Reppert’s book focuses primarily on naturalism, using various rationalistic¹ arguments against such in an attempt to promote theistic conceptions of the mind, and the world (namely, that God, as defined by Christianity exists). I want to generally share some notes on this today, firstly we might want to see how Reppert defines and treats naturalism:
Naturalism is the view that the natural world is all there is and that there are no supernatural beings. Whatever takes place in the universe takes place through natural processes and not as a result of supernatural causation. The most popular kind of naturalism is known as materialism or physicalism. Materialism maintains that the basic substances of the physical world are pieces of matter, and physicalism maintains that those pieces of matter are properly understood by the discipline of physics. (Reppert, 2003, p.46-7)
He notes that there might be some slight differences in naturalism and materialism (relating to the status of non-matter linguistic structures such as propositions for example), but argues for the sake of his purposes that anything counts as naturalistic if it:
… posits a closed “basic level of analysis,” and if all other levels have the characteristics they have in virtue of those the basic level has. If the base level is mechanistic but is not composed of matter, then we would have naturalism without materialism. If we have a basic level that is composed of matter but it is not to be described by physicalism (I’m not sure how that’s possible), then we have materialism without physicalism. However, if the argument that I am proposing works against physicalism, it will work against nonphysicalist forms of naturalism as well. (Reppert, 2003, p. 47)
He continues by way of example, and as a bridge to his argument, how a purely physical universe, defined by science as starting with the big bang, containing material substances that act without purpose (being based on the laws of the universe) come together, guided by evolution, to further propagate the species. Reppert states that the issue for him likes in our brains, which use “rational inference”, but if they are created and driven by evolution, as they seemingly are on a physicalist’s worldview, they must also be explained at the most basic level of analysis. But, he asks, the most basic level of analysis is physics, and rational inference does not operate at this level, and thus we have our first problem with explanations proposed by physicalism.
Here he turns to secular philosophers Keith Parsons and Daniel Dennett to try and tease out what exactly is meant by the term “most basic level of analysis”. Parsons states that to explain material bodies, we can look at more fundamental bodies to explain them, and even more fundamental bodies to explain them. But, the problem is we must hit a rock bottom, or fundamental explanation (if we want to avoid absurdities like an infinite regress). Parsons doesn’t see this as a problem at all:
At present, rock bottom would be the powers and liabilities of such entities as quarks and electrons… to say that there is no explanation why a quark, given that it is a fundamental particle, has the powers and liabilities it possess, seems tantamount to saying that there is no explanation of why a quark is a quark. Surely, anything with different powers and liabilities would not be a quark. (Parsons, 1989, p. 91-2 quoted in Reppert, 2003, p. 48)
With this Reppert has shown that fundamental explanations within physicalist philosophy are flawed, that is, flawed in the sense that under the physicalist view we have properties (rational inference for example) that need explanation, that currently do not have one. To Reppert naturalistic explanations are fundamentally “nonpurposive” ones:
For if some purposive or intentional explanation can be given and no further analysis can be given in nonpurposive and nonrational terms, then reason must be viewed as a fundamental cause in the universe, and this strikes me as a huge concession to position such as theism, idealism and pantheism, which maintain that reasons are fundamental to the universe.(Reppert, 2003, p. 51)
More than just nonpurposive, naturalistic explanations at the most basic level occur either out of natural necessity or chance (p. 87), which problematizes the question of rational inference even more. Do we have free will under such a system? Could we? How can we make purposive, rational decisions when at our most fundamental level we are a closed system, based on random physics?
… it is my contention that a consistent physicalism leads to the conclusion that there are no mental states with propositional content, and if such states were to exist they would be epiphenonmenal, that is, without any causal efficacy. What is more, there is certainly the possibility that what is conducive to discovering the truth might not be conducive to survival and vice versa. We night survive better not knowing the truth but by believing just those falsehoods that would be most conducive to survival. (Reppert, 2003, p. 89)
Citing Dennett the author asks what purpose could there possibly be in a physicalist view of the world, one in which rational inference seems unlikely or is at the very least, problematic? To quote Dennett:
Darwin explains a world of final causes and teleological laws with a principle that is independent of “meaning” or “purpose”. [Evolutionary theory] assumes a world that is absurd in the existentialist’s sense of the term: not ludicrous or pointless, and this assumption is a necessary condition for any non-question-begging account of purpose. (Dennett, 1976, p.171 quoted in Reppert, 2003, p.49)
Reppert states that under the physicalist view the only “purpose” one can speak of is that of the function of something, and a Darwinian one at that, for example the function of the heart is to pump blood. More than this, to Reppert “meaning” and “reasoning” must also have similar explanations, that is in the final analysis the explanation must be mechanistic and nonpurposive (and as we’ve seen, borne out of physical necessity or chance).
Reppert has more to say on naturalism, materialism and physicalism, but for now, lest you become bored, let us leave it here for today. If you’re looking for a quick response to some of this, check out my blog on Nielsen’s naturalism, here).
Reppert, V. (2003). C.S Lewis’ Dangerous Idea. Downers Grove IL. Intervarsity Press.
1: That is, the use of reason as a grounding for knowledge rather than, say, experience.
It seems appropriate when looking at a book with naturalism in the title to begin our discussion with a look at naturalism; starting more generally, working our way to the specific naturalism Nielsen puts forth. Thusly, what is Naturalism?
Naturalism denies that there are any spiritual or supernatural realities. There are, that is, no purely mental substances and there are no supernatural realities transcendent to the world or at least we have no sound grounds for believing that there are such realities or perhaps even for believing that there could be such realities. Naturalism has sometimes been reductionistic (claiming that all talk of the mental can be translated into purely physicalist terms) or scientistic (claiming that what science cannot tell us humankind cannot know). The more plausible forms of naturalism are neither across the board reductionistic nor scientistic. (Nielsen, 2001, p. 29)
(I will go into more detail on Nielsen’s discussion on reductionism and scientism in another post.)
Nielsen continues stating that (where consistent) naturalism is a type of atheism, although it “need not be a militant atheism and it should not be dogmatic: it should not claim that it is certain that theism is either false or incoherent.” (p. 30) This fallibalism however does not mean that a naturalist should be an agnostic, that is; to be consistent such a naturalist would be “an atheist arguing, or at least presupposing, that theism is either false or incoherent or in some other way unbelievable.” (p. 30) To Nielsen naturalism is incompatible with belief in God (or a belief that God exists), therefore a naturalist cannot be an agnostic: “saying, as agnostics do, that we do not know, or perhaps even cannot know, whether or not God does or does not exist. In accepting naturalism, a naturalist is also accepting that there is no God.” (p. 30) Nielsen is quick to add however that the spirit of fallibalism is at the heart of a reasonable naturalists philosophy, that is they will “argue for atheism in a fallibalistic, and sometimes even moderately skeptical, manner: a manner characteristic of modernity including that peculiar form of modernity that some call postmodernity.” (p. 30) A naturalist should be sceptical as in the fashion of Hume, that is in a “limited and moderate sense”, although they should not, and indeed cannot be a sceptic “through and through”; moreover, Nielsen adds, that a sceptic, “limited or otherwise, need not be a naturalist, atheist, or even an agnostic as the fideistic stances of Pascal and Kierkegaard brilliantly exemplify.” (p. 30) As stated Nielsen puts a high premium on fallibalism, stating that whether or not a sceptic, a naturalist will be (if she is reasonable) a fallibalist, “but that notwithstanding, still an atheist. “Dogmatic atheism” is not a pleonasm and “fallibalistic atheism” is not an oxymoron.” (p. 30)
As a small digression here, it might be important to note that to Nielsen there is not a sharp distinction between atheism and agnosticism, that is atheism is defined as:
In speaking of an atheist, I refer to someone who rejects belief in God either (a) because she believes that it is false or highly unlikely that God exists, (b) because that the concept of God is incoherent or so problematic as to make such belief impossible or irrational, or (c) because she believes that the term “God” is being used in such a manner that it is so devoid of substance as to make religious belief, rhetorical effects aside, indistinguishable from purely secular beliefs except for the fact that religious beliefs are associated with certain religiously distinctive stories which in turn are stories which (on such an account) the religious believer, though she must entertain them in a vivid and lively way, may or may not believe. (Nielsen, 2001, pp. 56-7)
From this Nielsen adds the atheist bases her rejection on how “God” is being construed by religious people; moreover Nielsen defines his personal atheism as that of someone who rejects (i) anthropomorphic conceptions of God on the basis of (a), (ii) belief in the God of developed Judaism, Christianity, or Islam on the basis of (b), and (iii) purely symbolic conception of God such as Richard Braithwaite’s and R.M. Hare’s on the basis of (c). (Nielsen, 2001, pp. 57)
Continuing on Nielsen states that most naturalists reject the conception common to the Abrahamic theisms (“where they are being even remotely orthodox”, p. 31) that “human beings are sinful, utterly dependent on God, and can only make adequate sense of their lives by accepting without question God’s ordinances for them.” (p. 31) Moreover such a naturalism rejects that particular conception of human beings as well as the associated morality that comes with those beliefs. Naturalists believe that people can “make sense of their lives and reasonably order their lives as moral beings without any belief in God or any other spiritual realities.” (p. 31)
Nielsen states that naturalists engage in both critique and explanation of religion, and that in some cases, if successful, such investigation also becomes a critique of religious belief and practice. Some critics of naturalism such as Robin Horton have stated that naturalistic explanations of religion simply “explain religion away and are superficial to boot.” (Nielsen quoting Norton, p. 31) Nielsen agrees with Horton that Bertrand Russell’s and Baron d’Holbach’s critiques are such examples that align with Horton’s view, but others such as Ludwig Feuerbach and Emile Durkehim (both of whom Nielsen draws on quite heavily in his chapter: “Naturalistic Explanations of Religion“) do not. Nielsen argues that a naturalistic conception of religion will “explain religion as a function of human needs and of the conditions of life which give rise to those needs.” (p. 31) Nielsen does ponder what if anything would constitute an adequate naturalistic explanation of religion, citing Marx Wartofsky who states “that a viable conception of religion is one which doesn’t explain religion away, but rather explains its origins, its distinctive cultural and historical forms, its persistence in various institutions, its changing contexts and development, its continuing and present existence in the modes of belief and actions of individuals.” (Nielsen quoting Wartofsky, p. 31)
Of course I am being very vague in what a naturalism might be about, after all the number of different naturalisms Nielsen looks at reflects the large number of thinkers who have discussed, defended and criticised this philosophical tradition. It becomes difficult to define any particular naturalism as Nielsen spends much of the book comparing the naturalisms of a wide range of thinkers, against their critics, and each other; some naturalisms on offer are Nielsen’s own social naturalism, Nagel’s methodological naturalism, Hook’s pragmatic naturalism, Dewey’s (et al.) ethical naturalism, Quine’s cosmological naturalism etc. Made all the more confusing when we see that many of these thinkers held more than one naturalism to be true, or very likely true, or espoused subcategories or situational naturalisms that amount to the same thing (e.g.: “Nagel characterized his naturalism as a contextualistic naturalism and Hook characterized his as an experimental or pragmatic naturalism, though as we shall see, they come to much the same thing.” Nielsen, p.138), there are even cases of some theists holding to some form of naturalism (as in the cases of Jacques Maritain, Richard Neibuhr, and C.S. Pierce), obviously these would be very nuanced positions to both hold to the title naturalism and for these thinkers to retain their theism.
It might be better, now that we have very simply touched on some of the basic ideas of naturalism, that is its varieties, its relation to atheism, fallibalism etc, we can explore different naturalisms, what Nielsen thinks of them, how strong they fare against their critics, and some of the outlier issues involved in this worldview such as the pragmatists tendency to drop metaphysical talk, the rejection of reductionism and scientism, and Nielsen’s own use of verifiability principles.
Nielsen, K. (2001). Naturalism & Religion. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books.
Read any apologetics piece and you’re likely to get several claims: atheists adhere to a strict scientism, atheism is nihilistic, atheism leads to relativism, atheists can be moral, but have no basis for that morality (See Zacharias, The Real Face of Atheism, Craig, On Guard, Moreland, The God Question etc for examples).
Haught doesn’t let the team down in his critique of the New Athiests (here after “NA”). It takes Haught all of one page into his book to charge the NA (when he says NA he primarily means Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris, he considers his book to be a refutation of all other NA, by extension, p. IX) with scientism (he gives a much more comprehensive definition on p. XIII- XIV):
The belief system that Dennett and the other new atheists subscribe to is known as “scientific naturalism” [“scientism”]. Its central dogma is that only nature, including humans and our creations, is real: that God does not exist; and that science alone can give us complete and reliable knowledge of reality. (Haught, God and the New Atheism, p. X, 2008)
Of course, a real scholar would provide lengthy references for us to look up the dogmatic language used by the NA. But, of course, not a single source, or note is provided. Much is the way this entire book goes. Which is ironic given how much Haught goes on about what a high theologian he is, and how far above the NA his writing is. One wonders (for a referenced source of what the NA actually have to say on this issue, please see here).
Haught continues on his scientism strawman argument for about 20 pages until we come to what he perceives are the fundamental issues and consequences of atheism:
Go all the way and think the business of atheism through to the bitter end; before you get too comfortable with the godless world you long for, you will be required by the logic of any consistent skepticism to pass through the disorienting wilderness of nihilism. Do you have the courage for that? (Haught, God and the New Atheism, p. 22, 2008)
But it doesn’t end for Haught there, he continues stating that in the absence of a God you are the creator of the values you live by (relativism), but this is obviously a burden, according to Haught, that one would surely want to escape. That escape is the Nietzschean “Madman’s sensation of straying through”infinite nothingness.” (p. 22) It does, according to Haught, require an “unprecedented courage” to wipe away the transcendent world of a God, in the end Haught asks if we are willing to risk madness, and if not, you are not really an atheist. (p. 22)
As always, this type of rhetoric is clear projection: the world would seem this bleak to Haught, it seems his God is a crutch that gets him through the night. And though I’m reluctant to label him with so shallow a belief, it seems obvious that’s how he feels, when we see a world without God, through his eyes. If he was so well read, he would see many positive, atheist books extolling the virtues of a naturalized philosophy (see Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God, Murray’s The Atheist’s Primer, Kai Nielsen’s Atheism and Philosophy, John Shook’s The God Debates, not to mention the NA literature itself etc for examples)? Instead Haught wishes to focus on the writings of 3 existentialist, nihilistic philosophers (Sartre, Nietzsche and Camus) as the basis for how atheism should really be?
This is obviously nonsensical – leaving aside that atheism isn’t a movement, a worldview, a belief system, a religion, a dogma etc, no matter how hard Haught works, or wishes it to be so – you can be an atheist and a nihilist, you can be an atheist and a humanist, you can be an atheist and a moral relativist, you can be an atheist and believe in objective morals, or even, absolute morals. There is no contradiction in these, and atheism; these are all intellectual additions to a foundational atheism, worldviews which (can) include atheism.
In Haught’s discussion of morality I feel like he wants to give some kind of divine command theory as his justification for morals, but he never really delves deep enough into the issue to make any grand declarations of such, even though he eludes to it:
[On the NA] But where logical rigor would require that they also acknowledge that there is no timeless heaven to determine (emphasis mine) what is good and what is not… (Haught, God and the New Atheism, p. 24-5, 2008)
And again, on the next page he states that if there is no eternal grounding for values, then all we are left with is “arbitrary, conventional, historically limited, human concoctions”. (p. 26) Moreover he charges the NA with holding this supposed moral relativism as “absolutely binding” (p. 26). He states the NA demonstrate an absoluteness in their values of intolerance toward faith, and that to make moral proclamations you must assume that there exists a “mode of being, a realm of rightness that does not owe itself completely to human intervention, Darwinian selection, or social construction.” (p. 26) To Haught, if absolute morals exist, God exists, similarly the reverse is also true, if God does not exist, absolute morals do not and “one should not issue moral judgements as if they do.” (p. 26)
This is all very nice rhetoric, but I hope it is obvious to the reader, that Haught has offered no justification to substantiate his series of claims – no references, no formal argument of any kind, logical or evidential. His book reads like a sermon. But do we need to listen to a word of it? He does not cite where the NA make such proclamations (he quotes them without citation), and assuming they made such proclamations, Haught is merely assuming that without God, there can be no talk of morals. Why must this be so? Can reason, and evidence not suggest to us what normative moral choices we must make? And would this not be exactly what we would expect to see in a naturalized philosophy? A discussion of morals that deals with the world, as it is? What better way to make moral exhortations, than by looking at the evidence, and dealing rationally with the consequences, through philosophy, and evidence. How poor and low must we be, to rely on Bronze Age tomes to pronounce how to act, and what to think? Haught’s version of morals amounts to divine command – what God says goes – too bad for homosexuals, women, atheists etc, I guess.
Haught does not agree that reason is enough to get us to a place of moral prescription, as it is based on our reasoning, which is fallible (p. 73):
… as Harris conjectures, we can fall back on reason alone to explain what our obligations are and why we should heed them. Yet, even apart from the historical naiveté of such a proposal, this rationale simply leads us back to a more fundamental question: why should we trust our reasoning abilities either? If the human mind evolved by Darwinian selection in the same way as every other trait we possess, we still have to be able to justify our trust in its cognitional capacity – its ability to put us in touch with truth – in some way other than biology alone. (Haught, God and the New Atheism, p. 73-4, 2008)
Haught continues stating that a naturalistic worldview cannot justify the above presupposition. (p. 74) But this view seems to assume that each individual is disconnected from a recorded history, from other minds, from scientific evidence, from logical argument, from societal changes and pressures. Haught may be right, that if I were a lone person, stranded on an island I might have no way to confirm my moral choices (what moral choices I could make in that situation of course). But has Haught represented, accurately, the situation we find ourselves in? I would think not. We have all of those avenues mentioned above, to self correct the misgivings and short comings we have in our cognitive faculties.
There is also another assumption present in Haught’s view – that we (a) must be, or (b) can be absolutely right about all moral choices all the time. But, again, why think this is so? We are fallible creatures, our historical context, in both religious and secular settings, demonstrates that we have had ebbs and flows of moral development, which seems to suggest we are still heading toward a better moral perspective.
I don’t think Haught has made his case for the same old tired apologetics used against atheism. No source is given to demonstrate the NA’s views on scientism, only Haught’s (constant) assertion that they subscribe to that view. I hope I’ve demonstrated (via the link provided) that not only is this a baseless assertion, it is demonstrably false. If I have succeeded in demonstrating that point, we see much of Haught’s book is a strawman attempt, I leave it for you to decide what you make of such an author who relies on such tactics.
Similarly Haught never shows us why a nihilistic view of atheism would be bad, even we agree it might be, but the fact that he’s citing philosophers who are such, suggests that such a view can be rationally justified. What Haught relies on is an emotional response – we view nihilism as negative, as relative, as amoral, so we would not want to be like that – hence atheism is bad.
Similarly with his charge of relativism and atheism having no basis for morals. It should be obvious to any reader of this blog by now, what atheism is: a lack of belief in a god or gods. Under this definition atheism has no responsibility to find a moral system, that is the job of a naturalized philosophy, or a materialistic philosophy, or a feminist philosophy etc. Adding to that, I think it can be demonstrated, at least as superficially as I have done in this post, that a naturalized philosophy provides a more coherent moral basis, one that is suited to the world, than the one based on the dictator in the sky.
Haught, J.F., (2008). God and the New Atheism. Louisville, Kentucky. Westminster John Knox Press. Pp. IX, X, XIII, XIV, 22, 24-5, 73-4, 75.
- Dogmatic New Atheism. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Blackford on l’affaire Haught et Coyne (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- Faith and Evidence in John Haught’s “God and the New Atheism” (choiceindying.com)
- Cognitive Dissonance and Christian Definitions (thinkingenigma.wordpress.com)
- Haught is to Haughty Near Allied (choiceindying.com)
- Scandal in Academia! John Haught refuses to have his debate with Jerry Coyne Posted! Shame on you Dr. Haught! (choiceindying.com)
- Julian Baggini on Mystification (choiceindying.com)
- John Haught releases the video (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Haught vs Coyne: “Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?” (sandwalk.blogspot.com)
- Articles (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
Today I want to do something of a prima facie investigation into some of the problems I have with the cosmological argument. So much of the debate on the Kalam get’s caught up in the arguments premises, as well it should, but in this post I want to explore only a few issues, some contradictions, fallacies and whether God as an answer, is really an answer at all. Of course some of these objections and queries may not seem new to some of you, and some may seem new, but please, bear with me anyway.
For those who don’t know it, here is the argument, famously propagated by William Lane Craig:
- Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe had a cause. (Craig, On Guard, p. 74, 2010)
Today though, instead of going through and showing why each premise fails, I want to move on to some other issues. You may ask, why not address the argument directly? Well, for lack of a better excuse, it’s boring! That may seem arbitrary and lame, but what I really mean is: far better people than me have addressed this argument, I’m not so foolish as to think I could add to their work, I want to do something of a mental exercise for myself, to see what I might contribute to this great discussion.
I could go through the standard objections: that, as is, the Kalam doesn’t lead to anything supernatural, and even if it did (based on objectionable, hidden premises) that supposed supernatural answer doesn’t lead to a god, to suggest so, could be construed as an argument from ignorance (the universe has a cause X, we don’t know what X is, ipso facto: God) rather it leads to an unknown. To get to anyone’s specific god you need additional arguments, what those arguments are, I don’t know. The moral or fine-tuning arguments as Craig uses? Why cant the Muslim use those? And if they can, they don’t help the Christian – the evidence for a theory we might consider (i.e – a god exists) should not be able to prove multiple, contradictory hypothesis. The Resurrection argument as Craig uses? Sure, but does that argument prove the Christian God? Or merely beg the question by assuming the Christian God, to prove a miracle (for more on this see here and here)? Moreover how does the Kalam relate to, or follow from the Resurrection argument? They seem disparate.
We could object to the first premise saying that (virtual) particles do pop into existence out of nothing, with no cause. True, they don’t exist in a vacuum but do we understand the universe to have come into existence via vacuum? It is a vacuum, not in one.
We could sprout the composition fallacy, that because parts of the whole act a certain way (i.e the universe contains cause and effect), it does not follow that the whole does (i.e that the universe is similarly caused). Think of a flock of sheep – each sheep has a mother, it does not follow that the herd does too.
We could go on, and on of course, but rather I want to look at 3 conjoined issues: infinity, sequential causation, and why god is no explanation – as it is a mystery.
Infinity and sequential causation.
It always strikes me as odd that some theists, when trying to defend the second premise of the Kalam attempt to demonstrate that the universe can’t be necessarily existent in eternity. They try to show, alongside the empirical evidence for the big bang that there is good philosophical evidence to accept a finite beginning for the universe, they do this by making an argument against it existing in infinity. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is: this is special pleading. We are left to ask, if the universe couldn’t exist for infinity, just how exactly does your god? Why cant the universe have the same creative powers as a creator God? Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli, in their book Handbook of Catholic Apologetics defend the Kalam in just such as way:
Now, if the universe never began, then it always was. If it always was then it is infinitely old. If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before (say) today. And so an infinite number of days must have been completed – one day succeeding another, one bit of time added to what went before – in order for the present day to arrive. (Kreeft and Tacelli, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, p. 9, 2009)
Could we not pose this exact problem to Kreeft and Tacelli?
Now, if the
universegod never began, then it always was. If it always was then it is infinitely old. If it is infinitely old, then an infinite amount of time would have elapsed before (say) today. And so an infinite number of days must have been completed – one day succeeding another, one bit of time added to what went before – in order for the present day to arrive.
The Christian God is generally defined as amongst other things, infinite – to define a being this way, and then construct an argument that demonstrates nature could not have the exact same feature, seems like a tricky word game, and clear special pleading to me. What is it about God, that is different to the universe? For this we turn to John Loftus in his book, Why I Became an Atheist, who quotes Wes Morriston:
If someone insists it is just ‘obvious’ that God could create a world without any pre-existing material stuff to work with, on the ground there is no logical contradiction in the idea of such a feat, then the proper reply is that there is also no logical contradiction in the idea of the universe beginning without a cause. (Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist, p. 85, 2008)
Moreover, as John Allen Paulos states in his book Irreligion: Occam’s razor actually begs that we shave off unnecessary assumptions which would make taking the universe itself as an uncaused cause the greatest virtue – to use Paulos’ expression. (Paulos, Irreligion, p. 108, 2008)
The point, I hope, is clear – what is good for God, be it infinity or creation, should also be good for the universe – if it’s not, it is special pleading.
We don’t know what their response would be, as they don’t address this objection. Let us go through what their possible objections might have been.
They could argue that God didn’t exist in time, that god invented the temporal realm when it created the universe, but this leads to absurdities. The Dictionaryof Science defines time as:
A dimension that enables two otherwise identical events that occur at the same point in space be distinguished. The interval between two such events forms the basis of time measurement. (Daintith, Martin Ed’s, The Dictionary of Science, p. 822, 2010)
The above definition seems to demonstrate that causes and effects are done within time, with this in mind, we could ask (a) how they know God exists, thinks and acts outside of time, it does no good to simply assert a being does X as an ad hoc hypothesis, you need to demonstrate that it does and (b) it is not at all clear, or perhaps even logical that the Christian God was able to exact causation, think etc outside of time. How it could exist in not-time, think in not-time, as all these attributes are temporally dependent.
Again we refer to John Allen Paulos and his book Irreligion:
… efforts made by some to put God, the putative first cause, completely outside of time and space give up entirely the notion of cause, which is defined in terms of time. After all, A causes B, only if A comes before B, and the first cause comes – surprise – first, before its consequences. In fact, ordinary language breaks down when we contemplate these matters. (Paulos, Irreligion, p. 5-6, 2008)
Let us run a little thought experiment based on the above definition of time: to think thought (a) you need time (a), to think thought (b), you also need time (b) – to think thought (a) and (b) at time (a) violates the law of identity and results in a contradiction. Thought of act, thought of ponderance, all require an interval from time (a) to time (b), without that temporal delineation God would have every thought, every experience it has ever had at time (a) which would result in it holding the belief of a and ~a at the same time, hence the aforementioned contradiction. But even this understanding makes no sense, as there would have been no time (a) hence God would have to think, and act without time – but this makes no sense, and leads us back to asking just exactly how the authors know their God has done so – until they offer us some ways to understand the logical quagmire we’re in, we are justified in rejecting this concept.
God as an explanation.
These absurdities lead us to our third objection: that God is so much of a mystery, that to pose it as an answer to anything, acts as no explanation. Traditional theology has simply defined god as that which needs no explanation, so putting god into an unknown like the pre-big bang makes prima facie sense, and I can see why a theist sees this as a resolution to the problem. The critic takes issue with this however, we want good explanations for events, not ad hoc hypothesis.
The theist could argue the difference between contingent and necessary beings – the universe is probably a thing that had a beginning, hence it could not have been, this makes it and everything contained within it, contingent. Necessary beings cannot not exist, they have no origin and cannot be destructed – we cannot rationally conceive of its nonexistence and it needs no explanation of its existence. The universe is contingent and god is necessary – hence the universe requires an explanation (God) and God requires no explanation. The issue here is, why could the universe, taken as a whole, not also be an uncaused, necessary being? And, why should God be postulated as a necessary being? Moreover, even if God itself requires no explanation, it fails as an explanation.
Shook states in his book The God Debates that:
… explanations do not get automatically sanctioned by reason, not even if there is no other explanation that we can think of right now. Theology Beyond The World’s proposed arguments for a god explaining the universe can’t pass the test of reason. Furthermore a good explanation had better include some extra details sufficient to deal with obvious concerns. For example, if god created the universe, why did god do this? What is it about god that would cause god to create this sort of universe, and not some other type? Are there any other gods playing with their own universes? Why can there be only one god? Does god create many universes, or just one? Did god have to create this universe’s natural laws? Couldn’t god have done a better job? How can we know tat we are the whole point of this universe? What or who else might have this universe been designed for? What is god going to do with this universe? If god really exists, then what explains god? What or who created god? If god didn’t have an explanation, doesn’t that violate the principle of sufficient reason? (Shook, The God Debates, p. 153-4, 2010)
I think the point Shook is making is that the God “explanation” really offers us nothing – it has no predictive power, in that the God hypothesis does nothing to predict events, causes or clues to gain us further knowledge about ourselves and the universe. It is a place holder – until we find the seemingly inevitable natural answer. It simply raises more questions than it answers. This is something George H. Smith asks in his book Atheism: The Case Against God:
To posit god as the cause of the universe still leaves two crucial questions unanswered: What caused the universe? How did it cause the universe? To say a god is responsible for the existence of the universe is vacuous without knowledge of god’s nature and the method used in creating the existence. If god is to serve as a causal explanation, we must have knowledge of god’s attributes by virtue of which has the capacity to create from nonexistence, and knowledge of the causal process involved in creation, by virtue of which god designated as a cause. (Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God, p. 238, 1989)
As Smith states, the theists answer amounts to: “An unknowable being using, unknowable methods “caused” the universe to snap into existence.” (Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God, p. 238, 1989) This relates back to our first 2 issues of causation and infinity, it simply makes no sense to posit a creator as an answer to creation, especially when the explanations it offers are :”somehow”, or “through incomprehensible means”, these are not explanations – they are mysteries.
Why would we prefer a supernatural explanation in this instance, when it leads to contradictions, absurdities, a failure of Occam’s razor and offers us no explanatory power? Is it those amongst us who have a need for certainty that need an inviolable answer like a god to plug up our gaps in knowledge? Speaking as an atheist, I have no problem simply saying: “I don’t know” to the question of what happened pre- big bang, because, a posteriori proofs aside, ultimately we don’t know. As a methodological naturalist, I’m ok with tentatively accepting the theories and hypothesis science has to offer – how much weight we put in those is relative to the evidence, and I admit, the evidence is not strong – but so what? My worldview does not require I have all the answers with absolute certainty, particularly when those answers go beyond what we know. We may never know in our lifetimes what the “cause” of the universe is, or even if it makes sense to talk in terms of causation and time pre- big bang. Does that mean I can’t love my family, my friends, my girlfriend and my life? Of course not.
Craig W.L. (2010) On Guard. Lee Vance View, Colorado Springs. David C. Cook. P. 74.
(2010). The Dictionary of Science (Daintith J., Martin E. Ed’s). New York, New York. Oxford University Press. P. 822.
Kreeft P. J., Tacelli R.K. (2009). Handbook of Catholic Apologetics. San Francisco. Ignatius Press. P. 64.
Loftus J. W. (2008). Why I Became an Atheist. Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. P. 85.
Paulos J. A. (2008). Irreligion. New York, New York. Douglas & McIntyre Inc. P. 5-6.
Shook J.R. (2010). The God Debates. Sussex, United Kingdom. Wiley-Blackwell. P. 136, 153-4.
Smith G.H. (1989). Atheism: The Case Against God (second edition). Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. P. 238.
- Loftier Musings On Kreeft’s Handbook of Catholic Apologetics. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- The Kalām Cosmological Argument (factorysense.wordpress.com)
- Debunking the Kalam Cosmological Argument of William Lane Craig (arizonaatheist.blogspot.com)
- Apologetic Thursdays: The Cosmological Argument (veritasmizzou.wordpress.com)
- Debunking the Kalam Cosmological Argument of William Lane Craig (new.exchristian.net)
- William Lane Craig vs Stephen Law: Does God Exist? (pw201.livejournal.com)
- Curiouser and Curiouser: Came, Vallely, Cowardice and Anti-Intellectualism (choiceindying.com)
- Kalam-e-Iqbal contest at LCWU (nation.com.pk)
- Fumbling Feser (stephenlaw.blogspot.com)
- Articles. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
Our compelling reasons to write this book are three:
- We are certain the Christian faith is true.
- We are only a little less certain that the very best thing we can possibly do for others is to persuade them of this truth, in which there is joy and peace and love incomparable in this world, and infinite incomprehensible in the next.
- We are a little less certain, but still confident, that honest reasoning can lead any open-minded person to this very same conclusion. (Kreeft and Tacelli, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, p. 9, 2009)
When the authors say: “We are certain the Christian faith is true” and “We are a little less certain, but still confident, that honest reasoning can lead any open-minded person to this very same conclusion.” – they seem to be engaging in some fallacious reasoning.
After all – they are certain Christianity is true, yet less certain that honest reasoning can lead you there? What are the authors privy to, that you or I might not be? One might say that the authors are suggesting it is the reader who brings their own presuppositions to the table that makes for the uncertainty – that the evidence is enough to make the authors certain, but you may make faulty conclusions. Aside from this being a nice little switching of the burden of proof fallacy, the authors bypass the above statement by claiming that “honest reasoning can lead any open-minded person to this very same conclusion” – which means in cases of honest individuals reasoning, the same conclusions made by the authors should be met – after all if the evidence is there and we are looking at it honestly – why wouldn’t we come to the conclusion Christianity is true? Could it be that the evidence isn’t there – and Christians have made an epistemic leap to unjustified conclusions? Not according to these authors – it is because you are being dishonest, close minded and unreasonable – unfortunately ad hominem is a fallacy that does not solve arguments.
Moreover we see a nice little apologetic tactic in there too – something to help nuzzle believers into a comfort zone of unthreatening acceptance – “honest reasoning can lead any open-minded person to this very same conclusion.” – therefore any who don’t accept their conclusions are dis-honest, close-minded and un-reasonable? Unfortunately an unbeliever is immediately put on the back foot by these kind of statements, and is left to wonder, without answer, just why they are so unreasonable, close-minded and dishonest. One might surmise it is simply because they have come to different conclusions than the Christian? As I have mentioned before – I really do love how much “The Gnu Atheists are slammed (see here, here, here and here – not to mention the plethora of Christian books responding to and making money off the New Atheism) for being arrogant, offensive, intolerant of religion (etc ad nauseam) yet believers seem not to notice when they do the exact thing they seem to despise, to atheists (see here and here) – but I guess it’s ok when you’ve got God on your side.
One wonders what their second point has to, specifically do, with a theistic worldview: ” in which there is joy and peace and love incomparable in this world”? Surely an atheist or a theist of a different stripe is free to hold notions of this kind? Moreover an atheist is welcome to believe in the ontological truth of this statement “and infinite incomprehensible in the next.” so again we ask – why would one need to accept theism and go further, to Christianity – when there is no need? One might also ask just why they think evangelism is such a positive thing? All we need do is look at this Christian news site, to see just how much harm comes to believers around the world, from other believers – surely a secular, enlightened way of thinking would help these parts of the world? At the very least we see, Christianity is not helping.
Kreeft P. J., Tacelli R.K. (2009). Handbook of Catholic Apologetics. San Francisco. Ignatius Press. P. 9.
- Jesus’ Shocking Life – Peter Kreeft at Saddleback Church – Essential Apologetics (rodiagnusdei.wordpress.com)
- Loftier musings on (my) atheism/atheists.. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Preparing for school with 20% off college essentials from Ignatius Press (insightscoop.typepad.com)
- Loftier musings on some of the problems with the minimal facts approach (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- The sickening apologetics of Ravi Zacharias (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Bias (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Aquinas, Augustine, and “Mommy Bloggers” (catholicdefense.blogspot.com)
- What Difference Does Heaven Make? (insightscoop.typepad.com)
- On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (davidscommonplacebook.wordpress.com)
Hot off his recent debate with Russell Blackford and others, Stephens isn’t smarting at all from his loss but has come out swinging over at the ABC website’s religion an ethics blog (in which he runs), in a piece entitled “The unbearable lightness of atheism“.
And a swing is exactly what it looks like.
Posting, as he notes, his thrust from the IQ2 debate, one is left to wonder just why he would post his losing argument to begin with, and why I am wasting the virtual ink to respond to it, when Blackford and co. did a far better job than I could.
I enjoy blogging, simple as that.
It is always amusing to note the language used by theists when discussing “The Gnu Atheism”, you’ll notice it generally takes the tone they claim said atheists do, ironic it is, and more than a little sad.
Stephens immediately goes for what I imagine most theists consider to be atheism’s job and weak point: morality. Of course anyone who’d spent 5 seconds researching atheism would realise atheism doesn’t have to explain anything, but hey, let us not let the facts get in the way of a good yarn.
It’s the same old yarn really, society in decline, morals run rampant, relativism, post-modernism. The problem is, as with most of the ABC’s opinion pieces, is there is very little room to elaborate and explain ideas, what we end up with is a mixed bag of assertions, which then yield to greater assertions:
It seems that we have reached a point in our national life where we are utterly incapable of reaching any kind of minimal moral consensus on fundamental questions.
What are the threats that we face in common? Where are those sources of corruption, perversion, addiction and even servitude that we ought to protect ourselves and others from? What virtues ought we to have and instil in others in order to make a robust civil society? What are our obligations to others – those living (including those who come to us from without our borders), dying and not yet born? What constitutes a good life? What ends do politics and the economy serve?
Such questions were once the subject of ferocious political and public debate; and, for better or worse, the Left and the Right believed there were answers, and that they had them. (Stephens, The unbearable lightness of atheism, 2011)
Hmm, that’s bleak, but I wonder, as Stephens does, who is to blame? Atheism?
There are few things today more fashionable, more suited to our modern conceit, than atheism. In fact, far from being radical or heroically contrarian, the current version of atheism strikes me as the ultimate conformism.
This is especially apparent in the case of the slipshod, grotesquely sensationalist “New Atheism” – invariably renounced by principled, literate atheists like James Wood, Thomas Nagel, John Gray, Philip Pullman and the late Bernard Williams – which poses no serious challenge to our most serious social ills and so has no other alternative but to blame our social ills in toto on religion.
Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am not claiming that atheism is necessarily the cause of our modern predicament, much less that it is the root of all evil. To make such a claim would be to accord this variety of atheistic chic with too much importance, too much weight. (Stephens, The unbearable lightness of atheism, 2011)
I have to wonder, if the worst thing Stephens can say is that atheism is no longer “heroically contrarian” then we could, as atheists, say that “The Gnu Atheists” and the secular foundations (secular student alliance, ACLU, Freedom from religion foundation etc) have done their job, insofar as they have given atheists a voice and protected the rights of unbelievers – we no longer need to be heroic or contrarian. To which I say, thankyou!
I find it nevernedingly ironic that he claims “The Gnu Atheism”: ” poses no serious challenge to our most serious social ills and so has no other alternative but to blame our social ills in toto on religion.” when one could make the argument, and I am – that is the very thing Stephens is doing in his article.
It’s relieving that Stephens wishes to elaborate that atheism isn’t the cause of the worlds problems, but it does beg the question – why would he spend his first 12 paragraphs talking about a decline in society, then without preamble jump to atheism, simply to say that it’s not the cause of the moral decline? What, he just wants to rant about it anyway? If there is no hidden agenda here, then Stephens is simply really bad at coordinating a narrative.
But don’t think I’m strawmanning Stephens, he continues:
In a way, I think where atheism fits in our cultural moment it is more incidental than that. Our real problem today is the impoverishment of the modern mind, our inability to think properly about such elevated things as the Good, Beauty, Truth, Law, Love, Life, Death, Humanity, the End or Purpose of things, even Sex itself, without such ideas being debased by an incurious and all-pervasive nihilism. (Stephens, The unbearable lightness of atheism, 2011)
So it is, it’s not atheism that’s the problem, but nihilism (then we still ask – why is he discussing atheism at all?). Of course anyone who has read any apologetics would know this is what many apologists charge atheism with, claiming something to the effect of: this is where atheism leads us. Even if this isn’t Stephens’ point, one has to wonder about his perception of the world. Are things so bleak to Stephens? Or are these simply the problems that accompany a theistic worldview, phrases like “the End or Purpose of things, even Sex itself” seem to be problems for the religiously minded individual, would these problems plague a persons worldview who bases such on the evidence?
Perhaps – we could always make the world better, but to assert that the modern mind is unable to properly think on these subjects seems asinine – and not to mention self refuting since if this was true Stephen’s own dialogue here would be unacceptable – particularly when it’s done with the backdrop of atheism flowing in the background. If one is to tie together the narrative Stephens seems to have so much trouble doing – one may assume, after all, it is the atheists fault – for the supposed inability of the modern mind to think properly on ideals which are largely well solved in the secular life? This is circular.
And here we confront a desperate contradiction at the heart of so much atheistic hyperbole (accurately identified by Bernard Williams and others). The New Atheists rely heavily on the thesis that religion is the enemy of progress and human flourishing, and that once the last vestiges of religion are done away with, humanity will be far better off. But they also claim that all religion is “man-made,” and self-evidently so. This begs the question: if religion is indeed this all-pervasive source of corruption and prejudice and moral retardation, where do they believe that religion itself comes from, if not the human imagination? (Stephens, The unbearable lightness of atheism, 2011)
Stephens is, of course, building to his point, which will come to in a moment – for now we see a category error – to say that “The Gnu Atheists” are calling religion the problem and that religion comes from man, and therefore what does this mean – misses a few steps in reasoning. Let us leave aside the fact that no quotations are given, and focus on the argument – Stephens seems to assume that “The Gnu Atheists” think it is “man” who is the problem, but rather it is religion as an epistemological tool man uses that is the problem. “Man” (sorry for the masculine pronoun ladies) may have his faults, but that means religion is all the more dangerous – what “The Gnu Atheists” are saying, if we are to accept, rather generously, Stephens quoting of them – is that we need a more robust epistemological tool – one that draws conclusions from the evidence, not the other way around, one that allows investigation into it’s ideals (re: no dogma), one that takes the world as it is presented to us – things of this nature. Religion comes from the failure of “man” to understand and explain the intricacies of his world, from tradition and habit. But as we see, this is in decline.
Now we come to his point:
And so, it would seem that we are left with an unavoidable choice: either these atheists are really misotheists, God-haters, who rage against the very idea of God, the Good, Truth and Law, and so desperately try to will God out of existence; or their oft-professed faith in the inherent human capacity for progress is without justification; or the history of religion reflects the extraordinary human capacity to pursue the Good, as well as its equally pronounced tendency for Evil, idolatry and nihilism. (Stephens, The unbearable lightness of atheism, 2011)
The atheists, or rather “The Gnu Atheists” it seems after all – are a not the cause, but rather a symptom of our faulty society, their rejection of what Stephens calls “the Good, Truth and Law”, and their “desperate” push to “will” God out is but part of our world of sin (you just know he wants to say it)? It is painfully sad to watch Stephens flounder around attempting listlessly to assign some kind of blame to a world he sees is out of control – of course it has to be those damn dirty atheists – after all, no all-powerful, all-knowing being could possibly be responsible for any of the supposed lack of “Good”, “Truth” and “Law” in the world – no, no , that would be ridiculous.
As far as “The Gnu Atheist’s” supposed faith in the inherent human capacity for progress which is apparently without justification (which again, asserted without evidence), we can simply say that all us over here in the sunny atheist camp are loving life, we’re living in a society with the least amount of violence and crime, some might say we are living in the best this world has ever been. Homosexuals, women and minorities are slowly coming to get their rights – despite what Stephens’ religion might have to say about it, sure the world has plenty to work on, no-one’s claiming perfection, and we’re by no means done. Stephens continues:
It is apparent, is it not, that the current batch of chic atheists are but a symptom of a more general cultural decline, the steady impoverishment of what Hilaire Belloc perfectly described as “the Modern Mind,” which ceaselessly explains away its own moral deficiencies by projecting them onto God and banishing him into the wilderness.
It is just as apparent why such an atheism – with its cartoon versions of history, its theological illiteracy, it fetishisation of science, its hostility to the humanities and aesthetics, its flattened-out brand of morality as mere “well-being,” its cheap gags and mode of incessant piss-taking cynicism – should appeal so powerfully to a culture that has grown accustomed to the vulgarities and trivia enshrined in the modern media. (Stephens, The unbearable lightness of atheism, 2011)
It is here, that all I have been saying comes to fruition, I mean, come on ladies and gentlemen I implore you – do atheists really have to take this baseless, crap, asserted without evidence? I don’t even have the energy to address this ad hominem nonsense except to quote Stephens from earlier, when discussing the “The Gnu Atheism”:
“which poses no serious challenge to our most serious social ills and so has no other alternative but to blame our social ills in toto on religion.” (Stephens, The unbearable lightness of atheism, 2011)
It’s ironic to see how high and mighty the pious are when judging those damn dirty atheists and how much people like Stephens fail to see their own hypocrisy. The above could easily be said of the meandering drivel Stephens has posted here, so in the end, he seems to be no better than the atheists he means to place the entire burden of modern civilization on.
Stephens S. (2011). The unbearable lightness of atheism. Retrieved October 5th, 2011, from http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/09/13/3316962.htm
- ABC gets it wrong again: Atheism and Humanism, forms of civil religion? (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Loftier musings on (my) atheism/atheists.. (zaknafein81.wordpress.com)
- Believe in mad rubbish because it’s good for you (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Progressive Atheism (atheistrev.com)
- Die, Atheism, Die. (girlcartridge.wordpress.com)
- IQ2 Debate online: “Atheists are wrong” (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- What’s Atheism? (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
- Death and atheism (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- The opposite of worship is not atheism… it’s the worship of the wrong thing. (andrewejenkins.wordpress.com)
- Atheism has a sexism problem (freethoughtblogs.com)
I recently read James Barr’s really enlightening book ‘Fundamentalism‘ whose main thesis was as the namesake suggests. Something that I hadn’t really considered before, was the difference between ‘literalism’ and ‘inerrancy’ and how this pertains to a fundamentalists reasoning.
It’s important to note at the outset, that defining a fundamentalist is tricky, the term is not used in a pejorative sense herein, but simply to describe a Christian that holds
(a) a very strong emphasis on the inerrancy of the Bible, the absence from it of any sort of error;
(b) a strong hostility to modern theology and to the methods, results and implications of modern critical study of the Bible;
(c) an assurance that those who do not share their religious viewpoint are not really ‘true Christians’ at all (Barr, Fundamentalism, p. 1, 1977).
Barr recognizes that these views are not held by all fundamentalists and that these definitions require expanding and elaboration, to be even in the ball park of ‘fair’ in their accuracy: ‘complex social and religious movements are not defined in a few words’. But it gives you, the reader, a picture of what I’m talking about when I say ‘fundamentalist’.
Fundamentalists are concerned with minimizing error in the Bible- in fact they believe there are no errors in it, be they theological, geographical, historical or scientific. They are working under the less than Biblical (I will discuss that in a moment) assumption that the Bible is divinely inspired and infallible, but to keep a 2,000 year old tome like the Bible relevant with current scientific, literary and historical understanding, the fundamentalist will drop literalism to maintain that inerrancy has not been disrupted.
Genesis represents a perfect example of this:
“…most conservative evangelical opinion today does not pursue a literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis. A literal interpretation would hold that the world was created in six days, these days being the first of the series which we still experience as days and nights. Not at all according to conservative evangelical sources; on the contrary, they are full of warnings about the dangers and difficulties involved for those who take the day literally… E.F. Kevan tells us that there are ‘serious difficulties’ in taking them as ordinary days… (Barr, Fundamentalism, pp. 40-1, 1977)
Barr continues demonstrating some of the apologetics used to get around the apparent ‘serious difficulties’ with the scientific contradiction that is Genesis- be it the days being ‘days of dramatic vision’, or that they do not ‘represent a twenty-four hour period’ but rather a ‘geological age’ or that the textual strategy is a ‘poetic figure’ (quoting Meredith Kline, p. 41). The problem with this being that the days are represented as having a ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ which seems to suggest the kind of day we experience. Again, the rebuttal being that the ‘day’ represents ‘clearly defined epochs’, not actual, literal days. How silly of us to read into it so. The point we are to take away, is that the Biblical authors are telling us that ‘God created the world out of nothing and that He did it in a specific period, which came to an end.’ (p. 41)
As we see, all kinds of contortions are made, to keep the Bible from being interpreted literally in this instance, moreover, at least in the passages of Genesis (Barr offers other examples taken as non-literal from Genesis- the genealogical lists from Adam to Noah, the specific creation account; i.e. light was created before the sun etc) it is considered silly to interpret them literally.
But why is there a shift away from a literal interpretation of Genesis? Barr says it’s to do with the fundamentalists acceptance of science. The evidence for the age of the Earth, says Barr has become too strong for the fundamentalists to resist, a literal interpretation would mean
pitting the Bible against scientific truths which fundamentalist intellectuals now accept; this would in turn force the admission that the Bible in this respect had been wrong. In order to avoid this, the conservative interpreter moves over into a non-literal exegesis; only this will save the inerrancy of the Bible. (Barr, Fundamentalism, p. 42, 1977)
A hundred years ago, (probably less, says Barr, p.42) a literal interpretation would have been insisted upon, and if science had something contrary to say, science be damned.It’s not as if fundamentalism has given up the fight against science though, there still remains a resistance against evolutionary, climate, and stem cell sciences.
It needs to be reiterated- the fundamentalist does not, therefore, think that the Genesis accounts are fiction or myth, no, the characters, despite whatever ‘non-literal’ interpretation fundamentalists have of them, are still described as being real people, living in a real historical setting, in a real historical age.
There is a nice moment for the biblical critic when we realise that the Bible actually has very little to say about its own inspiration and inerrancy (indeed about itself at all). Barr reasons that this is due to that fact that there was no Bible as it was being written, it is only when we take an unhistorical look at the Bible, as the word of God, inspired and infallible from the beginning, that we can hope to make claims about what the Bible ‘said about itself’. This is why there are a paucity of passages in the Bible proper claiming it to be ‘inerrant’ (2 Peter 1:20 and 2 Timothy 3:16 for example), after all, what would the authors of these passages have been claiming was inerrant? ‘The scriptures’ was a reference to the OT, and even if these authors were aware of other books of the Bible, we have no way of knowing which ones they knew of, or which ones they considered to be authentic. Besides, even if 2 Peter and 2 Timothy were referring to their own passages as inspired, it would be a difficult burden of proof to meet indeed, to demonstrate they speak for the entire canon. This makes the claim of inerrancy by fundamentalists a philosophical and seemingly esoteric (not to mention circular) definition.
The fundamentalist will listen to the arguments of critical scholarship- when they hear questions like: ‘might the linguistic and literary form suggest that the passage is myth or legend?’ ‘Might it be mistaken in matters of historical facts?’ ‘Might it be something generated not by external events which occurred in this sequence, but by problems in the inner experience of the early church?’ (p. 51) Barr states however, that these kinds of questions are isolated and eliminated from the beginning of the fundamentalists exegesis, they may be considered but only insofar as they are forced to do so by the arguments of critical scholars- and even then it is only to fashion an appropriate apologetic.
Generally, theological necessity is a guiding light for what must be taken as literal and not, for example, the virgin birth is taken literally because its physical necessity is required for the Christian faith. The law that the seventh day be taken as rest however is not taken literally for precisely the opposite reason. Barr states that it is only upon criticism that passages lacking theological necessity are defended, not because they become theologically necessary, but rather due to the fact that fundamentalists need to at least maintain the appearance that the Bible contains inerrant true in the face of critical scholarship.
As we see, this makes for a confusing, muddled and completely individualistic way of interpreting the Bible- inerrancy is maintained by ‘constantly altering the mode of interpretation’ as Barr says (p. 46).
Literality, though it might well be deserving of criticism, would at least be a somewhat consistent interpretive principle, and the carrying out of it would deserve some attention as a significant achievement. What fundamentalists do pursue is completely unprincipled- in the strict sense unprincipled, because guided by no principle of interpretation- approach, in which the only guiding criterion is that the Bible should, by the sorts of truths that fundamentalists respect and follow, be true and not in any sort of error.
Inerrancy is the guiding light for the fundamentalist, with literalness being a varying nicety to be enjoyed if possible. If you do not share this perspective with the fundamentalist you are of course left to wonder, as I do, why anyone accepts this book, as the word of a God- when such contortions have to be made to understand it.
- Rethinking Evangelicalism Pt. 2 (mikefriesen05.wordpress.com)
- When is an inerrancy debate not really about inerrancy? (westernthm.wordpress.com)
- What is ‘inerrancy’? (goodnewsnow.wordpress.com)
- Little-Known Bible Verses: The Holy Kiss (daylightatheism.org)
- The Unity of Scripture [EvolutionBlog] (scienceblogs.com)
- michael licona, norm geisler and biblical inerrancy (daytonhartman.com)
- Round and Round We Go (sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com)
- If you’re so confused let read why Bible is of no use literally (eekaa.wordpress.com)