Sunday, March 4, 2012

Reason Rally: Misunderstanding Atheism? (Part 3 of 4)

Before I go further, I want to comment that I am not doing a personal attack on James.  I am very grateful to him that he took the time and effort to read my post and comment so thoroughly on it.  But I do think there were some fallacies in his arguments, and I wanted to discuss where those fallacies were.  This is  because we all think we are right.  I think I'm right, you think you're right.  We all think we have good reasons for what we believe.  But James intimated that the reasons why he left Christianity were because of reason and evidence.  As such, I just want to make sure those reasons of his were sound, because if they were similar to the reasons he gave, those are no reason to leave Christianity behind.  In fact, I am wondering whether he was fully thinking through his arguments for atheism.

The same can be said of those attending the Reason Rally.  I am not saying that they have no reasons for their atheistic beliefs.  I am saying I wonder whether they really think through those reasons.  As I argued in the past, atheism may seem like it is supported by reason, on the surface, but when you dig deep enough, you find a bunch of problems.  Because of that, I am slightly amused at the use of the term "Reason Rally" to describe this event.

On that note, we shall now continue with our discussion of James's points.  In this post, I'll tackle some that are near and dear to my heart; some that specifically deal with the question of whether Christianity and reason go together.

Point 3: Faith is blind.

As I mentioned before, this is simply incorrect.  The commenter Kenny also makes this point in my last post.  However, I do sympathize with James for his thinking this.  After all, as I said above, this misconception is not propagated by atheists (who stand to benefit from it), but instead by much of the older generation unltra-conservative Christians.  (I am sorry, sorry, sorry if I've incorrectly categorized anyone with this statement.  This is a broad generalization and has many exceptions.)  Because this point of view is not only prevalent in the ultra-conservative church, but is also promoted, many younger Christians (perhaps James?) turn to atheism when they don't receive good reasons to hold onto their faith.  What I am hoping, and I think we are seeing it all around us, is that this incorrect view of biblical faith is going to be replaced by a more accurate view.

In a comment on my previous post, Kenny left some representative bible passages that demonstrate that biblical faith is based on reason, which I will not repeat.  But I will say that the Greek pistis translated "faith" in the NT implies a faith built on reason.  Additionally, as you read through the old and new testaments, you repeatedly see that God uses evidence in the real world to inspire people to faith in Him.  Many of Paul's and Peter's sermons in Acts start with the Exodus story, which has always been viewed as central to Jewish history, and has been regarded as evidence of God's hand acting in the world to inspire His people to belief in Him.  Many of the Psalms describe this as well for the same reason.  In Hebrews, the author gives us a definition of biblical faith: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1, NKJV)."  Thus we see that biblical faith is in something not seen, because of the evidence.

Additionally, many times, Jesus says if you don't believe his words, at least believe because of the evidence: his miracles.  In I Cor 15, Paul gives a number of names of those who profess to have seen the risen Christ. He concludes that passage by saying that most of these people are still alive, though some have passed away.  Because the context of this statement is his first letter to the Corinthains, scholars agree that Paul was telling them to go and check out the testimonies of these folks.  To test whether what Paul was saying was true.  No, biblical faith is not in the absence of, or contrary to, the evidence.  It is in light of the evidence.

Furthermore, if you read James's comments regarding faith, reason, science, and secularism, he does nothing to refute my statements (which I have backed up in earlier blog posts) that "reason, logic, and the rationality of the universe find a much nicer fit within theism."  Nor have his arguments refuted my statement that "[a]s far as we can tell, each of these things [the laws of physics, the laws of logic, and the rationality of the universe] is an immaterial, transcendent reality, something that makes no sense in a materialistic worldview."  All he has done is describe some examples where the Christian church has erred in science.  However, many of these examples are caricatures of the actual historical events.  For example, we now know the Galileo affair was more of a political disagreement than a scientific one.  Moreover, the young-earth creationism branch of Christianity is not historical Christianity; it has only arisen in English-speaking countries since the early 1800s, and is mainly based on a single errant interpretation of the bible.  On the other hand, as Kenny rightly points out in his comment on my previous post, most if not all of the fathers of modern science were Christians.

Point 4: Christianity has no evidential basis.

Here James argues there is no evidence of "a talking serpent, a staff turning into a snake, or a Jewish zombie..."  In a way, I sympathize with him.  After all, some of these miracles are difficult to visualize actually happening, especially the first two.  I would add to his list a burning bush, waters parting and standing up like walls, a talking donkey (by the way, the snake and the donkey are the only two talking earthly animals in the whole of the bible), and a man killing 1000 men with a donkey's jawbone.  These are all things the bible claims to have happened.  How do we square this with our own personal experiences?

Before I go on, I would like to rebuke James for his rhetoric, which I am sure he knows does not reflect the historical view of the resurrection (a Jewish zombie?), and which I am sure he is choosing on purpose to try to make the Christian point of view seem more ridiculous than it really is.  We should not need to use those tactics when describing the opposing position if the position we are defending really is on solid ground.  Let the arguments speak for themselves rather than an intentional mischaracterization of the other side's arguments.

Again, back to the question at hand.  Does Christianity have an evidential basis?  The answer of course is yes, it does.  I understand if many are not convinced by the evidence, but it is out there.  In fact, as I pointed out in my last post, I describe 18 very strong lines of evidence that favor a theistic worldview in general, and Christianity in particular.  For example, the universe had a beginning, which implies it had a beginner.  (I know that James attempted to refute this argument.  Stay tuned until next time to see my discussion of it.)  The laws of physics of the universe must be exquisitely finely-tuned for life to exist.  (See below for my discussion of James's point about this.)  The environment we live in (the earth, the moon, the sun, the other planets in our solar system, the solar system's place within our galaxy, the type of galaxy we live in, the list goes on and on) must also have been exquisitely finely-tuned for life to be possible.  The timing of life is exquisite. Etc.  The statement that there is no evidence in favor of Christianity is clearly false. I am not saying that many people do not try to wiggle their way out of it, claiming plausible deniability on each of these points, but that does not mean there is no evidence for Christianity.

So, what should we do with this evidence?  (See the next point.)

Point 5: One should avoid God of the gaps arguments.

One thing we should definitely not do with the evidence is make a God-of-the-gaps argument.  I think James is implicitly making this point when he says, "Just because we don't know why there are laws of physics doesn't point at all to there being some intelligent design behind it."  However, that is not my argument.  I am not saying that we don't know where the laws of physics come from, therefore there must be a God who made them.  No, I am saying that the existence of transcendent, immaterial, and real entities argues for the existence of a transcendent mind.  This is not an argument from ignorance, it is a positive argument for something beyond our universe.

OK, so perhaps, as James suggests, there is a large enough sampling of "alternative" universes in a mother multiverse that explains away the fine tuning.  In my original post, I state that that presents us with a bigger problem. If you have to fall back on an unlimited number of universes to explain away the data that you do not like, then you are in effect appealing to an ad hoc mechanism that can explain anything.  Do you see the problem with that?  The multiverse explains too much.  Why in the world would the multiverse explain such a gross violation of our probabilistic expectations in one case, but in all other cases (ie, the reliable operability of the laws of physics, chemistry, etc on a day-to-day basis) we claim rationality?  This is exactly what I was saying when I stated that atheism does violence to our reason.  Let's just say something astronomically improbable is the "cause" of the universe, and then go from there.  This is not an explanation; it's voo-doo magic.

The multiverse has a series of other insurmountable problems for the atheist.  First, a trio of scientists have shown that even the multiverse requires a beginning.  Second, the multiverse also requires fine-tuning.  Third, if the multiverse were true at the level required to explain the fine-tuning of our universe, we end up in absurd situations, such as our universe being simply a computer simulation. 

James said that "[i]t may be plausible that our universe is just one of an unlimited number of universes in the multiverse.  But as of yet, like with god, there's no solid evidence to support it."  His point here was that we shouldn't jump to conclusions without solid evidence. Let's wait and see. But the problem with this is there is enough evidence to conclude some things.  This is what I've just done.

Finally, one may argue that we should never insert God into our gaps in knowledge, no matter whether the evidence points to a God or not.  We should always hold out for a naturalistic explanation.  But why so?  If we peel back the facade of this argument, we see that what the person is really saying is that no matter how unlikely the naturalistic explanation, no matter what the evidence is in favor of a God, we should always favor the naturalistic explanation.  But as I've argued elsewhere, this is precisely the definition of blind faith.  Think about it.  This position is saying that I don't care what evidence you put forth, I will never believe you because I've already made up my mind about it.  Now, be careful here, I am not saying this is James's position.  But I am saying this is a common pitfall; don't fall into it.