Michigan Invasion, Hitchens Debate Video, Help for UNC

I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Detroit last Monday. A colleague there scheduled me for nine “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” events in seven days all over the state: Four at secular universities, two at a Christian high school, and three at churches up north. It was like an invasion, and God made it an amazing success. Here are the highlights:

  • Each of the first four nights I presented I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist at a different university. We started at Eastern Michigan University on Monday night, and then hit Central Michigan University, Oakland University and Michigan State on successive evenings. Michigan is, of course, nowhere near the Bible belt, but we had 150 to more than 300 students each of the first three nights.
  • A number of atheists put me on the hot seat each night with questions and counter arguments even long after the session was to end. Most of the arguments they brought up were either weak or based on such fundamental philosophical mistakes, that they make me even more confident that Christianity is true. I kept thinking, “This is the best you’ve got?” Several Christians were greatly encouraged and, at a couple of events, even stood up and said that they loved the scientific arguments for God.
  • The event on Thursday night at Michigan State had about 80 people (publicity was lacking on that campus), but it actually turned out for the good. I had more time to address the half of the audience that was from an atheist club! After hearing my arguments for absolute truth and the existence of God for 90 minutes, these atheists (and several Christians) stayed for another 90 minutes asking questions and debating certain points! While some atheists were adamant about their position, several were visibly shaken in light of the evidence for God. At least one student, who had left the faith, is now on his way back. God may have planted other seeds as well.
  • The Church and High School events Friday through Sunday were also well attended (even some atheists showed up there!). We had more than 300 on Friday night in Traverse City and 400-500 on Sunday night in Alpena. One young lady who attended works for Michael Moore (yes, that Michael Moore). She told me that she is now coming back to the faith! (I don’t know how that will affect her employment.)
  • We are now planning another visit up there to conduct part 2 of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, and possibly to train a group of apologists to minister on campuses across the state.

One sad observation: As I handed out fliers on one of the campuses, so many of the students I greeted had the look of emptiness on their faces. They were like walking zombies. They reminded me of how people looked on the streets of Moscow during the height of the Soviet Union. Why? Because there is no hope in atheistic materialism which is the dominant view on campus. Thankfully, due to your donations and those of some Christian groups on campus, the events were free to everyone! Because of you we were able to share the hope of Christ with compelling evidence to back it up. Thanks for making a difference in the lives of the students and adults who attended and those they will now influence for Christ.

In other news, we had a very successful event at UNC Charlotte on September 23 with about 150 in attendance. We have already scheduled part 2 for February 12, 2009. Over the next month, I’ll present at colleges in Tennessee and Texas, and then UNC Wilmington on November 10 and UNC Chapel Hill on November 11. (Click here for the calendar.)

While we are scheduled, we do not have our costs covered for the upcoming UNC events. Can you help us bring truth to those students and others? If so, please click here. (Campus events cost several thousand dollars to put on, but the payback is eternal!)

Finally, click here (our blog) to see my debate from September 9th with Christopher Hitchens. It’s over two hours, so get comfortable. I’d like to hear your opinion, so please drop me an e-mail or put a comment on the blog.



Dr. Frank Turek
Founder & President of CrossExamined.org
Speaker and co-author of:
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
Legislating Morality

Two Movies soon to hit New Zealand screens

Christian novelists Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker combine with director Robby Henson to create a horror/thriller called House. The trailer was released on www.apple.com today and it promises to be a cut above the average Christian film. To those who are looking for the allegory it is obvious enough and could prove to be a useful tool in evangelism. The question is though, will Christians have to fortitude to see it?Peretti’s books are frightening enough without them being visualised on screen. The scheduled release date is 7 November, 2008 in the USA and if it makes it to the movie screen and doesn’t go straight to DVD the release date in NZ is anybody’s guess

Synopsis from IMDB
In rural Alabama, two couples find themselves in a fight for survival. Running from a maniac (The Tin Man) bent on killing them, they flee deep into the woods and seek refuge in a house. They soon realize the killer has purposely lured them to this house and that they are now trapped. As they huddle around an old fireplace, a tin can falls through the chimney. Scrawled on its side is a message from the killer, establishing his House Rules. The rules call for their deaths unless they kill at least one of the four. They have less than 12 hours to find a way to survive. At sunrise the game is over and everyone dies if the killer’s demands aren’t met. What they quickly learn is that the only way out… is in. But going further into this house–where unknown challenges await them–is equally deadly. Written by Anonymous


Another Movie that will make it to the silver screen in NZ on October 30th is Nights in Rodanthe staring Richard Gere and Diane Lane and directed by George C. Wolfe. This film is a Drama / Romance by the same Christian author Nicholas Sparks that bought us Angels in the Outfield, A Walk to Remember, Message in a Bottle and The Notebook. From the Synopsis it looks as if this film is more in line with his latter work with questionable ethical standards, rather than his earlier work where strong Christian values were prominent. There is little question the film will be a success with the star power of Lane and Gere and Sparks story-telling ability but it remains to be seen if it can be utilised in any effective way for evangelism or apologetics like House.

Synopsis from IMDB
Adrienne Willis, a woman with her life in chaos, retreats to the tiny coastal town of Rodanthe, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to tend to a friend’s inn for the weekend. Here she hopes to find the tranquility she so desperately needs to rethink the conflicts surrounding her — a wayward husband who has asked to come home, and a teen-aged daughter who resents her every decision. Almost as soon as Adrienne gets to Rodanthe, a major storm is forecast and a guest named Dr. Paul Flanner arrive. The only guest at the inn, Flanner is not on a weekend escape but rather is there to face his own crisis of conscience. Now, with the storm closing in, the two turn to each other for comfort and, in one magical weekend, set in motion a life-changing romance that will resonate throughout the rest of their lives. Written by Drew ToLoweJarrBar

A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol

A god who let us prove his existence would be an idol. — Deitrich Bonhoeffer

I recently came across this quote on someone’s Facebook wall. I don’t remember whose wall, but what it said surprised me. One reply said something like “so now God’s non-existance is evidence that he exist?” presumably with as much sarcasm as possible. Well I thought that needed a response. Then a word about the role of natural theology.

Thinking afterwards I should have said Bonhoeffer was not giving an argument for God’s existence, but was making a statement from within a theistic world-view about the practice of using arguments for God’s existence. Now I think this particular statement does not bear scrutiny in the light of God’s word. But I will get to that.

Immediately I thought of Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til who argued that arguments for God’s existence ultimately describe a lesser being than the God revealed in the Bible. For example certain cosmological arguments arrive at a transcendent, omnipotent, immaterial, omniscient, personal God, but not an omni-benevolent or holy and righteous God. Therefore, in Clark’s view, the argument created an idol. 

To presuppositionalists like Clark I would say we don’t need to argue for the full revelation of God. Also, no argument purports to disclose the fullness of the God of the Bible. If we can establish a transcendent, omnipotent, immaterial, omniscient, personal being with one argument, that will go a long way to achieving the apologetic goals, and then we can move onto other attributes with other arguments later. Perhaps omni-benevolence with the moral argument. This type of cumulative case is in vogue today, especially with William Lane Craig, J. P Moreland, Norman Geisler and more. With a cumulative case such as this, if successful it would be sufficient evidence to refute atheism, and to build up a Christian world-view. 

I then thought it more likely that Bonhoeffer is an existential philosopher like Søren Kierkegaard and is making a statement to support Fideism. A viewpoint that scripture clearly contradicts (See 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3; Titus 1:7, 9). Suffice to say I am not a fideist, but am in fact the exact opposite – an apologist. We should always be ready, as scripture commands, to “tear down misleading arguments and every high place [fig., arrogance] lifting itself up against the knowledge of God, and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Cor 10:5. 

Moreover, I think Romans 1:20 and 2:15 (that God has revealed himself in nature and conscience) opens a door to a natural theology (meaning we can argue for God’s existence from the evidence he has left in nature). We cannot see the invisible God, but we can see the visible work of his hands. In so doing we follow the long-standing tradition, from Paul in Acts 17 to Augustine to Aquinas, of defending the faith and giving reasons why we believe to all who dissent or ask why.

It turns out that Bonhoeffer is liberal/neo-orthodox, which means I was pretty much right on. Disillusioned somewhat with liberal theology and influenced by Karl Barth he was a leading figure in the Confessing Church – most famous for subverting the Nazi regime. He was involved in plots planned by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Hitler. He was arrested in March 1943, imprisoned, and eventually executed by hanging. An interesting fellow no doubt, but mistaken here in this quote. 

What I wanted make clear was the role of Natural Theology and how it should be used. I would say it confirms the witness of the Holy Spirit to our spirit, and provides supplementary support for belief in God. The Holy Spirit is God’s primary evidence or testimony of His existence, to us and to other non-believers, but the Holy Spirit can use the arguments of Natural Theology in order to draw men to Himself. As Blaise Pascal said, God has placed the correct balance of evidence of Himself in the world; enough to draw men freely to himself, but not enough to compel people to believe on Him who would not trust or love Him. 

Some of Natural Theology’s arguments for God’s existence includes Cosmological, Teleological, Moral and Ontological.

That is what I really wanted to say.

Stuart McEwing

What's so great about objective morality?

In a post on his blog today, Damian Peterson asks ‘What’s So Great About Objective Morality?’ He asks this as an agnostic who has seen “many non-theists scramble to try to show that they do, in fact, have a basis for objective morality”—but isn’t sure why. As he puts it, he’s “quite happy to believe that there is no great measuring rod in the sky and that all such morals are evolved and subjective.” What’s the problem with this?

Let me try to give a few solid answers to stimulate further discussion.

Defining the terms

I think it’s pretty important at the outset to define the meaning of the words we’re using. Often, people don’t understand these terms as well as they think they do.

Objective refers basically to the condition of being actually real in a way which is independent of any particular human mind. Subjective, on the other hand, refers to the condition of being perceived as real. This can be confusing, because sometimes we need to decide whether our subjective perception is actually of some objective thing, or if it is just “all in our minds”.

Morality is a term used somewhat ambiguously. It can refer to moral duty in a general sense: that is, to the mere fact that we ought to behave in certain ways and not others. More specifically, it can also refer to some or other system of conduct: a set of rules or norms which describes the ways in which we (allegedly) should and should not act.

Under any given system of morality, right refers to the condition of a person’s actions being in accordance with his moral duty; and wrong refers to the condition of his actions being in violation of his moral duty.

But what is moral duty?

Damian suggests that

when people use “wrong” and “right” as opposed to “detrimental” and “beneficial” it actually creates a circular argument for a kind of objective morality because the word “wrong” can be used in both an objective and a subjective sense (i.e. I hit the wrong key on the keyboard vs. abortion is wrong) whereas the word “detrimental” demands that you at least define a goal or framework that is being worked against.

This is a fairly normal approach for non-theists. Superficially, it seems to allow that the words “right” and “wrong” don’t have the sort of power which theists say they have, while at the same time not robbing them of so much power that they become entirely meaningless. If we think of morally “right” as that which is beneficial, and morally “wrong” as detrimental, then we can have a more productive discussion without perhaps unintentionally begging the question in favor of the objective view.

Reciprocal question-begging

A little consideration should show that there’s an obvious problem with this approach. We’re being asked to say “abortion is detrimental”, rather than “abortion is wrong”. But this is really to ask us to abandon our own moral notions, and adopt a kind of moral pragmatism. We’re being asked to stop saying “abortion violates our moral duty”, and start saying “abortion is ultimately impractical”, or perhaps “abortion is destructive”, or “abortion is not socially beneficial” or something like that. We’re being asked to essentially say that something is morally wrong only if it fails to stack up against some practical goal or purpose; and right only if it furthers that goal or purpose. But Christians don’t believe this: we believe that something is wrong only if it violates our duty to God, and right only if it does not. So what the non-theist is implicitly suggesting is that we should abandon our Christian ethics altogether, and accept non-Christian ones instead. Naturally we aren’t going to do that, because we don’t believe morality without God is a sensible concept at all. We’ll point out a number of problems with it:

Problems with non-theistic morality

Firstly, we’re going to highlight the fact that the terms “detrimental” and “beneficial” are very ill-defined. What are the specific practical goals against which any action is being evaluated? Is it social harmony? The greatest happiness for the greatest number of people? Survival of the species? Something else?

Secondly, and more importantly, why are these practical goals the ones which have been chosen? Let’s say that “the greatest happiness for the greater number of people” is the pragmatic goal against which actions are evaluated for rightness or wrongness. This is a fairly common position known generally as utilitarianism. Why does the non-theist believe that we should evaluate actions according to this criteria? It seems very arbitrary. Why can I not make up my own criteria instead? What makes one criteria better than another? In short, why is it right that it is right to act to further the non-theist’s practical goal? His notion of how we should evaluate morality plainly doesn’t pass its own test.

In other words, the non-theist is implicitly assuming some other standard of morality by which we can know that we’re obliged to follow his standard of morality. And that is self-refuting. He’s saying that actions are moral depending on whether they work for or against some practical goal—but when he speaks of actions being “moral”, he’s really saying that we have some kind of duty to act in that way. Conversely, when he speaks of actions being “immoral”, he means that we have a duty to not act in that way. But why do I have a duty to act in a way which furthers some practical goal the atheist has invented? More specifically, since duty is to an authority, to whom is the duty I allegedly have under the atheist’s view? To the atheist himself? Why? He isn’t a moral authority. To society? Again, why? If one person is not a moral authority, then why would a collection of persons be?

What this highlights is that the proposed non-theistic view of morality is really neglecting to answer what morality actually is in the first place. Since questions of morality are questions of duty, a non-theistic view of morality needs to be able to not only say what it is that we have a duty toward, but also show convincingly that we really do have such a duty. This is where non-theistic moral theories really run aground: they cannot provide an adequate account of duty itself.

Possible objections

Damian, or some other non-theist, might object that I am unfairly imposing my theistic requirements on his non-theistic worldview. Christians may believe that a theory of morality is only intelligible given an absolute moral authority—but why should atheists believe the same thing? What’s wrong with having an arbitrary moral authority, like the opinion of the majority of society? If a group of people all agree that we have a duty to do certain things, and a duty to refrain from doing certain other things, then they can impose that belief on society as a whole, and act as a moral authority. In fact, that is generally how society does operate. There’s no need to invoke some higher authority for this. There’s no need to say that God must exist.

This objection fundamentally misses two points:

Counter-objection 1: people do believe in objectively true moral duties

Firstly, and most simply, such a view of morality ignores yet relies upon the common moral intuitions of mankind as a whole. For example, most people will find it impossible to concede that rape could ever be right. The fact that rape is wrong is not a mere matter of convention or opinion, as if it could be changed with sufficient voting power. We just don’t believe that, if enough rapists got together to form their own society, they could possibly be morally justified in declaring rape to be legal and right. Morality is not a matter of legislation. We are very much inclined to say that their society would be morally depraved and in need of correction, not just regardless of the fact that their arbitrary moral authority is opposed to ours, but in fact precisely because it is so opposed. So in reality we don’t actually believe that moral duty is an arbitrary affair, involving duty to whatever authority we happen to have established. On the contrary, we believe that whatever authority we happen to have established is established on the very basis of our strong, non-arbitrary duty to an authority which supersedes our own.

Now, non-theists will say that we have these moral intuitions as a by-product of evolution. We tend to feel a duty toward actions which promote the survival of the group, and against actions which would detract from this cause. But if this is the case then certain moral intuitions we have don’t seem to make sense. Rape will certainly tend to benefit the survival of the group. Yet our very strong moral intuitions are that rape is always wrong.

More importantly, if our belief in the moral abhorrence of rape is a byproduct of evolution, then it is purely arbitrary. It is not as if evolution selected for things which are morally good, and against things which are morally bad. Rather, what is morally good is what evolution, a non-rational physical process, happened to select for; and what is morally bad is what evolution happened to select against. It could have gone the other way—or even if it couldn’t have, we still only believe that rape is evil because a non-intelligent, non-moral biological process occurred in such a way as to produce that belief.

Counter-objection 2: duty is unintelligible without God

Secondly, then, the non-theistic view ignores and yet relies upon an even more fundamental fact: duty is an incoherent concept if it is reduced to something arbitrary or something non-personal. The atheist wants to say that an arbitrary and man-made moral authority is sufficient for a workable system of morality. But he ignores the fact that the authority is not really arbitrary because any man-made authority is based on a prior, shared view of morality in which we feel a moral duty to something not man-made.

When this is pointed out, he then wants to say that this prior, shared view of morality is a result of evolution, such that the duty we feel is not really toward anything—it’s just a result of biological pressures causing us to act in certain ways. But if this is the case, then ultimately our ideas about moral duty are founded on non-duty. It is not sensible to say that we have a duty to evolutionary processes. Duties are things owed, and things owed are to persons. So if our sense of moral duty is a result of evolutionary processes, then it is actually a total fiction. We actually have no duty whatsoever. We aren’t even being intelligible when we talk about “arbitrary moral authorities”, because to talk about such a thing presupposes the notion of duty itself, and the notion of duty is just a result of biological processes. In other words, in a non-theistic worldview, duty is actually the same as non-duty—a contradiction in terms. The non-theistic view reduces to absurdity.

Therefore, when a non-theist says that we should do something, or ought not do some other thing, he is actually contradicting himself. The words “should” and “ought” refer to duty—and duty doesn’t exist in the final analysis of his worldview. It is a term without an actual referent in the real world. It doesn’t refer to anything which resembles what it’s supposed to mean. Yet atheists and agnostics certainly do believe that we have duties. In fact, they know we have duties.

Now, if someone claims to “know” something which is a contradiction in terms, something which isn’t real, we tend to say that person is deluded or insane. Thus, when we carefully work through all the implications of a non-theistic worldview, we find that non-theists, under their own view, are deluded or insane. And that is the problem with subjective morality. This is why “many non-theists scramble to try to show that they do, in fact, have a basis for objective morality”. This is what’s so great about objective morality. A worldview which reduces our plainly recognizable duty to God to insanity is an insane worldview.

Occam's Razor

Every now and again, some atheist will claim that Christianity is falsified by Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor is the principle of parsimony, which states that entities should not be multiplied needlessly. Basically, the Razor claims that the simplest explanation is the best. The argument forwarded by atheists is generally along the lines either that (i) God is unnecessary to explain the world as we know it, and therefore is unlikely to exist; or, more strongly, that (ii) since God is infinitely complex, the Christian explanation of reality is thus infinitely more complex than a non-theistic one, and so should be rejected by default.

It intrigues me that atheists use this as a foundation for “disproving” Christianity. Several obvious problems suggest themselves:


Firstly, how does (i) not beg the question against the Christian? If, in fact, the Christian is correct in asserting that God is not just necessary to explain reality, but is a necessary precondition for reality, then (i) is obviously false and doesn’t constitute an argument at all. Since the Christian has plenty of good arguments of his own which seek to prove his position, these should be evaluated on their own merits rather than dismissed on the dubious basis of parsimony.

Less obviously, (ii) also begs the question. Even if the Christian explanation is infinitely more complex by merit of entertaining an infinitely complex being, perhaps it is the case that, in this particular instance, such a being is a requirement of any rigorous and adequate explanation of reality. The atheist needs to make an argument which shows this is not the case, rather than merely asserting it.

Furthermore, what does the atheist mean by “infinitely complex being”, in reference to God? The term “infinite” is used very freely with relation to God, but is generally a qualitative term rather than a quantitative one. That is, when we say that God is “infinite”, we tend to be referring to some superlative characteristic of his, rather than to any actual number of things which inhere in him. So the atheist needs to clarify and argue for his view that God is infinitely complex.

On top of this, even if that argument is successful, he has still not shown that an infinitely complex God entails an infinitely complex explanation. In what sense is the quantitative infinity of God being imputed to the Christian’s explanation of reality? Again, clarification and argument, rather than mere assertion, are required to prove the point.

Complexity is better than simplicity

Secondly, and along similar lines to the question-begging problem, it is self-evidently the case that we can have such a thing as an explanation which is too simple, but not necessarily an explanation which is too complex. Imagine, for example, a detective trying to find an explanation for the death of a man who died from blunt trauma in a factory. It’s obvious to us that an explanation which includes a murderer is more complex than an explanation which doesn’t. According to Occam’s Razor, the detective should favor any explanation which does not needlessly multiply entities. If the death can be explained by an unfortunate mechanical accident, then there isn’t any reason to postulate a murderer. A murderer becomes a needless entity, and so the detective assumes that it was indeed an accident. That’s fair.

However, two obvious things need to be noted: firstly, an explanation which fails to include a necessary entity is too simple, and therefore is necessarily false. Imagine the dead man was 90 years old and had a heart condition. Ordinarily, natural causes would be the simplest and most likely cause of death. But there is evidence of blunt trauma; so if the detective posits a natural heart attack as the explanation for man’s death, his explanation is obviously too simple—and thus must be wrong. A blunt object is a necessary entity in the explanation.

Secondly, and on the other hand, a murderer could have killed the man in such a way as to make the death appear accidental. So the fact that the explanation without a murderer is more simple does not guarantee its truth; and the fact that the explanation with a murderer is more complex does not guarantee its falsehood. In fact, we can imagine a fantastic and highly unlikely explanation for the man’s death, involving any number of entities that the detective would never think of, which was nonetheless true.

So an over-simple theory must be wrong, but an “over”-complex theory might be right. There are plenty of good arguments to show that a non-theistic explanation of reality is over-simple in such a way that it must be false. I hope to discuss more of these in the Philosophy section of Thinking Matters Talk as time goes on.

Occam’s Razor has no grounds in a non-theistic worldview

The last and most convincingly troublesome problem for the atheist is that Occam’s Razor itself, on which his objection is based, really has no grounds whatsoever in a non-theistic worldview. The atheist wants to say that we should not multiply entities needlessly. A Christian may well agree with him, because he knows from revelation (both special and general) that God typically does not act in a needlessly complicated way. He has designed the universe to act consistently, and in a way which is fairly straightforward, even in its complexity. He has also designed our senses and intellects in such a way that we can apprehend the way the world works, and discover things about it. Most importantly, he has built into us certain expectations about the world, such that our intuitions generally match up to reality. Thus we have grounds for affirming Occam’s Razor.

But an atheist has no such grounds. In a non-rational universe, whether mechanistic or probabilistic, what possible reason could he have for asserting that simpler explanations are better? Why should they be? As a rule of thumb, at least fifty percent of the time we should expect the more complex explanations to true. There isn’t any physical law of parsimony such that the universe must operate in such a way that simpler explanations are better, is there? So on what basis does the atheist assert Occam’s Razor at all?

He could say that, historically, the simpler explanations have been true. And maybe this is so. But then why does he think that this will continue to be the case? After all, we know very little of the universe, and we haven’t been around very long in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps our history is an aberration, and in fact it is a general rule that the likelihood of an explanation being true tends to rise with its complexity. How can he know this isn’t the case?

In truth, he affirms Occam’s Razor because his God-given intuitions suggest very strongly to him that it’s true. Unfortunately, because his intuitions are indeed God-given, he is most certainly misapplying them in using them as a basis for objecting to God’s existence.

The purpose of Thinking Matters and apologetics

Darryl Burling recently asked the Thinking Matters Contributor mailing list,

What is the purpose of thinking matters? I know the answer that is here, but what I want to understand is what constitutes success? What is the purpose of “examin[ing] and explain[ing] the defense of the Christian faith”? I have my ideas but want to know what others think.

1. The purpose of Thinking Matters is primarily to provide a “common area” for New Zealand apologists. Our aim is to give some focus to the various individuals and groups in New Zealand who would otherwise be doing their own thing without much awareness of the efforts of others. In that vein, I think we’ve been fairly successful already; although admittedly we need a new injection of enthusiasm to galvanize some further action.

2. Because of (1), the purpose of apologetics is not something that Thinking Matters, as an organization, has taken a specific position on. I think it has, so far, been sufficient simply that we all agree apologetics is necessary and important. The views of the individuals who contribute to TM may differ on the precise purpose of apologetics—some widely. Similarly, our views on apologetics methodology may differ. As you know, I’m strongly presuppositional. But to be a well-rounded apologetics organization, I think we also need some classical and evidential apologists filling out the mix.

3. For my own part, I believe that apologetics is an important pre-evangelical, and post-evangelical discipline.

(i) In terms of pre-evangelism, apologetics is often necessary to remove the epistemic defeaters to Christian belief. Since faith is rational, we cannot expect it to obtain in situations which would render it irrational; such as when people hold strong beliefs which contradict that faith. This is especially important given that we aren’t living in a Christian society any more, but a post-Christian one. People are increasingly skeptical of Christian faith-claims because they increasingly (a) fail to understand them, and (b) are influenced by scientism/modernism (I don’t believe post-modernism has actually had the societal effect some people think it has had). Apologetics in this context isn’t only or even perhaps primarily about laying the groundwork for evangelism itself; as you commented to me privately, the rational defense of the faith is a necessary condition for “ensuring ongoing freedom to be Christian in an increasingly hostile, left brained, rational and intellectual world.” Christianity needs champions in the academic arena to show that our faith is intellectually justified and defensible. This is very important in the universities in particular, since they are the breeding grounds for the upcoming movers and shakers in society—and they are largely secular.

(ii) In terms of post-evangelism, apologetics is extremely important for dealing with doubts, and for growing in faith. Again, faith is rational—so where defeaters exist for it, cognitive dissonance occurs. This can be really damaging; especially for people who are converted through more emotional and less intellectual means. A lot of people have powerful conversion experiences, but then later when they start to really think about their faith, and perhaps share it with others, they encounter a lot of objections and doubts. This is especially true online, where there are lots of New Atheists who are highly hostile to Christianity, and have prima facie reasonable objections to faith, backed up by a lot of attitude which replaces the work of actual reasoning and underwrites the appearance of a righteously indignant worldview which opposes Christianity because it is so irrational. Without apologetics, this can be fatal to faith. Christians need to know that (a) doubts are not sinful; and (b) that answers do exist. And currently, I don’t believe that most pastors in New Zealand are actually equipped to provide the sorts of answers that some Christians may need. A lot of questions are not really considered seriously and addressed, so much as dismissed and swept under the rug (particularly in less conservative churches; I think Pentecostalism has a lot to answer for with its generally anti-intellectual, emotion-based faith).

Note that none of this is to say that faith is only rational. Thinking Matters’ declaration of belief is thoroughly Reformed in its view (albeit implied) that faith is an actual ontological change caused by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the new believer. However, it’s important to still affirm that faith is rational; and that because it is rational, doubts will occur where certain presuppositions or beliefs conflict with it. Apologetics is a means God uses to defeat unbelief, and to then preserve the saints in faith.

That’s my view, at least. Other contributors are welcome to chip in with their own.

Five Questions Evolutionists Would Rather Dodge

imageBy William Dembski

Mathematician and philosopher William Dembski presents five questions evolutionists would rather dodge in this excellent quick resource for dealing with evolutionary theory.

This includes (i) the fossil record, (ii) natural selection, (iii) detecting design, (iv) molecular machines, and (v) testability.

Download the PDF here.


Douglas Groothuis Reviews Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great

image Professor Douglas Groothuis reviews Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great in this interview on Issues, Etc.

Full MP3 Audio here.

Douglas Groothuis’ blog here.
Subscribe to Issues, Etc. in iTunes.


Apologize to Charles Darwin?

A senior cleric of the Church of England wants his church to apologize to Charles Darwin in time for the observance of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth next year. The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs for the church, made his case in an article entitled, “Good Religion Needs Good Science,” published in a special new section of the Church of England’s official Web site.

Apologize to Charles Darwin? On today’s program, Dr. Mohler says the Church of England may well need to apologize, but not to Charles Darwin. If anything, the church needs to apologize for its rightful embarrassment in considering an apology to Darwin.

MP3 is here.

Original here.

'Reasons We Believe' by Nathan Busenitz

50 lines of evidence that confirm the Christian faith

Book image

“Nathan Busenitz shows how God’s Word convincingly defends its own truth claims and then demonstrates how those claims are also confirmed by extra-biblical sources. Thoroughly biblical and meticulously researched, yet readily accessible and straightforward, Reasons We Believe belongs on every Christian bookshelf, whether you are looking to be equipped for evangelism or simply encouraged in the faith.”
John MacArthur (from the foreword)

“We live in a day when the new atheism tells us that ‘religion poisons everything’ and that ‘God is not good’ and when authors prostitute their scholarship to become rich on sensationalist books about so-called ‘lost Christianities’ and ‘lost Scriptures’. In the midst of this stench, Nate Busenitz’s sane and sound treatment of Christian evidences comes as a breath of fresh air.”
William Varner, Professor of Biblical Studies, The Master’s College

“That the Christian faith clearly stands head and shoulders above all other religions of all time is laid out by the author in a compelling fashion. Explanations from the reasons given will prove to be richly nourishing for the heart and mind of the believer, yet will also serve to challenge forthrightly the unbeliever.”
Trevor Craigen, Professor of Theology, The Master’s Seminary

Is Intelligent Design science? A response to Ken Perrott

I recently wrote on the question ‘Is intelligent design scientific?’ responding to some comments by Dale Campbell, attached to kiwi atheist Ken Perrott’s article ‘A new science bashing campaign?’ This generated a lot of feedback, and Ken has now posted a follow-up article titled, ‘Redefining science by inference’. I’d encourage you to read this before reading my response below. I’ll structure this response according to the headings Ken has used.

The arrogance of science-bashers

Firstly, I think it needs to be pointed out how Ken is framing this issue. He’s couching the question in terms of “science-bashing”, so that anyone who promotes ID is not only mistaken, but actually an anti-science zealot with an agenda to proselytize. Now, to a certain extent his defensive attitude is understandable. In my own opinion, many ID advocates have made a poor name for themselves in the public square precisely because of this sort of tactic. I tend to agree with Ken’s criticism that this is hypocritical, and with his concern that ID tends to be about tearing down evolution rather than building up any useful positive arguments of its own.

However, the push-back from the scientific community is no less prejudicial and no less ideologically-motivated. Since Ken is responding specifically to my own comments, I find his couching the matter in terms of “science-bashing” to be disappointing. I am not anti-science. True, my philosophical views about science hold it in a lower regard than most scientists would like. I hold the propositional revelation of God above the procedural revelation of his creation, and as the lens through which to interpret it. Science is not a means toward discovering ultimate truths. It is a tool for interacting with and manipulating the world. But by merit of this fact, I obviously do not deny its usefulness (on the contrary, I affirm it), and I am not shrilly paranoid about its ability to advance our understanding of the world in many ways. I am realistic about its shortcomings and limitations (such as its philosophical commitment to naturalism), and about how these will color and affect its conclusions and theories. But I am not anti-science.

It also needs to be said that Ken’s analogy is really poor. He likens ID advocates to people who criticize the methodology or philosophy of their plumbers and motor mechanics. But plumbers and motor mechanics fix relatively simple systems which have been designed. This is markedly different from scientists, who try to develop systematic explanations for highly complex systems which supposedly have not been designed. (Dentists, the third example, can at least be said to fix relatively simple systems, even if the origin of these is a matter of dispute.) The analogy might seem superficially persuasive, but in Ken’s own words there is an “abrupt discontinuity” between it and the reality it’s supposed to represent. It’s just not an equitable comparison.

Playing with words

Getting into the meat of the objections Ken raises, the accusation that proponents of ID “play with words” or try to “redefine science” is pretty common. In my view, the accusation says more about the ignorance or misunderstandings which scientists have of the philosophy behind their own discipline than about the intentions of those arguing for intelligent design. If ID proponents are arrogant, scientists have a certain superciliousness of their own as regards the relationship between science and philosophy. This is pretty well indicated in Ken’s post, when he talks about “the honest scientific process” as compared to the “word play” of ID supporters; one which has clear facts behind it, and one which clouds and confuses those facts.

The truth of the matter is that the process of science is not detached from the philosophy of science; yet the scientists themselves are detached from not only the philosophy of their field, but also its history. Perhaps this is understandable, but it’s still unfortunate, because it leads to a great deal of prejudice against any questions which can’t be tested in the lab (so to speak). ID is pretty much exclusively a philosophical issue—but it’s a philosophical issue regardless of which side you stand on. Scientists seem blind to this fact, however, because they hold to the side which asserts a naturalistic explanation. Since naturalistic explanations are scientific, they fail to notice that this one is still philosophically grounded. When you try to point this out, they treat it as “word play”.

Here’s what I mean. Consider the following inference which most scientists make:

  1. The commonly-recognized appearance of design in the universe is best explained by naturalistic, non-intelligent phenomena.

Making inference respectable

According to people like Ken, this is a perfectly acceptable scientific inference. Most scientists would probably take it for granted; they’d assume it implicitly—but an unstated inference is still an inference. Why is it so intrinsically acceptable that most scientists would take it for granted? Because science is concerned with natural causes, effects, and explanations. A natural explanation is a scientific explanation; and so the thesis that the appearance of design can be naturally explained seems, to the philosophically untrained, like a valid scientific conclusion. But then, consider its antithesis:

  1. The commonly-recognized appearance of design in the universe is best explained by the universe being designed by an intelligent agent.

Notice how this is exactly the same question—only with a different answer. Indeed, prima facie this is the better abductive inference, as opposed to (1). This doesn’t mean that it’s correct, necessarily, but it does seem intuitively better.

Is the question scientific at all?

Now, perhaps the question “What is the best explanation for the appearance of design in the universe?” is itself unscientific. Perhaps it’s something which scientists cannot answer, and so one for which any answer will be unscientific. I don’t think most scientists would agree with this, but if they did, then why are so many of them insisting on a naturalistic answer? Is it perhaps because they assume that naturalistic explanations should be accepted by default? Why? The fact that science, as a method of investigating reality, is naturalistic does not in any way imply that every explanation must be naturalistic. Scientists are conditioned to look for natural explanations—and that’s fair enough, because that is what science is all about. But that doesn’t mean that:

  • when we’re presented with the appearance of design, we should automatically exclude non-naturalistic explanations;
  • a naturalistic explanation is “scientific” by definition, while a non-naturalistic one isn’t. If the question itself is unscientific, then any answer to it will be unscientific as well;
  • if a non-naturalistic explanation is not scientific, it is therefore false. Being unable to investigate something scientifically does not imply its falsehood.

However, if the question is scientific, then—

Poverty of inference

If answer (1) is scientific, then answer (2) is as well

Notice how (1) and (2) above are addressing the exact same question. Yet (1) is dismissed as unscientific and even anti-scientific; while (2) is not. Why? Is it harder to falsify the thesis that the universe was designed than its antithesis, that it was not? I don’t see that it is. How might a scientist go about testing the assumption that the universe wasn’t designed? Probably in a similar way that he’d go about testing the assumption that it was. Yet the very complaint which scientists level at ID advocates is that we have not provided any falsifiable predictions to test. Okay, maybe that’s so—but why is the onus purely on us to falsify ID? Why is it not equally on secular scientists to falsify the antithesis? Isn’t that how honest scientists work? Once a question is raised, like, “Is the universe designed?” honest scientists don’t try to enforce a particular answer. They try to find one.

Conversely, if answer (2) is unscientific, then so is (1)

Most importantly, if intelligent design, as an explanation, is disqualified as unscientific, then its antithesis is disqualified as well, because they would both be falsified in the same way. The same test which could falsify intelligent design could (one would expect) falsify its denial. If we can make some prediction about some phenomenon which would occur if the universe is designed, and if we then test for that phenomenon, finding it would suggest that ID is right, while not finding it would suggest that ID is wrong. Similarly, if we can make some prediction about what we’d find if the universe is not designed, finding it would tend to prove ID wrong, while not finding it would tend to prove ID right.

In conclusion

Scientists don’t have to regard the question of intelligent design as important. They may not care one way or the other. Or they might be agnostic about it because they think it can’t be falsified one way or the other. That would be appropriately scientific. But if secular scientists want to say that the question of whether the universe was designed or not is nonsense; if they want to say that intelligent design, as a thesis for explaining the appearance of design, is unscientific; if they want to say that we should reject non-naturalistic explanations by default, then I must ask them to explain themselves:

Do they think that the thesis that the universe was not designed is falsifiable? If so, how so? But if not, then why are they championing it as scientific, over and against the thesis of intelligent design?

Is it on the basis of philosophical naturalism—the view that the natural world is all that exists? If so, can philosophical naturalism be falsified? No? But then it is unscientific—so why do they use it as a basis for decrying ID so loudly? Are they hypocrites?

Or is it on the basis of some other evidence? If so, what is it, and why should we find it compelling?

Is intelligent design scientific?

In the comment stream of a recent post by Ken Perrott, ‘A new science-bashing campaign?’, some discussion has been taking place about whether intelligent design (ID) can be considered scientific. Typically, secular scientists are vocal in their assertion that ID is a philosophical idea, and not a scientific one. It’s inappropriate to treat ID as if it were a scientific theory, or as if there is real evidence to support it, they say. And there is the vocal minority of ID supporters who push back and say the opposite.

In the comments on Ken’s article, the editor of Christian News New Zealand cited an article on Opposing Views by Jay W Richards, titled ‘Is Intelligent Design Science?’. I encourage you to read this article; it argues simply, yet I think persuasively, that it is not unreasonable to consider ID science—and that wherever you stand on the issue, you’d be naive to dismiss ID as unscientific by trying to define science in such a way as to preclude it.

In response to this article, Christian blogger Dale Campbell, who is an evolutionist, said:

What Jay Richards and others need to realise is that ‘ID’ is a philosophical inference which attempts to be scientifically informed. It starts with an inference, and then tries to find/match it with science – or (re)interpret science to try and match it up with the inference. The inference is not scientific, but philosophical.

Now, I don’t think Dale is opposing ID per se; rather, he is expressing his view that it’s a philosophical, rather than scientific position. As a Christian, I’m sure he does believe in ID; and as a Christian, certainly ID is a philosophical position. But does this preclude it from being scientific as well?

I don’t believe it does. Firstly, ID does not necessarily start with the inference of design, and then look for data in support of it. In fact, I think manifestly the fact that ID is not a specifically religious view demonstrates that it is quite possible and reasonable for it to be an a postiori rather than an a priori inference. Certainly for the Christian it must be treated as a priori: we come to the study of science with the presupposition that the universe was designed and created by God. But ID is not confined to Christianity, nor to religion at all. ID is simply the thesis that the universe, or some part thereof, was designed. A non-religious scientist could come to this conclusion quite reasonably by studying empirical data, and deciding that the facts at his disposal are best explained by a designer.

Is this an unscientific conclusion? Is it merely philosophical? This question raises another in turn: What is the difference between a “philosophical” as opposed to a “scientific” inference? For my own part, I’m not sure I see a clear distinction between them. Scientific inferences have two defining characteristics that I can see: (i) they start from empirical data; (ii) they are by nature abductive (and/or inductive; but abduction really is what defines them). Abduction, however, is itself a philosophical process; so I don’t see how we can deny that scientific inference itself is intrinsically philosophical. It is simply a kind of philosophical inference. All inference is philosophical in one way or another; and abduction is arguably more influenced by philosophical concerns than straightforward deduction.

But if scientific inference is characterized by these two principal factors, then how is ID not a scientific inference? Empiricism and abduction seem to describe the inference of ID just as well as any uncontroversial scientific inference which comes to mind.

Typically, I’d expect a scientist to say that I’ve omitted a third factor: scientific inferences need to be falsifiable. But there are two obvious objections to this: (a) falsifiability is a relatively modern notion in the history of science, and as such can’t be used to define science qua science. But more importantly, (b) it’s transparently evident that not all scientific inferences—indeed, perhaps not even most scientific inferences—are falsifiable. It’s not inferences which scientists generally require to be falsifiable, but theories. But even then, a theory is just the conclusion of a number of inferences (ie, it is itself an inference), many of which might not be themselves falsifiable; so the demand of falsifiability seems rather arbitrary.

Whether or not ID is true, and whether or not anyone can or has come up with falsifiable hypotheses about it, it does seem to me that Jay Richards is correct in his evaluation that it is not intrinsically unscientific. As he explains, we can’t validly keyhole science to fit certain preconceived philosophical notions about the world. In fact, the attempt to define ID out of science is openly prejudiced and hypocritical, being the attempt to exclude philosophical views of the world from science, on the basis of a philosophical view of the world. The definition of science really is not as fixed, narrow, or agreed upon as anti-ID scientists and philosophers would like to say it is.