ anyway, but what do the historians say: Suetonius “He revived the office of the Censor which had long been disused and whose duty it had formerly been to take an account of the number of people.” “Since the consuls caused a law to be passed soon after this that he [Tiberias] should govern the provinces jointly with Augustus and hold the census with him” Tacitus “This contained the number of citizens, subject kingdoms and taxes. All these details Augustus had written with his own hand”. It seems very plausible to me, on the basis of the Roman historians, that Augustus did extend the census to the provinces, and he did give the decree thereto. I accept the Bible as evidence on this.

    Josephus records “So Archelaus’s country was laid to the province of Syria; and Cyrenius, one that had been consul, was sent by Caesar to take account of people’s effects in Syria. Cyrenius came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance.” Read it carefully: Cyrenius had previously been consul before Syria and Judea were combined into one province. I regard the later census around AD 7 as a later census. In Luke’s gospel the language is unclear whether the registration was when Quirinius was first the governor of Syria, or whether it was the first census, the one in AD 7 being his second. This later census is also mentioned by Luke in Acts 5:7 “After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.” Josephus concurs: “The Sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews.” I accept the Bible as evidence on this one.

    “There is no record of a bright star, comet or supernova around the time of Jesus’ birth” Chinese astronomers recorded a new star (a ‘nova’) in the constellation Capricorn in March–April of 5 BC. which was visible for over 70 days. Nevertheless, it is a fool’s errand to try to guess what ‘star’ the Magi had seen. Astrologers were very interested in the position of the planets in the constellations, and events like occultations and conjunctions, so let’s start there. If it was the position of the planets that caught their attention, then we know where they were and there was a very unusual conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces (associated in eastern astrology with the Jewish people) in 6-7 BC. This event occurs about once in 900 years. On May 29, 7 BC Saturn and Jupiter came into conjunction in Pisces. Then they moved apart, but because of retrograde motion they were back in conjunction again in Pisces on September 29. Then in February 6 BC Saturn, Jupiter and Mars were closely together, all in Pisces, visible just after sunset looking due west. To top it all, on April 17, 6 BC Saturn and Venus were in Pisces and the new moon occulted Jupiter, which (in astrology) portended the death of a king. Then you have the nova of 5 BC which (in Capricorn) appeared in the east shortly before sunrise (“we have seen his star in the east”) portending a new king. You have more than enough there to give Babylonian astrologers the idea that a new king would arise in Judea. We know all this because we can now calculate such planetary positions. I accept the Bible as evidence on this one.

    4. ..natural science deals with what is contingent and probable,.. Science never gets at underlying reality or causation,.. does not deal with facts or Truth.. Nor can science ever tell us what we should or ought to do.
    You cannot calculate or express the ‘odds’ of being right on a scientific position. ..:
    …science has a temporal character, not a once-and-done-with kind of truth, ..continually changing at every level.. the difference between what scientists say they know now, and what scientists said they knew then, [is] simply startling! The reality .. is so totally different today, than what it was in 1900. .. different than it was in 1960! .. theories that we currently hold .. are as likely to be falsified in the next 100 years, as the theories .. falsified in the last 100 years.

    Of course science is provisional and the strongest theory may be overturned at any time by sufficiently persuasive new evidence. Of course final truth is not what it is all about. But consider penicillin and the other antibiotics; they are in the bank, and is anything going to come along and show that the cures achieved by using them were illusory? It may be possible, but what do you think the odds are? In that sense science can be cumulative and ‘once and done with’.

    Penicillin is not a theory, it’s a natural organism that was found by accident. Yes, knowledge is cumulative in that trivial sense, like taxonomy. I was meaning science in the sense of understanding the universe, not tripping over it or finding it stuck to your shoe.

    The difference between what scientists say they know now and what they knew ‘then’ is indeed startling, but the number of scientists and the amount of research were increasing hugely in the C20 when this incredibly rapid progress was being made, so it’s neither surprising nor suspicious.
    It is tempting to make oracular pronouncements like “theories .. are as likely to be falsified in the next 100 years, as the theories .. having been falsified in the last 100 years”, but is it true? Is it even meaningful, if understood as implying that any theory is as likely to be disproved as any other? Surely some theories are more firmly based than others, and that is what I meant when I referred to the age of the solar system; our estimates have progressively fined down and only a radical change somewhere is likely to change the estimate substantially; not an impossibility but, as far as I can see, less likely than further confirmation that we are in the right area. And if you want me to stick my neck out I predict that the theory of evolution will never be disproved since it is now so firmly established, so well supported by a huge range of evidence, that something really extraordinary like Haldane’s “fossil rabbits in the Precambrian” will be required even to dent it.

    “[this theory] will never be disproved since it is now so firmly established”. I do hope you never get to teach science, the philosophy of science, or the history of science.

    5. ‘There are some 10,000 religions in the world .. David B. Barrett et al., “World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World,” Oxford University Press 2001.

    How does he define ‘religions’? Is he counting every denominational body as a separate religion? Without a definition of terms the statement is ridiculous, and, according to the usual definition of religion, false. The four largest religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism make up at least 70% and perhaps 90% of the world’s population. So the other 10% account for 9,996 other religions do they? I think not.

    6. I am quite sure that Dawkins knows a lot more about biological processes than I do. However, I don’t believe his religious views have no effect on his science. And regrettably, he is very active in trying to do down Christianity without taking the trouble to understand it. The words prejudiced and bigoted come to mind.

    Dawkins has gone beyond atheism, to a conviction that religion is a bad thing and must be directly criticised. Do you really think he would be a less effective biologist because of his attitude to religion? As for not understanding, I’ll apologise in advance for quoting the Courtier’s Reply:
    “I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Rodrigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D T Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk. Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.”
    I’m sorry, but I also am of the view that if there are no gods then nothing in theology offers any special insight or wisdom; its alleged foundation is just so much sand.

    I entirely agree with you – your ‘if..then’ logic, I mean. Anyone who would disagree would not understand logic. But your premise is an unproven presupposition, upon which the whole argument founders. As for the quotation, it’s one of the worst pieces of drivel I’ve ever read. Man, if you want to write, at least polish the art, or get someone who knows how to write well compose it.

    7. .. However, your statement ‘Everything that has happened is in line with deductions about the processes involved’ is way off the mark. It would take a treatise to put you right on this.. Suffice to say that there is practically no useful deduction in cosmology from actual evidence, neither is there any prediction. It is all ‘retrodiction’. Big Bang cosmology has been a total failure … So the discovery of the CMBR was actually a finding against the BB paradigm.

    Try http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/astronomy/bigbang.html#evidence . There are 28,000 words and I do not understand any apart from the ands and buts… However, I can take issue with you over “Big Bang cosmology has been a total failure” to this extent: there is substantial agreement among cosmologists that the big bang theory has been backed up and is sufficiently robust to continue with. It is pointless to argue with me, as I am no physicist; but if you can argue the point in the journals and win, I’ll sit up because the disproof of big bang will get into all the papers. Until then I must consider that you are probably wrong.

    You are entitled to your wrong opinions.

    8. Because science is such a moving picture, you assume the same must be true of theology, but this is not the case. Descartes was, of course, deeply into science and mathematics, so, yes, he would certainly notice the difference! But the Westminster Confession ..is handling what is understood to be revealed truth, which has not changed.

    I realise that theology is not exactly a moving picture, and that ‘revealed truth’ does not change, but you must be aware that that is precisely the trouble. Time and again, religion has opposed new knowledge which contradicted ‘revealed truth’.

    Hang on, do you mean new knowledge or new theories? Anyway, this is an old canard: you will have to give some examples. Likely you will turn to the mythology of Galileo, or the perversions of Andrew Dickson White, or some other historically-discredited ideas raked up by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett or their ilk.

    Even today, Islamic scholars insist on the censoring of school and university teaching to avoid contradicting the Koran,

    I’m not in the slightest bit interested in that. Islam is a false religion.

    and American and European fundamentalists try to have children taught Intelligent Design. They are wrong, and so is ‘revealed truth’.

    Is that a religious dogma of yours? You are sounding like a fundamentalist yourself.

    Yes, primary causation is a causation that does not belong to the nature of things in the universe, which must therefore be God. Christian theology distinguishes two separate aspects of God’s involvement in the universe: firstly, creation: ‘something’ can’t be produced from ‘nothing’, and ‘something’ can’t create itself out of ‘nothing’. Primary causation is invoked for creation.

    But this – something out of nothing – is precisely what modern physics does say although, as I have already said, I don’t understand it. Apparently big bang theory does not exclude the existence of something beforehand, but because of the maximal entropy at the time we cannot know what it was. The maximal entropy also apparently excludes the survival of any pre-existing structure or design. Once again, if you don’t agree you can make a name for yourself by disproving the theory in the journals!

    Hey, if you don’t understand physics you’d best not start making pronouncements about maximal entropy.

    Secondly, there is the upholding of all things, which is termed providence. Some would say that God upholds the laws of physics, but while I would say this loosely, I consider the so-called laws of physics are human constructs to make sense of the world, and this concept of ‘laws’ is really just a hangover from Newtonian mechanics.

    Newtonian mechanics still work! The origin and operation of the universe do not require any violation of the laws of physics. If a god had started the universe off there would presumably be some trace of initial order, some detectable violation of conservation of energy; but there isn’t (which incidentally shows that science may have something to say about gods if there ought to be detectable evidence, but there isn’t).

    What do you mean by the laws of physics? Do you think there are some laws which matter must ‘obey’ as soon as it comes into existence? If so, where did those laws come from? Alternatively, if the laws are just mathematical descriptions of the properties of matter, then there aren’t any laws without matter. Either way, there’s no violation of the ‘laws of physics’ at creation, so no detectable violations of conservation of energy etc. Moreover, part of the creation is the creation of time. It is inadmissible to speak of ‘before’ creation, so you would be in error to think that there could be a violation in conservation of energy at creation. What would you compare it with since there was no ‘before’?

    The laws have been described as “restrictions on the way physicists may describe the behaviour of matter”, not restrictions on matter in themselves, and as arising out of space-time symmetries whatever they are. And there I must leave them, whilst noting that a non-divine description of the origin and existence of these laws appears possible. You must take up your disagreement with the physicists.

    No, most physicists are incompetent to speak about philosophy, metaphysics and theology. I wouldn’t be asking a physicist for answers about origins, creation, existence, ‘laws’ etc. That’s not their field.

    What I do believe, however, is that God not only made things, but he endowed them with their properties: he generated the properties and maintains them still. You can attempt to deduce all sorts of things from the fact that things have certain properties, and the assumption that things will continue to exhibit those properties (a theistic presupposition, I would argue) – that’s what science does. But why things have properties and continue to have properties is not something that science can answer – the starting point for science is in attempting to measure properties on the assumption that those properties will persist, and that there is something meaningful to discover. Since you mention the concept of ‘detection’, how would you scientifically detect for God’s upholding of all the properties of everything in the universe? Surely, you could only detect it by comparing with what would happen if he ceased to do so, and where will you find such an example? Science simply cannot go there.

    Your ‘theistic presupposition’ is only theistic if one believes in gods; otherwise it’s just a presupposition. The overall assertion is unfalsifiable; its truth can’t be experimentally assessed, as far as I can see, so we can take it no further.

    It’s not ‘just’ a presupposition, it’s a presupposition, like your presuppositions. You show me a man without presuppositions, and I’ll show you a corpse.

    If your god is responsible for every detail and instance of the behaviour of matter, from quarks to planets to galaxies to living things, then everything is happening simultaneously both in accordance with natural laws and with its will. What data would cause you to doubt this? None, I suspect, though Occam’s razor does suggest that the divine element is superfluous.

    Are not atheists proceeding on assumptions for which they have no grounds, like the chicken that expects that its food ‘naturally’ turns up every day because it always does, except one day the farmer brings not food but his hatchet? I agree with James Hannam’s assessment at the conclusion of his book ‘God’s Philosophers’:
    …the most significant contribution of the natural philosophers of the Middle Ages was to make modern science even conceivable. They made science safe in a Christian context, showed how it could be useful and constructed a worldview where it made sense. Their central belief [was] that nature was created by God and so worthy of their attention…Without that awareness, modern science would simply not have happened.

    I haven’t read Hannam, but this looks preposterous. Making science safe in a Christian context, at that time, meant that one might venture to think without being instantly considered heretical! Do you think I should be grateful to the Church for failing to persecute these people? It was Aristotle’s heathen world-view, derived from the translations finding their way from Muslim libraries, which paved the way. Incidentally, the Muslims found that their scholars became too venturesome as a result, like Galileo, and suppressed much science. And as for science not happening, do you really believe – does Hannam – that nobody would ever have become curious about the world if the Church had withheld its permission?

    Boy, do you need a history lesson! Where to start? Where did you get all this false atheistic propaganda? Aristotle’s views impeded science for two thousand years. Science blossomed when folk abandoned Aristotle. Sure, Muslims preserved Aristotle’s writings and they came that way (via Syriac, Arabic and Old Spanish into Latin) into medieval western Europe and delayed the scientific revolution even further. As for Islam and Islamic history, well they are fit for nothing but to serve as bad examples. And yes, you should be grateful to Christendom for introducing the University. Islam never had that, so they suppressed science, but the University gave space for science to flourish without ecclesiastical interference (in the main). Galileo was a self-willed and self-serving troublemaker and liar who put the whole scientific enterprise in jeopardy.

    Many historians of science have come to the same conclusion. Atheists proceed in science on the basis of principles and presuppositions that come directly from Christian theism. In the context of Christian theism the principles are rational; without the theological underpinnings the scientific enterprise is irrational. Having used the ladder of Christian theism to stand on the shoulders of giants, atheists now like to kick the ladder away. Or to change the metaphor, they climb onto God’s lap so that they can reach to slap him in the face.

    As I said above, theistic presuppositions are only theistic if one believes in gods; otherwise they are just presuppositions.

    They are not ‘just’ presuppositions. They are presuppositions, and very good and intelligent ones at that, which can’t be said of atheistic presupposition; but even they are not ‘just’ presuppositions, they are very real but false presuppositions.

    There have been many examples of theological opposition to science which, if it were underpinned by religion, would surely be wrong; the problems have not been with truth or accuracy, but with content. After all, if astronomy were so underpinned, why persecute Galileo?

    ‘There have been many examples of theological opposition to science’. A sweeping statement, backed by no evidence. I know a lot of science, a lot of theology and a lot of history, and can confidently assure you that that is a false statement. But don’t take my word for it – you find your ‘many examples’ and I will deal with them. It will be an interesting exercise. I can assure you, the ‘conflict thesis’ created in the nineteenth century by anti-Christian writers, and now on life support in the atheist community, is totally discredited by historians. Find some modern historians (not non-historian ranters and myth makers like Hitchens and Dawkins) who would support this ‘many examples’ viewpoint.

  18. 18 Ron Pavellas June 27, 2012 at 4:01 am

    The subject is endlessly fascinating, but all of us get, in my opinion (or for my attention span) very wordy about it. The atheists have, at least, the benefit of having pithy statements that are entertaining, if not logically complete or coherent. I like the few pithy statements by Alan Watts (on the God side) where he asks us to imagine how we can stand outside ourselves and our universe to view ourselves and it “objectively”. The flaw, in my view, of the math/physics gurus is their implicit or explicit statements that “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist”. I am not skilled or schooled enough to respond to this, pithily. I can only say that, despite belonging to no religion or professing any faith that has a label, there are mysteries in the universe that man cannot ex-plain (lay out flat), as Watts says.

  19. 19 Shooter January 7, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    I have often seen arguments, by scientists, that constantly use the Conflict Thesis, that religion, particularly Christianity, is false because the Bible has no math or science in it. Therefore, their conclusion is that we are this intelligent because of atheists. Given science and its history with religion, I find it outright bizarre how these scientists, the pinnacles of truth, are so quick to deny any affiliations with religion. Their erroneous statements are always conflicting, and even to a casual reader such as myself it’s sad to see scientists go out of their field and make such ignorant comments. And from physicists! It’s tragic, to say the least. Their arguments in terms of religion are so weak.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Archives


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 31 other followers

%d bloggers like this: