CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Atheist Rage and Venom

Dec 3, 2006

I have mentioned before Richard Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion. While familiar with some of his earlier work, I have yet to fully read this latest offering from the Oxford scientist, evolutionist and atheist. Until I do, I can rely on the reviews of others to get a good idea about how this book will unfold. Indeed, given his earlier writings, it is not hard to guess what the book will be like.

Terry Eagleton of Manchester University in the UK has penned a good critique of it in the October 19, 2006 London Review of Books. Eagleton is certainly no bosom buddy of religion. He is a philosopher, literary critic and Marxist theorist. Yet he finds this offering of Dawkins to be juvenile and presumptuous.

This is how Eagleton begins his piece: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be.”

The rest of the review continues in similar fashion. Dawkins simply offers a broad brush approach to an immensely complex topic, and thinks he is doing us a favour. He offers a straw man version of belief, knocks it over, and thinks he has won a major intellectual battle. Says Eagleton,

“What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them? Or does he imagine like a bumptious young barrister that you can defeat the opposition while being complacently ignorant of its toughest case? Dawkins, it appears, has sometimes been told by theologians that he sets up straw men only to bowl them over, a charge he rebuts in this book; but if The God Delusion is anything to go by, they are absolutely right. As far as theology goes, Dawkins has an enormous amount in common with Ian Paisley and American TV evangelists. Both parties agree pretty much on what religion is; it’s just that Dawkins rejects it while Oral Roberts and his unctuous tribe grow fat on it.”

Dawkins simply sees all religious adherents as country bumpkins, rabid fundamentalists, and brainless zombies. That may be true of some believers – and some non-believers as well – but not all. But Dawkins is not one to fine tune his argument. “Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly. Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that. For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief. (Where, given that he invites us at one point to question everything, is Dawkins’s own critique of science, objectivity, liberalism, atheism and the like?) Reason, to be sure, doesn’t go all the way down for believers, but it doesn’t for most sensitive, civilised non-religious types either. Even Richard Dawkins lives more by faith than by reason. We hold many beliefs that have no unimpeachably rational justification, but are nonetheless reasonable to entertain.”

Given that he is an unbeliever, Eagleton has a better grasp of theology than do many Christians – and certainly better than the shallow caricatures thrown up by Dawkins. Consider just one example: “Because the universe is God’s, it shares in his life, which is the life of freedom. This is why it works all by itself, and why science and Richard Dawkins are therefore both possible. The same is true of human beings: God is not an obstacle to our autonomy and enjoyment but, as Aquinas argues, the power that allows us to be ourselves. Like the unconscious, he is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He is the source of our self-determination, not the erasure of it. To be dependent on him, as to be dependent on our friends, is a matter of freedom and fulfilment. Indeed, friendship is the word Aquinas uses to characterise the relation between God and humanity.”

Eagleton even has a pretty good grasp of what the Christian life is all about. “Dawkins thinks it odd that Christians don’t look eagerly forward to death, given that they will thereby be ushered into paradise. He does not see that Christianity, like most religious faiths, values human life deeply, which is why the martyr differs from the suicide. The suicide abandons life because it has become worthless; the martyr surrenders his or her most precious possession for the ultimate well-being of others. This act of self-giving is generally known as sacrifice, a word that has unjustly accrued all sorts of politically incorrect implications.”

There have been plenty of skeptics before Dawkins who despised the notions of ‘pie in the sky’ and spoke of religion as being the opium of the masses. “It was, of course, Marx who coined that last phrase; but Marx, who in the same passage describes religion as the ‘heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions’, was rather more judicious and dialectical in his judgment on it than the lunging, flailing, mispunching Dawkins.”

He continues, “Now it may well be that all this is no more plausible than the tooth fairy. Most reasoning people these days will see excellent grounds to reject it. But critics of the richest, most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook. The mainstream theology I have just outlined may well not be true; but anyone who holds it is in my view to be respected, whereas Dawkins considers that no religious belief, anytime or anywhere, is worthy of any respect whatsoever. This, one might note, is the opinion of a man deeply averse to dogmatism. Even moderate religious views, he insists, are to be ferociously contested, since they can always lead to fanaticism.”

The distortions and misrepresentations of belief by Dawkins can simply be put down to his intense and overriding hatred of religion. He just cannot find a good thing to say about faith or religion. “Such is Dawkins’s unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history – and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry. He is like a man who equates socialism with the Gulag. Like the puritan and sex, Dawkins sees God everywhere, even where he is self-evidently absent. He thinks, for example, that the ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland would evaporate if religion did, which to someone like me, who lives there part of the time, betrays just how little he knows about it.”

Eagleton agrees with Dawkins that there is much about religious fundamentalism in all forms that is abhorrent. But he argues that religion is more than just what the fundamentalists make it out to be. Thus he concludes, “Dawkins could have told us all this without being so appallingly bitchy about those of his scientific colleagues who disagree with him, and without being so theologically illiterate. He might also have avoided being the second most frequently mentioned individual in his book – if you count God as an individual.”

Believers of course will not agree with everything that Eagleton has to say in this lengthy and important review. But they will find much to agree with him about. There is nothing wrong with atheists making their case against religion. But it is hoped that a better case will be made than the one made here by Dawkins.

www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/eagl01_.html

[1410 words]

39 Responses to Atheist Rage and Venom

  • Well written Bill – Spot on comment.
    One has to say about Dawkin’s raving that I think “he protesteth too much”. A sign that perhaps he is being challenged by his own mind!
    Let us pray that the scales will fall from his eyes and mind and that the living Christ will be revealed to him.

    Peter Stokes, Melbourne

  • Eagleton can see what Dawkins can’t – that for believers and unbelievers alike “reason doesn’t go all the way down”. In other words, both the theist and atheist hold their foundational presuppositions by faith. So far we are equal.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • We see a rational and scientific (observation and inference) mind commenting on an emotional and bigoted (closed to all other arguments) argument. The hypocrisy is that Dawkins accuses religion of being emotional and bigoted.

    Frank Jacobsen

  • Peter Stokes, who wrote the comment above (4.12.06/10am) has just informed me by email that he has not read Dawkins’ book and doen’t “need to”. The religion Dawkins is talking about is exactly the religion of Peter Stokes. It is no straw man.

    Neil Crellin

  • Thanks Neil
    I can’t speak for Peter here, but I am reading the book and will be reviewing it shortly. However I can quite understand why many would not want to dish out the $35 or so to read a book which is so full of bile, intolerance, bigotry and, well, fundamentalism.

    Any disinterested party reading the book would note that Dawkins is on a crusade. He has all the zeal of any religious fanatic, he relies of generalisations, stereotypes and red herrings, and he shows no tolerance or openness to opposing points of view.

    While it may be my job to read many of these quite distasteful rants and then review them, it is quite to be expected that most would want to stay clear of such polemics. Instead of picking on other bloggers, I urge you to read nonbeliever Eagleton’s thoughtful review.

    If some believers seem closed to discussion and debate, it is quite clear that Dawkins is as well. He is simply on an atheistic jihad, and is as dangerous and fanatical as any person of faith has ever been.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dawkins presents a ‘basic’ precis of religion because religion doesn’t get past first base. Atheists don’t need deep covoluted arguments because the statement ‘God doesn’t exist’ cannot be refuted.
    The Bible begins “in the beginning God……..” which establishes nothing. Dawkins argues the onus (as in all good Skepticism) rests with the claimant. There is nothing to prove – it is just a delusion, a quaint one in some cases but a delusion just the same.
    Bill’s comment above contains no material criticism of the book; it is a rant not a reasoned response.

    Bob Bruce – Qskeptics

  • Dear Sir,
    If a religious believer cannot provide evidence to prove his basic contention that God exists, then his beliefs are no more valid than a fairy story. Not that I think that anything you ever read will change your fixed mind, eh?

    As William Penn wrote, “No man ever changed his religious opinion because of a rational arguement” (Or similar words to the same effect.)

    Religion is for people too timid to face the wondrous reality of the universe. The universe made itself! If you assert that God made it, then who made God?

    Without tangible proof of the existence of a God then all religion is just an intellectual card house for second rate minds.

    I do not imagine that you are still reading, but just in case, farewell. I do hope that you eventually come to accept the great reality, that you God worship is just a silly fantasy, but I do not think you will ever see reality.

    Fred Thornett

  • Thanks Bob
    But I have not yet reviewed the book, so you will of course not yet find any “material criticism of the book”. My comment was a response to another blogger.

    And a rant is a bombastic or loud scolding. To say Dawkins’ book is full of generalisations and the like is simply making a claim, which any objective reader of the book can decide whether or not is true.

    And to dismiss believers as deluded is hardly offering an argument. It is simply name calling. You will have to do better than that. And by the way, is nonbeliever Eagleton deluded as well? Is that how you deal with anyone you disagree with? To simply say they are involved in delusion? Not much weighty argumentation there.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Fred
    This post of course had nothing to do with proving the existence of God. It had to do with a nonbeliever taking very real exception to what he regarded was a juvenile and intolerant book. That is the subject at hand. The real issue is, what does one make of Eagleton’s critique? I look forward to you dealing with his criticism, instead of getting off track.

    Moreover, it is interesting to read of your absolute certainty about these matters. If a person were born colour blind he would be quite sure that colour does not exist, and would regard it as a “silly fantasy”.

    But, one might reply, he could take the word of others. Quite so, and theists do the same. Among other things, we take the word of one who claimed to come from God and reveal God. His truth claims can be discussed and debated. His historicity and miraculous actions can be weighed and assessed. His life and teaching are open to the public record, and those not afraid of seeking after truth may find themselves convinced by his words and deeds.

    But as you say, if you are sure colour does not exist, no amount of evidence or argument to the contrary will change your mind. Thus your “reality” will be very narrow indeed.

    By the way, you and Penn are quite wrong, so I need to call your bluff. I once was an atheist. After examining the evidence I did change my mind. Many millions of other people have also made such a change, based on a careful consideration of the evidence. And many of these were great scientists, philosophers, doctors, lawyers, statesmen, and so on. To simply dismiss them as people of “second rate minds” is another example of your reliance on ad hominem attacks instead of proper argumentation and logic.

    I would urge you to also approach the evidence with an open mind, if you are really interested in truth. You might be glad you did.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill, I have not yet read Eagletons critique, but to accuse Dawkins of lacking in knowledge of Theology is missing the point. Theology comes into play only after the acceptance of completely unfounded assumptions of the existence of supernatural beings and forces. I feel quite qualified to criticise those who think that the alignment of planets affects our future lives, even though I do not have intimate knowledge of the details of which planet in ascendency in some constellation bodes well for my investments in the stock market. It is superstitious nonsense until proved otherwise.
    Similarly, until religious people have more evidence than assertion and subjective conviction, they have no right to be taken seriously. Religion is making several scientific claims about the very beginning of the universe, and the behaviour of matter and energy. Dawkins rightly requires evidence for these claims, not merely assertions based on the writings of a backward and oppressed people of thousands of years ago.

  • Thanks Neil
    But now you have me really confused. In your first comment you take a believer to task, suggesting he was guilty of a great sin: living in ignorance. Yet now you inform us that you are perfectly happy to live in ignorance. Which claim of yours do you want us to believe?

    And yes, it is apparent that you have not yet read Eagleton. I still await your interaction with him, which was the real subject of this post. Or will you simply dismiss him as “backward and oppressed” as well?

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Ewan said: “In other words, both the theist and atheist hold their foundational presuppositions by faith.” I’d like to dispute that if I may.

    Imagine a person who simply doesn’t think about God in any way. That person is an atheist, no? But would you claim that person held “…their foundational presuppositions by faith…”?

    Peter Barrett

  • Those that attack Dawkins do so on the grounds that he does not understand theology and that he does not understand their God’s world. This proves nothing more than the fact that those who are deluded commonly deny they are deluded. That the book fails to shake these delusions is not the fault of the book, but of the reader.

    John Perkins

  • Thanks John
    But many other criticisms of Dawkins can be made than just his sophomoric understanding of what he seeks here to attack, namely theology. And other critics have done just that. So the theology issue is just a small part of why so many people – and not just theists – find Dawkins’ polemics to be frustrating, crude and often lacking in substance.

    And it is far from sufficient for the anti-religion mob to simply label theists as being deluded. This is certainly not intelligent, cogent, nor informed argumentation, simply juvenile name-calling. One expects better from those who claim to be champions of reason. It simply seems to indicate that some minds are closed, refusing to actually explore new ideas or possibilities. Many would argue that such epistemological arrogance is the real delusion.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Well it seems the disciples of Saint Dawkins have come out in force to defend the honour of the high priest of the evolution religion.

    When I said that both the theist and atheist hold their foundational presuppositions by faith, I was referring to the atheist axiom of philosophical naturalism (also called materialism) in contrast to the supernaturalism of the theist.

    But don’t take my word for it, read this revealing statement by Professor Richard Lewontin, one of the world’s leaders in evolutionary biology:

    “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • The reason that theists find Dawkins crude and frustrating is that the have no answer to his arguments, apart from to say that reason isn’t everything and that he has little knowlede of faith. But faith is not a basis for any sound epistemology, rather is a corruption of it, as faith is either arbitrarily chosen or predetermined by socialisation.

    If theists were honest, the would admit that Dawkins is right, that there is no rational basis for their beliefs, but they want to believe them any way, becasue it makes them feel better. But then they would have to confront the logical absudity of their position, as well as acknowledge responsibility for the dire global circumstances that religions now cause. Far easier for them to resort to abusive denial, which is what we clearly here observe.

    Consider this: if religions were true, they would not be religions.

    John Perkins

  • Ewan tosses the word “religion” around rather loosely. I always understood that religion was believing in a supernatural being. Evolution is not about belief. It is about evidence. Evolution now has so much overwhelming evidence in its favout from many fields – geology, archaeology, palaeontology, biology, zoology etc etc. that it is now regarded as a fact. This debate has been over for many years. The last nail in the coffin of creationism was driven by Watson and Crick.
    Interesting that the most secular countries in the world have the least murder, rape, suicide (Gregory S Paul writing in the Journal Of Religion and society).

    Neil Crellin

  • Sorry John, but it is the galling arrogance, intolerance and bigotry found in Dawkins’ polemic that so many people find repulsive. His arguments are stock standard atheist rhetoric, which many intellectuals, scientists, philosophers and theorists have all capably responded to over the years.

    Dawkins’ view is extremely reductionist, excluding everything that does fit into his materialistic framework. And it is one that the majority of mankind does not subscribe to. That is why so many people are concerned by his narrow and dogmatic agenda.

    And it is the atheists who regularly resort to “abusive denial”. By dismissing the faith of billions of people around the world as “arbitrarily chosen or predetermined by socialization” they once again show just how intolerant they are of others, and how closed they are to admitting there may be more truth in the world than what their narrow framework will allow for.

    I have already stated that I was not born into faith, but I came to it by rational decision. Yet all you can do is dismiss me and my decision as delusion. That is why so much of the world’s population will never embrace atheism. The intolerance, narrow-mindedness and prejudice is just too much for most people to stomach.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • How easily John’s words can be applied to his own side:

    “If [a]theists were honest, they would admit that Dawkins is [wrong], that there is no rational basis for their beliefs, but they want to believe them anyway, because it makes them feel better. But then they would have to confront the logical absurdity of their position, as well as acknowledge responsibility for the dire global circumstances that [humanistic] religions now cause. Far easier for them to resort to abusive denial, which is what we clearly here observe.”

    And for Neil: evolution is not a fact and it is not about evidence, it is believed by faith and this is what makes it ‘religious’. Evolution is simply an interpretation of evidence, and this interpretation is based upon assumptions and presuppositions, not facts. As a biblical creationist, I can look at the same evidence as an evolutionist but because I have different presuppositions I come to a completely different conclusion. The question is who’s interpretation is more consistent with the evidence? This is where the creationist interpretation wins out.

    At least creationists are honest enough to admit we interpret the evidence in the light of our presuppositions, evolutionists on the other hand either can’t see or won’t admit that they do exactly the same. As Eagleton said, for believers and unbelievers alike “reason doesn’t go all the way down”. A challenge for you: Show us one ‘fact’ about evolution that doesn’t involve assumptions.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Dear Bill,
    I get the impression that some of those corresponding with you think that all who are not bigotted believers think Dawkins book is wonderful. I admit I had expected that to be the case. So was very surprized by the Book Club on ABC TV Sunday evening 6pm . We were about to go to Church so didn’t give it as much concentration as I should have. However it was a surprise. Although the reviewers seem to have enjoyed it, Germaine Greer said “..some bad, some very bad science……its a mess”
    The RC priest said that he enjoyed reading it then went happily to celebrate mass.
    Anyhow you need not believe me look up the Tuesday Book Club ABC TV Sunday evening.
    Katherine Fishley, Wantirna

  • Dawkins is perfectly logical. Within the evolutionary worldview there is no need or room for the supernatural. Everything can be explained by evolution: geology, biology, astronomy, geography, AND religion.

    Within that view, religion is an invention of the human mind because God does not exist. Basically, all our secular institutions are working within that worldview, so the head of the religion department at the UofQ is an atheist. Perfectly logical in a secular evolutionary worldveiw.

    And Christians often reinforces Dawkin’s view because we only speak against error in areas of morality but not in other areas of astronomy, biology, anthropology and geology.

    For example, when was the last time you heard a Christian refute the notion that the Aboriginal people have been in Australia for 40,000 years and insist that they came here after the Flood in the last 4,500 years?

    Tas Walker

  • One wonders how Richard Dawkins would act when he is told he has a tumor and must put his faith in a Surgeon he has never met and only been introduced to by his Christian GP. The only thing he has to go by is a certificate on the Surgeon’s wall descibing his qualifications.
    This is not all that different from the Bible describing the qualifications of a transcendant God and His image or expression, having visited this earth – Jesus.
    Dawkins has to make an emotional, faith inspired, decision – do I trust this surgeon or do I die? Why must I hold on to this life?
    Since Dawkins has not put forward any purpose for the life we/he now lives I guess he might opt to die but I doubt it. How do you trust this life giving Surgeon you do not know?

    Neil Ryan, Melbourne

  • John, your comment (8.12.06/11am) forgets that Eagleton is not a believer.

    I find it surprising that some irreligious fundamentalists claim to uphold science yet try to deny one of the widely-held beliefs of the philosophy of science: that all theories, when dug into deeply enough, are based on an assertion that has not been proven. At some point, every theory, even “scientific” ones, are based on an assertion that has not been proven, and therefore is to some degree held by faith. Of course most scientists owe any success they have to the fact they rightly do not spend too much time thinking about this: they just get on with trying to explain their perception of reality. Thank goodness.

    However, I think of a quote from a school essay that read something like, “Neutrons came into existence in 1932.” Do you think that neutrons just might have existed before they were “scientifically” discovered c.1932? Had no-one experienced the effect of neutrons before they were first “scientifically” “seen”? Is quantum physics wrong because it does not seem logical to most people? Let’s be reasonable. Beliefs should be judged on their own terms, not by applying straw men, or by applying reasoning that defeats the critic’s own arguments.

    If God does not exist because a critic can’t measure God by their own standards, then by that same reasoning, neutrons did not exist before 1932 (or some other similarly recent date).

    I can understand that someone might choose to live by a belief that God does not exist. But I do not understand how anyone can credibily reject the possibility that (a) God might exist. Such a view would seem a little narrow minded, or even arrogant.

    James Wheeler

  • I am sorry for entering this discussion late but having read all your comments with great interest I thought there were some points I would like to bring to the table in response to what both sides of the debate are saying.

    In response to Ewan’s first point I would say that I do not agree that theists and atheists equally hold their positions by faith if faith is meant by a non rational trust in certain propositions regarding how the world is. I think it is best to see them both as explanatory hypothesis where their truth is determined according to how well they can account for the evidence from science, philosophy, sociology, psychology etc. Because they both posit a worldview about how the world is on a grand scale then a best explanatory hypothesis approach needs to be taken to see which one explains the most about life and which is simplest (simplicity of explanation you will recall is a virtue of a scientific explanation that needs to be taken into consideration when testing between hypothesis).

    To set the tables we have two predictive approaches. One posits God as the ultimate in the universe whereas most atheists would say it is the material space/time universe that constitutes all there is. This is one area where say cosmology can put to the test the two worldview approaches.

    If the evidence comes out in favour of a finite universe where agency is the best solution to how the universe came into existence then Christianity will have more epistemic merit, but if the evidence increases in favour of an infinite universe where chance and necessity has created everything, then atheism has faired better.

    I would say the growing evidence from big bang cosmology would overwhelmingly favour the theist position, not to mention the various philosophical arguments in favour of finite time and space. And if space and time are finite then scientific causality has not always existed so the only other suitable cause would be an agent acting freely and rationally to bring the universe into existence.

    Anyway this is just an example of how the Christian and atheist worldviews can be put to the test and actually be given a fruitful job of predicting further scientific and philosophical research and discovery. I suggest this is where the discussion should run instead of just flinging mud at one another where nothing gets acheived.

    My two cents 🙂

    Damien Spillane

  • I would like to respond to Qskeptic above, who said:

    “The Bible begins “in the beginning God……..” which establishes nothing. Dawkins argues the onus (as in all good Skepticism) rests with the claimant. There is nothing to prove – it is just a delusion, a quaint one in some cases but a delusion just the same.”

    Actually I would concede that there is a burden of proof on the Bible when it makes a statement such that Genesis 1:1 makes: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The Bible is asserting (from the Hebrew it is more clear) creation out of nothing in this passage, in other words it is stating that the universe was created from nothing; that all space, time, matter and energy had a beginning a finite time ago (it doesn’t specify how long ago).

    This is a testable statement indeed! It can be tested through cosmology. One should ask “is the evidence for big bang cosmology (an event that signalled the beginning of all space, time, matter and energy a finite time ago) growing or shrinking?”

    If the evidence for the big bang grows then so do the theistic implications of that event, Paul Davies says this about the big bang

    “An initial cosmological singularity . . . forms a past temporal extremity to the universe. We cannot continue physical reasoning, or even the concept of spacetime, through such an extremity. . . . On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.”

    This is where scientific/materialist explanations breakdown and personal explanations kick in. Agent causation is the only hypothesis left standing if the big bang (and the singularity) becomes established.

    I welcome other viewpoints and more clarification from others on these issues.

    Damien Spillane

  • To Damien: I agree with the way you explain the issue of competing “explanatory hypotheses” but I would not describe the type of faith to which I was referring as “non rational trust”. I would say that biblical faith is a rational trust. The atheist evolutionist, if he even recognises the fact that his worldview hypothesis is based upon the axiom of naturalism, would say that if he has ‘faith’ then it is an entirely rational ‘trust’ in naturalism. To which I would say that because so much of evolutionary theory (especially in biology) is contradicted both by the established laws of physics and the fossil record, then such ‘faith’ in naturalistic evolution is irrational or blind.

    On the subject of cosmology: because big-bang cosmology tends to suggest a finite universe and hence that it has a beginning which in turn requires a cause (God), many Christians are tempted to adopt the big-bang model for use as an apologetic for the truth of Christianity. The danger in this is that there is much about big-bang cosmology that contradicts the Genesis creation account. Additionally, the evidence for the big-bang model is not growing but shrinking as more and more contrary evidence is accumulating against it.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Ewan

    I would definately agree with you that Biblical faith is a rational trust. If the Bible didn’t stand up to the evidence and couldn’t explain the evidence we see from science, philosophy, history etc then I would not be a Christian. I would also agree that atheism/naturalism as an explanatory hypothesis succeeds less than Christianity in explaining the evidence. I also believe that naturalism fails the simplicity criterion as an explanation compared to the Christian interpretation.

    I do not agree with your comments on big bang cosmology however. The BB does not contradict Genesis at all, in fact it is in stunning agreement. Just think about it. BB says that all time, space, matter and energy came into existence 13.7b years ago. This is essentially what the doctrine of creation ex nihilo would predict and Gen 1:1 when understood (preferably with a good understanding of the Hebrew) correctly, actually spells out the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. This is precisely why naturalists and atheists have fought so vehemently against it when compared to other new scientific theories over the years.

    Now I presume that you are a rather vehement Young Earth Creationist because there are usually only two kinds of people that fight against the BB; these are YEC and metaphysical naturalists, and I am sure you are not a member of the latter camp. It has been my experience that YEC that fight so fiercly against the extensive evidence for the BB come to the table with an all too simple (and hence overly literalistic) interpretation of Gen 1 that fails to take the rest of the Bible into account. They then push that interpretation on to any scientific evidence that comes down the pipe with an all too constrained result.

    There are actually multiple independent lines of evidence that support BB cosmology. Much of the individual evidences is enough to support the theory on its own, but together they constitute a powerful case for this Biblical theory of origins that only an overly simple, narrow and dogmatic interpretation of Genesis could contradict.

    Just my two cents. I welcome other’s perspective on all this as well 🙂

    Damien Spillane

  • Damien,

    Yes I am a YEC. The BB theory certainly does contradict Genesis in many ways: Both the time frame and the order of events contradicts the Genesis account. Additionally it should be noted that the theory is based upon naturalistic (and in some cases counter-intuitive) assumptions about the nature of the universe and is an overt attempt to explain the creation of the cosmos without God. I presume you are familiar with YEC arguments on the BB, but here is a link for your interest: http://www.creationontheweb.com/content/view/2019/

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Ewan

    How could a theory that posits the origin of the universe (beginning of space, time, matter and energy) possibly be based upon naturalistic assumptions? It implies the exact opposite to what naturalism is. Naturalism says that the universe is all that exists and explains all that we know. BB cosmology states that the universe had a beginning and there must by implication be a Creator that transcends the universe to bring it into existence. How would naturalism lead to a theory that actually disproves it? And why did so many atheist/naturalist scientists fight so vehemently against it? Even many of them noted the theistic implications of BB cosmology.

    I will take a look at the website in the next few days and comment on that.

    Damien Spillane

  • Damien,

    If BB cosmology so clearly points to a creator then why are the bulk of it’s adherents in the scientific community still atheists?

    The main reason the BB theory was initially ridiculed by the scientific community (the term ‘big-bang’ was initially coined by an opponent of the theory who sought to ridicule the idea) is because it challenged the then ruling paradigm. The BB theory has since become the ruling paradigm in cosmology and now anyone who questions it’s validity is likewise ridiculed.

    One of those naturalistic and unbiblical assumptions foundational to the BB theory is that the earth is located nowhere special in the universe. This leads onto the next assumption that the universe has no centre and no edge (unbounded). This assumption is necessary to avoid the conclusion derived from red-shift observations that the earth is somewhere near the centre of the universe. However, from a biblical perspective it is perfectly logical to assume that the earth could be at or near the centre of the universe. This would be the simplest explanation for the observed uniformity of the red-shifts and avoids the need to make complicated and counter-intuitive assumptions about an unbounded cosmos.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Ewan

    I realise this is getting way off topic and I hope Bill won’t mind me continuing down this path.

    The fact that many scientists are not persuaded from BB to theism is not sufficient evidence against the theistic implications of BB. Many biologists don’t accept the obvious design in biological systems as evidence of God’s creative work yet would you deny the theistic implications of much of biology?

    You have to deal with the fact that the BB spells the beginning of space, time, matter and energy and that only a transcendent Agent can create such. This is especially obvious if you couple the BB with the kalam cosmological argument as the likes of William Lane Craig have done.

    ‘The main reason the BB theory was initially ridiculed by the scientific community (the term ‘big-bang’ was initially coined by an opponent of the theory who sought to ridicule the idea) is because it challenged the then ruling paradigm.’

    yes you are right that the BB challenged the ruling paradigm which was Newtonian in nature; pointing to the eternality of the universe and the infinite causal regress of natural processes. When space and time are finite then scientific cause and effect shuts down. This is what struck the naturalists as absurd because they couldn’t imagine a nonempirical cause for the universe.

    ‘The BB theory has since become the ruling paradigm in cosmology and now anyone who questions it’s validity is likewise ridiculed.’

    That ridicule is probably warranted, just as those who believe in a flat earth deserve some degree of ridicule for refusing to believe the overwhelming evidence in defiance of their belief. As I stated there are multiple independent lines of evidence pointing to the origin of the universe 14 billion years ago. There is even direct obvervational evidence in the form of distant galaxies (distance is equal to time, so far away galaxies would be part of a younger universe) that obviously look more dense and closely packed which is exactly what the expanding BB would predict and not what a young earth Russell Humphries-like model would expect.

    As I have stated before, the only reason for denying the myriads of evidence for the BB is as one under the dogma and narrowness of a particular interpretation of Gen 1 that isolates itself from other Bible passages, it is either that or atheistic naturalism.

    ‘One of those naturalistic and unbiblical assumptions foundational to the BB theory is that the earth is located nowhere special in the universe.’

    What you are referring to is the Copernican principle; which states that we are in a nonuniqe position in the universe, this is stated against the background of a supposed belief that predecessors held Earth to be center of the solar system and hence special. The fallacy here of young earth reasoning (and the Copernican advocates) is that non-centeredness equals non-uniqueness. Of course it does not. And the fact that the universe doesn’t have a centre and hence we are not at it, does not imply that we are not special. This is a non-sequitur. So the BB is not unbiblical in this sense.

    Actually the likes of Hugh Ross, William Lane Craig, Robin Collins etc have pointed out that there is enormous amounts of design built in to the BB to ensure that human beings would exist (for more info read Strobel’s Case for a Creator). The physical constants and laws of physics show remarkable fine-tuning. So not only does the BB show the existence of a transcendent causal agent but also that that cause is personal and intelligent on an immense scale. This is far from any concept of ‘unbiblical’.

    Damien Spillane

  • Damien,

    A young-earth view of Genesis, rather than being “isolate[d]……from other Bible passages” as you suggest, is actually more consistent with the whole of Scripture than are the old-earth compromise theories.

    Nowhere did I say that the earth has to be considered central to be considered unique. What I did say is that the BB assumption of an unbounded universe is an arbitrary assumption based upon a naturalistic understanding of the non-uniqueness of earth (the Copernican principle). This is why I say that the BB theory is a naturalistic theory that attempts to explain the evolution of the universe in naturalistic terms.

    Earlier you asked how a “theory that posits the origin of the universe [could] possibly be based upon naturalistic assumptions?” I have provided the evidence but you have yet to challenge it.

    I still claim that evidence is accumulating against the BB theory. Even your example of distant galaxies is problematic for BB cosmology in that they appear too mature for their assumed BB age. (BTW, your statement that “distance is equal to time, so far away galaxies would be part of a younger universe”, is based upon assumption.)

    That the “physical constants and laws of physics show remarkable fine-tuning” is true but has noting whatsoever to do with BB cosmology.

    A further problem with incorporating BB cosmology into a Christian apologetic is that it leads adherents on to accepting the naturalistic interpretation of the geological history of the earth. Then that leads on to other compromises such as denying the global nature of Noah’s flood.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Ewan

    You state this…

    “A young-earth view of Genesis, rather than being “isolate[d]……from other Bible passages” as you suggest, is actually more consistent with the whole of Scripture than are the old-earth compromise theories.”

    I maintain that the YEC view of Gen 1, that of seeing them as literally 24hr periods can only be done so by isolating the chapter from the rest of scripture rather than letting scripture interpret itself. I can explain:

    Gen 2 makes it very clear that the sixth day could not possibly have been 24 hrs. You must remember that it is here that the passage narrows in on the sixth day since it is after Adam was created but before Eve. The passage telescopes in on the Garden of Eden where God creates the Garden. The text said it hadn’t yet rained (hence we are under ordinary providence) which was the reason there were no plants. Verse 5-7 describe a time of year when it was dry which would make good sense of these passages, the wet season then comes and the plants grow under God’s providence. But if we are under ordinary providence which we clearly are, then it is going to take at least weeks for the correct season to come and the plants to grow through watering.

    But this isn’t all that happens on the sixth day. God makes land animals and Adam, plants Garden and moves Adam there, gives him instructions, gives him the job to search for a helper, puts him to sleep and extracts a rib to make Eve. Then when Adam sees Eve he proclaims “this at last”. Clearly indicating a long time has passed. There is no chance this is all going to occur in 24 hours.

    Another text is Heb 4 which says clearly, and even quotes the passage, that we are right now in God’s seventh day of rest. There is even a direct quote of Gen 2:2 about God’s seventh day of rest so that the reader doesn’t miss the point. AIG’s explanation of this is extremely weak and I can prove so if need be. Besides this in John 5:17 Jesus implicitly states that his Father is still working on His Sabbath just as Jesus is.

    But I could go on. Ex 31:17 Moses states that God was “refreshed”, (yes this is what it states in the Hebrew). Now if you are going to take a very literal view of the Genesis work week then you will have to conclude that God required refreshing, but this would be absurd. So it leads us to conclude that the work week is analogous to ours (anthropomorphic is probably more accurate) but not literally the same. Humans have biological requirements of rest after 8-12hrs work where God does not. So the time periods will be significantly different. Notice also if you compare the “evening was morning was” of Gen 1 with Num 9:15-16 you will see that the latter defines the night as between evening and morning. And Ps 104:23 puts sleeping time in the night time. So this particular part of Gen 1 is referring to the rest of the labourer after a hard day’s work. Now does God need to rest? Of course not, hence we have analogy (anthropomorphism), not literalism.

    Notice this all harmonises well with Ps 90:4 where it says that for God a day is as a thousand years. Thus we must not box God into human catergories and insist He work by human time periods.

    So far from compromising scripture, the analogical day view and hence old earth view is more harmonious with the totality of scripture and hence more Biblically faithful. If you want more info on the above then read John Collins’ Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?

    Damien Spillane

  • Ewan

    ‘Nowhere did I say that the earth has to be considered central to be considered unique. What I did say is that the BB assumption of an unbounded universe is an arbitrary assumption based upon a naturalistic understanding of the non-uniqueness of earth (the Copernican principle). This is why I say that the BB theory is a naturalistic theory that attempts to explain the evolution of the universe in naturalistic terms.’

    I can concede this Ewan but your argument did seem to go like this: The BB implies that the Earth is non-central to the universe, anything non-central to the universe can’t be special, therefore the BB implies that the Earth is not special. The problem is that the second premise in your argument is not true. All that is required is that there be fine-tuning from the moment of the BB. And this is clearly the case. But you don’t agree…

    ‘That the “physical constants and laws of physics show remarkable fine-tuning” is true but has noting whatsoever to do with BB cosmology.’

    This is a rather remarkable statement. It is very inaccurate. Just take the space-energy density, as the likes of Ross, Craig and Robins have shown, it is fine tuned to a remakable degree that chance would have no ability to show. This fine-tuning would have to be present from the very beginning of the expansion to make this argument work.

    ‘Earlier you asked how a “theory that posits the origin of the universe [could] possibly be based upon naturalistic assumptions?” I have provided the evidence but you have yet to challenge it.’

    Ewan I have gone back over your posts and the only evidence you gave that the BB is based on naturalistic premises was the one about the non-centred Earth (based on the unbounded universe). And I have dealt with that. But you are still yet to explain how a theory that posits the beginning of the universe would actually come from a naturalistic philosophy.

    Damien Spillane

  • Damien,

    On the issue of non-centrality equaling non-uniqueness, you are still using straw-man tactics here. My point never made such a claim and does not depend upon it. The BB theory does not “imply” non-centrality, it is an arbitrary assumption that lies at the foundation of BB cosmology. Such an assumption is naturalistic in origin as the inventors of the theory deliberately designed a hypothesis to explain cosmic evolution that did not assume the earth was near the centre of the universe (even though some observational data suggests that it is), because to assume otherwise would be a concession to what is implied by a biblical understanding of the cosmos.

    I am not saying that because BB cosmology has the earth nowhere special that it is naturalistic, I am saying that it is naturalistic because it is first assumed that the earth is nowhere special and the theory is based upon this assumption. That the earth is nowhere special is not derived from BB cosmology, it is an assumption that is built into the theory.

    The point about the fine-tuning of physical constants and laws of physics having noting whatsoever to do with BB cosmology, was that these are facts derived from the investigation of the physical creation, the truth of which does not depend upon the truth or otherwise of the BB theory. Your argument that the existence of finely tuned physical constants and laws of physics somehow supports the BB is circular.

    Although the BB theory posits a beginning to the universe it does not necessarily posit a supernatural beginning. Here there is much similarity to naturalistic evolution which posits a beginning to life but not necessarily a supernatural one. The problem with both of these evolutionary theories (cosmological and biological) is that both are based upon naturalistic assumptions and each propose a version of history that is in direct contradiction to biblical history.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Damien,

    On the issue of Genesis and creation, I presume that neither of us are Hebrew scholars therefore it is appropriate that we consider the opinion of the experts.

    Here is what Oxford Hebrew scholar, Professor James Barr (who is not a believer in YECism therefore he is a hostile witness) says about Genesis:

    “… probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:

    a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience

    b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story

    c) Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.”

    Hugh Ross doesn’t believe any of these things.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Thanks Damien and Ewan
    These posts are beginning to stray a bit from the original article (Dawkins’ book). So we might call an end to it here. The subject you two are debating is extremely important and very complex, so perhaps future posts of mine will deal more directly with it, and then the debate can continue!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Ewan did a fine job of turning John’s words against him. A promising young apologist Lita Cosner has done the same to one of Sam Harris’ misotheistic rants, A Dissent: The Case Against Faith: Religion does untold damage to our politics. An atheist’s lament. in her response An Apology: The Case Against Atheism: Atheism does untold damage to our society. A Christian’s Response.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • I recall the story of the two men, who despite one being a practising Christian and the other an athiest, were good friends.

    One day, leaving their wives to shop, they wandered into a museum. There was a working model of our Solar System. After watching it for a while, the athiest said “Gee, that’s terrific. “I wonder who built it.”

    To his surprise, the Christian said, “Nobody, it built itself.”
    ” Don’t be silly, how could it build itself?” said his friend, it must have had people to build it.”

    “Well” said the Christian, “you athiests claim the real Solar System built itself without the aid of a Supreme Being we call God.” “Now you can see how impossible that is.”
    AA Hoysted

Leave a Reply