The Blind Faith of Naturalism (Colson)

Growing up, I remember overhearing Chuck Colson’s “Breakpoint” from my mom’s kitchen radio.  Sometimes I would stop and listen.  I grew to appreciate his commentary, even though I didn’t always agree with all of it.  Here’s part of a previously unpublished memo of Colson’s from around 10 or 15 years ago:

It never ceases to amaze me that people are willing to bet their lives on naturalism; not only is it self-refuting, but to believe it is an act of supreme hubris.  I say supreme hubris because naturalism is the assumption that the only thing that can be known is that which you see and can validate with one of your five senses.  So what the naturalist is really saying is, if I can’t prove it’s true, then it can’t be true.  If I can’t, by physical observation, conclude something is real, then it can’t be real.

Of course, there are all kinds of things in life that we cannot see or apprehend with our senses that are nonetheless true, love being one of the most obvious.  The principle that allows an airplane to fly, the lift created by air traveling more slowly under the wings than over the wings, is a visible principle, but you can’t see the air actually moving.  It is measurable, of course, but still a certain amount of faith is involved in knowing anything.

Later Colson notes how naturalism is self-refuting because a naturalist presupposes that everything came about by chance, by evolution.  The naturalist says that reasonable, intelligent, and rational human beings evolved by chance mutations and evolutionary principles.  How can one prove this by physically observable facts?  Here’s Colson:

…To come to that conclusion, you’re relying on a brain and a thinking process that evolved by chance.  If it has evolved by chance, you have no idea whether it’s reliable.  Attempt to prove to me that an organ that evolved by chance is going to be reliable to always give you the right answer to any particular question.  Or prove to me that this organ has the capacity of knowledge, which is distinguishing what is real from what isn’t.  The answer, of course, is that you can never get there.

The naturalist is proceeding in blind faith.  He is defying what is self-evident, both in nature and the creation and in terms of our moral inclination.  He is, as C. S. Lewis said, like a man trying to lift himself up by grabbing himself by the collar and raising his hands.  He won’t get off the ground, but he will very likely strangle himself.

The naturalist is in the position of assuming that he knows everything he needs to know, and that everything that can be known is accessible to him through his senses.  It takes an extraordinary leap of faith to arrive at that conclusion.  But once you do, you have nothing.  You are defying the evidence.

Chuck Colson, My Final Word, p. 226-227.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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Robin Hood, History, and Neo-Atheists (Copan)

Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God Some people have “issues” with aspects of the Old Testament.  In the OT you find stories of stoning, incest, polygamy, bloody warfare, and so forth.  Neo-atheists try to make hay out of these OT stories and argue that God is immoral, unjust, blood-thirsty, hateful, and sexist (etc. etc.).  What do Christians do in light of such accusations?  Paul Copan gives some helps for Christians in his book Is God a Moral Monster?  I’ve mentioned this book here before, so I won’t give all the details again.  But I do want to quote a section that I’ve highlighted more than once, a section where Copan assess the anti-Christian arguments of many Neo-atheists.  I’ll summarize the first and third point, and spend a bit more time on the second point:

First, for all their emphasis on cool-headed, scientific rationality, Neo-atheists express themselves not just passionately but angrily. …Michael Novak, author of the thought-provoking book ‘No One Sees God,’ comments about the Neo-atheists’ writings that there’s ‘an odd defensiveness about all these books – as though they were a sign not of victory but desperation.”

Second, the Neo-atheists’ arguments against God are surprisingly flimsy, often resembling the simplistic village atheist far more than the credentialed academician.  The Neo-atheists are often profoundly ignorant of what they criticize, and they typically receive the greatest laughs and cheers from the philosophically and theologically challenged.  True, they effectively utilize a combination of emotion and verbal rhetoric, but they aren’t known for logically carrying thoughts through from beginning to end. …I’ve observed that while these men do have expertise in certain fields…, they turn out to be fairly disappointing when arguing against God’s existence or Christian doctrine.  And a quick check of Dawkins’ documentation reveals a lot more time spent on Google than at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.

“…Rodney Stark puts it this way: ‘To expect to learn anything about important theological problems from Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett is like expecting to learn about medieval history from someone who had only read ‘Robin Hood.””

Third, the New Atheists aren’t willing to own up to atrocities committed in the name of atheism by Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong, yet they expect Christians to own up to all the barbarous acts performed in Jesus’ name.  …I think the reason it’s difficult, if not impossible, for New Atheists to acknowledge immorality in the name of atheism is because it would take much wind out of their sails when criticizing religion.”

I appreciate these three points – and I recommend reading them in full.  They’re found in the first chapter of Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

“God is Dead:” Who Said It?

  NOTE: This is a re-blog from December, 2009.

Most of us have heard the phrase, “God is dead,” and we’ve probably even heard some say we’re living in the age where that mindset is prevalent.  Though many enemies of the gospel have said similar things throughout history, the penman of ’God is dead’ is the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (d. 1900).  I’ve read parts of Nietzsche before, including selections from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Ecce Homo, and Twilight of the Idols.  Nietzsche is an animal as far as writing goes; you don’t just read it and “get it.”  It takes time and patience – and the help of excellent books like The Shadow of the Antichrist (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) by Stephen Williams.

I agree with Carl Trueman’s assessment of this book: “Williams offers both an exposition and response to Nietzsche which combines trenchant criticism with appropriate acknowledgment of the fact that Christians have much to learn from careful reflection on this most insightful of anti-Christian polemicists” (from the WTS bookstore site).

In case you’re interested, here’s the context of the in/famous ‘God is dead’ phrase.

“The madman – haven’t you heard of that madman who in the bright morning lit a lantern and ran around the marketplace crying incessantly, ‘I’m looking for God! I’m looking for God!’  Since many of those who did not believe in God were standing around together just then, he caused great laughter.  ‘Has he been lost, then?’ asked one.  ‘Did he lose his way like a child?’ asked another.  ‘Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone to the sea? Emigrated?’  Thus they shouted and laughed, one interrupting the other.  The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes.  ‘Where is God?’ he cried; ‘I’ll tell you!  We have killed him – you and I!  We are his murderers.  …Hasn’t it got colder?  Isn’t night and more night coming again and again? …Do we still hear nothing of the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God?  Do we still smell nothing of the divine decomposition? – Gods, too, decompose!  God is dead!  God remains dead!  And we have killed him!’”

Later the madman goes into churches singing aeternam deo and singing “What then are these churches now if not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”  (Williams, p. 118-119).

This selection comes from Nietzsche’s Gay Science (“gay” as in the older meaning of the word): God is dead, the tomb is the church, and Nietzsche (labeled himself) the antichrist.  If you’ve read some Nietzsche, and want a great book that wrestles with Nietzsche written from a thoughtful Christian perspective, grab William’s Shadow of the Antichrist.  It isn’t a quick, light read, but Williams interacts with those who influenced Nietzsche (‘Dionysus,’ Schopenhauer, and Wagner for example) as well as others who help illumine the study of Nietzsche (Barth, Bonhoeffer, Dostoyevsky, among others) to give the reader a pretty thorough picture of the man who said “God is dead.”

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Atheism: An Opiate For the Masses?

Introduction to Theology BooksAlister McGrath, in his book, Doubting, gives Christians a way to understand, come to grips with, and fight doubt.  There are many excellent aspects of this book, but one that I want to mention here is how McGrath turns the famous “opiate” explanation on its head.  (I’m sure you’ve heard Marx’s statement before, that Christianity is an opiate for the masses to help them cope with the hardships of life).  Before I give the quote, let me address the atheists who might read this blog post based on its title.  I want to ask you to kindly refrain from nasty comments and encourage you to think through the actual quotation and the ramifications of it rather than throw it out without a second thought.  Here’s the quote.

“The atheist’s argument goes like this: you want there to be a God.  So you invent him.  Your religious views are invented to correspond to what you want.  But this line of argument works just as well against atheism.  Imagine an extermination camp commandant during the Second World War.  Would there not be excellent reasons for supposing that he might hope that God does not exist, given what might await him on the day of judgment?  And might not his atheism itself be a wish-fulfillment? This is a devastating point.  As cultural historians have pointed out for many years…people often reject the idea of God because they long for autonomy – the right to do what they please, without any interference from God.  They don’t need to worry about divine judgment; they reject belief in God because it suits them.  That’s what they want, but that doesn’t mean that this is the way things really are.”

“This point was made superbly by the Polish philosopher and writer Czeslaw Milosz, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980.  Parodying the old Marxist idea that religion was the ‘opium of the people,’ he remarks in “The Discreet Charm of Nihilism” that a new opium has taken its place: rejection of belief in God on account of its implications for our ultimate accountability.  ‘A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, [and] murders we are not going to be judged.”

“Atheism thus depends on a core belief that it cannot verify [namely, that there is no God].  Do you see the importance of this point?  Atheists live out their lives on the basis of the belief that there is no God, believing that this is right but not being able to prove it conclusively” (p. 37-38).

There is more to the argument, and McGrath goes on from there to explain the limits of science.  But the main point above is valid and cannot be ignored.

Here’s the info of the book: Alister McGrath, Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

God’s Existence and Biology: A Whopping Non Sequitur

This section of Paul Copan’s Is God A Moral Monster caught my attention.  (Note: it is part of a much larger argument, so I can’t quote the whole thing here).

“The inventor Thomas Edison said that humans are ‘incurably religious.’  History certainly bears this out.  But why have humans been so religiously inclined across the millennia and civilizations?  Neo-atheists Dawkins and Dennett interpret the phenomenon this way: theology is biology.  To Dawkins, God is a ‘delusion;’ for Dennett, religious believers are under a kind of ‘spell’ that needs to be broken.  Like computers, Dawkins says, we come equipped with a remarkable predisposition to do (and believe) what we’re told.  So young minds full of mush are susceptible to mental infections or viruses (‘memes’).  Charismatic preachers and other adults spew out their superstitious bilge, and later generations latch on to it and eventually create churches and religious schools.  Even if there isn’t a ‘God gene,’ humans have a certain religious urge – an apparent hard wiring in the brain that draws us to supernatural myths.”

“Some conclude, therefore, that God doesn’t exist but is simply the product of predictable biological processes.  One big problem with this statement: it is a whopping non sequitur.  It just doesn’t follow that if humans are somehow wired to be religious, God therefore doesn’t exist.  This is what’s called ‘the genetic fallacy’ – proving or disproving the truth of a view based on its origin.  In this case, God’s existence is a separate question from the source of religious beliefs.  We need to sort out the biology of belief from the rationality of belief.”

“There’s more to say here.  We could turn the argument on its head: if God exists and has designed us to connect with him, then we’re actually functioning properly when we’re being directed toward  belief in God.  We can agree that natural/physical processes partly contribute to commitment to God.  In that case, the basic argument of Dawkins and Dennett could actually support the idea that religious believers are functioning decently and in order.”

In other words, this is not a logical argument: 1) Our brains are hardwired to believe in a supernatural being, 2) therfore a supernatural being does not exist.  Or, stated differently, “God is the product of human imagination because humans are hard wired to believe a supernatural being.”  Copan is right – this is an example of a genetic fallacy.  You can find the entire discussion on (and around) pages 29-30 in Is God A Moral Monster by Paul Copan.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Atheism: Peaceful and Tolerant?

Some people blame religion (specifically Christianity) for wars, killings, and other such atrocities.  While Christian have not always followed Christ’s commands of love and peace, atheism and secularism are just as much to blame for wars, killings, and other atrocities.  Here’s how this point is stated by Don Carson in The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), p. 72-3.

“…The twentieth century, the bloodiest in human history, exhibited spectacular instances of intolerance – and the most violent exemplars had very little to do with religion.  Of course, there was at least a religious component in the strife in the Balkans and again in the bloody violence between Tutsis and Hutus.  Yet most observers recognized that even here the more important factors were tribalism, racism, perceived economic injustice, very different interpretations of history, and ‘honor’ and vengeance killings that escalated to the scale of genocide.”

“Few religious factors played much part in the largest of the slaughters of the twentieth century, the violence espoused by Fascism and Communism.  Perhaps fifty million Chinese died under Mao, about twenty million Ukrainians under Stalin, and then we come to World War II and the Holocaust.  In both its Russian and its Chinese forms, Fascism was nominally Christian but only in the sense that it was happy to appeal to God and religion in pursuit of its own social and political agendas, never so as to be reformed by Scripture or Christian truth or morality, never in any sense to belong to the great tradition of historic creeds.”

“Despite the best efforts of Jonathan I. Israel not only to ground the Enlightenment in the thought of Spinoza but also to demonstrate that only atheism provides adequate resources to generate toleration – in his analysis, theism and religious belief in all their forms are intrinsically intolerant – the outcome in the twentieth century is scarcely reassuring.  Atheism, whether theoretical (as in Communism) or practical (as in Fascism), far from being tolerant, spilled oceans of blood.”

Don Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance, p. 72-3.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Deism is not Christianity

This is a great section of Pascal’s PenseesHere he explains that deism is not Christianity (a point that most Americans don’t understand – specifically in the political realm).  I’ll also quote Peter Kreeft’s commentary on Pascal’s statement.

“And…they [unbelievers/skeptics] take occasion to blaspheme against the Christian religion, because they know so little about it.  They imagine that it simply consists in worshipping a God considered to be great and mighty and eternal, which is properly speaking deism, almost as remote from the Christian religion as atheism, its complete opposite….”

“But let them [unbelievers/skeptics] what they will against deism, their conclusions will not apply to Christianity, which properly consists in the mystery of the Redeemer, who, uniting in himself the two natures, human and divine, saved men from corruption of sin in order to reconcile them with God in his divine person.”

Here are Kreeft’s comments on this.

“How could a reasonable man confuse Christianity with deism?  Deism has a Creator without a Redeemer, transcendence without immanence or incarnation, God without Christ.  Imagine confusing Christianity with Christianity-minus-Christ!”

“Deism is still more respectable than Christianity today, just as it was in the seventeenth century, when it was invented.  It avoids ‘the scandal of particularity,’ the crime concreteness, the odium of distinctiveness.  It is generic religion.  And its god is not a crucified criminal.”

“And after creating the world, the deist god no longer gets his divine hands dirty doing miracles in it.  Its god is aloof, ‘the snob god,’ while the god of pantheism is ‘the blob god.’  You see, we make gods in our own image.  As one wag said, ‘God created man in his image and man has been returning the compliment ever since.'”

“But the Christian God is hardly made in our image.   Who wants to be a God who suffers hell on a cross for man’s sin?”

“Deism avoids the two fundamental truths of Christianity, sin and salvation.  It avoids blood.  It is not – as one of its twentieth-century proponents describes orthodox Christianity – ‘butcher shop theology.'”

“This is why Pascal says deism and atheism are opposites, rather than deism and pantheism.  Theologically and theoretically, the opposites are deism (divine transcendence without immanence) and pantheism (immanence without transcendence); but existentially and practically and humanly, the opposites are deism (human greatness without wretchedness) and atheism (wretchedness without greatness).”

These quotes can be found on page 284-287 of Christianity for Modern Pagans.

shane lems