Friday, August 8, 2014

Clearing Up the Shenanigans: Tom Gilson and True Reason

It seems that Tom Gilson would like to continue to play the typical Christian apologist “you don't get my arguments” card, rather than explain in clear terms what exactly his chapter was about, if he was in fact not making the argument I attributed to him (which seems wildly off the mark, since I quote him directly several times). In my last post I restated my argument and quoted Gilson directly from Chapter 12 to demonstrate to those who might be curious that I did indeed correctly interpret his argument.

To this response, all Gilson has done is play coy, refusing to elaborate on what his argument entailed and why my reply was in error. When asked to defend his argument he replied by saying:

By the way: I didn't defend my argument from the book because what you wrote was either obviously wrong (for example, that God violated natural law when he created ex nihilo) or unrelated to my argument. There was nothing there for me to defend my argument from.
On a first impression your blog post looked like a criticism of my chapter. On a closer look it turned out to be more or less unsuccessful criticisms of other things. That's why I wrote a blog post wondering what it was that you were after.
Resipisence, I'm glad you liked his question.

AA, if you didn't understand what the questions on my blog post had to do with your response, may I point out that most of them included quotations from that post, and the rest of them paraphrased things you had written?

If you can't figure out what those quotations and paraphrases had to do with your post, shall I try again? If I try again, what would you suggest I do to make the connections clear? The usual answer to that question is quotations and paraphrases. Is there a better approach that I'm not aware of?

This reply is curious since his blog post responding to my initial criticisms doesn't even come close to addressing nearly anything I said, and it appears to further confuse the situation.

I am going to go through and breakdown Gilson's entire response to demonstrate why I believe his responses thus far have been less than satisfactory.

I’m having trouble figuring out what the Arizona Atheist is after in his critique of my Chapter 10 in True Reason: Responding to the Irrationality of the New Atheism. (You can read a version of that chapter here.)

After comparing the original article and the slightly edited piece in True Reason, the original article is a pretty close match, with the exception of the last five paragraphs describing how science relied upon a belief in a natural order, which was provided by Christianity, according to Gilson. My guess as to why he edited this section from the piece in True Reason is because in Chapter 11 Sean McDowell made the same argument already, which I successfully rebutted. In short, atheistic Greeks saw the orderliness of nature long before Christianity arrived.

Gilson continues, which is where things begin to get confusing. I will place the entirety of Gilson's reply in blockquotes and respond throughout:

He might be trying to show that my explanation was ad hoc. He mentioned something to that effect early on, but if that was his purpose, he didn’t carry it through. He proceeded to write as if trying to show that my explanation was incoherent, not ad hoc (made up or generated for no reason but to fill an explanatory gap).

I appreciate the definition of ad hoc, but I know what it means, which is why I used it. I called Gilson's argument ad hoc simply for the reasons I stated in my last post. His arguments are brought forth with no supporting basis, which is what most of my reply goes on to defend.

He might be saying that miracles happen too often (according to Christian teaching) for science to work. That was the main subject matter of my chapter, so it would be a relevant complaint. He only refers to a very short list of miracles, however, so if that’s what he was after, it was a tepid attempt at best.

Am I arguing that “miracles happen too often?” Yes, but Gilson misses my point. It had nothing to do with science, it had everything to do with god. Gilson argued in True Reason that god wants his creations to be “responsible moral agents;” and god also wants his creations to learn from experience. All of these things would not be possible if we lived in a world “of constant supernatural intervention” because “if there is to much chaos (“noise”) in a transmission, the message (signal) can’t get through to be clearly understood.” (130)

I argued that, at least according to numerous Christians around the world, their god intervenes in the affairs of the world on a daily basis and I provided one, among other examples, of a Christian friend who thanked god for coming across a set of chairs in someone's yard.

I also argued that far from being opposed to constant supernatural intervention the entire basis of Christianity is built upon supernatural intervention, including god coming down in human form as Jesus to the creation of the world out of absolutely nothing, which are in fact acts of the supernatural, unlike what Gilson stated in his reply (“it’s more than slightly difficult to see how God violated natural law by creating natural law (as creation ex nihilo indicates).”). Gilson's argument makes no logical sense. Christians argue all the time that “something cannot come from nothing” but for Christians apparently it's OK. And I suppose a man rising from the dead or a god-man coming down from heaven isn't a supernatural event? Gilson says nothing about these core beliefs of Christianity.

He might be saying that Christians’ purported prayer answers, if they were real, would indicate God interfering with the natural order too often for science to work. But that’s not likely, because the prayer answers he points to are not the sort of thing that undermine the regularity of nature.

This is why I said Gilson's reply did not appear to have anything to do with my response. In fact, I mention prayer not once throughout the entire reply. The idea isn't even hinted at. And he has badly understood the reasoning behind my responses, even though I thought I made it perfectly clear.

He might be saying that Christians’ prayer answers are “mere coincidences or hallucinations” — in fact he does suggest that — but if that’s his complaint, he’s simply changing the subject. That’s an interesting question, but not one that has anything to do with my chapter in True Reason.

Once again the word “prayer” is not to be found in the entire reply. And the partial quote Gilson uses is from this: “Do miracles happen as Christians attest all of the time or not? Does god intervene on a near daily basis or is the universe orderly and these events I’ve recounted are mere coincidences or hallucinations? Gilson can’t have it both ways.” I was summing up my argument that either supernatural interventions occur on a nearly daily basis as Christians attest around the world, or they do not. If they do, as my arguments suggest, then Gilson's argument, stating that god doesn't want to intervene very often, or that these interventions would not cause an interference in the natural order are false. In fact, as an example I said, referring to my Christian friend finding the chairs: “If Gilson argues that an orderly universe is a necessity then these “miracles” would be a near impossibility and god wouldn’t intervene as often as he clearly seems to do in the lives of many of his believers. Did my friend’s god get inside of that man’s head and convince him to get rid of perfectly good chairs? Did my friend’s god also get inside of his head and tell him to go down that street at that exact time of day? If not, why not? Do miracles happen as Christians attest all of the time or not? Does god intervene on a near daily basis or is the universe orderly and these events I’ve recounted are mere coincidences or hallucinations? Gilson can’t have it both ways.”

I would argue that causing an event to happen by making someone take a particular action that they may not have taken if not for the supernatural intervention seems to me to be a pretty large interference in the natural world. Why did my friend drive down that particular street at that particular time of day? And why did this man discard several perfectly good chairs?

He might be saying that God has problems doing hard things. That seems to be what he’s after here, speakcing of providential (not miraculous) prayer answers:

[Quoting me:] If Gilson argues that an orderly universe is a necessity then these “miracles” would be a near impossibility and god [sic] wouldn’t intervene as often as he clearly seems to do in the lives of many of his believers.

I can’t imagine, though, why he would think near impossibilities pose any problem for God as Christians understand God.

This makes no sense and he does not even deal with the context of my argument in the least. I just quoted this portion of one of my arguments above. It appears Gilson did not understand it at all.

He might be saying that Christians believe God is really messing around with natural law most of the time:
[Quoting me:] Even the very basis of Christianity is premised on miracles, ie. the very violation of natural laws: creation of the world ex nihilo and Jesus being brought back to life after being dead as a door nail for three days.
There must be some confusion there, though, since it’s more than slightly difficult to see how God violated natural law by creating natural law (as creation ex nihilo indicates). And again, while Christianity is premised on miracles, he hasn’t said anything to establish that it’s premised on miracles so frequent that science won’t work.

Finally, it appears that Gilson seems to have grasped my argument, but claims I never made an attempt to demonstrate how many miraculous events would cause a disruption in the natural world. Doesn't a man rising from the dead count? Doesn't god essentially getting inside peoples' heads, making them or influencing them to do certain things a violation of natural law??? This seems an absurd thing to say. He appears to pretend I said nothing about this!

Or he might be saying that I’ve made some mistake in proposing (as I did) that God made the universe orderly enough for humans to learn, understand, communicate, and be responsible for what we do:
[Quoting me:] Finally, the universe is much less orderly than he assumes and we have had a lot of difficulty understanding much of it. On the larger scale things appear to happen in a logical order and objects behave in an orderly manner. But once we move to the quantum level of the universe things get rather confusing and no longer behave as our rational minds would expect. This makes no sense on Gilson’s view because if god [sic] created the world in order for us to understand his creation and to “learn from experience,” then our many experiences and scientific observations would not conflict with our current understanding of the universe.
No, on the larger scale (the scale that’s relevant to my chapter in the book) things do not appear to happen “in a logical order and … in an orderly manner.” They do behave that way, except in the realm of personal freedom and choice. Quantum strangeness has no relevance to my point in that chapter. His premise here is flawed. But the biggest problem with that is that it’s a shot in the dark. He’s given no reason to suppose that his conclusion is true. If he tried he would fail, because there is no possible reason it could be true.

Gilson argued that “God intends that humans be able to 'learn from experience.'” But, if a large part of our universe is qualitatively difficult to understand shouldn't that count against his argument that god created the universe so we could understand it? Is the quantum world not a part of this universe? Of course it is! Did god not create the quantum world? If not, who did? But this is absurd of course. Christians believe that god created the entire universe. Gilson simply has no response to this very relevant fact.

He might be trying to tell us that naturalism explains things supernaturalism does not. He says this quite explicitly, in fact. He doesn’t tell us what that has to do with the content of the chapter he’s supposedly critiquing, though; nor does he enlighten us on why he thinks it relevant that “The laws of nature have never been shown to change. Most acts of the supernatural have perfectly natural explanations today.”

He is ignoring the context here. This quotation was a part of my brief discussion about the quantum world. I said that naturalism describes this quantum world better than Gilson's supernaturalist view. I said this because on the Christian view god supposedly created the world so we can understand it, but apparently we are unable to understand a large part of the world. This makes no sense on a supernaturalist view of the world, but makes perfect sense on a naturalist view of the world.

The other partial quote he uses has nothing to do with the quantum world argument I made. I said in full:

The laws of nature have never been shown to change. Most acts of the supernatural have perfectly natural explanations today, which leaves less and less room for the Christian god to hide. Christians must get increasingly clever about the rationalizations they use to ensure their god stays relevant. But this can only go on for so long. At this point in time I believe the evidence is such that the only logical god would be a Deistic god. As Lawrence M. Krauss said in his Wall Street Journal article: “Though the scientific process may be compatible with the vague idea of some relaxed deity who merely established the universe and let it proceed from there, it is in fact rationally incompatible with the detailed tenets of most of the world’s organized religions.” I believe this is the only logical religious position that is possible today.

I was alluding to Gilson's ad hoc arguments here, describing his and other Christians' rationalizations they continually use to prop up their ridiculous arguments, such as Gilson's in his Chapter that god doesn't want to intervene in the lives of his creations very often, when the facts say otherwise.

Gilson concludes his nonsensical reply with the following:

He does go on to add, “… which leaves less and less room for the Christian god [sic] to hide,” but again, there’s no indication of how that has anything to do with a chapter refuting Krauss’s argument that if science works then there must not be a God involved in nature. It’s another topic; an interesting one, but what it’s doing here in this location, I don’t know.
Now, if I felt the freedom to wander around and touch on multiple flaws in atheism, I could do so, just like he has with theism. I could go into detail on ways the Arizona Atheist missed the mark with his ad hoc accusation, his misunderstanding of the place of miracles and providence in Christianity, his demeaning view of Christians (with our “coincidences or hallucinations,” as if we can’t muster together the brain cells to think about such possibilities), his small view of a God who can’t do hard things, his mistaken view of God’s sovereign, ongoing relation to his creation, even his view of quantum physics.
If I did that, I would at least be responding to something he had said.
But rather than going into all that, I’ll just leave it at wondering, what is the Arizona Atheist after?

Krauss' article discussed the fact that Christians' rationalizations are becoming more and more desperate (like Gilson's arguments in True Reason) and that the only god that is compatible with science is the god is Deism.

Actually, as I've explained throughout this reply I did not merely “touch on multiple flaws” of Christianity. I responded directly to the arguments of Gilson's. His summary of what he believed my arguments to be were entirely inaccurate, and only once did he even correctly state my position, but failed to respond to my actual point.

The god of Christianity does appear to intervene within the world on a near constant basis, according to most Christians and the very basis of Christianity is premised upon miracle claims, placing it in direct conflict with science, which has shown the world to work with a certain regularity and consistency.


  1. Having read your critique and Gilson's responses, you are spot on. I am not sure what's going on in his head. He seems to be twisting virtually everything you have wrote in such a way as so he would be able to respond adequately or at the minimum make the appearance he has done so. That is not to say he did that purposely. But one expects such poor reading comprehension and sloppy thinking from an individual that defends the indefensible.

    1. Thanks for reading. I'm glad someone else sees Gilson's shenanigans for what they are.


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