A String of Bad Objections

Reformation 21 have posted a shortened version of Steve Hay’s response to The End of Christianity, the third book in a series, edited by John Loftus, against Christianity.

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Reviews of Rob Bell’s Love Wins

We’ve given a lot of coverage to Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins this week, and though it’s starting to feel toxically oversaturated, the issues Bell’s book has brought up have justified the attention. Before we finally move on, here are some of the reviews of Love Wins from across the interwebs and beyond.

Kevin DeYoung (Pastor at University Reformed Church), God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins” : “…there are dozens of problems with Love Wins. The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating. And the use of Scripture is indefensible. Worst of all, Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.”

Mark Galli (Christianity Today), Rob Bell’s Bridge Too Far: “If there is a criterion driving these distinctions, it seems to be based on what Bell thinks contemporary people can swallow. I couldn’t see any other criteria at play. Given the complete lack of quotes from any other writer or tradition, one is led to the unfortunate conclusion that what makes one extraordinary biblical claim a time-bound metaphor and another literal truth is that Bell says so.”

Read more

Professor Edgar Andrews reviews The Grand Design

The following review has been kindly provided to Thinking Matters by Edgar Andrews, Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London and author of the highly recommended Who Made God?: Searching for a Theory of Everything (read our review here). Professor Andrews is an international expert on the science of large molecules and has published well over 100 scientific research papers and books. For a good introduction to his work, listen to Brian Auten’s interview with him at Apologetics315.

The Grand Design?

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking sold over nine million copies of his book A Brief History of Time. Now, 22 years later, he has co-authored The Grand Design which immediately hit the No.1 spot in the New York Times best-seller list. But the sequel is so inferior to the prequel in intellectual quality that a reviewer in The Times Saturday Review (11 September 2010) writes: ‘It reads like a stretched magazine article … there is too much padding and too much recycling of long-stale material… I doubt whether The Grand Design would have been published if Hawking’s name were not on the cover’.

So why is the new book a runaway best-seller? Because it claims that science makes God redundant. Let’s take a closer look at the claims advanced in The Grand Design.

Philosophical skulduggery

The introduction asserts that ‘Philosophy is dead’ (p.5) and science alone can provide ‘New answers to the ultimate questions of life’ (the book’s hubristic sub-title). But the authors then produce their own brand of humanistic philosophy, christen it ‘science’ and base their book upon it.

They say; ‘this book is rooted in the concept of scientific determinism which implies … that there are no miracles, or exceptions to the laws of nature’. But ‘scientific determinism’ is simply the philosophical assumption that the laws control all events. I argue precisely the opposite in chapter 11 of my own book Who made God? (WMG in further references).

Again, in chapter 3, They maintain that ‘reality’ is a construct of our minds — implying that there is no such thing as objective reality (Irish philosopher Bishop Berkeley had the same idea in 1710 but he wasn’t widely believed). They conclude that ‘there is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality’ and propose what they call ‘model dependent realism’ as a ‘frame-work with which to interpret modern science’ (pp. 42-43). Clearly, an interpretive framework for science cannot be science but belongs in a different category altogether, namely, philosophy.

Since the mental models we construct ‘are the only reality we can know … It follows then that a well-constructed model creates a reality of its own’ (p.172). The problem with this, of course, is that it undermines the very concept of reality. Hawking’s ‘reality’ excludes God while my ‘reality’ majors upon God. These two ‘realities’ are mutually exclusive but both (according to Hawking) are equally ‘real’. This is postmodernism by the back door and it is wholly inimical to science, which depends on there being a genuine reality to investigate.

Determinism

 

The authors also embrace another philosophy, namely, scientific determinism. ‘Though we feel we can choose what we do, our understanding of the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets’ (pp.31-32). So we are mindless automatons and everything we do or think is predetermined.

The reality is, of course, that biological processes are overwhelmingly ‘governed’ not by physics and chemistry but by structured information, stored on DNA and expressed through the genetic code. It is information which controls the physics and chemistry of the living cell, not the other way round.

Furthermore, if our minds are simply by-products of molecular processes in the brain, then all our thoughts are meaningless including the authors’ own theories. Thinking atheists such as Bertrand Russell and J. B. S. Haldane long ago recognised and admitted this dilemma explicitly (WMG chapter 16) but Hawking and Mlodinow seem oblivious to it.

Chapter 4 is devoted to explaining the ‘many histories’ formulation of quantum theory proposed by Richard Feynman. This is well done except that by ignoring other formulations of quantum theory the authors give the false impression that Feynman’s is the only valid approach. This is tendentious because they need Feynman’s idea as a springboard for their own multiverse hypothesis. To admit that ‘many histories’ is just one of several equally valid formulations of quantum mechanics would weaken their argument considerably.

Mighty M-theory

Chapter 5 surveys the development of physics during the past 200 years, including general relativity (which describes the large-scale behaviour of the universe) and quantum mechanics (which describes its microscopic behaviour). Although containing nothing new, this is by far the best part of this book.

The chapter concludes, however, with comments on M-theory that rang alarm bells (p.118). In the book’s opening chapter, M-theory is no more than ‘a candidate for the ultimate theory of everything, if indeed one exists’, and is ‘not a theory in the usual sense’ but ‘may offer answers to the question of creation’. Physicist Lee Smolin is doubtful: ‘… we still do not know what M-theory is, or whether there is any theory deserving of the name’ (The Trouble with Physics, Allen Lane 2007, p.146). Indeed, on p.117 the authors themselves admit that ‘people are still trying to decipher the nature of M-theory, but that may not be possible’.

But suddenly on p.118 this intractable mathematical model is somehow transformed into a theory so powerful that its laws are ‘more fundamental’ than the laws of nature and ‘allow’ for ‘different universes with different apparent laws’. This is a huge leap of atheistic faith.

Witches brew

The final three chapters rapidly descend into a witches brew of speculation and misinformation, confusingly blended with normal science. It certainly gave me a mental hangover — and I am no stranger to the territory. It is difficult to discern where science ends and speculation begins, but the key reasoning seem to be as follows.

1. The ‘big bang’ model predicts that the universe began life as such a tiny object that quantum theory must be applied to its origin (p.131). But hold on a moment! Quantum theory has only been validated under normal conditions of space, time, pressure, temperature and so on. We cannot know whether it applies to the supposed conditions at the origin of the universe, when space was intensely warped, time was at best fuzzy, and the pressure and temperature both approached infinity. What we do know is that massive objects do not exhibit quantum behaviour. No one can be sure that a new-born universe would obey quantum theory as we know it.

2.  ‘In the early universe all four dimension [of space-time] behave like space’ allowing us to ‘get rid of the problem of time having a beginning’ (pp.134-135). But if time and space were equivalent, and time did not begin, then space didn’t begin either! The universe was still-born. In fact the authors are appealing to the ‘no-boundary’ model described by Hawking 22 years ago in A Brief History of Time but are economical with the truth. The earlier book makes it clear that the model is valid only in imaginary time, not in real time (see WMG p.121). But here this caveat vanishes and imaginary time is misrepresented as real time.

The narrative then descends into farce. They claim that ‘the realisation that time behaves like space … means that the beginning of the universe was governed by the laws of science and doesn’t need to be set in motion by some god’ (p.135). So apparently the universe did ‘begin’ after all, but not in time. Confused? Me too.

3. Picturing the early universe as a quantum particle (something they themselves describe as ‘tricky’) the authors consider how it might evolve from point (state) A to point (state) B by applying Feynman’s sum-over-histories method thus:

‘[Since we are considering the beginning of the universe] there is no point A, so we add up all the histories that satisfy the no-boundary condition and end at the universe we observe today. In this view the universe appears spontaneously, starting off in every possible way. Most of these correspond to other universes.’

But by saying that point A does not exist they assume that the universe springs into existence somewhere between nothing (point A) and the present universe (point B). This tells us nothing about how or why the universe began; simply that it did begin. We knew that already.

4. Finally, p.180 does offer an explanation of spontaneous creation. The conservation of energy means that universes can only be created from nothing if their net energy is zero, with negative gravitational energy balancing out the positive energy of matter and radiation. This necessitates that a law of gravity must exist. Because a law of gravity exists it must and will of itself create universes out of nothing (no reasoning given).

So gravity is God. Unfortunately the authors have no time to tell us who created gravity (earlier they rule out God because no one could explain who created him). Nor can they tell us why matter and gravity should pop out of nothing, except to argue that ‘nothing’ undergoes quantum fluctuations. However, this requires that (like gravity) the laws of quantum mechanics pre-existed the universe and that ‘nothing’ possesses the properties of normal space, which is part of the created order and cannot be its antecedent.

A grand design? Only in the sense that this book is grandly designed to bamboozle the unwary and cloak atheistic philosophy in the garb of science. Fortunately, the clothes don’t fit.

Book Review: Who Made God?

Posted on behalf of Michael Drake.

Who Made God? is a witty, stimulating and very readable explanation of the discoveries of modern science, exhibiting the marvels of God’s creation and exposing the inconsistency of attempts to explain the universe in terms of atheism and evolution.

More than making important and obtuse concepts of modern science delightfully comprehensible in memorable imagery of daily life, Edgar Andrews silences on its own terms the challenge of atheistic scepticism and points readers to the truth and sufficiency of the Bible and faith in Christ as a framework – the only adequate framework – in which to think.

Here is a readable and informative response by an internationally respected scientist to claims that atheistic science can explain everything.  Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London, Andrews outlines with clarity and humour significant scientific constructs that describe how our universe functions.  As he does that, he shows their usefulness and consistency with observable data, while exposing their inconsistencies and inadequacies in explaining the totality of everything.  In particular Andrews renders in stark clarity the failure of the “New Atheists” (Dawkins, Dennett, et al) to explain the order and origins of the material and immaterial universe.

Against that he sets out what he calls the “hypothesis of God”.  One of new-atheism’s fallacies of debating the existence of God is its failure to define its terms.  Andrews shows that when the Bible’s definition of God as creator and sustainer of the universe is used, the observable data fits, and does so with a consistency and comprehensiveness that evolutionary atheism can never sustain.

Andrews’ last chapter highlights the inevitable and necessary conclusion to the data examined: God must exist, and does exist as the unmade maker and sustainer of everything.   But more than this, the moral argument for God exposes our inescapable need of God and his redemption in Christ.  So he closes with a personal affirmation of the grace he has found in the Saviour, and commendation of the Gospel of John as the next thing readers should turn to.

That last chapter aside, the first six chapters may be the most important contemporary writing anyone can be encouraged to read.  Neither those nor the latter chapters are always easy reading.  From the start Andrews warns that some of the science is challenging.  He encourages readers to persevere: it may be necessary to read some sections two or three times, but that is worth the effort.  Yet it is not so much how those first chapters induct readers into the theories of modern science, but how they introduce readers to a methodology of thinking about anything.  These chapters, taken on their own, are an accessible and engaging introduction to biblical epistemology.

The book is well printed, well presented and well bound: it can be given to others without apology and will keep its shape and appearance through many readings.  Each chapter is introduced with a short summary and vocabulary that, much like a road-map, helps navigate through the detail that might otherwise distract or discourage.  The summaries would make great starters for family, class or group discussion.  Who Made God? is possibly the most useful introduction to modern science a non-scientist could read, and because of the inter-disciplinary breadth of theory and experimental science canvassed, any well informed scientist will also likely profit from reading it.

My only criticism is that in making a passing comment to his reconciling the “big bang theory” with what he asserts is the Genesis 1 record of “genuine history” in an “epic poem”[1] with “clearly historical” intent (p106), Andrews unnecessarily introduces potential for doubt about Genesis.  He explains briefly that he considers Genesis 1:1 as describing the creation of the heavens and the earth in an unspecified period of time, with the following verses providing the subsequent geo-centric creative work of God.  This brief comment may cause more confusion than need be: it might have been better to have left it out or to have given it more explanation.  In both Who Made God? and his earlier From Nothing to Nature he stresses commitment to the historicity and accuracy of Genesis 1.  In From Nothing to Nature he commits to creation in six days each having a morning and an evening, while at the same time expressing belief in the very long periods of time the “big bang” presupposes.[2] Confused?  Unfortunately, that is where this brief discussion can leave the reader; yet in the context of so much excellence this should not discourage the reading of Who Made God?

I had to be persuaded to read Who Made God? I found neither the title nor the prospect of reading another pedantic, ill-informed point-scoring and petty discussion of the creation-evolution debate at all enticing.  I could not have been more mistaken.  Before I had finished the first chapter I found myself enjoying a book that informed, stimulated and challenged, and in which neither the science nor the theology is superficial or dull.  I have been passing out copies to friends and colleagues, commending to them what I believe will prove to be a lasting work in popular science, biblical theology, and devotional Christianity.

Feminist writer Fay Weldon describes it as “thoughtful, readable, witty, [and] wise.”  David Kim of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York says Andrews writes a “nuanced and compelling argument that maintains the integrity of both science and theology.”  Those comments are true but understated.  This is a great book.

Michael Drake is the principal of Carey College in Panmure and a pastor at Tamaki Reformed Baptist Church. He has been involved in advocacy for Christian schools throughout New Zealand and in raising issues about race, education, and Christianity before Parliament. He is also an Associate Chaplain at the Manukau Institute of Technology. Recently, Michael participated at our Thinking Matters Forum at Auckland University.


Notes

[1] But Genesis 1 is Hebrew narrative and bears none of the marks of Hebrew poetry (cf Robert Alter The Art of Biblical Poetry Basic Books 1985 p117).

[2] In From Nothing to Nature Andrews unequivocally asserts that “Genesis is a history book” and that “the Bible is true and can be trusted in all matters.” (p105f)   He reads Genesis 1:1 as describing a “first” day of creation (which “lasted much longer than the other six days of creation, because, unlike them, this day was not measured as the time between morning and evening).  In that first day God made the heavens and the earth before beginning the subsequent six days of creative work with regard to the already created earth.  For example, having made the moon and sun in the first day one, “He could still have put them in the sky on day four.” (p109) As to those days having morning and evening, and therefore being clearly days, he argues that possible natural explanations could include such things as the earth rotating at a much slower speed than at present.   Andrews acknowledges that this special pleading enables him to integrate the “big bang” with a literal (sort of) interpretation of Genesis.  He is however quick to point out that it is valid to interpret the Genesis days as 24 hour periods, albeit such an interpretation cannot accommodate the “big bang”.  In Who Made God? Andrews insists on a rigorous consistency in extrapolating scientific theory from observable data; a similar rigour in examining the literature of the biblical text would suggest that a) accommodation of the “big bang” to the Genesis text is neither necessary nor sufficient, and b) the inducement to such an accommodation arises not internally from the text but from external sources unrelated to the text.  In any case, the literary form of Genesis makes the most natural interpretation of verse 1 an introduction that is developed and explained in the following verses, meaning that the entire creation process took place within the six days Andrews agrees are truly days.   (cf Edward J Young Studies in Genesis One Baker, Grand Rapids 1973)

Joe Fleener reviews Who Made God?

In the latest issue of The Gospel Coalition’s online journal Themelios, Joe Fleener has written a helpful review of the 2009 book Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews:

“For rather obvious reasons, one would expect an author with the above qualifications to write a book that only an expert in science would be able to understand. This is far from the case. With chapter headings like ‘Sooty and the universe’, ‘Yogurt, cereal, and toast’, ‘Ferrets and fallacies’, and ‘Information, stupid!’, Professor Andrews combines gentle humour, pointed wit, and simple language with expert knowledge to accomplish his aim. However, in a book like this, it is inevitable that the author will need to use terms and concepts possibly unfamiliar to the average reader. In order to help in this area, each chapter begins with a brief summary of the main concept and a list of new terms with their definitions. As a result, the reader is equipped to follow the argument within each chapter and the overall thesis of the book.

This is a book I would happily give to Christians and non-Christians alike. Professor Andrews has managed to write what, I believe, will be one of the most important books published in 2009 and 2010. As the wave of literature produced by the new atheists continues to grow, the church has been further equipped with a tool to reach those who are confused. Professor Andrews more than adequately deals with the scientific arguments while simultaneously pointing the reader to the sufficiency of God, his Word, and (most important of all) the person and work of Christ.”

Read the whole thing here.

Who Made God? is available at Amazon and in New Zealand bookstores (Grace & Truth Publications has copies available for $24 NZD).

Brian reviews Craig’s latest book, On Guard

Brian Auten at Apologetics 315:

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig is an introductory-level text from one of the leading apologists today. Written with the layman in mind, Craig has geared his most powerful arguments found in Reasonable Faith into a more approachable, readable book. It is not only easily accessible for the layman, but the book itself contains illustrations, sidebars, argument maps, and summaries that make understanding and retaining the material an easier task…

David C. Cook Publishers produced the book well; everything from the cover and paper stock to the layout and size seem to be just right. The book’s included questions provide a good starting point for personal and group study. In sum, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision is a great contribution as a layman’s apologetics textbook. When the study guide is published, this will be a tremendous resource for small groups. Highly recommended – excellent content, very accessible to the layman, and well-suited for small group use.

On Guard arrived at bookstores early this month. You can pick it up at Amazon now for less than 15 bucks.

Disappointed Again !!

When I wrote to the effect that Abiogenesis (genesis of living thins from the nonliving) is not a fact of science, many anti-creationist visitors of this blog asked me to read certain books. They claimed that these books demonstrated how abiogenesis was possible in the face of the second law of thermodynamics.

I Felt Cheated. Then all of them said that I should read “Frontiers of Complexity” and that is exactly what I have been doing among other things. Surely this a good book, a very good book at that, but again it does not address the issue my friends claim as addressed. Read more

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – a Christian novel?

 – WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS – 

 

The furor over J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in Christian circles is now a cause for shame-faced admissions of mistake. One is reminded of a similar stir caused by the release of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, seen then to be an advertisement for the occult and guilty of leading children astray. While many were crying foul, others were convinced that Rowling was writing from within the Christian worldview. With Rowling revealing herself a Christian after the release of the seventh book, perhaps it is time to cede her the award for the greatest Christian fiction novel ever written.

These books show the wonder and beauty of creation. They are full of life, love and laughter, fantasy and fun. Just consider the game Quidditch, the joy of soaring unfettered in the air with the wind in your hair; the delight of discovery; the cute and cuddly Pinkie-Puffs; the humour of Fred and George Weasley; the myriad of magical creatures that Hagrid adores, all set in the beautiful grounds of Hogwarts.

In these books is the awful reality of sin, evil and suffering. See the creeping shadow of a man possessed, sucking the blood of a dead unicorn; the Dementors breeding despair, administering the kiss of death and sucking out their victims’ souls; the corruption of human government where “Magic is Might”; the cruel bigotry towards House-Elves, Goblins and Centaurs; the pride of Percy and the tears of Mrs. Weasley tormented by a Boggart.

In these books is a longing for redemption. The deprivation of family imbues Harry with a sense that something is wrong with the world, and this acute awareness drives him to protect his friends when in jeopardy. Consider his love of life, tempered by the willingness to give it up for the ones he loves. He sees the world around him as it is, and this brings a constant challenge to overcome injustice and cruelty with courage, grit and determination.

The underlying message becomes explicit when Harry visits the graveyard in Godrick’s Hollow and finds his and Dumbledore’s family burial-plots. Engraved in stone are the words, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” and “The last that shall be destroyed is death” – two scriptures that encapsulate the Christian themes of the series: death and redemption.

Rowling deals with these sensitively, expressing in her imaginary world truths that parallel our own. Where death is like moving just beyond the veil and the reality of an afterlife is shrouded in mystery. Where defeating Death means for one wizard reaching for immortality, and for another wizard reaching out to greet Death as a friend. Where one boy, destined and set apart at birth, freely gives his life for his friends.

Almost every character receives redemption. Kreature is radically transformed in a manner akin to conversion. The despicable Snape unexpectedly becomes “the bravest man I ever met.” Dumbledore’s death is at first a defeat, but eventually revealed as his greatest victory. His deeply human flaws are covered by his wise choices. In the climactic conclusion emerges a staggering analogy. Harry freely sacrifices himself to save the wizarding world. He is then resurrected; the magic in his blood protecting all from the Dark Lord whose power is broken – rendered useless. The world is made anew as the sun rises and light floods the Great Hall.

For the literary novice, the fantasy can be seen as a lure into witchcraft. For the more sophisticated reader, the series – and in particular this final instalment – has been the most charming portrayal of powerful and profound Christian truth. There are few books as satisfying and enjoyable as Harry Potter.

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.

Enjoy.

'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