Book Review: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist – Ch 5.2

5: THE FIRST LIFE: NATURAL LAW OR DIVINE AWE? (PART 2)

A similar argument applies to the author’s claim that philosophy impacts scientific conclusions. He claims that if a scientist assumes beforehand that only natural causes are possible; then probably no amount of evidence will convince him of intelligent design (p 128).  Science requires the ability to test a hypothesis. Granted, it is difficult to test certain hypothesis dealing with very small particles or very large quantities, but a good scientist will attempt to verify that the hypothesis is mathematically consistent and devise ways that testing can be done in the future. Since there is no way to observe or test metaphysical claims, they remain speculations. The author could make the claim, if he wanted, that science has limited boundaries and does not encompass all knowledge, but to expect a scientist to be open minded about supernatural causes when conducting investigations is asking him to go beyond the bounds of science.

The author also says that they don’t know of any creationists who rule out natural causes beforehand (p 128). I give this example of creationists forming a hypothesis based on the Bible and when the physical evidence they expect does not bear out, they do not even appear to consider rethinking their hypothesis, but reinterpret the evidence to fit with what they already believe to be true: Because of our understanding of the Flood from the Scriptures, we might expect to find human fossils in Flood strata, so it is rather surprising, at first glance, that we don’t find any. However, Scripture (backed up by so much other evidence) is very clear that there was a global Flood and the pre-Flood people were destroyed, so there must obviously be an explanation for this lack of human fossils (http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c014.html).

The second point for why materialism is not reasonable is a point that I do not think argues well against materialism. The author says that chemicals are involved in the thought process but cannot explain all thoughts (p 128). He does not offer any proof of this, perhaps expecting it to be self-evident. It is my understanding that just because every thought cannot be chemically mapped, it does not stand that there is not a complete chemical basis for the entire thought process. When we study how the human thought process changes under the influence of certain hormones, after brain damage, and when exposed to certain stimuli, it appears that this assertion is not on firm ground.

The third point does not stand to reason either. Even if life were nothing more than materials, there is no reason that humans would currently have the capability to make a living being out of these materials. Just because something is beyond human ability or human understanding does not mean that it is not possible. There are many natural phenomena that humans are not able to replicate, most of which are not considered by Christians to be a matter of direct supernatural interference. You may also be interested in further research on inorganic structures that resemble organic life (cf. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070814150630.htm)

The fourth point is a sociological argument. The author finds it difficult to believe that every great spiritual leader has been completely wrong about his spiritual experience (p 129). This is of interest not so much because of the argument against materialism, but because if the author does not believe that other religions besides Christianity are true, then he is completely willing to believe that every great non-Christian spiritual leader has been completely wrong about his spiritual experience.

In the conclusion, the author asserts that order, logic, design and truth can only exist and be known if there is an unchangeable objective source and standard of such things (p 130). Conveniently, he leaves the argument there. Since it does not fit into the topic of the origin of life and I expect that it will resurface later, for now I will only comment that in order to accept this, you must begin by assuming that a god of this nature exists, else the absolute certainty of his existence is also circular. This is also a huge assertion to make without even acknowledging the way he intends to circumvent the Euthyphro dilemma.

Book Review: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist – Ch 5.1

5: THE FIRST LIFE: NATURAL LAW OR DIVINE AWE? (PART 1)

The thing that I hate about apologetics is getting bogged down in biology long before the claims of the Bible are seriously mentioned. It is particularly discouraging because although I do not believe Christianity to be true, theologically I hold that being convinced into a set of doctrines is not how people become Christians. The Bible claims that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). The writer of I Corinthians says: I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (2:2-5). That is what I would like to see as a proof of Christianity rather than arguments about cosmology and biology: a demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

But I am responding to this book, so I must address its claims. When the author criticizes scientists for looking for material explanations for the origin of life, he treats scientific understanding as if it is complete. Throughout the history of scientific thought, there have been gaps in people’s knowledge, and they attempt to explain natural phenomena with theoretic explanation, and sometimes metaphysical explanation. Knowledge of natural laws is continually increasing. Where insufficient evidence exists, judgment should be withheld. Modifications to the theory of evolution are being made based upon new research. It is plausible that in the future, genetic changes could be monitored in an entire population of animals. Evolutionary theory could predict certain types of changes, and it would become evident whether the predicted changes occurred or not.  What new evidence would or could change the position of the ID advocate?

Moreover, as I already mentioned in the previous chapter, positing an unknown intelligence is useless to science unless the effects of the designer are observable and distinguishable. The author accuses Darwinists of having philosophical bias toward materialism and against intelligent causes (p 122), but being inclined to believe that unknown phenomena will have a physically understandable explanation is not blind faith. It is strongly backed by the trend that other phenomena that were previously attributed to gods or spirits have been shown to have natural causes that require no explicit supernatural interference. What if every currently unknown phenomenon in science were treated the way that the author wants to treat the origin of life? Every time that we did not understand something, we could say god did it supernaturally. That would be bad science.

Let us break for intermission.

Review: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist – Chapter 4

4: DIVINE DESIGN

I want to restate that I am more agnostic when it comes to Deism. Perhaps because of that, I find it rather off-putting when the author starts equating the unknown designer with the god of the Bible in the middle of the chapter without establishing any argument that they are one and the same except self-evidence.

There has been so much written on this topic that I don’t expect to be adding anything new to the conversation, so I hope to keep it brief. The thing that is pointed out in response to the Teleological Argument time and again is that since it’s entirely impossible for us to experience the universe in any other way but the way it is, it will necessarily seem as if it were designed perfectly for us to live in. It also tends to give humanity a position of privilege, as if the existence of humans is a necessity. Daniel Dennett discusses the flaw in the anthropic principle:

In the “weak form” it is a sound, harmless, and on occasion useful application of elementary logic: if x is a necessary condition for the existence of y, and y exists, then x exists. If consciousness depends on complex physical structures, and complex physical structures depend on large molecules composed of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, then, since we are conscious, the world must contain such elements.

“But notice that there is a loose cannon on the deck in the previous sentence: the wandering “must”. I have followed the common practice in English of couching a claim of necessity in a technically incorrect way. As any student in logic class soon learns, what I really should have written is: It must be the case that: if consciousness depends … then, since we are conscious, the world contains such elements.

The conclusion that can be validly drawn is only that the world does contain such elements, not that it had to contain such elements. It has to contain such elements for us to exist, we may grant, but it might not have contained such elements, and if that had been the case, we wouldn’t be here to be dismayed. It’s as simple as that (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, 165-166).

The author writes that there is no evidence for a multiple universe theory and that it is nothing more than a metaphysical concoction (p 107). Yet nothing more about the posited designer is known either, and outside space-time, either seems equally likely or unlikely. To show that a designer is more likely than a multiverse, the author should be able to identify ways that a designer has affected the universe beyond asserting that the universe appears to have design. If he has no idea about the mechanism by which the designer affects the physical universe, and no experiment can identify which aspects of nature were specifically designed and which were not, then intelligent design falls into the same category as other speculations concerning things outside of space-time, that is, unprovable. Separated from religion, there need be no particular reason to choose one speculation over another or to choose any at all; and again, to involve religion necessitates investigating the claims of the particular religion.

Analogously, his fourth objection that the multiple universe theory is so broad that any event can be explained away by it also applies to his infinite, all-powerful god. There are several laws of reaction and effect, such that any change within a system such as the universe will have ramifications. If a designer is intervening in the physical universe, through changing events in a way that they would not otherwise have occurred, but even more so through miracles, then the rules of the universe are fundamentally different when these things happen. It’s possible to define the designer as having such absolute power over everything in the universe that he can negate the laws of reaction and conversation at the point where he makes a change, but such an assumption would need some backing evidence to be believable.

As I mentioned earlier, the most disturbing thing in the chapter is the way that the author turns to sermonizing near the end. He claims to be building a philosophical and scientific case, but with no prelude, he declares that God is the unlimited limited – the uncreated Creator – of all things and then describes God’s attributes as power knowledge, justice and love (p 109). Ostensibly, I don’t object to a book being written to a Christian audience to confirm what the readers are already inclined to believe, but as a reader investigating an argument, this sort of conclusion is entirely unacceptable. The author proclaims that he has presented impressive evidence for a designer and the atheist who rejects these findings simply does not want to admit to a designer, as well as implying that such an atheist is emotional and unobjective (p 112), and I find it arrogant that he cannot admit that a designer that he cannot observe in any way is not an undeniable fact, but a metaphysical speculation that he considers to have a high probability of likelihood.

Coming up next…

I’ll resume writing next weekend. Chapter four deals with the teleological argument, and it’s not until chapter nine that we start to investigate the claims of the New Testament. I’ll be traveling this coming week, but will have more time to write next week.

Even if I wasn’t traveling, I’d want to take a break from the apologetics for a few days anyway.

Review: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist – Chapter 3

3: IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS A GREAT SURGE

If we do not use circular reasoning and do not assume anything at all about the origin of the universe, then nothing is knowable through observation. It is also the case that nothing is knowable through deduction before the Big Bang because the universe began outside of space-time. The author appears to be persistently convinced that the laws of causality apply outside space-time, but he makes no argument to establish this and I would assert that he does not because there is such argument. He also makes a statement that is not agreed upon by cosmologists, that we would see all matter in the universe collapse back to a point… mathematically and logically to a point that is actually nothing (i.e., no space, no time, and no matter) (p 79). Competing models of the universe include a loop quantum gravity theory and an M-brane theory, both of which make potentially measureable claims which do not contradict the current rate of expansion of the universe.

The Cosmological argument says that everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence, but the rules of causality are a property of space-time, and the beginning of the universe occurred outside of space-time. In a debate between William Lane Craig and Wes Morriston, Morriston says that “creation out of nothing at all is at least as counterintuitive as is [the idea of] begging to exist without a cause…. If someone insists it is just ‘obvious’ that God could create a world without any pre-existing material stuff to work with, on the ground that there is no logical contradiction in the idea of such a feat, then the proper reply is that there is also no logical contradiction in the idea of the universe beginning without a cause”. What allows us to define “god” as an eternally existing being without a cause? It is equally possible to define an impersonal cause for the universe as having existed eternally.

How can we determine whether there can be a being that did not “have a beginning”? I take the following argument from Dan Barker (Godless, 130-144): The first statement of the argument implies that things can be divided between items that begin to exist and those that do not. If the set of items that do not begin to exist only contain one item, it is a synonym for god, and therefore is equivalent to “everything except God has a cause”. This begs the question of god’s existence by making god the definition of the premise of the argument. The cosmological argument succeeds if it can be shown that the set of items that do not begin to exist contains exactly one item from a set of candidates greater than one. If the only candidate for the set is god, then the second statement is equivalent to “the universe is not god”. Therefore, if the set is items that do not begin to exist is synonymous with god, the argument becomes:

“Everything except God has a cause.

The universe is not God.

Therefore, the universe has a cause.”

This is logical, but circular. However, if it is theoretically possible that there are multiple items that did not begin to exist, then it must also remain a possibility that there could be other explanations for the origin of the universe.

The key argument here is that the Law of Causality is dependent upon space-time. It is meaningless to point to an ordered causal sequence of events without using any reference of time. The author makes a lot of conclusions about what a First Cause must look like based on the idea that the universe had a beginning. But what do the terms limitless or infinite mean outside of space-time? Defining a thing outside of space-time by definitions dependent on space-time is nonsensical. Likewise, we must establish what are the properties of power, intelligence and choice if not defined within space-time.

The background of the book review

When I started this blog, it was a mostly private endeavor with very few posts and very few readers. Although I don’t expect a huge surge of traffic, I see that it comes up under a Google search about Geisler’s book, and I’ve made some modifications accordingly, most notably adding a page with ordered links to my book review posts.

The other thing that I want to do is explain a little bit about myself and why I am reviewing this book.

I am not a believer in any gods or a follower of any religions, but I was raised in a Christian family.My non-belief started when I observed that the things the Bible promises about the Holy Spirit and the Body of Christ did not appear to be true based on outward observation and were undetectable by inner testimony. I was a child, and I did not want to be a non-believer, so with sincere prayers I asked for faith and the revealing of truth through the Holy Spirit. I attempted to live in radical obedience as a demonstration that I would receive faith with gratitude. After 15 years of prayers and nothingness, accompanied by more study as befitted the adult I had become, I concluded that there was absolutely no internal evidence for Christianity, and insufficient external evidence.

Apologetics are no longer of great interest to me, and reviewing this book in such detail is not an attempt to attack Christians or the authors. Although at first I was terrified of disappointing them or inviting their scorn, my parents took the news of my deconversion about as well as can be expected. My father has asked me to read this book because he feels that it presents a strong case for belief in Christianity. I feel that my responses to the book have become involved enough to be a proper review that other people might like to read. I spend so much time on each issue in the book because I want to show my father that I have not carelessly brushed off his religion, but have investigated it with intellectual respect.

Review: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist – Chapter 2.2

2: WHY SHOULD ANYONE BELIEVE ANYTHING AT ALL? (PART 2)

One error that the author makes with Kant is confusing hypocrisy with falsity. He claims that Kant violates the Law of Noncontradiction by saying that no one can know the real world while claiming to know something about it (p 60). Whether or not Kant is hypocritical in his assertion does not automatically make his assertion false, and the author would be better off demonstrating how we can have certainty that our perceptions match an actuality. Additionally, Kant elaborates a good deal on what varieties of thoughts, knowledge, and experience appear to exist, while the author makes the blanket conclusion that if Kant is wrong then truth is knowable. Here also, I recall Frame’s critique that Geisler fails to recognize important distinctions. I can elaborate on how the author grossly oversimplifies Kant’s philosophy, but my purpose in this letter is not to write my own book of philosophy. I have been suggested this book as an argument for why I should consider Christianity, and I am responding as to whether I find its claims convincing.

According to the author, the first principles are inherent in the nature of reality and are self-evident. He makes no other argument to establish his philosophy except that we should know the first principles intuitively. However, the Law of the Excluded Middle does not apply to all concepts, only to those that have strictly defined meanings, are mutually exclusive, and are not subject to perspectival differences. Those distinctions are not always intuitive. Finally, the author admits that inductive conclusions must be based on incomplete and imperfect information since no human possesses infinite knowledge. He concludes that human knowledge must rely on practically rather than absolutely certain conclusions. In this, then, he is no better off than Hume in having to concede that the absolute axioms he professes may be flawed by his own human error, and no better off than Kant in having to concede that things are not sure beyond all doubt (p 65).

Again, the author claims that truth constitutes moral truth. He asks us to consider the implications of other religious teachings, asking if it is really true that there’s a God up there by the name of Allah who wants Muslims to kill all non-Muslims (p 68). This might not be the best ever example to bring up regarding absolute moral truth, considering that according to his own scriptures, his God once wanted the Hebrew tribes to kill all the Amalekites, not only the adults but the infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass (I Samuel 15:2-3). Many Christian commentators believe that the sins of the Amalekites were so heinous that the killing of the Amalekite children was a necessary consequence for the good of Israel. If one accepts the justification of the Amalekite killings as religiously moral, then  one must remain open to the idea that the same god may have judged the sins of non-Muslims in a similar fashion. But I digress.

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