Book Review: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist – Ch 8.1

8: MIRACLES: SIGNS OF GOD OR GULLIBILITY? (PART 1)

The beginning of the chapter summarizes the points made thus far, but includes this non sequiter: From the Moral Argument we know that God is absolutely morally pure… This standard includes infinite justice and infinite love. The moral law argument attempts to show that there is a law giver, but even if this were so, infinite justice and infinite love remain to be proven. This is one of the main issues bothering me about the way that this book was written. The author will make a point that relates to general theism in one chapter, and in the next chapter, will claim that he has proven something specific to Christianity. Note also that he has been using the singular masculine declension to talk about god, although he has not logically established anywhere in the book that there is only one creator or that such a creator has masculine properties. He then claims that the theistic God we have discovered is consistent with the God of the Bible, but we have discovered him without use of the Bible (p 198). Have we been reading the same book?

Even more confusingly, the author claims that only the monotheistic religions can be true, while grouping pantheistic and polytheistic religions as nontheistic (p 198). He claims that the existence of a theistic God disproves polytheism because God is infinite and there cannot be more than one infinite being (p 199). He claims that this follows from the cosmological argument because god is outside time, space, and matter. It appears that he’s using his own definitions of what outside space-time might mean, because he has not presented any argument that the beginning of the universe having a cause has a direct relationship to having one infinite creator. This is a prime example of why I am frustrated with this book: the author will bring up a new statement and claim that it is proven by a previous point, when in fact it is not trivial.

Ah, another underhanded slam against atheists. If you’re beginning to find it obnoxious that I keep pointing these out, maybe that should make you think about how frequent they are. The communication of god can be easily ignored by those who freely decide that they don’t want to be bothered by God, eh? Not those who decide that the evidence doesn’t lead to the existence of god after serious study and thought, because in Geisler’s world, those people don’t seem to exist. Those who reject the Bible are characterized as those who don’t want to be bothered (p 201).

The author suggests that god doesn’t appear to each one of us because he doesn’t want to interfere with our free will (p 200). This is a significant departure from the reformed Christianity that my family believes and that I was taught by my family was the correct doctrine. I would like to see this speculation backed up by Biblical theology. The author goes on to say that miracles could be god’s way of authenticating his message. He gives another terrible analogy that would only work on someone completely unfamiliar with theism. The problem here is that we keep circling back around to things we covered earlier. He says that we know beyond a reasonable doubt that a theistic god exists (p 203), and I assert that he did not demonstrate that. I have now spent several pages raising reasonable doubts that he did not cover in his arguments.  Since this is the basis by which he establishes his argument for miracles, I must insist that the argument for miracles is baseless unless the points against the earlier argument are addressed sufficiently.

The author covers two objections against miracles. First, natural laws are immutable. He correctly points out that natural laws are descriptive rather than prescriptive (p 204), but fails to show any evidence for violations of natural law that have been observed and documented in any quantitative manner. Second, miracles are not credible. He addresses Hume’s argument and claims that he has several counterexamples of the evidence for the rare being greater than the evidence of the regular (p 206). He claims that the origin of the universe happened only once, but cannot show that there are no other universes similar to our own. He claims that the origin of life happened only once, but cannot show that there are no other lifeforms outside our own planet. He claims that the entire history of the world is comprised of rare, unrepeatable events. In this, he appears to be mistaking specificity for rarity, and comprised for composed.

The alleged flaws in Hume’s arguments are first that it confuses believability with possibility. Here, the author is being a bit disingenuous, since the argument against miracles addressed here is that they are not credible, and not that they are impossible. Second, Hume allegedly confuses probability with evidence. Didn’t the author previously use the improbability that the universe would have evolved to support life as an argument against natural evolution? No matter, the problem with this argument is that a miracle is not simply a rare event, but one that conflicts with observed natural laws. (See http://blog.evangelicalrealism.com/2008/06/27/xfiles-friday-the-one-legged-straw-man/ for a more complete discussion). Third, belief in miracles is ruled out in advance because Hume presupposes that there is uniform evidence against them. I will only observe that the Christian also supposes that there is uniform evidence against events that go against the laws of nature except where the Christian god is evoked, and sometimes not even then. If I were to go to an educated Christian and tell him that I have observed a man floating in the air, will he exclaim that it must be an event that has gone against the law of gravity, or will he believe that there is a natural reason that makes it appear as if a man is floating, or will he simply believe that I have observed incorrectly?

At this point, it would be more useful for the author to present us with the miracles that he wishes for us to accept. He has the advantage that it is impossible to prove a universal negative, although if no examples of laws of nature being miraculously broken can be shown, accepting that laws of nature are true universally is a good assumption based on the evidence that we have been able to observe.

Book review frustration

I’ve been having a hard time getting through chapter 8 because there are a Lot of things that I want to respond to but the topics are all over the place and not linked together very coherently. I.e. there are a lot of things that are making me want to bash my head against the wall. Not because I’ve realized that I was wrong and Christianity is right. And not even because I’ve become more certain that I’m right. Mostly because of the writing structure and the authors’ amazing ability to claim that they’ve proven conclusions that they didn’t even discuss thoroughly.

That had me thinking about apologetics in general. I’ve read several, mostly while I was still a Christian or attempting to be one. In most of them, there’s a large extent to which they’re preaching to the choir. They’re explaining things to Christians who aren’t clear on their theology, reassuring doubters, and answering questions for people who are inclined toward Christianity to begin with. I have yet to read anything that is truly persuasive toward those who are not inclined toward Christianity, and I must say that Geisler and Turek’s snide and condescending tone toward atheists as a general class has emotionally turned me off to their book, just as their incomplete presentation of complex arguments has turned me off intellectually. Even as a Christian, I was more of the mind that if the Bible is the word of god, it should speak for itself.

I’ve continued to be busy with work because my company has been acquired by a much larger company. Although the amount of paperwork and new policies has been daunting, so far it has been exceedingly positive. There are a lot of learning resources, 401k matching and good benefits, and several other perks. My actual job duties haven’t changed though.

I’m also reading Neuromancer, by William Gibson, whose book signing I attended this week with the Denver BWB, and have completed about 1/3 of a small stained glass piece.

Back to the grindstone

I’ve been in Blacksburg for the past two weeks and haven’t had time to write. Two weeks without coming home was a long time. But if we get a project in Hawaii which would necessitate a long trip, I won’t be complaining. Between vacation and business trips and some work related changes, I haven’t  had time to get into any sort of routine recently. I wouldn’t want to give up flexibility and travel to do the same things every week, but I now feel disoriented and can’t decide if I should commit to any weekly activities when I know there’s a good chance I’ll have to miss a lot of weeks. As for the being at home part, THIS is pretty much exactly like my real life.

I’m going to make sure that I keep in touch with my friends. I’m going to invite my aunt and uncle to dinner. I’m going to go to the next town social meeting. I’m going to the company bowling outing even though I don’t like bowling. I want them to give me an office. And right now, I’m going to go boil some eggs.