Monday, March 12, 2012

Reason Rally: the "True Reason" response in a new ebook

Today, the Christian response to the "Reason" Rally, which is coordinated through the website, just published an ebook titled "True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism" (Patheos Press).  The book is the equivalent of about 150 pages, and can be bought through Amazon's Kindle Store and Barnes and Noble (link not yet live) for a modest price.

Please take note: This book is not primarily evangelistic, although it does provide some positive arguments for the existence of God.  No, the primary goals of this book are to (1) expose the leading arguments of the New Atheists for what they are: completely devoid of reason -- and (2) show that, contrary to the popular notion fronted by the New Atheist movement, the Christian worldview is actually the one based on reason.  And the book achieves these goals, completely dismantling arguments from Dawkins, Harris, and others, while in so doing, filling the void left behind by their empty rhetoric with the reasonableness of the Christian worldview.

Now, let there be no mistake, if you are not a believer, it will probably be a difficult book to get through.  However, becoming a believer in the God of the bible is not the only way this book could change your thinking.  At the very least, it should show that the leaders of the New Atheists have a long way to go before reason is on their side.  I encourage everyone to download a copy and read it.

Here, I will offer a similar response in my own words.  These words can also be applied to the so-called Reason Rally, because that event is also guilty of the same folly as what I say below.

The Misonmer of the "Reason Rally" and other New Atheist Maneuvers

It is one of the great ironies of this "secular vs theism" debate that rages these days that secularism (or humanism, atheism, naturalism; whatever you choose to call it) claims to have reason on its side.  Indeed, many of the leading secular programs or institutions have the word "reason" or something like it in their title.  Harris's "Project Reason," Dawkins's "Foundation for Reason and Science."  When the arguments from the New Atheist camp are examined critically, however, this self-claimed moniker could not be more of a misnomer.

To be sure, the arguments look nice on the surface.  Sound bites such as, "If God created the universe, then who created God?" or, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," or, "Faith by definition is belief in something without, or perhaps contrary to, the evidence," or, "I cannot believe in a God that would condone slavery," or, "Morals don't come from religion; many atheists are moral people," (the list goes on) appear to be critical, knock-down blows to the validity of Christianity.  Yet each of these "blows" either have been easily answered (some many years ago), are irrelevant, are appeals to emotion, or are clearly false.  That's the great part about it: none of these sound-bite-type arguments are actually based on sound, reasoned thinking!  (For a more in-depth discussion on these sorts of topics, see my previous Reason Rally posts.  Or pony up $3 and get the ebook!)

So if that is true, if atheism simply does not have reason on its side, then how did reason come to be exclusively associated with atheism?

Perhaps an explanation of the gross misnomer is the word "reason" now does not mean what it used to?  Perhaps by "reason" what we mean nowadays is no longer the use our logical and argumentation faculties to arrive at a conclusion based on sound thinking.  Perhaps nowadays "reason" simply means atheism?  The irony of this of course is that this maneuver in and of itself is a logical fallacy.  An argument that violates, or at least ignores, our reasoning capacities.  It is the logical fallacy of equivocation: using a word in two different contexts that give it two different meanings, but glossing over the fact that it has those different meanings in the different contexts.  An example would be saying slavery was permitted in the bible, and then using the anger about how atrocious slavery was in nineteenth century America to convince people to disbelieve in the bible (this would also be an appeal-to-emotion fallacy).  The problem is, the word "slave" in those two different contexts have completely different meanings.  (And BTW: Chapter 15 of the ebook gives a fantastic treatment of the biblical view of slavery.)

But maybe that's not it.  Maybe the explanation is that when the New Atheists put a claim on this the word, it was simply a marketing ploy?  "See those Christians over there?  They have (blind) faith.  We have reason."  Well, this maneuver is another logical fallacy called "poisoning the well."  Before your opponent even gets a chance to describe his position, you have already galvanized the audience against them by (mis)characterizing their position in a negative light.  Again, ironic because the Atheists' self-claimed association with reason is an example of a logical fallacy.


The word "reason" has been unreasonably co-opted by atheists.  It is not only an unfair, implied branding of Christianity as illogical, but it is also strangely enough not demonstrated by the leading New Atheists, the ones who so stridently claim to be on the side of reason.  For more on this topic, check out the ebook.

Related Posts:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

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

This is the last sub-post in the response to "reviewers' comments" on my first Reason Rally post.  Before I discuss the last three of James's points, I'd like to just take a step back for a moment and do a longview of things.

I've noticed that these internet blogs and comments are largely...shall we say contentious?  It seems like we often talk past each other.  I am sure that some of the things I am saying, whether I want them to or not, will really rile some people up.  Even if I am completely convinced that my points are valid, my arguments grounded, my reasoning sound, some on the other side will think there's a fatal flaw.  And when I read posts by atheists, I (think I) can see right though the fallacies in their arguments.  So what gives?

I think it's really crucial realize how much is actually riding on this question.  For the Christian and the non-Christian alike, it's their way of life that is being threatened by the other side.  At the end of it all, if a Christian is convinced that no God exists, they may be tempted to look back on their life and say, "I did all of that for nothing?"  Alternatively, a Christian may be currently looking at their life and say, "I sure wish my belief system let me do [fill in the blank].  Maybe it's not true."  The atheist, if somehow convinced there is a God, would say, "You mean I have to give up what I've been enjoying for so long?"

Now, I'm not saying this is the driving force behind everyone's opinion.  But I am saying that none of us are unbiased.  We all have a dog in the fight, and we should.  None of us can step back and say, "I am a biased judge in this case, so I will step down in favor of someone else."  No.  Everyone is biased.  So what do we do?  We try to be as unbiased as possible.  Let's cast aside our emotional appeals, the consequences on our own lives, and our desire to win any argument at all costs, and look as soberly as possible at the arguments themselves.  At the data.

Easier said than done.

Anyway, on to the last three points.

Point 6: Who created God?

I am actually quite surprised that James brought this up.  He says, "If our universe had to have a creator, the creator had to have a creator as well."  This is just plain false, but I have to say it's a very common objection I hear from atheists.  I'm a bit baffled by it, because it doesn't make logical or philosophical sense, yet it keeps popping up over and over again.  (BTW, Answers in Genesis, a young earth creationist organization, keeps a list of young-earth arguments that have been roundly proven false by science, theology, or philosophy.  They keep the list so young-earthers won't still use those arguments and get embarrassed by someone who knows what they're talking about.  I think someone should start keeping a list of arguments atheists should no longer use; this would be at the top of the list.)

Basically, the answer to this is, "Well then it must be turtles all the way down."  (I love that quote.)  One of the tribal myths for the creation of the universe is that we are just riding on the back of some cosmic space turtle.  But that begs the question, what is the cosmic space turtle riding on?  Well, it must be riding on an even bigger cosmic space turtle.  Well, what is that turtle riding on?  This is the classic example of an infinite regress. There cannot be an infinite regress of causes; indeed, there must be an uncaused cause.  Philosophers call this the "Necessary Being."  There must be some level of reality that is eternal and uncaused.  For Christians, this is God.

Now, I understand if, as an atheist, James does not believe the uncaused cause is God.  For centuries, everyone thought the universe was eternal.  Thus, the universe itself was the uncaused cause.  We now know that is not true; the universe began to exist approximately 13.74 billion years ago.  So there must be an uncaused cause that started the universe.  If you don't think this is God, that's fine.  That's the subject of a different argument.  All I am pointing out here is that the statement, "If our universe had to have a creator, the creator had to have a creator as well," it clearly false.

James goes on to say, "[God is] just another layer of complexity that doesn't have evidence and isn't necessary. It may be plausible that our universe is just one of an unlimited number of universes in the multiverse."  What's funny about this statement is this is actually more an argument in favor of God than in the multiverse.  (Not that I'm saying James believes in a multiverse; if you read his quote in context, it's clear he's agnostic about it.)  Here's what I mean.  We know this universe had a beginning; it is caused, so there must be a Causer.  Similarly, the multiverse also had a beginning and also requires a causer (as argued by Borde, Vilenkin, and Guth).  So the multiverse itself is another level of unneeded complexity, while the uncaused cause is not. Furthermore, there is abundantly more evidence for God than for the multiverse.

Now again keep in mind that I'm not saying there is not a multiverse.  All I'm saying is that by James's own reasoning, the non-existence of the multiverse is more preferrable than the existence of such, because it's another level of complexity that is not necessary.  On the other hand, while God (or the non-God uncaused cause) may be considered to be another level of complexity, He is in fact necessary.

Point 7: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

This is a very common rallying cry from the atheist camp, and I am quite sure it is used incorrectly 99.9% of the time.  From talking to many atheists, it seems like when this line is used, what the atheist means is that "I can't believe in miracles because I've never seen one."  Or, "if you want me to believe miracles are possible, I must see one with my own eyes."

James's analogy is, if he claims there is an invisible dragon in his garage, that claim needs proof.  He is implying that Christians want non-Christians to take the existence of God on faith, and when challenged, we say the atheist can't prove that God does not exist (so there!).  He goes on to say this is why the burden of proof is with the Christian, who is making said extraordinary claim, and that this is why skeptical inquiry is so important. I couldn't agree more!

Well, I sympathize with him here a great deal.  I am a skeptic.  I only believed in God after the evidence was presented to me.  And I think these questions, especially about "burden of proof," are really tricky to handle.

So there are two misunderstandings here.  The first is with the nature of evidence.  The notion that you need to see a miracle to have convincing evidence that one has happened is false.  The second one is with the term "burden of proof."  Both problems can be resolved with a bit of straight thinking.

When evaluating the evidence of a particular hypothesis, you first come up with your initial probability that your hypothesis is true.  (This is called the prior probability.) Then you compare this initial probability with how that changes when you add new data.  If the probability of your hypothesis goes up, then it is supported by the data.  If not, then it is not.  (There is a well-defined mathematical formula for this, and this procedure is called Bayesian Analysis.) This is usually being performed in the background of an already-accepted hypothesis (the "null" hypothesis; your own hypothesis is called the "alternative" hypothesis).  Since you are going up against the already-accepted hypothesis, the burden of proof is yours.  In fact, most scientists won't even talk to you unless your alternative hypothesis is at least 95% likely (as compared to the null).  Depending on the field, they may want you to be up to 99.99% confident in the alternative.  Do you see the burden of proof at work here?  But once the alternative supplants the null, that becomes the new null hypothesis.

How does this relate to our two misunderstandings, and to the question of miracles?  It's simple.  As long as we can use evidence to support our hypothesis, we can reason whether or not our hypothesis should supplant the null.  Note that the evidence itself doesn't have to be extraordinary evidence; it just has to be enough to overcome the low, prior probability of an extraordinary claim.  And an abundance of evidence, even if it is "only" circumstantial evidence, will eventually be enough to support an extraordinary claim.  Once there is enough of this evidence to support this extraordinary claim, that claim becomes the null hypothesis.  At that point, the other side then has the burden of proof.  So you see, who has the burden of proof does not have to do with the nature of the claim.  It has to do with which side has shown enough supporting evidence to be considered the null hypothesis.

So the question then becomes, which side now has the burden of proof?  Is there enough evidence for Christianity, even though it makes "extraordinary" claims, that it should be considered the null hypothesis?  The answer is yes.

If you feel like I just hoodwinked you, then consider this.  (And you can consider this notion regardless of whether or not you are a believer.)  If we look at the fine-tuning of our universe, the fact the universe requires a transcendent cause, the fine-tuning of our environment for life to exist, those data fit much better into a worldview in which God exists.  If that is the case, then the extraordinary claim becomes the notion that God does not exist.  If the atheist wants to make that claim, then he has to answer how all of the fine-tuning arose, what non-god entity caused our universe, why such an improbable environment exists that could support life (the list goes on).  Now, whether or not you find the fine-tuning argument, the cosmological argument, or the environmental anthropic principle convincing, you can at least take a step back and see the logic of this scenario.  If all of our data point to there being a God, then the non-existence of God becomes the extraordinary claim.

And that is how you should look at burden of proof and the nature of evidence.

Point 8: There has been no evidence of answered prayer.

This is in particular a sticky subject that has many facets.  I have to apologize but I will just not be able to do it justice.  I'll summarize what has been said on this topic in two points.  First, this is simply false.  There is evidence of answered prayer.  And second, due to the nature of miracles, those who look for "extraordinary evidence" for answered prayer will never find it.

Here's what I mean by point 1.  I have had answered prayer in my life.  My wife has been miraculously healed.  I know many people who either claim to have been healed, or who know of someone else who makes that claim.  I know of several people who claim to be able to cast out demons.  Supposedly, in some third world countries where the gospel is just now reaching people for the first time, there are a ton of cases of answered prayer and healings.  So the whole claim is false.

But then you say, "Wait a minute.  All of those are just-so stories.  What I want is real proof.  I want the x-ray before and after and the doctor's signature that something happened, and proof the x-rays weren't doctored, and a psychologist to examine the doctor to make sure he wasn't delusional, and..."  But here's the thing.  To the skeptical mind, no amount of proof of miracles will be enough.  Furthermore, we are not talking about evidence that some esoteric physical law takes place.  We are talking about hard evidence that the God of the universe, who is both all-powerful and all-knowing, has acted in the world.  He himself knows we are searching for such evidence.  It's not like prayer is a series of magic words such that, were we to say them in the right order, God is compelled to heal this or that amputee.  No.  God has his reasons for healing some and not others.

Yes, I understand that answer is completely unpalatable to those who are demanding evidence.  Completely unpalatable. Believe me, I was an atheist for most of my life, and therefore I can easily put myself in the shoes of an atheist, and that pat answer would not satisfy me. So I am not going to defend that.    (And by the way, this is just me sounding off.  I am not an expert in these things, and what I just said, I am convinced it is true, but I have not fully developed the idea yet, so please accept it in its infancy.) This is a point where we will simply have to disagree and move on to other things, because the perceived lack healings is not proof positive that God does not exist.  He has given us abundant proof of his existence in our own moral consciences, in nature, in logic and rationality, in prophecy, in eye witness accounts of the resurrection, the list goes on.  But if you do not accept those abundant evidences, which I think are very convincing, then (1) as I pointed out in the previous paragraph, no amount of proof of miracles will be enough, and (2) we can discuss these abundant evidences and get to the bottom of what I mean.  Of course, that is a topic for a whole 'nother series of blog posts.


Just as I discussed in my four posts, all of James's points either completely miss my points in my previous posts, or are easily shown to be false.  In particular, his arguments do not touch whether or not atheism's logical conclusion is a lack of values, and whether an objective moral standard must necessarily come from a transcendent being.  Furthermore, his points about Christianity lacking evidence or reason are patently false.  Finally, he does not even address my points about the atheistic worldview lacking a foundation of reason.

Now, keep in mind that I am not saying my points are completely unassailable.  I am only saying that so far, these points have not been sufficiently addressed.  I look forward to more thoughtful comments like the ones James left, because all of these things give us reason to stretch our minds and to make sure we are thinking clearly about these issues rather than following red herring arguments or other logical fallacies.

So, I just want to leave a thank you to James, I think he provided some really great discussion material and I hope he answers my blog posts again.  Perhaps in the future we'll converge on answers we both agree on?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Real Issue: Sam Harris' Book on No "Free Will" Will Be Unreasonable Rhetoric

I know I've posted previously about the vacuous logic of those who take the stance that we have no free will, but I just read this post and it bears repeating. It's from Rob Lundberg's blog:

The Real Issue: Sam Harris' Book on No "Free Will" Will Be Unreasonable Rhetoric

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.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Reason Rally: Misunderstanding Atheism? (Part 2 of 4)

Last week I posted on the Reason Rally and what I thought about the values and reason atheists should ascribe to, based on the implications of their worldview.  This week I am answering some comments that particular post drew from atheists.  The main comment I got across all comments was that I was mischaracterizing atheism. In fact, from the atheists I've spoken with about the Reason Rally, they have said that one of the purposes of the rally is to clear up some of these misunderstandings. To show what atheism really is about.

But am I getting it wrong?  According to the atheists I talk to, some would definitely say yes.  Here's the problem: when they try to convince me their point of view is not what I am saying it is, the arguments lack...substance.  

In this second post of four, I begin to lay out the arguments commenter James brought to bear on my post from last week.  He has nine main points from his arguments, and here, after delineating those nine, I respond to the first three.  In subsequent posts, I will respond to the other six.

The full series of arguments.

Let me start now by listing his statements that I agree with, or at least can see his point of view:
  • There isn't really any one "atheist worldview".
  • [T]here are as many different worldviews practiced by theists as atheists.
  • [T]hroughout history we see Christian regimes commit atrocities as much as if not more so than non-theists.
  • [B]elief in a deity doesn't make someone good or bad-some Christians are moral and some atheists are moral.
  • Reason and logic are reality based.
  • Science says, "Here's the evidence, what rational conclusions can we draw from it?"
  • There are universal morals found in almost all developed societies regardless of religion.
  • Question everything and be open to skeptical inquiry.
  • Know that doubt is never a bad thing.
I agree with all of the things in these statements.  The problem is, none of them actually either (1) argue there is no God, or (2) address my points from my earlier post.  To be fair, there is a LOT more that James said.

Here is a summary of James's main points, in the order that you would encounter them in his comments:

  1. I am mistaken about the logical conclusion of atheism; in fact "atheism says nothing about morality or moral values."
  2. Following Christianity to its logical conclusion will result in a theocracy.  (This was a relatively minor point, but I think it needs addressing.)
  3. "Faith is belief without, or often contrary to, the evidence."  
  4. Along those lines, the Christian story has no compelling case for it.
  5. You shouldn't put God in our gaps in knowledge.  
  6. If God created the universe, then who created God? Proposing a God creates another level of complexity that is unneeded so is therefore discarded due to Ockam's Razor.
  7. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
  8. There has been no evidence of prayer being answered.
  9. Morality actually comes from secularism, not from religion.
In this post, I will tackle points 1,2, and 9, since they seem to be related to each other.  In parts 3 and 4, I address points 3-5, then points 6-8.

Point 1: Atheism's logical conclusion is not a lack of moral values.

In particular, under this topic, James said, "Atheism says nothing about morality or values."  This is patently false, and philosophers know it.  The atheists that are honest about it realize that without a transcendent reality to ground objective morality (which is by definition transcendent, immaterial, and real), there can only be subjective morality.  Many are ok with that, but there are many problems with subjective (or relative) morality, including that it takes away our ability to stand in judgement over atrocities that are committed in other societies.  So, many atheists are not comfortable with it.  Some atheists propose an "objective" morality that is grounded not in a transcendent being, but in evolution (what I call evolutionary morals).  But as I said in my previous post, you find evolutionary morals are living on borrowed Judeo-Christian capital.

But even if you don't agree with me about the problems with subjective morality or evolutionary morals, my point here is that these atheists realize that atheism has a great deal to say about our morals.  (I am not making this up.)  And just because there are atheists out there that span a large spectrum of moral values, which James is absolutely correct in pointing out, it does not refute the logical, philosophical conclusion of atheism.  It only serves to support my statement in my other post that many atheists do not live according to their worldview.

Point 2: Christianity's logical conclusion is a theocracy.

"If you follow Christianity to its 'logical conclusion' end up with a theocracy found in places like Pakistan."  This is clearly not true.  Take passages like Romans 13, where Paul clearly lays out our proper submission to the secular governmental authorities.

In one of James's lines of evidence for this he says, "...[T]he Old Testament forbids...wearing clothes mad of two different fabrics."  I don't disagree with this statement per se, but I do want to point out that James is taking this passage completely out of context, and I think he knows it. After all, he professes:
...[R]emember I am an ex-Christian involved with lay-ministry for decades. I studied Bible courses at a Baptist college. I’ve read Dobson, McDowell, Lewis, Ham, Stroble (sic), and Colson...
So back to my point.  Yes, the OT does have a passage that says that, and it comes from the Levitical Law. The problem with using this against the veracity of the bible is that the Levitical Law is clearly divided into the moral law, the ceremonial law, and the laws specifically for Hebrew life.  This is clearly part of the third category.  There were specific reasons why you should not wear clothes made of two different fabrics; we know this today.  It's because the two fabrics stretch differently as they age, which would cause a tear in them later.  Indeed, this is actually more closely evidence the bible was supernaturally inspired rather than a point of ridicule. (I wouldn't hang my hat on it, though.) Unfortunately, atheists like to talk about these passages with glee, catching nominal Christians off guard with them, saying, "Look, see what ridiculous things your God says to do?"  So before you continue to poke fun at parts of the OT Law that say things like this, you should seriously ask yourself whether you are taking it out of context, because otherwise you are simply setting up a straw man argument.  I am quite surprised James used these sorts of tactics in his arguments, as he professes to be very knowledgeable about the bible.

Point 9: Morality comes from secularism.

In this point, which is possibly the longest point of James's comments, he describes how morality, as viewed by those in the church, has changed over time.  Moreover, the way in which morality has changed in the church is a reflection of how the secular world advanced these changes in morality.  He goes on to use slavery as an historical example of this, and homosexual rights in today's society as a timely example.  You know what?  I'm not going to argue here.  I definitely do not think he is using either example correctly, but I must admit neither issue is a strong point for me, so I will not try to give an explanation as to why.  I will simply concede his points here.  But do you see that even so, his arguments do not even come close to addressing my points from the previous post?

Let's unpack this a bit further.  James said, "A common misunderstanding that many theists have is that without god there is no morality and that religion is needed to have morality."  There are actually two theses in that one sentence.  The first is that many theists wrongly think God is needed for morality, and the second is that many theists wrongly think religion is needed to have morality.  I personally don't know if he's right about the second statement.  Is that a common misconception that theists hold?  I don't know, but if it is, then it saddens me, because I don't think that's a biblical idea at all.  Indeed, read any of the four gospels and you will see how Jesus exposes the religious leaders of his day for the hypocrites they are.  No, the bible says that our own religiosity gets in the way of our being moral.  But the main thing to note here is that I was not making this claim in my original post anyway.  What argument of mine is James trying to refute?

As for the first point, James is actually using circular reasoning, which is a point that I made in an earlier post.  He assumes god does not exist, sees morality in the world, and says that god is not needed for morality.  Rather than proving that morality still exists even if God does not, all he has proven is that you can believe morality exists even if you don't believe God exists.  This says nothing about whether or not (1) you are correct about God existing, (2) you are correct in your belief that morality exists, or (3) your two beliefs are not mutually contradictory.  My argument, which again is also held by (atheist) philosophers, remains that without God, there can be no objective morality.  As he did above in Point 1, all James has done here is show that many atheists hold mutually exclusive beliefs within their own worldview.

You may ask, how can I be sure of this?  Well, there are two positions here held in tension.  The first (my point) is that God is required for the existence of objective morality (independent of any individual's personal belief in the existence of God), and the second (James's point) is that some atheists live moral lives.  Are those mutually contradictory statements?  Of course not.  So the question boils down to, if the second statement is true (and let there be no doubt, I agree with James that this second statement is demonstrably true), what are the implications?  Is the implication that the first is false?  No, as I've just said, these are not mutually exclusive.  Instead, the implication, since the first statement rests on strong, solid philosophical ground, is that the atheists who live moral lives do not realize that God is the sole explanation of their own moral tendencies.

One more thing to point out here, and that is James has provided evidence in support of the existence of objective morality.  He says that our morals have changed over time, purportedly to get better.  The evil of slavery has mostly been abolished (from the Western world anyway), but this did not happen until after millenia of the stain of that evil being on the earth.  But if no God exists, and thus morality is relative, how can you even say that any change in morality is for the better?  How can you stand in judgement of the "evil" practice of slavery?  How can you say that any evolution in the way we view morality is "better"?  If you say something is better, you must have an objective standard by which to measure.  Now, I understand that James did not say objective morality does not exist, but the important thing is that atheistic worldview would.

What's next?

In the next couple of days, I will address James's Points 3-5, which largely deal with whether or not the Christian faith has reason on its side.  This is a major point of contention I have, and it should be fun.