f The Wittenberg Door: May 2008

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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The New Atheist Challenge – Part 2 (Conclusion)

In part 1 I mentioned that for a worldview to be considered viable it must be able to make sense of reality. Atheism as a worldview fails to provide a foundation for abstract (non-material), invariant (things not given to change) entities, such as morality, mathematics, laws of logic, and propositions. Moreover, Atheism fails to make sense of love and beauty, and is found wanting when it comes to accounting for the regularity of nature.

So what are we to make of it when Atheists love, show compassion, demand justice, use logic and mathematics, and engage in the scientific enterprise? Like a drowning man denying the existence of water, they must assume the Christian worldview in order to refute it—for it is Christianity, not Atheism, that comports with reality.

Christianity Provides the Answers

Christianity answers the tough questions:

  • Morality
    Murder (the unjust taking of a human life) is wrong. We know this innately. The same is true with theft, adultery, rape, lying, etc. (Sure, there’ve been variations on these themes, but the themes remain.)

    Morality reflects God’s character. He is holy, righteous, and just. We are beings created in his image; therefore, we are moral agents. It is upon this very foundation that civilization is made possible.

  • Mathematics and the Laws of Logic
    Prove 2+2=4. Most people grab four items, place them next to each other, and then say “two pencils and two pencils equal four pencils.” But this doesn’t solve the problem—it merely restates the equation using a different physical representation.

    How about the laws of logic? Are the laws of logic—the law of non-contradiction (A cannot be non-A at the same time and in the same sense), the law of identity (A is A), and the law of excluded middle (A is either A or it isn’t)—merely human inventions? If they are, we’re doomed. Actually, all cultures assume the laws of logic. Language isn’t even possible without them, and thus civilization would not be possible.

    2+2=4 because that’s the way it is in the mind of God; and the laws of logic reflect His thinking. Again, we think this way because we are His image bearers. Thus, Aristotle discovered (i.e., categorized) the laws of logic; he did not invent them.

  • Uniformity of Nature
    God upholds all things by the word of His power. It is because of this that we see regularity in nature, and it is because of this that we can extrapolate future events from the past. This provides the needed foundation for science and answers Hume’s Problem of Induction. All this without making incredulous claims like everything came from nothing; order came from disorder; life came from non-life; consciousness came from non-consciousness, etc.

  • Propositions
    How much does a thought weigh? How deep into space does a proposition extend? How long is it? Imagine Snoopy atop his red-roofed doghouse. Now, if we opened your cranium, would we find him there? I don’t think so. But if thoughts are material, he must be there! Perhaps we just don’t have a microscope powerful enough.

Wrapping It Up

Like the previous post, this is just a thumbnail sketch (and we still didn’t have room to talk about love and beauty)—but at least it’s a start. All claims to explain reality must be scrutinized, including Atheism—It’s simply a cop-out to hide behind the claim that “there is no reason to believe in God.” It’s time for some heavy lifting, New Atheists.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

The New Atheist Challenge - Part 1

This isn’t exactly an unbiased POV. I mean, don’t they even bother to address the New Atheists main point (for those of you who weren’t aware, is that there is no reason to believe in God).

The above comment is referring to a link I provided to a Modern Reformation article, Skepticism, Agnosticism, and Atheism: A Brief History of Unbelief. As the title indicates, the article traces the history of unbelief and skepticism from ancient Greece and Rome through the brutal, 20th Century Communist regimes. This post will act as my response the comment.

Preliminary Comments

This isn’t exactly an unbiased POV

Being that the author of the article is a Christian, it’s safe to say the he is biased towards Christianity. The question is, does the author’s pre-commitment to Christianity color or distort the historical facts he offers? From my reading, the answer is no.

To call the veracity of the article into question, Mr. Skinner, the person who made the comment, must provide us with some reason to do so; otherwise, he is merely offering us his observation—and an observation is not an argument.

I mean, don’t they even bother to address the New Atheists main point

The article referenced stopped short of the New Atheists by design. In the same issue appears an article specifically addressing this topic: The Challenge of the New Atheism (subscription required).

Along these same lines, please see my series on Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation.

Will the ReViable Worldview Please Stand Up

For any worldview to be considered viable, it must be able to make sense of reality. It must be able to provide a foundation for things like mathematics, the laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, and be able to explain things like love, beauty, and the existence of propositions.

Despite all of the New Atheists’ bravado, it is all “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Instead of offering arguments against Christianity, and for atheism, they instead write and speak on the cheap: simply name calling and making absurd and outrageous claims (again, for an example, see my “Letters” series). For us to take them seriously, the New Atheist need to defend their worldview, and offer evidence for it—in short, they must demonstrate that Atheism, in juxtaposition to Christianity, provides the necessary foundations for reality.

Is the proposition that only material things exist itself material?

Without exception the New Atheists are materialists (i.e., only physical things exist). Given this presupposition, they must answer the question, Is the proposition that only material things exist itself material? If so, where did they discover it? Under a microscope? Did they trip over the proposition in a parking lot?

They could say that propositions come about in the same way that life came about: life came from non-life, so matter could produce the non-material. Of course, the underlying problem would be the same: where did you observe life coming from non-life, or matter producing the non-material. What experiment, scientific model, incantation, ect. provided you with the evidence to make such a claim?

How about morality? Are moral laws merely human conventions?

The most common answer is that they are human conventions used to build societies. The problem is, if they are mere convention, than men—by convention—could change them. For example, by convention Nazi Germany can institute its final solution. The civilized world might not like it, but hey, who are they to judge?

By the way, if morals are culturally defined by the majority, then the moral reformer is by definition amoral. That means people like Martin Luther King should be spurned not praised.

How is science possible in an atheistic universe?

Science depends upon the regularity of the universe. We talk about the law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, ect., but how can there be such laws in a world were everything comes about by random chance? All they can do is describe what has happened in the past. They have no foundation for drawing conclusions about future events. Atheist philosopher David Hume’s Problem of Induction makes this very point.

It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future; since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular; that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not that, for the future, it will continue so.

David Hume (1711 - 1776)

Does the Emperor Have Clothes?

What about love? Is there an intrinsic difference between love and hate? Or are they simply different chemical reactions in the brain? Is there a thing called beauty? Is it objective? Is there really a difference between a sunset and a pile of dung? Our experience tells us that there are such differences.

But in a world where we are simply matter in motion, where survival of the fittest reigns, why ought we care about anyone else? Is there really a difference between feeding a starving child or strangling her? If so, how do you account for such distinctions in an atheistic universe?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more could be raised, but these are a good start. Atheists are putting forth a worldview that is radically counter-intuitive—that doesn’t fit the facts. It’s time for them to step-up to the plate and take a shot; and they can start by answering the questions above.

Part 2

For any worldview to be viably considered, it must be able to make sense of reality. This, of course, would include Christianity. In part 2 I’ll make the case for Christianity by considering the aforementioned questions.