Sunday, August 3, 2014

True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism: A Refutation


When writing this review originally I was unaware that an updated book had been published a year after the initial publication. I had read how this book was much better than the first and that it responded to a number of critics of the first edition. I thought perhaps many of the arguments had been revised and improved and that this alone might make it worthy to purchase and re-read. For months I hemmed and hawed, debating whether I should waste my time reading a book I had already read and responded to. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I purchased the book.

Most of the essays appeared to have been rewritten to improve the grammar but most of the arguments were the same. I also noted a number of differences between the two editions: The inclusion of two new chapters: One by Lenny Esposito titled “Atheism and the Argument from Reason,” and one by David Marshall and Timothy McGrew titled “Faith and Reason in Historical Perspective”; the formatting was nicer and better organized; the writing was improved; and in a few essays there were minor changes, but nothing that I found that would cause me to have to revise my response to the 2012 edition. I stand by my statement at the end of my response to the previous 2012 edition where I said how I believed my review would be a sufficient response to both editions (minus the two new chapters in the updated edition). But as it happens, I've already responded to one of the newer essays a few years ago.

The essay by Marshall and McGrew is one that I was very curious about. I read what little I could of the essay online and from the limited view allowed to me it appeared to be an improved and revised version of an essay David Marshall has written in the past, and one which I have responded to in great detail.

It purports to make the case that reason has always had a central place in Christian thought throughout history and Marshall cites numerous Christian theologians, philosophers, and scientists to support his thesis. The only problem? Each of his quotes have been taken out of context – in some cases, egregiously. When I saw that Marshall had enlisted the help of someone with actual academic credentials I was curious if he had improved upon his essay.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

The Chapter in True Reason is a hacked up version of Marshall's previous essay he titled “Faith and Reason.” Marshall provided dozens of quotes in his essay, but in the book version he provides only a handful of Christians to support his argument. And most of the quotes provided I have already sourced and found them to be taken out of context.

Given that I had already responded to this essay I was curious if Marshall might have responded to me in this updated version, and he did - sort of. This is the passage in question from the 2013 edition of True Reason from the essay “Faith and Reason in Historical Perspective.” Marshall is discussing Justin Martyr and provides a quote he claims proves that Martyr values reason and evidence and attempts to respond to “some atheists who have objected in online discussions that Justin gives only lip service to the integration of faith and reason.” Marshall continues to quote from Richard Carrier's 2006 online essay from the Secular Web titled “Was Christianity Too Improbable to Be False?” and says, “Historian Richard Carrier, for example, claims that Justin 'could find everything he believed in scripture [...] [and that] [y]ou can read Justin's two apologies back to front and never once find any other methodological principle or source of his faith.'” (151)

While Marshall does not mention me by name, he makes a vague reference to unnamed “atheists” - plural. But to my knowledge I am the only atheist who has quoted Richard Carrier from Not the Impossible Faith (2009) in response to Marshall's argument regarding Justin Martyr, and Marshall and I have debated this point before, so it would be one hell of a coincidence if he wasn't responding to me.

Marshall provides next what he believes is a passage that is proof positive of reasoning by Justin Martyr and argues that, unlike what Richard Carrier argues, Martyr does not rely just on scripture as the justification for his beliefs. He quotes Martyr from his First Apology:

For we have come, not to flatter you by this writing, nor please you by our address, but to beg that you pass judgment, after an accurate and searching investigation, not flattered by prejudice or by a desire of pleasing superstitious men, nor induced by irrational impulse or evil rumors which have long been prevalent, to give a decision which will prove to be against yourselves. For as for us, we reckon that no evil can be done us, unless we be convicted as evil-doers or be proved to be wicked men; and you, you can kill, but not hurt us.

In reference to this passage Marshall writes, “The inquiry requested in this great passage is not a Bible study: it is judicial and historical. The question is whether Christians are 'evil men,' whether they in fact commit the crimes they are accused of.” (152)

For anyone with even an ounce of critical thinking ability they ought to be able to spot Marshall's egregious blunder. Atheists, when they talk of Christians not being guided by reason or evidence, are referring to Christians and their religious beliefs. Not every day matters, like a court case, which is what Martyr is referring to! So of course, he wouldn't reference the bible when discussing this subject!

I responded to this nonsensical argument three years ago! Marshall apparently has never read this scathing rebuttal. There I said,

This is crazy. As I said before, Marshall finds a passage speaking of an ‘investigation’ and he jumps all over it like a bitch in heat. What Justin is talking about is an investigation into the alleged crimes of Christians, not evidence for their beliefs!

I followed up further:

As I’ve shown, it was Marshall who interpreted Justin incorrectly. After all, Marshall has just proven true what Sam Harris has written. He said, “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”

Exactly. Did Justin give any evidence for his religious beliefs? No. Did he give reasons for other beliefs aside from his religious ones? Yes. That’s the point. It’s not that Christians never rely on evidence in their lives, but that when it comes to their faith they fail to rationally investigate their reasons for belief. Marshall has just proven Harris’ point without even meaning to.

Marshall did absolutely nothing to respond to this logical, factual objection, even though it's been out there for a number of years. I would implore Marshall to keep up, but I doubt that would help. He's behind the game as usual.

The other Chapter by Lenny Esposito about the Argument from Reason is one of the very few Christian arguments I've neglected to address in my writings. I never thought it was a good argument and many years ago I read Richard Carrier's response to it and believed there wasn't any point to looking further into it.

There you have it. It appears that I have killed two books with one stone. I do very much hope that this response is helpful to any who comes across it, particularly Christians, since that is who the book is marketed to and who are more likely to fall for many of these poor arguments. I do hope any Christians who read this response will keep an open mind, just as I have kept an open mind each time I read a book by Christian apologists. It's only fair and allows you to be as impartial as our innate biases will allow.

February 21, 2015


Thank you for taking the time to read my latest response to a group of Christians' rebuttal to the New Atheism. This review takes an in depth look at each essay in the book True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism, edited by Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, with contributions from William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, Matthew Flannagan, and Chuck Edwards, and others (Patheos Press, 2012).

Over the last seven years I have written a total of nine complete responses to books replying to atheistic arguments, or seeking to provide evidence for Christianity. This will be my tenth. Other books I've reviewed include God Doesn't Believe in Atheists: Proof that the Atheist Doesn't Exist, by Ray Comfort; The Truth Behind the New Atheism:‭ ‬Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity, by David Marshall (coincidentally a co-author of the present book I'm reviewing); The Delusion of Disbelief: Why the New Atheism is a Threat to Your Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, by David Aikman; and The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, by Theodore Beale (also known as Vox Day).

I began reading and reviewing books all those years ago as one of the means by which I sought out the truth about god, Christianity, superstition, and the truth claims of religion. I wanted to see how well the opposition argued their case and if I found their arguments convincing. As I finished with each review I found an abundance of logical fallacies, factual errors, misquotes, and quotes taken out of context. I kept reading more books by Christian apologists in the hope that someone might challenge my emerging disbelief, but none succeeded. After careful review each and every book was riddled with the aforementioned problems. This book is no exception. Despite the many glowing reviews (as of this writing the book has a majority of positive reviews on the website, and despite the continuous pronouncements to the contrary, the New Atheists come out on top and their Christian opponents flounder once again.

Chapter 1: The Party of Reason, by Tom Gilson

Update: June 18, 2014: After doing some thinking about the recent debate with Mr. Gilson I've come to suspect that Mr. Gilson was not forthcoming with his real intentions in the section I critiqued of the first chapter of True Reason. In his reply to me he claimed that his intentions in the first chapter were to argue that Richard Dawkins attempted to respond to design arguments in their entirety (see earlier update below), and that his argument was not limited to biological evolution. He also claimed that Dawkins' intentions, based upon this argument, were to claim that god does not exist. However, this is not at all apparent from Mr. Gilson's chapter. In fact, he says nothing in the section I critiqued about god. Nothing. And after the discussion I looked over the chapter once more and noticed something interesting, which makes me believe that Gilson was in fact making the argument I originally subscribed to him. In his chapter in True Reason he writes,

I picked up the book [The Blind Watchmaker] because of its subtitle: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design. I had no idea how he – or anyone – could make a case for that, but I had heard good things about Dawkins as an author, and I was rather hoping he could bring it off. I was looking for a serious challenge, and if he had a way to disprove design in the universe, I wanted to test my mettle against it.

Dawkins' skill as an author is plainly evident in this book. Although in places his reasoning seems quite a stretch – he tries, for example, to illustrate evolution's unintelligent capacities by drawing an analogy to an intelligently designed computer program – still he makes a passionate and fascinating case for evolution.

But it was his argument against design I was looking for, and although he touched on it here and there, he never really landed on it until the end of the last chapter: Evolution, he says, makes God
superflavous, thus there is no design in the universe. That's his argument. There is a way nature could have come about without design in the universe, therefore it came about without design.

Did I mention that I was disappointed? I practically sputtered out loud, “Dawkins you rascal, you've led me on for three hundred pages with a promise of an argument against design – and this is all you've got? What a let down!

Later on the eminent philosopher Alvin Plantiga would offer his own wry assessment of the book. At best, he said, its argument wold show, “given a couple of assumptions,”

that it is not astronomically improbable that the living world was produced by unguided evolution and hence without design.

But the argument form
p is not astronomically improbable

is a bit unprepossessing. I announce to my wife, “I'm getting a $50,000 raise next year!” Naturally she asks me why I think so. “Because the arguments against its being astronomically improbable fail! For all we know, its not astronomically improbable!” (Well, maybe it is pretty improbable, but you get the idea.)
This then was my introduction to what was to become to New Atheism. (2-3)

The relevant quote is this: ”Evolution, he says, makes God
superflavous, thus there is no design in the universe. That's his argument. There is a way nature could have come about without design in the universe, therefore it came about without design.”

Here, he clearly is referring to the topic of discussion in
The Blind Watchmaker, so why did he argue Dawkins was trying to rebut all forms of the design argument, rather than just biological design? And where did the argument against god come in? As I told him in our discussion, he said absolutely nothing about arguments against god. So, you be the judge. It appears in the chapter that Mr. Gilson did understand the point of Dawkins' book – that he was arguing against biological evolution only – but he seems to make a completely different argument in my discussions with him.

My suspicious are further heightened since this is not the first time I have come across such shenanigans by a Christian apologist.

Either way, each of the arguments he brought against the book in our discussion were just as poor as the one in his chapter, so ultimately I suppose it does not matter, but on the other hand, it would be nice to meet a Christian apologist who doesn't distort his own arguments just so he doesn't have to admit error (assuming, of course, that is was happened).

Update: June 11, 2014: After receiving some comments by the author Tom Gilson, it has come to my attention that I misinterpreted his argument addressing Richard Dawkins' book
The Blind Watchmaker. As you can read below, Gilson cited the subtitle to the book, “...Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design,” and argues that Dawkins did not successfully respond to the argument from design. Having read the book in the past I knew it was about debunking the argument for biological design, and I had assumed, with his having read the book, that Gilson was aware of this. So, when he writes in his chapter in True Reason that Dawkins did not successfully address the design argument I assumed he was referring to biological design, and not design in general. But, as Gilson makes clear in his reply to me, he believes Dawkins’ book was supposed to be about rebutting the argument from design, in all its forms, apparently, thus disproving the existence of god. Due to the poor wording of his chapter this was where the confusion on my part came in but now I see what Gilson was arguing. Unfortunately, this fact does not help his case since his entire argument is based upon a strawman. Dawkins’ book addressed the issue of biological design only and Gilson had no effective response to it. You can read my amended arguments and response to Tom here.

This first chapter is more of an introduction of sorts. Tom Gilson introduces the reader to True Reason's main thesis: “Reason is the New Atheists' weakness, not their strength. Their books, articles, and debates are riddled with fallacy, appeals to emotion, and mishandling of evidence. Their claim to reason is often much more a matter of public relations than competence in reasoned discourse.” (1) Gilson states up front the main argument of the book: “the New Atheists' ownership claim on the brand of reason is an empty one. They don't practice it at all well, and in fact as we shall see, reason fits poorly within their presumptions and presuppositions. Reason rightly belongs to God and to the Way of Christ.” (7)

My head is spinning reading these words. I cannot count how many times I've found Christian apologetics literature to be full of historical inaccuracies, factual errors, strawman fallacies, and horrible reasoning. Despite this, I have always had an open mind and am always on the look out for new books and new arguments that have the potential to change my mind.

Gilson says he read Richard Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker because he was “looking for a serious challenge” against the common argument from design. After finishing the book he writes how he was “disappointed” because Dawkins did not directly address why nature is not designed. “That's his argument. There is a way nature could have come about without design, therefore it came about without design,” a let down Gilson writes. (2)

I'm greatly puzzled by Gilson's statement. The book is Dawkins' attempt to respond to Creationists (and by extension Intelligent Design proponents) who argue that there is no possible way natural processes could have crafted such elegant features (therefore the Christian god must be responsible). He responded to them by showing them how. Gilson quotes Alvin Plantinga who ridicules Dawkins' conclusion,

At best, he said its argument would show, “given a couple of assumptions,”

that it is not astronomically improbable that the living world was produced by unguided evolution and hence without design.

But the argument form;
p is not astronomically improbable;
therefore p

is a bit unprepossessing. I announce to my wife, “I'm getting a $50,000 raise for next year!” Naturally she asks me why I think so. “Because the arguments against its being astronomically improbable fail! For all we know, it's not astronomically improbable!”

I'm perplexed. How else might Dawkins rebut the claims of Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates who argue that some feature of evolution could not possibly have occurred naturally, than to demonstrate how life evolved via natural means? Are they perhaps arguing that god-guided evolution is one possibility that counts against Dawkins' assertive conclusion that no Creator is responsible for the apparent design in nature? If so, this is highly illogical reasoning because it is up to the theist to reasonably prove their god exists. By creating a non-falsifiable argument by stating that their god is responsible for evolution gets them nowhere. There isn't any way to reasonably disprove such a hypothesis. All Dawkins must do is cast serious doubt upon the argument and he succeeded in doing that. As a matter of fact, Dawkins made the same point in The Blind Watchmaker:

Modern theologians of any sophistication have given up believing in instantaneous creation. […] But many theologians who call themselves evolutionists […] smuggle God in by the back door: they allow him some sort of supervisory role over the course that evolution has taken, either influencing key moments in evolutionary history (especially, of course, human evolutionary history), or even meddling more comprehensively in the day-to-day events that add up to evolutionary change.

We cannot disprove beliefs like these, especially if it is assumed that God took care that his intervention always closely mimicked what would be expected from evolution by natural selection. All that we can say about such beliefs is, firstly, that they are superfluous and, secondly, that they assume the existence of the main things we want to explain, namely organized complexity. [1]

Did Gilson read the book in its entirety? Dawkins responded to his criticism in the book, but it appears he did not read it. He certainly had no response to it, only ridicule.

But, perhaps I'm being hasty. Perhaps Gilson did read this response, but felt that Dawkins' 'God is too complex' argument missed the point because Gilson believes that god is a simple entity and is eternal. In that case, I would point out the fact that natural selection is known to exist. There is tangible evidence for it. There is not any such evidence for the Christian god. I would put my money on the explanation that actually has some evidence backing it up. Therefore, god is most likely not responsible for evolution.

The rest of the chapter provides a brief outline of the subjects discussed in the following chapters.

Let's move on to Chapter 2...

Chapter 2: The Irony of Atheism, by Carson Weitnauer

This second chapter trumpets many of the same themes as the first. Carson Weitnauer seems annoyed that the New Atheists consider themselves to be the bearers of reason, writing, “One of the great ironies of the contemporary atheistic movement comes from its ubiquitous use of rhetoric, branding, and emotional triggers to advocate for reason.” (9) [emphasis in original] I believe the irony entirely belongs to Weitnauer because Christians are the ones who often use “rhetoric, branding, and emotional triggers to advocate for” Christianity. They have used the fear of the unknown, the fear of death, and the wonders of the universe to cajole people into believing the improbable with tales of magic and an afterlife. And he provides just such an example a few pages later when he writes, “Christians marvel at how this group [of atheists] rallies together even as their most prominent leader, Richard Dawkins, argues that evolution favors the selfish gene, not the reasonable group.” (11)

I've pointed out this grave misunderstanding of Dawkins' The Selfish Gene numerous times, and so have many other atheists, so how in the world can the author make such a statement? I don't believe I've ever come across as eloquent of an explanation about this idea of “selfish genes” better than in Robert Wright's book The Moral Animal:

[T]hose genes that are conductive to the survival and reproduction of copies of themselves are the genes that win. They may do this straightforwardly, by prompting their vehicle to survive, beget offspring, and equip the offspring for survival and reproduction. Or they may do this circuitously - by, say, prompting their to labor tirelessly, sterilely, and, and “selflessly,” so that a queen ant can have lots of offspring containing them. However the genes get the job done, it is selfish from their point of view, even if it seems altruistic at the level of the organism. (emphasis in original) [1]

Richard Dawkins' book takes a gene's-eye view of the world and this has unfortunately lead to much confusion over the years. Just because our genes are “selfish” doesn't mean humans act selfish at the social level. But don't just take Wright's word for it! Here is Richard Dawkins writing in the first chapter of The Selfish Gene: “I am not advocating a morality based on evolution. I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave.”

In an attempt to demonstrate how irrational atheists are, Weitnauer cites a number of quotes from prominent atheists about how they came to disbelieve or their thoughts about why science discounts the supernatural, and argues that these reasons are not rational, they are irrational and are based upon emotionally-driven thinking. (13) He quotes the following atheists: Aldous Huxley, Thomas Nagel, Michael Shermer, and Richard Lewontin. (13-15) Unfortunately for the author, he apparently failed to confirm the context of most of these quotes.

The author first quotes Aldous Huxley who said in his book Ends and Means,

For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.....
Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless. (13-14)

I believe this is an odd quote for the author to choose in defense of his argument since Huxley rejected this view. Below I quote what Huxley actually said. I've placed the above quoted sections in italics, and the sections of text that will aid the reader in understanding the context of this quote I've placed in bold.

All that I need add is the fact that, in recent years, many men of science have come to realize that the scientific picture of the world is a partial one the product of their special competence in mathematics and their special incompetence to deal systematically with aesthetic and moral values, religious experiences and intuitions of significance. Unhappily, novel ideas become acceptable to the less intelligent members of society only with a very considerable time-lag. Sixty or seventy years ago the majority of scientists believed and the belief often caused them considerable distress that the product of their special incompetence was identical with reality as a whole. To-day this belief has begun to give way, in scientific circles, to a different and obviously truer conception of the relation between science and total experience. The masses, on the contrary, have just reached the point where the ancestors of to-day's scientists were standing two generations back. They are convinced that the scientific picture of an arbitrary abstraction from reality is a picture of reality as a whole and that therefore the world is without meaning or value. But nobody likes living in such a world. To satisfy their hunger for meaning and value, they turn to such doctrines as Nationalism, Fascism and revolutionary Communism. Philosophically and scientifically, these doctrines are absurd; but for the masses in every community, they have this great merit: they attribute the meaning and value that have been taken away from the world as a whole to the particular part of the world in which the believers happen to be living.

These last considerations raise an important question, which must now be considered in some detail. Does the world as a whole possess the value and meaning that we constantly attribute to certain parts of it (such as human beings and their works); and, if so, what is the nature of that value and meaning? This is a question which, a few years ago, I should not even have posed. For, like so many of my contemporaries, I took it for granted that there was no meaning. This was partly due to the fact that I shared the common belief that the scientific picture of an abstraction from reality was a true picture of reality as a whole; partly also to other, non-intellectual reasons. I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption.

Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don't know because we don't want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless. […]

The desire to justify a particular form of political organization and, in some cases, of a personal will to power, has played an equally large part in the formulation of philosophies postulating the existence of a meaning in the world. Christian philosophers have found no difficulty in justifying imperialism, war, the capitalistic system, the use of torture, the censorship of the press, and ecclesiastical tyrannies of every sort from the tyranny of Rome to the tyrannies of Geneva and New England. In all these cases they have shown that the meaning of the world was such as to be compatible with, or actually most completely expressed by, the iniquities I have mentioned above - iniquities which happened, of course, to serve the personal or sectarian interests of the philosophers concerned. In due course there arose philosophers who denied not only the right of these Christian special pleaders to justify iniquity by an appeal to the meaning of the world, but even their right to find any such meaning whatsoever. In the circumstances, the fact was not surprising. One unscrupulous distortion of the truth tends to beget other and opposite distortions. Passions may be satisfied in the process; but the disinterested love of knowledge suffers eclipse.

For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust. The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.

Similar tactics had been adopted during the eighteenth century and for the same reasons. From the popular novelists of the period, such as Crebillon and Andrea de Nerciat, we learn that the chief reason for being “philosophical” was that one might be free from prejudices - above all, prejudices of a sexual nature. More serious writers associated political with sexual prejudice and recommended philosophy (in practice, the philosophy of meaninglessness) as a preparation for social reform or revolution. The early nineteenth century witnessed a reaction towards meaningful philosophy of a kind that could, unhappily, be used to justify political reaction.

The men of the new Enlightenment which occurred in the middle years of the nineteenth century, once again used meaninglessness as a weapon against the reactionaries. The Victorian passion for respectability was, however, so great that, during the period when they were formulated, neither Positivism nor Darwinism was used as a justification for sexual indulgence. After the War the philosophy of meaninglessness came once more triumphantly into fashion. As in the days of Lamettrie and his successors the desire to justify a certain sexual looseness played a part in the popularization of meaninglessness at least as important as that played by the desire for liberation from an unjust and inefficient form of social organization. By the end of the twenties a reaction had begun to set in - away from the easy-going philosophy of general meaninglessness towards the hard, ferocious theologies of nationalistic and revolutionary idolatry. Meaning was reintroduced into the world, but only in patches. The universe as a whole still remained meaningless, but certain of its parts, such as the nation, the state, the class, the party, were endowed with significance and the highest value. The general acceptance of a doctrine that denies meaning and value to the world as a whole, while assigning them in a supreme degree to certain arbitrarily selected parts of the totality, can have only evil and disastrous results. “All that we are (and consequently all that we do) is the result of what we have thought.” We have thought of ourselves as members of supremely meaningful and valuable communities - deified nations, divine classes and what not - existing within a meaningless universe. And because we have thought like this, rearmament is in full swing, economic nationalism becomes ever more intense, the battle of rival propagandas grows ever fiercer, and general war becomes increasingly probable. […] [2]

I hope you have read this entire quote and that you paid close attention to the highlighted text. Where Weitnauer inserted an ellipsis you can see that Huxley was just getting to his point, but Weitnauer cuts him off. The sections in bold ought to make it clear what Huxley meant when he refers to a philosophy of meaninglessness. He was not trying to argue (as Weitnauer tries to make it appear) that a philosophy of meaningless allows one to do whatever one wishes and to cast away morality. While Huxley does mention sexual freedom, it should be clear that his main motivator was political. It should also be pointed out that in the following chapter titled Ethics Huxley warns against unhealthy sexual addiction when he writes, “It is not only when it takes the form of physical addiction that sex is evil. It is also evil when it manifests itself as a way of satisfying the lust for power or the climber's craving for position and social distinction." [3] His contemporaries used a philosophy of meaningless as a method of confronting nationalism and other oppressive philosophies of the period. And, more importantly, he rejected such a philosophy. He said quite clearly, “For, like so many of my contemporaries, I took it for granted that there was no meaning.”

In addition to this out of context quotation, there appears to be an even larger issue. In his footnotes, Weitnauer cites the 1937 edition of Ends and Means. He cites the page number this passage can be found on as 273. (207) However, the quote in the 1937 edition I have is on page 312. After doing some digging, this quote does seem to appear in the 1946 edition on page 273.

Where Weitnauer has placed the ellipsis, signaling a jump forward in the text, the quote he cites (“Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless.”) actually comes before the first quote cited, and they are not even on the same page. This makes me wonder why Weitnauer cited the quote in such a way that would make it appear as if this was one single, coherent thought, when in actuality both of these quotes are four pages apart from one another.

This further makes me wonder if perhaps Weitnauer even has a copy of this book or if, like so many of his fellow Christians, he merely cited a secondary source without checking the original. If that's the case, why did he cite his source as Ends and Means? I don't know, but either this was sloppily cited or Weitnauer did not actually check the primary source he was citing.

The next quote provided by Weitnauer is one from Thomas Nagel in his book The Last Word:

I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want the universe to be like that. My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning and design as fundamental features of the world. (14)

This passage has been taken out of context. In The Last Word Nagel was discussing what he believes is the popularity of reductionism in common thought, in science, in evolutionary biology and sociobiology in particular. In the final chapter of The Last Word, titled “Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion,” Nagel provides his own explanation for why people feel uncomfortable with Platonic-sounding language. Just prior to the passage quoted by Weitnauer above, Nagel writes,

Even without God, the idea of a natural sympathy between the deepest truths of nature and the deepest layers of the human mind, which can be exploited to allow gradual development of a truer and truer conception of reality, makes us more at home in the universe than is secularly comfortable. The thought that the relation between mind and the world is something fundamental make many people in this day and age nervous. I believe this is one manifestations of a fear of religion which has large and often pernicious consequences for modern intellectual life. [4]

According to Nagel, this reductionist viewpoint has biased scientists against his more Platonic view that intelligence was not just an accidental byproduct of natural selection. I personally do not agree with his conclusions, but it should be apparent that he is not explaining his reasoning behind his non-belief. He seems annoyed that many scientists are such hardliners with respect to their commitment to reductionism, and he believes that more scientists should be more open-minded.

Nagel continues to write how he believes:

One of the tendencies it [this reductionist position] supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the mind. [5]

In the end Nagel explains how this fear is ultimately irrational and that any atheist who might have this fear can safely leave it behind.

This is a somewhat ridiculous situation. First of all, one should try to resist the intellectual effects of such a fear (if not the fear itself), for it is just as irrational to be influenced in one's beliefs by the hope that God does not exist as by the hope that God does exist. But having said that, I would also like to offer somewhat inconsistently the reassurance that atheists have no more reason to be alarmed by fundamental and irreducible mind-world relations than by fundamental and irreducible laws of physics. It is possible to accept a world view that does not explain everything in terms of quantum field theory without necessarily believing in God. If the natural order can include universal, mathematically beautiful laws of fundamental physics of the kind we have discovered, why can't it include equally fundamental laws and constraints that we don't know anything about, that are consistent with the laws of physics and that render intelligible the development of conscious organisms some of which have the capacity to discover by prolonged collective effort some of the fundamental truths about that very national order? [6]

I am not the author so I cannot speak for him. However, it sounds as if he is providing a personal example of this “fear” of a Platonic view of the world, using a religious example, which he admits does plague him from time to time. But as he plainly expresses later, he seems to believe this is a more realistic view of the world, a world where the mind was made to understand the universe, as quoted below.

[T]he existence of mind is certainly a datum for the construction of any world picture: At the very least, its possibility must be explained. And it seems hardly credible that its appearance should be a natural accident [...]

I admit that this idea – that the capacity of the universe to generate organisms with minds capable of understanding the universe is itself somehow a fundamental feature of the universe – has a quasi-religious “ring” to it, something vaguely Spinozistic. Still, it is this idea, or something like it, which [Charles Sanders] Peirce seems to endorse in the passages I have quoted. […]

But there is really no reason to assume that the only alternative to an evolutionary explanation of everything is a religious one. However, this may not be comforting enough, because the feeling that I have called the fear of religion may extend far beyond the existence of a personal god, to include any cosmic order of which mind is an irreducible and nonaccidental part. [7]

Given these facts, I don't believe the evidence supports Weitnauer's interpretation of this quote from Thomas Nagel. It appears clear that he was taken badly out of context.

Of course, having said this and after trying to do my best to place what he said in context I think the following should further help in allowing others to understand what Nagel said regarding his statement, “I want atheism to be true...” Once again, I am not the author so this is only speculation, but this sounds similar to a view I've seen expressed by atheists about not wanting religion to be true. This statement is never given as a reason for disbelief, but only as a statement about how if religion were true (particularly Christianity) it would not be a pleasant world to live in because the god of the bible is horribly cruel and unjust (and just insert Richard Dawkins' most infamous quote from The God Delusion here) and it would be a very unfair world. It is only a statement about what the state of the world might be like were religion true and not a reason for non-belief.

Next, Weitnauer quotes Michael Shermer.

My philosophy is that all phenomenon have natural explanations. There is no supernatural, there's just the natural and stuff we can't yet explain. That's basically my position. Socially, when I moved from theism to atheism, and science as a worldview, I guess, to be honest, I just liked the people in science, and the scientists, and their books, and just the lifestyle, and the way of living. I liked that better than the religious books, the religious people I was hanging out with — just socially. It just felt more comfortable for me.

I found this quote interesting, but what was even more interesting is what Weitnauer chose to leave out. After the above quote Shermer responded to a follow up question: “So it was a relationship-driven decision.” Shermer responds: “Not solely. The intellectual stuff and all that is part of it, but if you're going to be honest, it's not just reasoning your way to a position.” To which he was asked, “Well, how do you make sense of the other, now?” Shermer responds: “In reality, I think most of us arrive at most of our beliefs for non-rational reasons, and then we justify them with these reasons after the fact.” (emphasis mine) [8]

First, the very brief snippet quoted is hardly a good source of information about Shermer's deconversion. I would think a better source would be a blog post he'd written in 2005 that contains more detail about the reasons he began to stop believing. Second, an even better source would have been Shermer's book The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (2011) wherein he provides an even more detailed account of his deconversion.

In The Believing Brain Shermer says of the factors that lead to his deconversion:

Creationists have tried to pin my belief in evolution to my demise as a believer, thereby chalking up another lost soul to the evils of liberal secular education. Atheists have trumpeted my deconversion as evidence that education, especially in the sciences, demolishes [superstitious beliefs]. The truth is far more complex; rarely are important religious, political, or ideological beliefs attributable to single causal factors. Humans thought and behavior are almost always multivariate in cause, and beliefs are no exception. […]

I was still a Christian when […] [o]ut of curiosity, I registered for an undergraduate course in evolutionary biology [at California State University] […]. I discovered that the evidence for evolution is undeniable and rich, and the arguments for creationism that I had been reading were duplicitous and hollow. […]

Although I had already been exposed to all sides in the great debates in my various courses and reading at Pepperdine, what was strikingly different in this context was the heterogeneity of my fellow students' beliefs. Since I was no longer surrounded by Christians, where were no social penalties for being skeptical – about anything. […] So it was not the fact that I learned about evolutionary theory that rent asunder my Christian faith; it was that it was okay to challenge any and all beliefs without fear of psychological loss or social reprisal. There were other factors as well. […]

[While obtaining my master's in experimental psychology, finding the skeptical movement, and my study of cultural anthropology and leaning about the varying beliefs of different cultures] it made me realize just how insular my worldview was and how naïve I was in assuming that my Christian beliefs were grounded in the One True Religion while all the others were so obviously culturally determined.

Together, these inputs led me to a personal exploration of comparative world religions and to the eventual realization that these often mutually incompatible beliefs were held by people who believed as firmly as I did that they were right and everyone else was wrong. Midway through my graduate training, I quietly gave up my religious belief and removed my silver ichthus [...] from around my neck. [9]

What did Shermer mean when he explained how most people are influenced by both intellectual reasons and emotional? He meant that most decisions that people make are not caused by a single event, but opinions and views are shifted because of a variety of social, environmental, and rational judgments. In Shermer's case there were many rational reasons he abandoned belief in religion. The theory of evolution, his study of comparative religion and anthropology. But he does not leave out the emotional and social factors. The relief from the social pressure to resist challenging what he already believed, aided by the mixed company he found himself with while studying at a secular university.

In order to understand Shermer's second statement: “In reality, I think most of us arrive at most of our beliefs for non-rational reasons, and then we justify them with these reasons after the fact,” you need to understand his views about the brain. In The Believing Brain Shermer argues that the brain is a “belief engine.” The second that “sensory data” flows “through the senses the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses” these patterns “with meaning.” Shermer goes on to argue that the only way to reliably weed out the false beliefs from the true ones that are formed is via the scientific method. [10]

Rather than take a single snippet of a quote from an obscure discussion (out of context, by the way), Weitnauer should have consulted other, more fuller accounts of Shermer's journey to non-belief. Unfortunately, it appears that the rest of the quotes are cherry-picked in a similar manner. Keep in mind what Weitnauer said these quotes represented: “unbelievers' testimonials about how they came to 'unbelieve.'” (13)

On to the quote about science by Richard Lewontin. The author quotes him from a 1997 book review of Carl Sagan's classic The Demon-Haunted World titled Billions and Billions of Demons.

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

I'd like to know how this one scientist's opinion about science could be considered a “testimonial” about how he came to “unbelieve?” It's not about how he came to disbelieve, it's about his minority views about science. He says nothing in the quote provided, nor in the entire review, about why he became an unbeliever. Weitnauer is greatly jumping to conclusions and is clearly reading what he wants into this quote.

Near the end of the chapter Weitnauer writes, after quoting all of these alleged (and as we've seen, out of context) quotes by a few atheists,

In addition to [these quotes by atheists], when it comes to their defined philosophical positions, many of the leading atheists of our day have staked out commitments which seems to defy reconciliation with the human ability to reason. For instances, Sam Harris denies that we are able to choose how we reason or what we come to believe:

Yes, choices, efforts, intentions, reasoning, and other mental processes influence our behavior – but they are themselves part of a stream of causes which precede conscious awareness and over which we exert no ultimate control. My choices matter, but I cannot choose what I choose. (16)

This quote is taken from a blog post written by Sam Harris clearing up confusion about his views on free will. This partial quotation is taken from from a much larger discussion, and as such, it has been taken out of context. This statement was in response to this objection to his views on free will:

You admit that mental events—like choices, efforts, intentions, reasoning, etc—cause certain of our actions. But such mental states presuppose free will for their very existence. Your position is self-contradictory: Either we are free to think and behave as we will, or there is no such thing as choice, effort, intention, reasoning, etc.

Even if my thoughts and actions are the product of unconscious causes, they are still my thoughts and actions. Anything that my brain does or chooses, whether consciously or not, is something that I have done or chosen. The fact that I cannot always be subjectively aware of the causes of my actions does not negate free will.

Harris responds:

The second concern also misses the point: Yes, choices, efforts, intentions, reasoning, and other mental processes influence our behavior—but they are themselves part of a stream of causes which precede conscious awareness and over which we exert no ultimate control. My choices matter, but I cannot choose what I choose. And if it ever appears that I do—for instance, when going back and forth between two options—I do not choose to choose what I choose. There's a regress here that always ends in darkness. Subjectively, I must take a first step, or a last one, for reasons that are inscrutable to me.

What Sam Harris is discussing are the findings of neuroscience which have shown us that the brain, essentially, makes decisions before we are even conscious of these decisions. For example, a study conducted in 1985 by Benjamin Libet took EEG readings of subjects who were sitting in front of a computer screen with a dot moving in a circle. “The subjects were asked to do two things: (1) note the position of the dot on the screen when they first became aware of the desire to act, and (2) press a button that also recorded the position of the dot on the screen. The difference between 1 and 2 was two hundred milliseconds. That is, two-tenths of a second lapsed between thinking about pressing the button and actually pressing the button. The EEG recordings for each trial revealed that the brain activity involved in the initiation of the action was primarily centered in the secondary motor cortex, and that part of the brain became active three hundred milliseconds before subjects reported their first awareness of a conscious decision to act.” [11]

Michael Shermer continues,

That is, our awareness of our intention to do something trails the initial wave of brain activity associated with that action by about three hundred milliseconds – three-tenths of a second lapsed between the brain making a choice and our awareness of the choice. […] The neural activity that precedes the intention to act in inaccessible to our conscious mind, so we experience a sense of free will. But it is an illusion, caused by the fact that we cannot identify the cause of the awareness of our intention to act. [12]

This is all Harris is describing; the findings of neuroscience, but because Weitnauer didn't appear to bother to look into why Harris said what he said, he wants to portray it as irrational. But it is not irrational given what we know about the brain.

Weitnauer's next target is Richard Dawkins, who he quotes from The God Delusion, which he mistakenly says is on page 368. It is not. It can be found on page 347 in the 2006 edition. He also takes this quote out of context. He writes,

Like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins also acknowledges the non-rational factors that motivate atheistic beliefs. For instance, he has written that “human psychology has a near-universal tendency to let belief be coloured by desire.” In addition, he suggests that humanism – not God – is the best fit for our psychological needs:

Does religion fill a much needed gap? It is often said that there is a God-shaped gap in the brain which needs to be filled: we have a psychological need for God – imaginary friend, father, big brother, confessor, confidant – and the need has to be satisfied whether God really exists or not. But could it be that God clutters up a gap that we'd be better off filling with something else? Science, perhaps? Art? Human friendship? Humanism? Love of this life in the real world, giving no credence to other lives beyond the grave? (16)

Dawkins is not saying anything of the kind. The first stump of a quote about belief being “coloured” by desire can be found in Chapter 5 and he is discussing the common belief that our souls will live on after death and says that just because we might wish it to be so does not make it true. The second, longer quote is discussing the role that religion plays in consoling and inspiring much of humanity. Dawkins argues that religion may bring comfort but that alone does not make it true. He goes on to write about how other things might be used to inspire or console us, should religious belief ever disappear. He argues that there appears to be some kind of psychological need for religion, which he says could be filled with something else, like friendship, science or art. In no way whatsoever is Dawkins saying anything like what Weitnauer imparts to him.

At the end of the chapter he cites a single study from a CNN blog whose findings indicate that “atheists and agnostics reported more anger at God during their lifetimes than believers.” [13] With this news Weitnauer says, “these individuals don't necessarily even believe that God exists, yet they report greater levels of an angry emotional investment in God's hypothetical character than people who actually believe that God is real.” (16) As an example of this he quotes Richard Dawkins' most despised quote from The God Delusion (“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction...”) and comments, “This correlation is confirmed by the anecdotal evidence from Richard Dawkins' writing” and he sums it all up with the statement that “atheists' belief systems are certainly 'coloured by desire!'” (16-17)

There are a few problems with Weitnauer's example. First, Dawkins is not displaying anger at god. In fact, with this sentence his “intention was closer to robust but humorous broadside than shrill polemic.” Dawkins continues with the explanation of his reasoning for the passage: “If I could venture to suggest why the humor works, I think it is the incongruous mismatch between a subject that could have been stridently or vulgarly expressed, and the actual expression in a drawn-out list of Latinate or pseudo-scholarly words (filicidal', megalomaniacal', pestilential'). My model here was one of the funniest writers of the twentieth century, and nobody could call Evelyn Waugh shrill or strident (I even gave the game away by mentioning his name in the anecdote that immediately follows, on page 51.” [14] Second, anyone can open the Old Testament and see that this description of the god of the bible is perfectly apt.

Dawkins provided numerous rational reasons for his non-belief in The God Delusion, but Weitnauer ignores them and claims Dawkins doesn't want to believe because he doesn't like god. As I demonstrated, Dawkins was attempting to be “humorous” with the quote and was not approaching the subject with anger.

Regarding the study itself, this is highly specious reasoning. The evidence brought to bear here does not appear to me to be very convincing. This study was not looking at factors in belief or unbelief, only forgiveness and anger at god. It cannot tell us whether or not this anger influenced their path to atheism. Based upon personal experience, in my teens I was very angry at god for not answering my prayers, but after a while I simply stopped praying and focused on healing my emotional scars. During this process and for many years afterwards I did not give god or religion any thought until I met a few Christian friends who tried to convert me from my agnostic position. At this point in my life, I felt no more anger and hadn't for many years. This was the time when I reopened the question about whether or not god exists and I looked at both sides as objectively as possible (given the many cognitive biases humans are unfortunately endowed with). My past anger had no influence on my decision at all. Weitnauer is jumping to conclusions again without any evidence.

I've read of numerous studies that have looked at emotional factors in belief in god. [15] Here are just two of them. A study done in 2008 demonstrated that "making people think about events they had no control over radically increased their belief in God, but only when that God was presented as a controlling God. What's more, this happened because people who were made to feel like they had no control actually increased their belief that the Universe was not actually random."

A UK evangelical advocacy group called Theos conducted a survey which found that when “you make people think about death, not only do they become more religious, but they also become more open to religious claims.”

These studies are not all, however. I also have several examples of anecdotal evidence of Christians believing purely for emotionally-driven reasons without as much as a hint of rational justifications.

Lee Strobel: Chris Hallquist writes:

[S]ome prominent Christian figures - notably Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell - have risen to fame by painting self-portraits in which intellectual considerations dragged them kicking and screaming into belief. Notice what they're doing: they’re essentially claiming to be Christian versions of Lukeprog et al. But if you look at what Strobel says in his pre-Case for… book Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary, you get a somewhat different picture: Strobel started going to church because his wife wanted him to, found it emotionally moving, and then started reading Christian apologetics to assure himself it was all true. It’s unclear Strobel read any non-Christian books in his 'journalist’s investigation...' [16]

After reading Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary for myself I confirmed Hallquist's summary of Strobel's “investigation.” All Strobel did after attending church at the insistence of his wife was begin to read the bible and apologetics literature, such as Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Simon Greenleaf's An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice, and interviewing unnamed experts about the historicity of Jesus. He mentions nothing whatsoever about looking at the objections to these arguments from skeptics to gain a balanced perspective. [17]

Josh McDowell: Ed Babinski writes:

McDowell's journey toward Christianity began after he met some evangelical Christians during his Freshman year in college. He was attracted to their "different dimension...riding above circumstances" (MT1); "something different about their lives...happiness...inner constant source of joy" (MT2); they were "disgustingly happy" (MT1&2). (Ellen Kamentsky in her autobiography, Hawking God: A Young Jewish Woman's Ordeal in Jews for Jesus, discusses the nature of the "happiness" she radiated toward fellow believers and potential converts, and the types of unhappiness she was concealing from herself and others. Also, enthusiastic adherents of non-Christian religions radiate states of peace, happiness and joy that draw others toward them and their respective faiths.)

McDowell says he "hated to be alone...[was] frustrated...empty (MT1)...circumstances [made him feel either] okay or bad...If my girl loved me, I was on cloud nine; if she broke up with me, I was really down (MT1)...I had a bad temper (MT1&2)...and still have the scars from almost killing a man during my first year in the university (MT2)...had a lot of hatred...hated my father [who was a wife-beating alcoholic] (MT1&2)...had a lot of restlessness in my mind, and I always had to be somewhere, or with someone. I just couldn't be alone with my own thoughts. My mind seemed like a maze...I used to be constantly on the go because of restlessness" (MT1). "I always had to be occupied. I had to be over my girl's place or somewhere else in a rap session. I'd walk across campus and my mind was like a whirlwind with conflicts bouncing off the walls. I'd sit down and try to study or cogitate and I couldn't" (MT2). "I ran for Freshman class president and got elected" (MT1&2). "[I knew] everyone on campus... everyone said 'Hi Josh'" (MT2). "I made decisions, spent the university's money, the student's money, to get speakers I wanted... threw more parties with student money than anyone else did...would wake up Monday morning, usually with a headache because of the night before...happiness revolved around three nights a week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday" (MT2). "For 19 years I wasn't satisfied with my life" (MT1).

McDowell was a prime candidate for conversion. He was young, unstable, with manic-depressive tendencies, with no well thought out beliefs of his own, including his "atheism" which, according to his testimony, amounted to a series of one-liners aimed at religion: "I chucked didn't work" (MT1&2). "I thought most Christians were walking idiots...I imagined that if a Christian had a brain cell, it would die of loneliness" (MT2)." "I figured every Christian had two brains; one was lost and the other was out looking for it" (MT1). "I used to listen to professors in supercilious humanities classes, and if they didn't believe Christianity, you weren't going to catch me believing it." (MT1). So McDowell admits he lacked any well thought out beliefs or convictions of his own, his mind lacked as much intellectual depth as his emotions lacked stability. "I was like a boat out on the ocean being tossed back and forth by the waves, the circumstances" (MT2), "my happiness always depended on my circumstances" (MT1). For all of the above reasons, there was no doubt that McDowell would be impressed upon meeting "that young woman...[with] a lot of conviction" who mentioned her "personal relationship" with "Jesus" (MT1&2). McDowell was in the market for "convictions" and a "relationship" that was on a more even keel.

Also interesting is the fact, as pointed out in a Christianity Today article, that "The average age of conversion [to Protestant Christianity in America] is quite young," about "16 years of age." Furthermore, "Postadolescent persons do not seem to find Christianity as attractive as do persons in their teens. [McDowell was nineteen when he converted. - ED.] Indeed, for every year the non-Christian grows older than 25, the odds increase exponentially against his or her ever becoming a Christian."[169] So McDowell was a prime candidate even according to the author of that Christianity Today article. Hence, there is no mystery behind McDowell's decision, a few months later, to convert.

Concerning the part of McDowell's testimony where he says, "My new friends challenged me intellectually to examine the claims that Jesus Christ is God's Son" (MT1&2). I wonder when McDowell ever found the time and mental composure to rise to that "intellectual challenge." His conversion took place "Dec. 19, 1959" (MT2) at the end of the first semester of his college sophomore year. He did not spend years studying the evidence, just months. Besides, McDowell admits he "always had to be somewhere, or with someone," "couldn't be alone with my own thoughts," "mind seemed like a maze," "constantly on the go because of restlessness" (MT1), "always had to be occupied...had to be over my girl's place or somewhere else in a rap session," would "walk across campus and my mind was like a whirlwind with conflicts bouncing off the walls," would "sit down and try to study or cogitate and I couldn't" (MT2). It should come as no surprise that being in such a state, he could not "refute" Christianity (MT2), but wound up becoming a believer himself.

McDowell spent the next "13 years" after his conversion, "documenting why I believe that faith in Jesus Christ is intellectually feasible" (MT2). But many people spend years "documenting" why their beliefs are "intellectually feasible," including scholarly Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Christians of different denominations, agnostics and atheists. The question remains whether McDowell can justify that he was intellectually adept enough and emotionally stable enough to have made the right choice in the first place. And the answer to that question appears to be "no": "I knew I had to make a decision because I couldn't sleep anymore. I knew I had to get it off my mind or I'd go out of my mind" (MT1&2). McDowell's conversion does not appear to have been based on his "intellectual" honesty so much as on his lack of emotional stability and lack of well thought out "convictions" of his own. In such a state, he was easily overwhelmed by a few pro-Christian, pro-Bible arguments that he "never knew existed" (MT1). [18]

Craig Keener: Keener writes,

Eventually, one day when I was walking home from school, a couple students from a fundamentalist Bible college cornered me and asked me if I knew where I would go when I died. I argued with them for 45 minutes, as they tried to explain about Jesus’ death and resurrection bringing salvation, something that made no sense to me. Finally I hit them with what I thought was the ultimate question: “If there’s a God, where did the dinosaur bones come from?” If one asks a stupid question, one usually gets a stupid answer. They replied that the devil put them there. I was so annoyed that I started to walk off, and they warned me that if I kept hardening my heart against God, I would end up in hell.

Although I tried to shake off their words, I found myself terrified the entire way home. Despite their weakness in paleontology (i.e., the nonsense about the devil planting dinosaur bones), they had spoken to me truth about Jesus. I had wanted God to give me empirical evidence, but instead God confronted me with the reality of God's own presence. I had studied various religions and philosophies in the encyclopedia, but what I was experiencing now was on a completely different level. As I got to my room, I was so overwhelmed by God’s presence and the demand it made on my life that I felt only two options—I had to either accept or reject the demand of my Creator, and God was not going to let me alone until I did one or the other.

My knees buckled out from under me, and I cried out, “God, I don’t understand how Jesus dying and rising from the dead can save me—but if that’s what You are saying, I’ll believe it. But God—I don’t know how to be ‘saved.’ So if You want to save me, You’re going to have to do it Yourself.” Suddenly I felt something rushing through my body like I had never felt before. Indeed, it frightened me! I did not understand what had just happened, but I knew that God was real and that I must now give God everything I was and everything I had.

That was the beginning of my Christian life, more than 30 years ago. Two days later I walked into a church and the pastor asked if I was sure I was truly “saved.” Since I was not sure about whether or not I had accepted Christ “properly,” I prayed again, this time led by the pastor. Afterward I was overwhelmed with the awesome majesty of God again, but this time I was not afraid. God was so awesome that I knew that I could not praise God enough unless the Spirit of God gave me the words to do it. It began to come out in a sort of language I did not know; I had never heard of this experience before, but it was wonderful. [19]

This conversion appears to be entirely influenced by an irrational fear of hell. Keener appeared to be so afraid that he convinced himself to believe immediately after this incident.

Lionel Luckhoo: In a pamphlet titled The Question Answered: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? he makes his case for the resurrection of Jesus. What is this example of rational proof he offers? He writes,

The common denominator to the entire burial and resurrection of Jesus is that (a) the stone was rolled away (b) the presence of an angel or two angels (c) the message they gave....This Jesus who is crucified is NOT HERE. Indeed, this they could all see for His tomb was no longer occupied (d) the declaration from God's messenger He is Risen!The cry which the first Christians used as a salute. "He is risen."
John in his Gospel reveals to us a most important eye witness bit of evidence "When Peter and John went into the tomb strips of linen were lying there, as well and the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself separate from the linen." The Greek word used describes the cloth as if the body or the head had disappeared and only the folded cloth lay by itself. The body of Jesus had vanished. The material things like head cloth and linen remained by themselves.
Would anyone steal a body and first gently and carefully remove and fold the strips of linen and the head dress? Why? To steal a naked body? With guards all around, a tomb which had been sealed and was now an empty tomb save for the burial clothing and the strips of linen bespeak that Jesus was no longer contained by the grave. He had conquered Death. [20]

What is the big problem with this argument? He is relying purely upon the bible without any justifications for why it's so trustworthy. The truth is that the bible is historically flawed and there was not a single piece of “eye witness” testimony to Jesus' life or resurrection.

James S. Spiegel: He is the author of the 2010 book The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief. In a blog post from 2010 titled “To the God Who Might Be There” Mr. Spiegel remarks how he was having a “crisis of faith” so his solution was to pray and hope god would give him some kind of assurance he was truly there. He writes,

During my first year of graduate school I went through a brief crisis of faith, largely due to the influence of a particular professor who was especially adamant in his religious skepticism. In fact, you might say he was—pardon the oxymoron—a dogmatic skeptic. After a few weeks in his class I found myself struggling with doubts of my own and entertaining the thought that my Christian commitment was based on a lie. What if, after all, God did not exist? I recall one evening as I went to pray sensing the potential absurdity of what I was about to do—quietly thanking and praising a fictitious deity, and making assorted requests to someone who was not there. The usual feeling of God’s presence, an ineffable intuition that was reliable until then, was gone. What to do? I suppose I could have allowed that feeling, or the lack thereof, to dictate a decision not to pray at all. But as I sat there I tried to make a rational assessment of the situation. If there really is no God, I wondered, then what harm will it do to pray? At worst, I mutter to myself for a few minutes and perhaps benefit from the meditative discipline involved in the process. On the other hand, if God is real, despite my failure to sense his presence, then he will hear my prayers and perhaps respond to my pleas to make his presence known to me again as before. And perhaps he will reward me by giving me more assurance than ever that he is real since my prayers in that state would be an even greater act of faith than my usual prayers prompted by the confidence that he exists. I’m not sure how lucid this reasoning was, but that was my thought process.

So I prayed. I prayed then and several other times during that period to the God who might be there. And as the days went by, my assurance of God’s existence did return—and yes, stronger than ever. Would that confidence have returned eventually had I ceased praying? I don’t know. But I’m glad I did it, since I believe that not only did God hear those prayers but it was also a good exercise in devotional perseverance. The Scriptures tell us that God rewards those who earnestly seek him, and this would seem to apply just as much to the person who doubts his existence as to the person who is confident that he is real but simply wants to learn more about him or grow closer to him. [21]

Where is the evidence in this story about his “crisis of faith?” It is nowhere to be seen. Like Craig Keener previously, he merely convinced himself while thinking inside his own head that his god was there. He did not provide any rational arguments for the existence of god, even bad ones, like the argument from design.

William Lane Craig: On his website, Mr. Craig, one of the contributers to this book, has written a fairly full account of how he came to believe in god and in the salvation of Jesus.

I wasn’t raised in a church-going family, much less a Christian family—though it was a good and loving home. But when I became a teenager, I began to ask the big questions of life: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” In the search for answers I began to attend on my own a large church in our community. But instead of answers, all I found was a social country club where the dues were a dollar a week in the offering plate. The other high school students who were involved in the youth group and claimed to be Christians on Sunday lived for their real God the rest of the week, which was popularity. They seemed willing to do whatever it took to be popular.

This really bothered me. “They claim to be Christians, but I’m leading a better life than they are!” I thought. “Yet I feel so empty inside. They must be just as empty as I am, but they’re just pretending to be something they’re not. They’re all just a pack of hypocrites.” So I began to grow very bitter toward the institutional church and the people in it.

In time this attitude spread toward other people. “Nobody is really genuine,” I thought. “They’re all just a bunch of phonies, holding up a plastic mask to the world, while the real person is cowering down inside, afraid to come out and be real.” So my anger and resentment spread toward people in general. I grew to despise people, I wanted nothing to do with them. “I don’t need people,” I thought, and I threw myself into my studies. Frankly, I was on my way toward becoming a very alienated young man.

And yet—in moments of introspection and honesty, I knew deep down inside that I really did want to love and be loved by others. I realized in that moment that I was just as much a phony as they were. For here I was, pretending not to need people, when deep down I knew that I really did. So that anger and hatred turned in upon myself for my own hypocrisy and phoniness.

I don’t know if you understand what this is like, but this kind of inner anger and despair just eats away at your insides, making every day miserable, another day to get through. I couldn’t see any purpose to life; nothing really mattered.

One day when I was feeling particularly crummy, I walked into my high school German class and sat down behind a girl who was one of those types that is always so happy it just makes you sick! I tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned around, and I growled, “Sandy, what are you always so happy about anyway?”

“Well, Bill,” she said, “It’s because I’m saved!”

I was in utter shock. I had never heard language like this before.

“You’re what?” I demanded.

“I know Jesus Christ as my personal Savior,” she explained.

“I go to church,” I said lamely.

“That’s not enough, Bill,” she said. “You’ve got to have him really living in your heart.”

That was the limit! “What would he want to do a thing like that for?” I demanded.

“Because he loves you, Bill.”

That hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I was, so filled with anger and hate, and she said there was someone who really loved me. And who was it but the God of the universe! That thought just staggered me. To think that the God of the universe should love me, Bill Craig, that worm down there on that speck of dust called planet Earth! I just couldn’t take it in.

That began for me the most agonizing period of soul-searching that I’ve ever been through. I got a New Testament and read it from cover to cover. And as I did, I was absolutely captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There was a wisdom about his teaching I had never encountered before and an authenticity in his life that wasn’t characteristic of those people who claimed to be his followers in the local church I was attending. I know that I couldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Through reading the New Testament, I discovered what my problem was. My own moral failures—in thought, word, and deed—had made me morally guilty before God and so spiritually separated from Him. That’s why God seemed so unreal to me. But the Good News was that God had sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to pay the death penalty for my sin, thereby freeing up God’s love and forgiveness to pardon and cleanse me and restore me to the relationship with God that I was meant to have.

Meanwhile, Sandy introduced me to other Christian students in the high school. I had never met people like this! Whatever they said about Jesus, what was undeniable was that they were living life on a plane of reality that I didn’t even dream existed, and it imparted a deep meaning and joy to their lives, which I craved.

To make a long story short, my spiritual search went on for the next six months. I attended Christian meetings; I read Christian books; I sought God in prayer. Finally, one night I just came to the end of my rope and cried out to God. I cried out all the anger and bitterness that had built up inside me, and at the same time I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst! I remember I rushed outdoors—it was a clear, mid-western, summer night, and you could see the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. As I looked up at the stars, I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!”

That moment changed my whole life. I had thought enough about this message during those six months to realize that if it were really the truth—really the truth—, then I could do nothing less than spend my entire life spreading this wonderful message among mankind.

For many Christians, the main difference they find in coming to know Christ is the love or the joy or the peace it brings. All of those things were thrilling for me, too. But if you were to ask me what is the main difference Christ has made in my life, without hesitation I would say, “Meaning!” I knew the blackness, the despair, of a life lived apart from God. Knowing God suddenly brought eternal significance to my life. Now the things I do are charged with eternal meaning. Now life matters. Now every day I wake up to another day of walking with Him. (emphasis mine in bold) [22]

Pay particularly close attention to the parts I've highlighted. Once again, there is no examination of evidence, nor logic being employed. It is 100% emotion. Like McDowell, Craig also felt “empty” and unloved, so he sought out the love (falsely) promised by Jesus and god.

Another very striking quote from William Lane Craig is this: “The way in which I know that Christianity is true is first and foremost on the basis of the Holy Spirit in my heart and this gives me a self-authenticating means of knowing that Christianity is true wholly apart from the evidence.” [23] He is arguing that these subjective feelings he has will overrule even the most convincing evidence that god does not exist or that Jesus did not raise from the dead. How does he know that his feelings aren't leading him down the wrong path? People have subjective feelings about things all the time, and oftentimes those feelings turn out to be wrong. This is why those who utilize reason (and not faith) look at the evidence first and only then make a decision, not the other way around.

Chuck Edwards: Another contributer to this book, Mr. Edwards, has written about how he came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus on Carson Weitnauer's personal website. He writes,

[After explaining how he lost his faith during a 10th grade biology class where he learned about evolution, he talks about how he later came to believe again.] However, during my first year in college I met a guy who seemed to know some things about the Bible. He pointed to the lives of men and women who had lived and worked with Jesus and the accounts they gave of Jesus being raised from the dead. I had heard about Jesus’ resurrection in church and knew that’s why we celebrated Easter. But I don’t recall hearing about eyewitnesses or historical evidences for this actually happening. This was news to me and caused me to reconsider what the Bible, as a historical document, had to say about Jesus.

After considering the historical evidence from the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, I reasoned that if Jesus pulled off rising from the dead, then he must be who he claimed to be, the Son of God. And if he was the Son of God, then God must be real, and I better pay attention to what he had to say about life and re-connecting to God. [24]

Christians like to cite the bible as a form of “eyewitness” testimony but the gospels are anything but. To simply take the gospels at their word without doing any investigation into how reliable these writings are, as Edwards looks to have done, is not particularly rational. It is the opposite of true reason. [25]

I hope you're beginning to notice a pattern here. Where are any of the rational arguments, the use of reason that Carson Weitnauer and Tom Gilson have constantly been telling their readers that Christians allegedly use? Michael Shermer cited a few social reasons for his emerging lack of belief, but he also cited just as many logical, rational reasons. The Christians I have looked at have not cited even a single solitary fact or rational reason for why they decided to take that leap of faith and believe anyway, despite their (very reasonable) doubts.

I'm sorry to say, but this chapter was a disappointment. Weitnauer continually took quotes out of context and did not appear to even fact-check any of the quotes he used. Rather, what this chapter has shown is that Christians are the ones whose beliefs are “coloured by desire,” a desire to prove atheists are as irrational as they want to believe them to be. Unfortunately, due to the lack of such evidence, they scoured the New Atheists' books and the internet for anything they could latch onto and, in their desperation, ended up resorting to taking quotes out of context to try to make their argument stick. Is that an example of rationality? Of reason? No, it's the complete opposite.

Chapter 3: Dawkins' Delusion, by William Lane Craig

This chapter by William Lane Craig looks to tackle Richard Dawkins' main argument in The God Delusion, which can be found in the fourth chapter titled “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.” Craig lays out the summation of Dawkins' argument (in a very condensed version):

1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design in the universe arises.
2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design itself.
3. The temptation is a false one because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.
4. The most ingenious and powerful explanation is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.
5. We don't have an equivalent explanation for physics.
6. We should not give up the hope of a better explanation arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology.
Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist. (19-20)

Craig responds by arguing that this “atheistic conclusion […] seems to come suddenly out of left field.” He mistakenly assumes these points of summation are some form of logical deduction or syllogism, when that was not Dawkins' intention. Dawkins wrote just prior to this list that “at the risk of sounding repetitive, I shall summarize [my argument] as a series of six numbered points.” (emphasis mine) [1]

Craig further responds, arguing that even with a more “charitable interpretation” to view these “six statements, not as premises, but as summary statements of six steps in Dawkins' cumulative argument […] even on this charitable construal, the conclusion 'Therefore, God almost certainly does not exist' simply doesn't follow from these six steps, even if even if we concede that each of them is true and justified.” Craig continues to argue that this argument does not even take into account the cosmological argument or the ontological argument.

Craig did not appear to read Dawkins' book very carefully. The very first paragraph in the chapter explained that Dawkins' argument's only purpose is to rebut the argument from design. He wrote,

In the traditional guise of the argument from design, it is easily today's most popular argument offered in favour of the existence of God and it is seen, by an amazingly large number of theists, as completely and utterly convincing. [2]

Since he believed this argument to be the most popular and the most convincing Dawkins felt that this was the main argument that needed refuting. Craig also ignores the fact that Dawkins addressed these other arguments in Chapter 3 (Cosmological, Ontological, etc.).

Craig further argues that “in order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn't have an explanation of the explanation. This is an elementary point concerning inference to the best explanation as practiced in the philosophy of science. If archaeologists digging in the earth were to discover things looking like arrowheads and hatchet heads and pottery shards, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts are not the chance result sedimentation and metamorphosis, but products of some unknown group of people, even though they had no explanation of who these people were or where they came from.” (21)

I would not agree that in the “philosophy of science” “one needn't have an explanation of the explanation.” The reason is simple. Science is a means of explaining why things happen. If we cannot prove, let alone explain, our explanation then we have not come anywhere close to answering the initial question. This is why the explanation must have an explanation, or else it's not science. Karl Popper writes:

Understanding a theory [in science] means, I suggest, understanding it as an attempt to solve a certain problem. This is an important proposition, and one which too few people understand. The problem that a theory is intended to solve may either be a practical problem (such as finding a cure for, or a preventative against, poliomyelitis or inflation) or a theoretical problem – that is, a problem of explanation (such as explaining how poliomyelitis is transmitted, or how inflation comes about). (emphasis mine in bold) [3]

Popper continues to use Newton's theory as an example. Newton's theory was an attempt to explain the laws of planetary motion proposed by Kepler and Galileo.

Craig's final argument hinges upon Dawkins' claim that god is complex. Craig argues that god “is a remarkable simple entity.” Of course, how Craig can possibly know this is yet to be seen. Furthermore, the very idea of trying to describe something that has never been observed in any way is absurd. We may as well discuss the reading habits of faeries, or what they like to eat. The exercise is pointless since we have no concrete data about that which we wish to describe.

Chapter 4: Richard Dawkins: Long on Rhetoric, Short on Reason, by Chuck Edwards

In this chapter Chuck Edwards has set his sights on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. He begins his chapter by quoting Dawkins' “humorous” quote about god that we looked at in a previous chapter. Of this quote, Edwards accuses Dawkins of taking a “below-the-belt swipe” at god and accuses him of “poisoning the well,” which he claims “produces a strong gut reaction: who would want anything to do with a God like that?” This is “appealing to emotions rather than to reason,” says Edwards. (24)

As I noted in Chapter 2, Dawkins' intention was not to 'poison the well' against his target. It was meant more as “robust but humorous broadside than shrill polemic,” to quote Dawkins on his reasoning behind this passage. Regardless of his intentions, this description of the god in the bible is entirely accurate (just read Genesis 22:1-18; Exodus 13:2; Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Numbers 31:1-18, as just a few examples) and I would hope that these immoral acts carried out by god would force someone to pause and think about the being that they claim “loves” them and whom they worship every week at church. The fact that Dawkins brought this important issue out in the open in the beginning of his book demonstrates that he was thinking. Thinking about scraping the scales from the eyes of the believers by exposing them to the true nature of their god.

Edwards continues. He accuses Dawkins of erecting strawmen. He writes that Dawkins' “opening statement” about god is a strawman because it is a “distortion of his opponent's position” and that Christians and Jews “have never described God the way he imagines.” (25)

I still cannot believe how Christians have repeatedly jumped on this quote from Dawkins. It is such an irrelevant passage, so why so much attention paid to it? My initial reaction is befuddlement, but on closer examination brain scans have shown that when believers talk to god the scans depict the parts of the brain that light up when you are talking to another person. [1] These studies demonstrate that believers truly believe, I mean actually, truly believe they are talking to someone when they address god in conversation or prayer. Just as when someone becomes angered when their friend is insulted, so do believers when someone says something about their god. But I see no problem with saying the obvious. The description of god is right on target. It does not matter how Christians view god. What matters how god actually is when you read the bible. Regardless, Dawkins is not misreading the bible, Edwards is.

Next, he cites a single example of an alleged misreading of the bible by Dawkins. Edwards writes,

Dawkins recalls a story from Judges 19-21 of a man who allowed his concubine to be raped and murdered, then cut her to pieces and sent them to the twelve tribes of Israel as a rallying cry to battle. […] In the instance just mentioned, he fails to read the rest of the story, where he would have found that the last verse of Judges sums up the entire book with this editorial comment: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did was he saw fit.” In context, this sentence summarized the message of the entire book: people left to their own devices often go wrong. (25)

If you read Judges, after this particular passage there many more horrendous examples of immorality. Does this single passage referred to by Edwards really mean to apply to each and every other act committed in Judges? No, and here is where Edwards might want to be more careful about who he chooses to cite, because David Marshall is no biblical scholar. To ascertain the true meaning of the passage it's important to realize that the daughter is clearly proud to be sacrificed, and this is the entire point of the story. Indeed, in the New Testament Jephthah is heralded as a great person of faith (Hebrews 11:32-40). If this was truly wrong, as Edwards (and Marshall) argue, why is he held up as the perfect example of a person of faith? This makes no sense. But don't take my word for it. Thom Stark (an actual biblical scholar) writes,

Here is a clear example testifying to Israelite belief in this period that Yahweh would give victory in battle in exchange for the satiation of human sacrifice. Why does Jephthah make this vow? Because the Ammonites were a formidable enemy, and Jephthah needed that extra divine boost in order to ensure a victory. Note that the text does not condemn Jephthah. Yahweh does not stop Jephthah from sacrificing his daughter. Moreover, according to the text, Yahweh is engaged in this whole affair, because after Jephthah made the vow, “Yahweh gave them [the Ammonites] in-to his hand.” Moreover, Jephthah is expressly one upon whom the spirit of Yahweh is said to have rested. In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews lists Jephthah as one of Israel’s great heroes of faith. […]

Certainly, Jephthah laments that it turned out to be his beloved daughter whom he had to sacrifice, but his daughter doesn’t! She sees that because Yahweh had given him victory, it is only right for him to keep up his end of the bargain. She takes the news of her impending inflammation rather well, all things considered. This shows that these assumptions were a normal part of life in that period. Human sacrifice to the deity was taken for granted; it was not a “rash” aberration. […]

Child sacrifice was considered noble in this world precisely because it was the greatest possible sacrifice that could be made. Children who were made subject to sacrifice weren’t despised by their parents; they were beloved. Sacrificing them was very hard, and that’s precisely the point! That’s what the ancient deities wanted – hard sacrifices. So when the story goes that Jephthah lamented having to sacrifice his daughter, that is the point of the text. Yahweh required a real sacrifice, and it hurt Jephthah, just as it was supposed to. But as Jephthah’s own daughter said, the bigger picture was the security of Israel, and she was happy to sacrifice herself for that cause. (emphasis in original) [2]

Moving on... Edwards' next target is Dawkins' arguments against god, and quotes Alvin Plantinga, who says Dawkins' arguments are “sophomoric.” Next up is a quote from the “atheist philosopher” Michael Ruse who said that “Dawkins is out of his depth.” (26-27) Finally, he says that there are three different versions of the Cosmological argument, not just the one by Aquinas cited by Dawkins. Edwards says that the kalam cosmological argument “is considered by many current Christian theologians to be the strongest of the three.” He then lays out this argument, writing, “Whatever begins to exist has a cause...” and cites Christian philosophers' reasons for the first premise.

Edwards continues his discussion of Dawkins' arguments against the first cause argument in the next section titled “Sophomoric Smugness.” He accuses Dawkins of presenting a strawman when he fails to acknowledge that, according to theologians, god does not need a cause, and therefore, his counter-argument, asking “what caused god?” misses the entire point. (28) I would actually agree with this part of his argument, but at the same time, how can Edwards possibly prove this? Despite this accurate observation, Edwards says Dawkins “does not attempt to respond to any of the specific points that [William Lane] Craig and others bring up.” (28) I'm confused by this statement since Dawkins did cite a Christian philosopher: Thomas Aquinas, one of the most influential philosophers and theologians. Furthermore, this is not any form of counter-argument, stating that he didn't argue against your preferred version of the argument. Edwards should have addressed Dawkins' arguments against god. Mostly all he's done is cite others who ridicule him and complain that Dawkins didn't cite the argument he wanted him to, which is ridiculous.

Next, Edwards moves on from god to Dawkins' discussion about the origin of life. He tries his hand at picking apart Dawkins' argument utilizing the anthropic principle. (31-34) The anthropic principle essentially argues that given enough time and large enough numbers the improbable can become probable. In the case of the origin of life, Dawkins argues that the number of planets that could potentially sustain life are very large, thus providing fertile ground for this principle. Edwards disagrees and cites Guillermo Gonzalez's and Jay Richards' The Privileged Planet where they argue that the actual number of planets that could potentially harbor life is exceedingly much smaller, causing this argument from large numbers to fail. “Mathematically speaking, Gonzalez and Richards suggest the probability of a planet having all of the necessary conditions to sustain complex life is 10 to the negative fifteenth power, or one thousandths of a trillionth,” writes Edwards. (31)

Unfortunately, many of the calculations used by Gonzalez and Richards to arrive at this number are “erroneous.” [3] The criteria they used to calculate their results were entirely too restrictive and apply only to a very specific form of life. This is not to say that life cannot be found in environments dramatically different than the one that we inhabit. In fact, that's precisely the case since we know of many kinds of organisms that can thrive in the harshest of environments, so placing such restrictions on their calculations is illogical.

Edwards tries a second line of argumentation. He gives Dawkins the benefit of the doubt and assumes his calculations about the number of habitable planets is correct. Even assuming the number of habitable planets is exceedingly large, Edwards quotes John Lennox who argues that “the anthropic principle” does not tell us “why those necessary conditions are fulfilled.” (32) Edwards accuses Dawkins of being “unable to give a scientific explanation for life's origin.” (32)

Edward's thinking is very muddled here. No, Dawkins does not try to explain how life arose since this subject is way out of his expertise. In The God Delusion he wrote:

The origin of life is a flourishing, if speculative, subject for research. The expertise required for it is chemistry and it is not mine. I watch from the sidelines with engaged curiosity, and I shall not be surprised if, within the next few years, chemists report that they have successfully midwifed a new origin of life in the laboratory. [4]

Dawkins clearly admits his lack of expertise in explaining the specifics of the origin of life so he kept to something he was better suited. This does not mean, however, that there are no answers to that how question. Over the decades there have been many experiments done that conclusively demonstrate that it is not that difficult to create building blocks of life.

Edwards next cites Johnathan Wells' Icons of Evolution and argues that Dawkins is ignoring the “law of biogenesis” which “states that life only comes from pre-existing life. In other words, You don't get something living from something non-living.” (33) Even more absurdly, in the last section dealing with this topic, Edwards writes,

The problem that Dawkins faces is there is no natural process known to man that can produce something living from something non-living. Atheists are fond of accusing Christians of “God of the Gaps” argumentation, where God is simply inserted to fill in our lack of knowledge. But it is clear that the issue here is not our lack of knowledge; to the contrary, it is what we do know from chemistry and biology that leads us to the conclusion that getting something living from something non-living is impossible. (34)

First of all, biogenesis is a theory proposed by those who used to believe in spontaneous generation, which is not what evolutionists say happened. Second, while “life” (if you follow the “minimalist definition,” which only requires “a self-sufficient system maintained by replication and subject to change by mutation.” [5]) has not quite yet been developed, scientists are half way there by successfully creating self-replicating RNA in the lab. [6] However, these gaps in our current knowledge do not and should not be filled with “god” or any other magical being. There is no need for it. History is filled with events and processes that were at one time unexplainable. It is illogical to continue with this line of reasoning when it has continuously failed for theists.

The final subject discussed by Edwards is the infamous “child abuse” issue regarding children and religion in The God Delusion. If I could choose one subject in TGD that caused more misunderstandings and more misquotes it would have to be this one.

Edwards writes,

[Dawkins] maintains that teaching religion to children is child abuse. This is not just an arresting figure of speech or an exaggeration to make a point; Dawkins soberly compares religious upbringing to sexual abuse, and finds religion the worse of the two. (35)

Edwards continues to trot out this strawman and cites studies which show how a religious upbringing often leads to positive developments in children. (36-37)

This quote has been taken out of context. This was an “off the cuff remark” that Dawkins blurted out during a lecture and he simply used this personal story as a segue to his actual point, which was the psychological harm of scaring young children with threats of hell and punishment. He did not claim that raising children in a religious environment in and of itself can be equated with the harm of sexual abuse. Dawkins writes, in context,

Once, in the question time after a lecture in Dublin, I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place. It was an off-the-cuff remark made in the heat of the moment, and I was surprised that it earned a round of enthusiastic applause from that Irish audience. […] But I was reminded of the incident later when I received a letter from an American woman in her forties who had been brought up Roman Catholic. At the age of seven, she told me, two unpleasant things had happened to her. She was sexually abused by her parish priest in his car. And, around the same time, a little schoolfriend of hers, who had tragically died, went to hell because she was a Protestant. Or so my correspondent had been led to believe by the then official doctrine of her parents' church. Her view as a mature adult was that, of these two examples of Roman Catholic child abuse, the one physical and the other mental, the second was by far the worst. (emphasis mine) [7]

It should be obvious that Dawkins was not making the argument Edwards believes. Christians for years, despite direct statements by Richard Dawkins himself as to what he meant in that chapter, have been continuously misrepresenting and twisting his words. [8] This context ought to make it clear. I just wonder how much longer until Christians finally get it through their thick skulls how horribly they have been taking Dawkins out of context and putting words in his mouth. And Edwards accuses Dawkins of being “prejudiced” and “anti-scientific” based upon his distorted viewpoint. (37)

This chapter by Chuck Edwards was riddled with errors and an assortment of other fallacies. He clearly did not conduct any original research for this chapter and simply repeated wrongheaded clichés from within the Christian community.

Chapter 5: Unreason at the Head of Project Reason, by Tom Gilson

In this chapter Tom Gilson first provides an overview and a breakdown of William Lane Craig's and Sam Harris' debate entitled “Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural,” which took place at Notre Dame University on April 7, 2011. Afterwards he takes a critical look at Harris' book The Moral Landscape.

Apparently, Gilson was so incensed by how badly Harris slammed dunked this debate, he felt it necessary to rescue his co-author's discredited arguments. As with the majority of other chapters Gilson accuses Harris of making emotional appeals, rather than relying on reason during this debate. He writes,

One debater brought forth a series of logical arguments based on precise definitions, carefully delineated lines of thought, and technically sophisticated modal and syllogistic logic. [No doubt, Gilson has just described his view of William Lane Craig's arguments] […] His opponent, astonishingly, ignored most of his arguments completely, as if he hadn't even heard them. […] For he took an entirely different tack: one based largely on rhetoric and emotion instead of reason. [This obviously was his impression of Harris' performance.] (39-40)

Gilson repeats Craig's argument in their debate about Harris failing to ground his assertion that morality is equivalent to the “well-being of sentient creatures.” He claims that Harris has simply re-defined morality to mean the “well-being of sentient creatures” without justifying this view. (42)

I would agree that Harris looks to have begun at what appears to be an arbitrary starting point, but I happen to believe that he started at one of the more logical and sensible places. As Harris rightly said in his debate, and I'm paraphrasing here, were a world with no conscious beings – only rocks – to exist, it could easily be said that morality does not exist in that world. But with the introduction of conscious, sentient beings morality comes into play. Given this seeming truism, another fact becomes apparent. Science is our best tool of discovering the facts about not only the world in which we live, but also about us as human beings and what is most conducive to our “well-being.” As Harris argues, there are very real consequences regarding the well-being of human beings. In The Moral Landscape he uses the lack of a nurturing home for young children and describes their physical and emotional trauma that results. [1] These are real effects and they are measurable, so why couldn't science help us to discover the best ways to live and treat one another? Surely, this is more grounded than, say, relying purely on a philosophical justification for avoiding the debilitating effects of a home lacking a nurturing environment. Anyone would simply assert that they reject your premise. However, it would be downright foolish for someone to deny the cold hard truth, with years of scientific data behind it, that says that children who lack a nurturing environment are emotionally scared as a result.

On the other hand, if you look at William Lane Craig's position, the belief that the Christian god is the source of morality, this position is an absurd starting point and for a number of reasons. 1) There has yet to be any solid proof that this being even exists. It is illogical to argue a position that is based upon a premise that has no evidence in its favor. As a philosopher, I would think that Craig would have to agree. 2) Even granting the premise that the Christian god is real how would this being determine morality? Given Craig's belief in the divine command theory, this view is not a rational one to ground your beliefs about morality. And this common argument does not need to reference the bible. As Keith Augustine has written,

The divine command theory (DCT) of ethics holds that an act is either moral or immoral solely because God either commands us to do it or prohibits us from doing it, respectively. On DCT the only thing that makes an act morally wrong is that God prohibits doing it, and all that it means to say that torture is wrong is that God prohibits torture. DCT is wildly implausible for reasons best illustrated by the Euthyphro dilemma, which is based on a discussion of what it means for an act to be holy in Plato's Euthyphro. Substituting "moral wrongness" for "holiness" raises the dilemma: Is torture wrong because God prohibits it, or does God prohibit torture because it is already wrong?

While DCT takes the the first route, Euthyphro takes the last one: If a good God prohibits torture he does so because torture is intrinsicly wrong, not merely because he declares torture to be wrong by fiat. But if torture is intrinsicly wrong, then it is wrong regardless of whether or not God exists. Either certain acts are wrong regardless of anyone's opinions or commands (including God's), or else all that we mean by "torture is wrong" is "God prohibits torture." Rather than grounding the objectivity of ethics, DCT completely undermines it by insisting that God's commands (like those of individuals or societies) do not require justification in terms of any external principles.

DCT is thus a kind of moral relativism: what's right or wrong is what one's God (like one's self or one's society) says is right or wrong--and there are no moral standards apart from this. Yet if God said that 2+2=100, 2+2=100 would nonetheless be false because 2+2=4 is true regardless of what God says. The same point holds for moral propositions like "inflicting unnecessary suffering solely for fun is wrong." If that proposition is true, then it is true regardless of whether God commands or prohibits inflicting such suffering.

If there is no standard of "being morally right" apart from God's commands, then God could literally command us to do anything and it would be right for us to do it by definition. Whatever God commands becomes the standard of moral rightness, and there are no moral values external to God to constrain what he would or would not command. So if God commanded one person to rape another, DCT entails that that rape would be moral because "doing the right thing" is logically equivalent to "doing what God commands." A highly implausible implication is that it is impossible to even imagine God commanding a wrong act. What counts as moral or immoral behavior on DCT is completely subjective--dependent upon God's fiat--and thus arbitrary. (emphasis mine) [2]

In the debate Harris was citing the acts of extreme cruelty to demonstrate to the audience the problems with this theory Craig proposes. If the god of the bible either allows or commands immoral acts wouldn't it then be logical to conclude that god is immoral? This is why Harris said in the debate: “[...] Yahweh is perfectly fond of genocide, and slavery, and human sacrifice.” According to Craig's premises, is Craig then in favor of slavery? His god appears to be perfectly OK with it, so by his own logic he would have to be OK with it too. I think Harris brought up these immoral acts of god for another reason as well. In the debate Craig argued that god is “the greatest conceivable being and therefore, the highest good.” He continues to name several of god's alleged qualities that would make him a “foundation for objective moral values and duties.” He says god is “holy and loving,” “generous, faithful,” and “kind.” He concludes by arguing that these qualities are what make god the “absolute standard against which all actions are measured.”

Well, clearly any god that allows the existence of slavery is not on the right side of morality and is clearly not “kind” or “loving,” let alone, “holy.” Any god that would slaughter hundreds of innocent men is not a good role model to follow (Numbers 16:35). This was Harris' point, which it appears Gilson has missed entirely. Harris was in no way making an emotional appeal or using rhetoric. It was his attempt to make a serious point. He was making a very relevant point about the serious issues with using the Christian god as a foundation for morality.

Since I've already dealt with the entire premise of the debate I will forgo tackling the rest of Gilson's comments about the debate. Much of it is merely repeating what Craig said during the debate, pretending Craig has a leg to stand on with his arguments.

Gilson concludes his chapter with a brief look at Sam Harris' book The Moral Landscape, which defends the same argument Harris uses in the debate. He presents two passages which span pages 174-175 of The Moral Landscape. In the first quote Gilson claims Harris is denying accusations that the New Atheists are uncivil in their discourse about religion.

There is now a large and growing literature – spanning dozens of books and hundreds of articles – attacking Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and me (the so-called New Atheists) for our alleged incivility, bias, and ignorance of how “sophisticated” believers practice their faith. It is often said that we caricature religion, taking its most extreme forms to represent the whole. We do no such thing. We simply do what a paragon of sophisticated faith like Francis Collins does: we take the specific claims of religion seriously.

In this quote he claims Harris is “defending” this alleged incivility. (50-51) With this, Gilson claims Harris is contradicting himself since in the previous quote he denies being uncivil.

Let's be honest about how Mooney and Kirshenbaum view public discourse in the United States: Watch what you say, or the Christian mod will burn down the Library of Alexandria again. By comparison, the “combativeness”of the “New Atheists” seems quite collegial. We are merely guilty of assuming that our fellow Homo sapiens possess the requisite intelligence and emotional maturity to respond to rational argument, satire, and ridicule on the subject of religion – just as they respond to these discursive pressures on all other subjects. Of course we could be wrong.

This is surely odd. How did Harris contradict himself? Because he noted how the New Atheists often utilize “rational argument, satire, and ridicule on the subject of religion?” Speaking about a subject as you would any other subject and speaking in very clear and direct terms does not imply incivility.

Gilson pulls another quote from The Moral Landscape. (51) This time, it is referring to Francis Collins. Harris writes (as quoted in True Reason),

[The Language of God is] a genuinely astonishing book. To read it is to witness nothing less than an intellectual suicide. It is, however, a suicide that has gone almost entirely unacknowledged: The body yielded to the rope; the neck snapped; the breath subsided; and the corpse dangles in ghastly discomposure even now – and yet polite people everywhere continue to celebrate the great man's health.

Gilson says about this quote: “On one page, Francis Collins is guilty of 'intellectual suicide.' A few pages later, he is 'a paragon of sophisticated faith.' […] By what rational criterion can Sam Harris describe him as brain dead?” (51)

This is certainly a very colorful metaphorical description of Collins' lack of rationality when it came to his “leap of faith” but Harris did not call Collins “brain dead.” It was a metaphor, describing Collins' lack of rationality when he took that “leap of faith.” By what “criterion” can Harris say this? If it wasn't already obvious, it is Collins' lack of any rational justifications whatsoever for believing in a god and that a man rose from the dead. While I can understand Gilson very likely took the same “leap of faith” as Collins did, thus he does not view it as an intellectual cop out, the fact is Collins did exactly that.

Second, Harris was not contradicting himself when he described Collins' irrational leap of faith as “intellectual suicide” and later called Collins a “paragon of sophisticated faith.” Gilson is misunderstanding Harris' point. In this section of the book Harris was discussing the common belief that there is no clash between science and religion; reason and faith. He argues that despite the occurrence of very intelligent people who are religious believers, this does not then make two contradictory ideas suddenly become non-contradictory. He uses Collins as his example of someone who is often lauded as a person who is “living proof that there can be no conflict between science and religion.” Harris explains how he will “discuss Collins's views at some length, because he is widely considered the most impressive example of 'sophisticated' faith in action.” Harris is not applauding Collins' faith in the second example, he is using the word “sophisticated” to describe other peoples' perceptions about those who appear to have successfully reconciled religion and faith with reason and science. Harris spends several pages demonstrating why this is not the case.

The rest of the chapter has Gilson nitpicking The Moral Landscape to death for alleged contradictions or distortions of Harris' opponent's arguments. This chapter was shaky from the start but now it's gone entirely off the rails.

Gilson writes, claiming that Harris “frequently distorts his opponent's position,”

In Letter to a Christian Nation (pg. 6), he writes,

Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling.

Do Muslims really believe in Allah because of the historical evidence for Jesus Christ's cruxifiction resurrection? I think they would be most surprised to learn that! (51)

It is hard for me to believe that Gilson could not have seen the rest of this quote, because if he had, his ridiculous comment would have been answered and then I wouldn't have had the pleasure of pointing out his error. In Letter to a Christian Nation Sam Harris said this, in full:

Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling. The Koran repeatedly declares that it is the perfect word of the creator of the universe. Muslims believe this as fully as you believe the Bible's account of itself. There is a vast literature describing the life of Muhammad that, from the point of view Islam, proves that he was the most recent Prophet of God. Muhammad also assured his followers that Jesus was not divine (Koran 5:71; 19:30-38) and that anyone who believes otherwise will spend eternity in hell. Muslims are certain that Muhammad's opinion on this subject, as on all others, is infallible.

Why don't you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. […] The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. Isn't it obvious that Muslims are fooling themselves? Isn't it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe has not read the book critically? Isn’t it obvious that the doctrine of Islam represents a near-perfect barrier to honest inquiry? Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions. [3]

Once placed in context, it ought to be obvious that Harris was not arguing that Muslims and Christians believe the same things. He was making a point about how both Christians and Muslims have faith in their religions' founders, they both believe that their holy texts are infallible (or at least mostly historically accurate), and that if someone refuses to believe in your beliefs they will burn in hell forever. Despite this, they both reject each others' religions, and contrasts this with how atheists see all religions.

The next to last page contains this gem. Gilson writes,

In End of Faith (pg.19) he writes,

In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable.

That's an odd position for him to take, considering all the historical and philosophical evidences that have been put forth in favor of Christianity. It could mean that he thinks those evidences don't mean what Christians take them to mean – but that's not what he wrote. Rather he said that he cannot even imagine that such things could count as evidence in any possible world. That's a sadly close-minded position. (52)

First of all, this sentence can be found on page 23 of the End of Faith (in both the 2004 and 2005 editions). [4] Second, there are a number of claims religions make that would not be possible to present evidence for. The existence of heaven or hell is one. The resurrection of Jesus is another. One more would be Christians' belief that their god is eternal. There are also the many supernatural stories in the bible, such as Jesus walking on water or casting out demons and healing the sick. There is no possible evidence for these events. Harris does not elaborate on what claims he is specifically referring to, but I believe these are good candidates.

The final page of this chapter just continues to nitpick at a few statements made by Harris about free will that were made in The Moral Landscape. He accuses Harris of contradicting himself about what he says about free will. Gilson writes,

[Harris] devotes most of pages 102 through 110 in The Moral Landscape to tearing down “the illusion of free will.” For example:

All of our behavior can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge; this has always suggested that free will is an illusion.....

Many scientists and philosophers realized long ago that free will could not be squared with our growing understanding of the physical world....

No account of causality leave room for free will...our belief in free will arises from our moment-to-moment ignorance of specific prior causes.... From a deeper perspective (speaking both subjectively and objectively), thoughts simply arise (what else could they do?) unauthored and yet author to our actions.

Yet there is this on page 139:

This does not mean, of course, that we have no mental freedom whatsoever. We can choose to focus on certain facts to the exclusion of others, to emphasize the good rather than the bad, etc. And such choices have consequences for how we view the world....

It's hard to imagine how that could make sense in light of his strong denial of free will. (53)

This misunderstanding should not be too hard to spot, had Gilson paid closer attention. On pages 102 to 110 Harris was discussing free will. Later, on page 139 Harris is in the middle of discussing whether or not we have freedom of belief. Beliefs and actions are two separate things. On page 136 is the heading “Do We Have Freedom of Belief?” It is hard to see how Gilson could have missed this change in topic. On the other hand, it appears that he was so driven to find contradictions and errors in Harris' writings he essentially fooled himself into believing what he wanted to see.

I was not very impressed with this chapter. Gilson neglected to research many of the views he critiqued and he could have made much stronger arguments had he done this. As with the other chapters, this one did not showcase much, if any, reason.

Chapter 6: John Loftus and the “Outsider-Insider Test for Faith,” by David Marshall

In this chapter David Marshall tries his hand at debunking John Loftus' Outsider Test for Faith (OTF). By doing so, however, he appears to contradict himself. On the one hand he argues that the OTF contains many “flaws.” On the other hand, Marshall later argues that Christianity has passed this same 'flawed' test (thus seemingly implying that Christianity is true). (56, 69-70) Setting this tremendous logical blunder aside, let's continue to analyze his argument.

First, let's take a look at the OTF as laid out by John Loftus in The Christian Delusion.

1) Rational people in distinct geographical locations around the globe overwhelmingly adopt and defend a wide diversity of religious faiths due to their upbringing and cultural heritage. This is the religious diversity thesis.

2) Consequently, it seems very likely that adopting one's religious faith is not merely a matter of independent rational judgment but is casually dependent on cultural conditions to an overwhelming degree. This is the religious dependency thesis.

3) Hence the odds are highly likely that any given adopted religious faith is false.

4) So the best way to test one's adopted religious faith is from the perspective of an outsider with the same level of skepticism used to evaluate other religious faiths. This expresses the OTF. [1]

Marshall attempts to argue against the first premise of the OTF by arguing that from his many years studying world religions a vast majority of religions include four beliefs: “In God, the gods, philosophy, and demons. […] Peel away labels, and many beliefs seem to be universal or at least very widespread.” (57)

Despite his pronouncements, religious belief around the world and across time varies greatly. Marshall's view (as quoted by G.K. Chesterton) that most people hold beliefs about “God, the gods, philosophy, and demons” is extremely vague. What does this mean? That all people have the same beliefs? This is absolutely absurd on its face. Could it mean that most people in most cultures tend to believe in some form of supernaturalism and religion? I'd agree, but Chesterton, and by extension Marshall, are ignoring the content of these beliefs. The fact is, despite a widespread belief in some form of religion or supernaturalism, the content of these beliefs vary greatly. The anthropologist David Eller writes,

As we look around the world of gods, we find just as much diversity and just as little continuity as in all other religious domains. Some religions that refer to or focus on gods believe them to be all-powerful, but others do not. Some consider them to be moral agents, and some do not; more than a few gods are downright immoral. Some think they are remote, while others think they are close (or both simultaneously). Some believe that the gods are immortal and eternal, but others include stories of gods dying and being born.

To begin, not all gods are creators, nor is creation a central feature or concern of all religions. The Kaguru of East Africa spoke of a god named Mulungu who was a universe creator, but the people did not know the story of this creation nor care very much about it (Beidelman 1971). The islanders of Ulithi in Micronesia made claims about several gods, none of whom were creators, and their religion contains no creation story at all (Lessa 1966).

Further, not all gods are moral agents or guarantors of human morality. The Konyak Nagas believed in a sky god called Gawang or Zangbau who is a highly personal being and is invoked in daily life and the main social occasions in culture; he is the protector of morality and punishes wrongdoing. On the other hand, the Azande of Africa had a god named Mbori or Mboli, who Evans-Pritchard (1962) tells us is morally neutral and not really interested in human affairs. The ancient Greek gods are renowned for their questionable ethics, involving themselves in seduction, rape, deception, and many other immoral actions. [2]

It certainly appears that Marshall's initial counter to Loftus' first premise is contradicted by the facts. Let's see how Marshall seeks to respond to Loftus' second premise.

He argues that “[i]n most of the world, serious Christian faith is not the default position; even most American Christians go to secular schools, listen to secular music, watch secular movies, and (in extreme cases) read the blogs of John Loftus or PZ Myers. […] None of us is purely an insider to 'Christian culture.' Also, atheist worldviews seem as 'culturally dependent' as any other.” (57)

I would agree that many Christians involve themselves in a number of secular activities, however, it must be remembered that movies and other activities are only one aspect of one's culture. There are, in fact, pervasive (predominately Christian) religious undertones to nearly all activities. Governments write “In God We Trust” on our currency, gender roles are often influenced by religion, laws are often influenced by religion, many sporting events will hold brief moments of prayer, religion is often a major theme in “secular” entertainment, and even life and death are literally ruled by religion. Most babies are circumcised by religious authorities for explicitly religious reasons and funeral ceremonies are very often lead by religious authorities, with religious overtones. These are just a few of the ways in which Christianity is infused throughout American culture, even large parts of “secular” culture. [3]

To quote John Loftus,

What Marshall is getting at is that here are small minorities of people who choose to be Christian theists despite having been born and raised in countries dominated by Islam or other religions, which demonstrates that people can escape their culturally adopted faith. But these are the exceptions. Christian theists respond by asking me to explain the exceptions. I am asking them to explain the rule. Why do religious beliefs dominate in specific geographical areas? Why is that? [4]

All one has to do is take a look at this map to the left depicting the geographical layout of various religious denominations to see this fact (hat tip to John Loftus). If Marshall's argument were true, wouldn't we see a much more diffuse pattern? Clearly, there are large swaths of color, representing a major religious tradition. Unbroken shades of color nearly dominate the map, with a minority of religious diversity in a number of areas. This map confirms Loftus' argument that a large majority of people will adopt the predominate religion of their culture.

The final argument proposed against the OTF is an accusation that it commits the genetic fallacy (which is a form of fallacious argumentation “where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context.”). (58)

First of all, Loftus argues that a religion is “highly likely” to be false given it's cultural prominence in a society. He is not arguing it is false. Second, this proposal is not given in order to disprove a religion (thus taking away the fallacy). Its only purpose is to place oneself outside the influence of one's culture as best as one can to allow one to become as objective as possible when evaluating the truth or falsity of a religion. How could you possibly do this if you do not take this first step and assume that what you have been taught about the predominate religion in your culture is false? This is the whole purpose of the test.

It looks to be clear. Each of David Marshall's arguments against the OTF fail. His next tactic, regardless of how illogical it may be, is to argue that Christianity has passed the OTF “billions of times.” (59) If an argument is by its nature “flawed,” as Marshall contends, how then, can he possibly believe arguing that “billions” allegedly passing this flawed test is proof that Christians have come to their faith in a rational manner? Leaving this blunder aside, let's now examine this argument in detail.

He argues Christianity has passed the test for a number of reasons. First, he argues that “Christianity did not succeeded because conversion is easy.” (59) The evidence he cites for this claim is mostly anecdotal, as it has to do with “betraying” one's “family,” “culture,” and in the case of Saudi Arabia, the threat of imprisonment or death. (60)

Marshall writes of many other cultures accepting Christianity (61) but, as David Eller shows, they did not convert because they found the arguments for it convincing. No, they converted because Christian missionaries literally “recontextualized” Christianity so as to make it more compatible with the native populations' culture. The missionaries employed a “multi-pronged campaign against the bases of native life and belief, especially not-specifically religious matters, like gender roles.” Other tactics utilized “ridicule and verbal attacks on traditional beliefs and practices and on native etiquette.” They literally tried to slowly strip away the natives' cultural beliefs and behaviors and infuse them and eventually supplant them with the missionaries' own beliefs and social behaviors. [5] They have been doing this for centuries. Even David Marshall's organization titled Christ the Tao is his own attempt at “recontextualizing” Christianity to make it more palatable for the Chinese who he seeks to convert.

If one wishes to see how “easy” it is to convert to Christianity I believe all you have to do is read the conversion stories of the several Christians I cited in my review of Chapter 2. There was no thinking, no reasoning, no real pressure. They accepted the beliefs (such as hell and the inerrancy of scripture) without much (if any) thought at all.

Marshall's second argument as to why Christianity passes the OTF is that Christianity has spread far and wide across the globe. “A hundred years ago, there were few Christians in sub-Saharan Africa; now there are more than 400 million. A century ago, most Latins belonged to a syncretistic 'Christo-paganism.' Today tens of millions of evangelicals live in South America […] In the past twenty years, some 60-90 million Chinese, and tens of millions of Indians, have taken the OTF, found that Christianity passed, and converted.” (62)

The issue is not how many people convert to a religion, the bigger question is why. Remember, at its core the OTF is about examining a particular religion's claims from the perspective of an outsider. Loftus writes that the OTF demands that a believer test one's faith from the perspective of an outsider, “a nonbeliever, with the same level of reasonable skepticism believers already use when examining the other religious faiths they reject.” Loftus further argues that “the fact that a religious faith has succeeded in a society says nothing about whether it has reasonably passed the OTF, otherwise Scientology, Islam, and Mormonism are all passing the test in today's world.” [6] This is why knowing the reason why someone, or a group of people, converted to a religion should have been Marshall's main concern, but he does not explain the reasoning behind these “billions” of conversions. According to anthropologists, it's not because the targeted societies believed they had good reasons. They were literally cajoled or forced into believing by eager missionaries. This has nothing to do with the OTF, let alone passing it. With this argument, it is he who commits the fallacy. In this case, ad populum, the fallacy that “a claim is accepted as being true simply because most people are favorably inclined towards the claim.”

Marshall continues discussing the early converts to Christianity (69) but he does not explain the reasoning behind these conversions. Did these early converts “check the facts?” Not at all. For example, in the Book of Acts many stories of conversions are told and they all suffer from a lack of evidence or fact-checking of any kind. In each alleged conversion (since the historicity of Acts is in question) a mere speech converts most people. In other cases “a single psychosomatic cure” of a person who was bed-ridden, who could all of a sudden walk (assuming for the sake of argument this event even happened since supernatural events have never been verified), or the quoting of scripture is all that it took to convert thousands, according to the bible. To quote Richard Carrier, “[T]he only sorts of evidence Acts directly mentions as convincing anyone (none of it which we can honestly count as 'evidence' that Jesus rose from the grave) are scripture and visions, current miracles, and the exemplary moral life of the Christians themselves [...]” [7] Once again, this is hardly an example of taking the OTF and passing it.

I am pleased to see that thus far, Marshall is the first author to accurately cite his target's arguments, but his counter-arguments left much to be desired. His examples did not disprove the OTF and as the conversion stories I cited earlier demonstrate, and the anthropological and historical evidence have shown, Christians do not “check the facts” or take the position of an “outsider” when they come to believe Christianity. Quite the opposite. They simply accept what a Christian tells them or what the bible says without any questioning or investigation into the beliefs they're being sold. Or a native population's culture is undermined and hijacked by Christian missionaries in order to force their religion on others.

Chapter 7: The Explanatory Emptiness of Naturalism, by David Wood

This is going to be a relatively brief chapter since the author's arguments have been responded to at great length by those who are much more knowledgeable than I am. I will, however, personally address the second half of his arguments.

David Wood appears to be working under the assumption that these arguments have yet to be dealt with since he does not even try to address counter-arguments from any skeptics.

David Wood believes that science requires a number of “preconditions” that must be met before any form of scientific investigation can begin. These “preconditions” have to be explained by naturalism. If this cannot be done, he argues, naturalism must necessarily be false. (74) He continues to argue that “Supernaturalism” is the best explanation for our world. He says that if “Naturalism” were true science would be able to account for the following things: the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the “diverse biological complexity,” consciousness, reason, logic, the “problem of natural uniformity,” and finally, objective values. (74-82) He argues it cannot, therefore naturalism is false and “Supernaturalism” is true.

Wood's first four examples have been extensively addressed by various scientists, particularly the issue of “biological design.” I'm shocked there are still Christians who trot out this long discredited argument since it's been dismantled so many times, even by other Christians. The same goes for the alleged “fine-tuning” of the universe. Books I would recommend to Mr. Wood and for anyone else interested in these topics are as follows:

Origin of the Universe & Fine-Tuning of the Universe:

A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, by Lawrence M. Krauss, Free Press, 2012

The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2011

The Design Argument:

The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, by Richard Dawkins, W.W. Norton & Co., 1996 (Tom Gilson might want to take another look at this book too since he didn't seem to grasp any of it as revealed in the first chapter.)

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, by Richard Dawkins, Free Press, 2009

The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters, by Ardea Skybreak, Insight Press, 2006


Consciousness Explained, by Daniel C. Dennett, Back Bay Books, 1991

This leaves reason, logic, the “problem of natural uniformity,” and objective values.

There are a number of issues with this line of argumentation, but at its core each of these arguments are merely a fallacy: argumentum ad ignorantiam, or the appeal to ignorance. Because Mr. Wood cannot fathom how these things can be accounted for by natural processes, he wants to ascribe them to his god. This is classic “god of the gaps” reasoning. Second, even if it came to a point in the future and it turns out naturalism couldn't account for these things, then that does not automatically make theism (or supernaturalism) true. While fallacies do not have to be responded to, since they are after all fallacious arguments to begin with, for the sake of being thorough I will address these four issues.

Regarding reason Wood writes,

According to naturalists, our ability to reason is the product of natural selection acting on random mutation. Natural selection, of course, favors traits that help organisms survive and reproduce. So if human reasoning evolved naturally, it's because it helped human beings survive and reproduce. Does this give us any basis for trusting our reasoning ability when it comes to questions of cosmology, or quantum mechanics, or neuroscience? Not at all. At best, our cognitive faculties would be reliable when it comes to finding berries or using a spear […] We wouldn't trust the traits of animals to lead us to the truth, because they weren't developed for that purpose. Why, then, would we trust our own convictions, which are the result of the same evolutionary process? (79-80)

This does not make any sense. Reason is merely the “stepwise deployment of rules for arriving at useful conclusions.” [1] This same process that was used to find “berries” is precisely the same one used to calculate the mass of a neutron star. Just because one cognitive task is more complex does not mean that the solution that is calculated by our reason for the more complex task is rendered untrustworthy. As Wood noted, evolution favors traits that aided in survival and clearly the ability to figure out problems was a very successful adaptation. This is precisely why it should be trusted. It works, and we know it works or else it wouldn't have helped human beings to survive. Now, I will be the first to admit that humans' capacity to reason is not infallible but this is where the scientific method can aid in fact-checking our cognitive skills via independent, objective experiment. [2]

Computers are also capable of similar kinds of “reasoning,” or the processing of information, and there is nothing magical or supernatural about that. The human brain is simply an advanced form of computer (and please do not try to insert any pointless “design” arguments here...).

Next, Wood claims naturalism cannot solve the origin of logic. Wood writes, “Human reason would be even less reliable if it weren't governed by certain logical truths, e.g., the Law of Non-Contradiction [...]” (80)

This makes no sense. Reason is by definition the act of using methods of deduction.

Wood continues by arguing that “[l]ogical laws are abstract and conceptual. They're concepts, which means that they only exist in the mind. However, logical laws don't depend on human minds. The Law of Non-Contradiction was true before there were any human beings, and if all human beings were to die tomorrow, it would still be true. […] So the laws of logic transcend time, space, matter, and all human minds. [...] But according to Naturalism, the natural world is all that exists, which entails that there are no transcendent logical laws.” (81)

On the contrary, the laws of logic exist because humans exist to create them. They are simply tools for problem solving. The only laws that would exist should human beings suddenly perish from the universe are the laws of physics.

The third issue brought up by Wood is what he calls “the problem of natural uniformity.” Wood essentially argues that via naturalism science is left “perpetually ungrounded” because a scientist is forced to “assume” that the universe will obey the same laws in the future. He writes, “It turns out, then, that you have no basis for believing that the results of your scientific investigation tell us how we should expect the world to behave.” (81-82)

This is simply nonsensical. Science does not presuppose that these laws are uniform and never change. This is simply an observation. It is not a presupposition. Certainly, without these regularities of nature science would be impossible. I'm sure if some day things began falling up scientists would have to go back to the drawing board to figure out what in the world is going on, but up to this point this has not ever happened to our knowledge. Based upon all observation gravity will not reverse itself. Finally, it is only through naturalism that we can do science at all. If a god were tweaking the laws of nature on a continuous basis there would be no way to make accurate predictions, rendering science obsolete, which is why this entire argument makes no sense.

The final issue are values. Wood writes that the very value of science under naturalism withers away because there is no explanation for our persistent pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake. (82-83) He writes, “While scientific investigation often has a practical goal (e.g. curing a disease), we also pursue knowledge for its own sake. That is, we try to understand our universe because we believe that it is good to understand our universe, even if the knowledge we gain has no practical value […] Yet, if naturalism is true, then no objective values.” (82)

Once again, as with the previous responses, Wood is missing the forest for the trees. Yes, humans often pursue knowledge simply for the sake of gaining knowledge but this is yet another natural extension of humans' inquisitive nature. For millennia humans have been seeking answers to the questions of why it rains, why their family members all of a sudden “sleep” and never wake. This need to know is simply man's desire to learn about the world in which we live. This was once the job of religion. Now it is the job of science. There is no mystery here. We are simply applying this desire to need to know to bigger and more magnificent things as our knowledge of the world expands. Why do we do it? I would argue that it's an outgrowth of our need to figure out how to best survive, which we have applied to other, more mundane subjects. This can certainly be explained by naturalism.

On the flip side, how does a god make any of this more meaningful? Because a god wills it so? Because he inserted this desire into our psyche? How would this be any different from natural selection creating this desire? Would the outcome be any different? The same desire would still drive us to pursue more and more knowledge. If a theist responded to this question, what might he say? How would his/her god be any more satisfactory of an answer? Could a theist even explain the reason why a god might have implanted this desire within us? Perhaps a believer might respond: “Because god wanted us to marvel at his creation.” Alright, but why? This does not answer the question. For what purpose does god want us to marvel at his creation? Because he has an ego problem? Or maybe he feels insecure about what he has created so he forces humans to marvel at his (oftentimes cruel and unjust) creation? How would this possibly supply any more meaning to the question? If you turn the questions back around at the theist their entire argument breaks down and they must resort to ad hoc justifications for their opinions. Furthermore, these theistic responses have much less explanatory power because at least science can point us to some tentative answers regarding these why questions, while religion cannot. Finally, evoking god to answer this question is just another from of the “god of the gap” argument.

Chapter 8: By It, We See Everything Else – The Explanatory Value of Christianity for Meaning and Ethics, by Samuel J. Youngs

Samuel Youngs writes that this chapter is about the “question of meaning, of purpose.” (85) Youngs argues that Richard Dawkins believes that there is no purpose in the universe. He quotes a November of 1995 Scientific American article titled “God's Utility Function.” This article was an adaptation of a chapter of the same name in Dawkins' book River Out of Eden [1].

When pressed on the “question of meaning,” an increasingly vocal regiment of Western thinkers resonates with Richard Dawkins' dour pronouncement that, if one was to plumb the very depths of the universe itself, there is only to be found “blind, pitiless indifference.” […] Such is the universe; the center of meaning, according to Dawkins and his brand, is the absence of meaning. (85-86)

In the fourth chapter of River Out of Eden Dawkins describes how Darwinian evolution cares not for the suffering it inflicts upon its creatures. However, this does not mean that human beings cannot find purpose in their own lives. This question was explored in a series hosted by Richard Dawkins titled Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life (2012). In the third episode the “meaning of life” was discussed at length. Dawkins explains how we can find our own meaning in life, whatever that may be. Maybe it's helping others or any number of things. Ask most any atheist or freethinker of sorts and you will likely get the same answer. Dawkins interviews atheist and satirist Ricky Gervais who believes that family, relationships, and friends are an important part of the meaning of life. Dawkins adds “understanding” to that list, with his love of science and the pursuit the of understanding of the world in which we live. Finally, an important point stressed is the fact that this life is all we have so we better make it a wonderful one; don't waste it because you will not get another one. Cherish it and make the most of it. I would agree with all of these, as would most atheists I suspect. Needless to say, it would be wrong to say Dawkins does not believe there is any meaning to life.

Later on Youngs writes, after quoting Friedrich Nietzsche (”Whither is God? […] We have killed him […] Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? […] Is there still any up or down? […] Has it not become colder? [...]”),

[W]hat do our conceptions of our universe mean for the lives we lead, for the people we love, for the questions we ask? The response of the naturalist, when faced with honesty, comes across as rather fruitless and depleted. It asks us to accept a universe with indifference at its heart, where no ultimate meaning can be ascribed to anything. What becomes of humanity, of life itself, of interpersonal interactions, in such a situation? (88)

Had Youngs quoted Dawkins from his other writings and other sources, he would have found plenty of meaning from “naturalists.” Christians are fond of citing the likes of Nietzsche and other atheists who did not always take a positive view of the world, but these bleak voices are few and far between. Christians ignore (I believe purposefully) these other voices because I often wonder if they are scared of acknowledging the existence of fulfilled, content, and thriving freethinkers. It demonstrates that godlessness is a real possibility, and so they quote the most downtrodden quotes they can find and argue that this represents the atheists' view of life. They are leaving out a majority of voices who would strongly disagree with this bleak view of life. Youngs and other Christians would likely argue that these views are simply “honest” accounts of what a godless life has to offer and these are the few atheists who are not afraid to admit this. But I wouldn't call that an honest outlook. I'd just call it depressing and, most of all, unnecessary. There is more than enough meaning in the world for one to find. The only problem is that it's not handed to you as with religion; you have to search it out for yourself.

Youngs continues and says that Nietzsche's views lead to “Nazism and fascism” and that for Nietzsche, “the meaning of life was simply the acquisition and exercise of power: the one who overpowers, overcomes, dominates is the person who truly understands the meaninglessness which mires us.” (88-89)

He continues to argue that given this view of the world it is “not enough” to “continue bemusedly onward as if it mattered little; it is not enough to declare our universe ruinous or indifferent, brush your hands off, and go on making statements that still brim with meaning for which you have denounced any possible source.” (89)

First, I must address this common misconception about Nietzsche and how his views are often said to have lead to Nazism and fascism. The facts are much different. It appears that much of Nietzsche's thoughts have been distorted, no thanks in part to his sister who didn't seem to understand her brother's ideas and who did a great disservice to him by publishing various books that were a patchwork of Nietzsche's notes. This caused several issues. It created many misunderstandings of Nietzsche's actual beliefs, which made his philosophy seem scattered and contradictory, and imparted views to him that he did not hold. [2] Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite and even advocated the mixing of races. He once wrote,

The Poles I considered the most gifted and gallant among the Slavic people; and the giftedness of the Slavs seemed greater to me than that of the Germans - yes, I thought that the Germans had entered the line of gifted nations only through a strong mixture with Slavic blood (XI, 300) [3]

This view can be found throughout “almost all” of Nietzsche's writings: “[T]he belief in the heredity of acquired characteristics and the conviction that race mixture might favor the attainment of culture – both in nations and in individuals.” [4] Clearly, this view is nowhere near those held by the Nazis.

Youngs's other error regarding Nietzsche was his idea of the “will to power,” which he seems to believe attributed to the Nazi atrocities. It is hard to see how this “will to power” influenced the Nazis (unless they just didn't understand it) because it was nothing more than a concept he developed to describe the psychology behind mens' actions. Nietzsche saw the “will to power” from two different perspectives,

First, he thought of it as a craving for worldly success, which he repudiated as harmful to man's interest in perfecting himself. Secondly, he thought of the will to power as a psychological drive in terms of which many diverse phenomena could be explained; e.g., gratitude, pity, and self-abasement. The phrase “will to power” is not yet used, except in one note, and Nietzsche far from approves of this urge. While one cannot, on the basis of the evidence so far considered, make any sweeping statements about Nietzsche's philosophy, it seems worth insisting that, at least at first, Nietzsche used the will to power as a principle to explain behavior – as a psychological hypothesis. More often than not, he used it to explain behavior he happened to dislike. (emphasis mine) [5]

It should be clear how badly Nietzsche's views have been distorted and it's unfortunate that Youngs aids in this distortion, and is perpetuating long-debunked myths about how Nietzsche's philosophy supposedly influenced the Nazis.

Later, Youngs responds to this common retort that we create our own meaning and responds:

A “highly satisfying meaning to life” [quoting an atheist from an article who claimed we make our own meaning] is not what shimmers in the distance when he shrugs his shoulders and says that […] humans have to make their own way in the search for meaning. The bleakness rears its ugly head again, albeit less aggressively. (93-94)

I find it sad that Christians wish to discount the fact that it is possible for one to find their own meaning in life. Just because this self-created meaning isn't grounded in some magic mumbo jumbo in relation to some transcendent being does not mean it is not special and provides no true meaning. Does he really believe his family means nothing? That his relationships are “bleak?” Does the world and their families not mean enough to them for that to be enough of a reason to live a good life? Furthermore, as I've addressed already, how is the Christian god a source for meaning in the first place? Christians can never seem to articulate this rationally. “He just is,” is the typical response. How though?

Youngs writes,

We interact with each other in many ways – and some would argue in every way – as though those interactions have meaning, have significance, have weight. But why should we do this? If the accidental mixing of gases and the meaningless march of blind natural processes are all that can be said for history's progression, why would I be inclined to interact with others as through they mean something? Why would I be inclined to be kind to them, apologize to them, sacrifice for them, or give to their charities? Yet we do all of these things, and innumerable smaller and more mundane things, as though our actions mean something. (91)

Human beings largely cooperate because it's conducive to a healthy and thriving society. Human beings are social animals, therefore, we will commonly help one another and be kind to one another because it feels good to help others and it helps to smooth the wheels of society at large. I know Christians do not like that answer, but what else can I say? Once again, is helping others and being kind to them not worthy of their consideration if they're not being watched over by their powerful deity? Is being a productive member of a society not enough? If not, why not?

Before I move on I will say one last thing to sum up: This is the only life we have. This planet is our home that we share with one another. These facts make it imperative that we all seek to work together to not only help each other in times of need but also to help preserve this planet, the source of everything that we with which to survive. If these are not good reasons for cooperating and helping one another, I don't know what is.

On the other hand, religion tells us that we will live on after death. This life does not really matter, hence what is keeping theists from treating their fellow humans badly? All they need to do is accept Jesus as their savior and they are good to go. It ultimately doesn't matter what they do.

Furthermore, as with the meaning of life, human societies create their own moral standards, which are by far and away better than anything religion has come up with. Take for instance the Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration is a body of moral and legal standards that define what we as a society value and what we want to protect. This Declaration is arguably the gold standard of ethics today; it is a universal standard that we can use to judge other nations and even individuals, and it has near universal consensus among nations.

I will now contrast the Declaration of Human Rights with the only known record of what god asks of his creations, the bible (all passages are from the NIV).

(1) Bible:

Ephesians 5:22-33: Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

(1) Declaration of Human Rights:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. (Art. 1)

(2) Bible:

Leviticus 25:44-46: Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

(2) Declaration of Human Rights:

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. (Art. 4)

(3) Bible:

Deuteronomy 25:2: If the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make him lie down and have him flogged in his presence with the number of lashes his crime deserves.

(3) Declaration of Human Rights:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Art. 5)

(4) Bible:

Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. (This is a law handed down by god himself enshrining inequality between the sexes.)

(4) Declaration of Human Rights:

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination. (Art. 7)

(5) Bible:

Genesis 22:1-12: Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Deuteronomy 21:18-21: If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders. “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death.

(5) Declaration of Human Rights:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Art. 5)

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. (Art. 3)

(6) Bible:

Exodus 20: 3: You shall have no other gods before me. (This is another law handed down by god himself, which enshrines a lack of freedom of conscience and a freedom of thought.)

This verse is clearly restricting a person's freedom of thought and freedom of belief.

(6) Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (Art. 18)

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. (Art 19)

I had been looking for Young's response throughout the entire chapter about how he believes his god is the foundation for morals, values, and a meaning of life and I hadn't seen anything. In the very last paragraph of the chapter Youngs finally provides his justification for his claim that the Christian god is the source of values and morality. He says, “Because [values, meaning, and morality] finds its source in a great Creator, a Creator who desires humans to cherish one another and fight against those things which reduce meaning, truth, beauty, and goodness.” (95)

That's it??? That's his great Christian insight?

As with the Euthyphro dilemma, how does Youngs know his god wants goodness? Is torturing a child by threatening his or her life “good?” Is the keeping of slaves moral? Is treating outsiders as lesser people “good?” Is treating women as chattel and as unequals “good?” He provides no response to these questions. Quite frankly, Youngs has pulled this response out of thin air. It has no biblical basis and no evidence for it whatsoever.

Non-believers are more than capable of finding meaning and purpose in the universe. The only difference is that a non-believers' meaning and purpose is not handed to them, as it is with religion. In the real world one's meaning and purpose must be discovered via self-discovery and education.

Humanity already has a standard we can measure up to. It is the Declaration of Human Rights. These ethical and legal guidelines are clearly better than anything the Christian god came up with and are surely better ways of living. While it is certainly true no nation has fully lived up to these standards, they are a standard we can try to hold ourselves up to, a standard that the vast majority of the human race agrees upon. Religion has continually failed to offer humanity this.

Chapter 9: Reason in a Christian Context, by Peter Grice

In this chapter author Peter Grice attempts to set the record straight about faith and reason. Is faith really the “absence of evidence,” an act of “blind trust,” to quote Richard Dawkins from The Selfish Gene? Grice responds to this common charge. He also tries to explain how Christians view reason and how Christians use reason.

He first defines his subject, writing,

Reason is fundamentally the act of engaging the mind - whether done intuitively or rigorously. Poorly or flawlessly. It is a process of (ideally) careful thinking, always involving logic, often drawing upon evidence. Some of its operations include sifting truth from error in making sense of the world, weighing probabilities and practicalities in evaluating courses of action, comparing greater and lesser goods and ills in formulating moral judgments, conceptualizing plans and designs, and constructing objects of technology. (98)

This is a pretty broad definition of reason by Grice here. I would much rather keep it simple. What we are talking about are the alleged logical reasons why someone might want to take up a particular religion. The New Atheists do not believe that Christians, or other religionists, do not reason at all. This statement is confined only to religious belief. To quote Sam Harris:

Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever. [1]

Certainly, as Grice noted, reason can apply to technology and evaluating courses of action in the modern world. He did not say this, but I got the impression that he believes the New Atheists think Christians do not reason at all, including in the modern world, when their statements are only pertaining to religion and the acceptance of their truth claims. Otherwise I don't see why he felt the need to include the act of reasoning about things that do not pertain to religion. Before I continue with the rest of the chapter I just want to make sure that is clear.

Grice continues to explain how Christians utilize reason in relation to their religion. He writes,

Many aspects of Christianity sustain and require the use of reason. The doctrine of Creation, for instance, teaches us that all reality has been made by God, and that we are made for this cosmos. Together, these beliefs strengthen our motivation to investigate all that God has made for His glory and our benefit. (100)

This is part of the reason why I quoted Sam Harris because it appears clear that Grice has badly misunderstood the New Atheists. Grice said that Christians do use reason; they use reason to study and understand, or “investigate,” the world they believe their god made. Yes, this is one form of reasoning but it is not the form of reasoning the New Atheists are referring to. What the New Atheists are talking about is reason as it relates to digging down into the truth claims of religion and using reason as a means of figuring out if your beliefs are true. Grice looks to be assuming the truth of the bible and going from there, when this is the opposite of how the New Atheists use the word reason.

Grice continues. He claims the bible admonishes believers to seek the truth. I will quote each sentence in this paragraph and respond throughout.

[I]t doesn't seem possible to read the Bible without noticing how it incorporates things like evidence, reason, justification, explanation, proof, defense, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. (100)

He cites numerous biblical verses in defense of this argument:

Peter admonishes fellow believers to provide their reasons for believing (1 Pet. 3:15). (100-101)

This verse says that believers ought to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (NIV) Yes, this verse does tell a believer to “give the reason” for their “hope” but what reasons is the bible referring to? It is extremely vague. Does it mean, as we saw in Acts in Chapter 6, to cite the bible, the story of Jesus' resurrection, and miracles? This is not evidence. They are nothing more than second-hand stories and trickery. This is nothing more than circular reasoning and is not offering the kind of reasons, nor is it the kind of reasoning the New Atheists are talking about.

God invites the Israelites to “reason together” about justice (Is. 1:18). (101)

As Grice notes, this verse is not referring to questioning one's beliefs or using reason to figure out if they are true, but merely an example of god trying to convince the Israelites to obey his commands! The New English Bible interprets this verse as follows: “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord.”

Jesus emphasizes loving God through the full faculties of the mind. (Mt. 22:37). (101)

How is “love” an example of figuring out the truth of a particular proposition?

Paul instructs the church to renew their minds and “think soberly” (Rom. 12:2,3) [...] (101)

Once again, this verse is not instructing believers to search out whether or not their beliefs are true, but to believe first and then you will be able to “test and approve what God's will is.” This verse in its entirety is as follows:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:1-3; NIV)

Christians might get hung up on the word “test” but you must look at the bible in context. What is it talking about? It's clearly not asking believers to test their beliefs because the passage begins by telling believers to “offer your bodies” to god, which means to begin by surrendering all doubt and believe in god. After doing this, your mind will be “renewed” and you will be “transformed,” and once you've already converted then you will “be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” (NEB) This is referring to surrendering yourself to belief. Once you believe you will be able to judge god's character. This has nothing to do with checking any facts or thinking rationally about your belief system. The second verse is not referring to thinking clearly at all, or reasoning. It is referring to avoiding thinking too highly of yourself!

[Paul instructs us to] “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21) […] (101)

Let's put this verse in context. It says,

Do not stifle inspiration, and do not despise prophetic utterances, but bring them all to the test and then keep what is good in them and avoid the bad of whatever kind. (NEB)

This is not referring to any form of checking facts. Paul was admonishing Christians to apply a moral test to prophecies. They were commanded to believe any prophecy that was considered morally good and to disregard any prophecy that was considered morally bad. This has nothing to do with checking facts or conducting any kind of investigation about whether or not the Christian faith is true. [2]

[Paul instructs us to] “supplant childish thinking with mature reasoning” (1 Cor. 13:11, 14:20). (101)

This verse is the well-known passage that reads “When I was a child, my speech, my outlook, and my thoughts were all childish. When I grew up, I had finished with childish things.” [But apparently not his imaginary friend.] (1 Cor. 13:11; NEB) This does not appear to be discussing a better form of reasoning, just the act of maturing. This verse also does not specify any kind of rational ways in which a believer might test the truth claims of their religion. The same applies to 1 Cor. 14:20.

Habitually [Paul] reasons in the temples and marketplace, and even with Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:22-31). (101)

Paul was not 'reasoning' with anyone, he was preaching. He was not providing evidence for his beliefs and why they should believe. In fact, most of the philosophers “sneered” at Paul when he told them about Jesus' resurrection.

Here is the passage in context:

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. (Acts 17:22-33; NIV)

I don't see how the author could call this an act of “reasoning.” He was preaching what be believed from the bible. That's it.

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” come forth in a full revelation of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:2-3). (101)

Once again, how is this referring to anything that could possibly be construed as seeking out reasons for your beliefs or fact-checking those reasons? How is a “revelation” a form of evidence? It isn't.

Grice concludes,

Throughout the Bible, the theme is the same: precisely because God made us in His image, we are to seek after the truth with all of the rational capacities we have been given. (101)

In actuality, it appears the only thing these verses tell Christians is to first suspend all disbelief and believe what we tell you. Then they appeal to various revelations for good measure, which is not any form of evidence.

Next, Grice takes the reader through what he believes to be a more accurate reading of the infamous bible verse of Hebrews 11:1 (“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”), which he claims is not “blind.” (101)

He writes,

Many have taken this to mean that faith is an invisible substance that somehow responds to a lack of evidence. In context, however, what it is saying is that our trust in Jesus is the tangible experience we have in the present, and it functions (figuratively) as substantial assurance that God will act in the future. (101)

Grice appears to have proven the skeptics' point. How is “trust in Jesus” and being given “assurance” that their god will act any form of evidence, let alone empirical evidence? It isn't. I'm relieved he did not try to claim that this passage says Christians demand evidence as some apologists have, but this does not imply any form of evidence at all. It is specifically saying that the foundation of one's belief is trust itself, which is not a form of evidence. [3]

I am amazed at how Grice tries to argue how the story of Abraham's near sacrifice of his son Issac is an example of “a reasonable response to God” because Abraham had already “experienced the incredible miracle of his wife delivering a son well after she had entered into menopause,” and had “repeatedly met with God in profound and personally transformative experiences, and seen abundant evidence of God tremendous goodness and love.” (102)

No. This is a story of a religious maniac who took the hallucinations he was experiencing at face value and nearly murdered his own child. Even assuming all of the supernatural stuff is true, to be willing to murder your own child because some magic being says so is insane. I do not care how or in which way Christian apologists try to spin this story. It's disturbing that they defend these gruesome acts.

In conclusion of this section Grice says,

The biblical pattern of coming to faith always begins with evidence. The first stage of evidence is the pervasive knowledge of God' discernible in creation (Rom. 1:20). In addition, sometimes the evidence is the experience of personally encountering God. (To automatically dismiss this evidence as psychic malfunction is to beg the question.) (103)

Sorry, we've taken a look at the bible and have found no evidence of fact-checking nor examples of asking for evidence for their beliefs. Grice confirms this attitude when he tellingly says how Christians know god exists because of his “creation.” But why do they believe this? The bible. This is an example of circular reasoning. And it is not begging the question to doubt stories of people of faith seeing or speaking with their gods. Given the fact that there has yet to be any tangible evidence of anyone talking to any gods it is only rational to have doubts until conclusive proof is provided that these believers were not merely hearing voices.

The next section is titled “Reason and the Resurrection.” Here, Grice tries to defend belief in the resurrection on rational grounds. He writes,

What kind of evidence did Paul have for the bodily resurrection of Jesus? He and the early Christian community were galvanized by the shared conviction of multiple eyewitnesses, based upon “many convincing proofs.” For a period of forty days, their once-crucified leader lived, breathed, spoke, and ate among the group of people who knew him best: the once-cowardly Peter, then the twelve of the inner circle; afterward, “more than 500 brothers and sisters at once, most of whom are still living,” followed by his own half-brother James, then all the apostles, and finally the once-hostile Paul. (103)

There is only one problem with these so-called “eyewitness” accounts. All of these accounts are mere hearsay, based upon ancient texts and visions (from Paul). It is extremely improbable that any actual eyewitnesses were still alive during the time the bible was written. [4] Even if a single eyewitness were to have survived there is still the matter of a supernatural resurrection of a man from the dead, which is medically impossible (without modern medicine of course, and even then it's not a given).

Throughout the rest of this section Grice continues to tout the bible as an example of “eyewitness” testimony, when this claim is beyond absurd. He commits an even larger blunder, however, when to top off his already fanciful argument, he commits an appeal to authority by citing the late Antony Flew, writing,

The essential ingredients of an appropriately historical case remain firm, compelling one-time leading atheist philosopher Antony Flew to remark, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It's outstandingly different in quality and quantity.” (104)

I cannot understand how Christians can continue to cite the late philosopher Antony Flew, whose unfortunate situation seemed to have been taken advantage of by a number of Christian apologists. Even if Flew had ignored or disregarded every single thing he'd ever written about logic and evidence, this argument would still boil down to nothing more than a fallacious appeal to authority.

As we've seen, Christians have nothing but hearsay and the facts cast entirely too much doubt on the writers of the bible either knowing the alleged witnesses or themselves being the alleged witnesses.

The next section is titled “Reason and Christian Practice.” Grice writes that Christians' “spiritual life” requires their mind since they must “discern” through reason “good from evil.” He continues to say, “We draw on knowledge gained through general revelation (knowledge acquired by means of experience, observation, and conscience) and special revelation, the great resource of Scripture, with its very episode teaching us something of righteous character (including what not to do).” (104)

This is only about reason as it has to do with morality. It has nothing to do with rational reasons for belief, thus is irrelevant to the discussion.

Grice continues to argue that reasoning is a form of teleology, which “correlates purposes with functions; goals with strivings,” (107). Because naturalism denies any form of purpose in the universe naturalism cannot account for reason. Grice quotes James Barham,

[…] If human beings had never existed, countless billions of other living creatures would still have pursued their various goals in exactly the same way. Yet, metaphysical naturalism would have us believe that teleology is some sort of illusion. In other words, all of the life sciences, as well as the social sciences and the humanities, are making constant use of a principle that officially does not exist! (108)

Grice himself continues:

“To circulate blood” is the purpose, or normative standard, which in turn defines whether the heart is functioning properly. As a standard or goal, it is blatantly teleological, which is strictly incompatible with the established form of Naturalism.

This makes no sense. Naturalism implies (because of the evidence) that there is no purpose inherent in the universe. Like the earlier argument about morality in Chapter 8, this does not mean that the life forms created by the “blind watchmaker” cannot not have some kind of purpose. An inherent lack of purpose in the universe itself does not imply that the biological systems and organisms that evolved within the universe themselves cannot have purpose. Even more than that, since when did science ever say that biological systems had no purpose? Yes, all things serve their purpose, since organisms must do things in order to survive. That's their purpose: survival. Anything beyond that is up to them.

Science acknowledges unintentional design, while Christians are referring to intentional design. The question at hand is how it came about. Christians seem to be getting their terms confused. Yes, scientists have noticed and acknowledged the seeming “design” in nature and how these “designs” serve a particular function. However, this was not caused by any intentional agent. [5] This was the entire point to Richard Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker: the apparent design of nature's organisms is not due to some magical being, it is due to the blind forces of nature acting upon the objects and organisms in the world. Christians' only argument against these facts? “No, God did it.” It's brought out of nowhere without any logical or factual justifications.

No, the bible does not convey a message of rational discourse or of reason. There are no eyewitness reports of a hugely unlikely supernatural event, and the apparent “design” in nature can be explained via natural processes. Christians' only counter-argument to these facts is to continue to assert without any justification that their god did it. For all of this talk of reason, this book seems to be getting more and more unreasonable as the chapters progress.

Chapter 10: The Marriage of Faith and Reason, by David Marshall

This chapter has a very similar theme to the last. David Marshall looks to convince readers that reason and faith are compatible. In fact, according to Marshall, one could not survive without the other:

[F]aith is simply one of two faculties (along with its close cousin, reason) by which we know all that we know. (111)

Marshall seeks to deride the scientific method by calling it “scientism.”

Christian epistemology offers a deeper understanding of what we know, and how we know it, than does a naively uncritical scientism, a worship of the “scientific method.” (112)

As I demonstrated in the last chapter it does not appear at all true that “Christian epistemology” provides anything of value. I would go as for to ask: what epistemology? Christians do not appear in any way to check the facts they are told (assuming they could have in the first place), they do not appear to weigh any other religious options, and most of the conversions as told in the bible involve nothing more than speeches about miraculous occurrences. There is no method of sifting truth from falsehood. The only form of anything that might be construed as “epistemology” is faith in ancient texts or some kind of revelation which is not possible to confirm.

Marshall officially begins his discussion by defining the word faith:

[H]olding firmly to and acting on what you have good reason to think is true. (112-113)

He continues,

In Jesus and the Religions of Man, I compared faith and reason to two chopsticks, with which the human mind feeds itself on the truth. Faith must be tested by reason. But reason relies on four levels of faith for all the facts that it holds dear: faith in the mind, senses, other people, and (the question at issue between theists and atheists) in God. (113)

Marshall claims that one must trust their senses that they are providing the real scoop about the world. The same with your mind. You must trust your mind to be working without error. All of these things Marshall calls “faith.” However, there are some serious issues he is ignoring. Human beings do not actually have to trust either of these things. At least not in the way Marshall assumes.

Marshall's argument of having to rely on your senses as a form of faith doesn't make much sense. I would agree that we must trust our own minds to a degree, but even here faith doesn't play as strong a role as Marshall believes. Marshall also neglects to see the other side of the coin. If we cannot trust our own senses to give us an accurate picture of the world then how in the world can a Christian use his fallible mind and unreliable senses to argue for design in the world? I could just as easily accuse Marshall and other Christians of the same error.

Through our every day experiences we can see how our senses give us reliable information about our every day world on a consistent basis (assuming you're not taking any substance that might alter your perceptions) and our senses are surely accurate enough to allow us to successfully navigate the world. This should make it obvious that our senses are highly accurate or else people might end up believing a piece of wood feels like wool or falling off cliffs on a constant basis, or any number of examples that would be proof of the unreliability of our senses. The fact that wood feels like wood and wool like wool, and people do not very often fall off cliffs, experience shows us that our senses can be trusted.

On the other hand, it is true that our senses aren't perfect, but we have the scientific method to help double check what we are experiencing is accurate. Science has shown us that we cannot always trust our senses with such examples as our mistaken belief that the earth is rotated by the sun and ghost sightings. However, through the scientific method we are able to check the accuracy of what we are experiencing with it's methodology that has proven to be reliable with centuries of repeatable experiments and observations. And as it just so happens, this is the crux of the issue. Theists tout design as a reason for belief despite the fact that the evidence tells us it's all in their heads. Science has corrected the faulty belief in seeing design in the world.

But regardless of all this philosophical nonsense, the fact is that our minds are all that we have in determining the truth of things and they are in most instances highly reliable. Having said that, the scientific method is one of the most useful forms of gathering evidence and determining, as close to reality as possible, an accurate picture of the world and how that world functions. This is not a form of faith. These are rational propositions based upon observations about the world.

To conclude, there are only three ways by which man has been said to gain knowledge about himself and the world in which he (and she) lives. They are: empiricism, prophesy (or revelation), and philosophy (or logic). The last two have been proven to be either entirely unreliable (as with revelation) or occasionally faulty (as with philosophy). The only method that has been the most reliable is empiricism because it has given us the most successful results. If there is a method that has the success rate of empiricism no one has yet to come forward with facts that demonstrate otherwise.

Next, Marshall takes the reader through the New Testament to show how on many occasions the bible appeals to reason, evidence, and rational thinking. First he cites a passage from Luke's gospel, providing his basis for why the biblical accounts can be trusted:

It seemed fitting for me as well, since I investigated accurately everything from the beginning, to write it down in orderly fashion, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the instructions you have received (Lk. 1:3-4). (114)

While Luke's methods could be considered more historical when compared to the remaining gospels, there are serious issues with accepting Luke's accounts, particularly regarding the miraculous, especially the resurrection. [1] Let's take a closer look at this passage in Luke. Here is the passage in its entirety, including the beginning, which was chopped off by Marshall:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been surely believed among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

How could Luke have “investigated” everything when he says quite plainly that these stories were “handed down” from alleged eye-witnesses? He says nothing about knowing who these alleged witnesses were, or that he received them directly from the witnesses themselves, nor does he explain the manner in which he went about checking their authenticity, which is in serious doubt in the first place. This omission by Marshall serious casts doubt upon his argument that Luke's account can be trusted. [2]

Luke composed a large bulk of his gospel by merely copying the gospel of Mark and Matthew, which are not eye-witness accounts. He “was simply pulling material from books and traditions that were never even claiming to be history, much less produced by eye-witnesses,” writes Richard Carrier. “And even had his sources been written by eyewitnesses, he could not interrogate or cross-examine a book or oral tradition anyway, no matter how skilled he was. And when we consider that evidence, in addition to the fact that Luke shows (or pretends to show) no awareness of conflicting stories (like the deviant nativity or empty tomb narratives of Matthew), and never makes any effort to show how he chose what evidence to accept or reject, we can rightly say that Luke was probably not a critical historian.” [3]

Next, Marshall cites the gospel of John and argues that this account is also reliable because he “refers to his chief source as the 'beloved apostle,' probably John himself, who had been at the thick of the action [...]” (114) On the contrary, John's gospel sounds exactly like a religious sermon - not history - with wording very similar in style to the book of Genesis,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:1-8)

There is no indication here that the author's source is the same John allegedly known to Jesus, so Marshall's statement is pure speculation. Remember the gospels are all anonymous. We cannot know much of anything of their sources, particularly when they use names that were in common usage at the time.

Marshall writes that Acts is “full of arguing and reasoning.”

Believers refute or “baffle” opponents (9:22); “debate (9:29),” speak persuasively” (14:1); and “convince” (18:28). (115)

These are verbal marks of persuasive, many-sided appeals to evidence (signs, natural theology, the resurrection) that we will talk about shortly. (115)

Let's take a close look at each of these passages Marshall claims are evidence of “persuasive” “appeals.”

Acts 9:22:

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. (Acts 20-22)

How exactly did Saul “baffle” the Jews? It does not specify. If we go by many of the other accounts in Acts, all Christians did was preach and cite the bible, oftentimes others believed them, many times they didn't. Those who did were no doubt the most gullible of the bunch. But where is the evidence Marshall claims is here? It's nowhere to be found.

Acts 9:29:

After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:23-30)

It does not sound like a very promising excursion for Saul to go around Jerusalem and so badly offend the sensibilities of those living there that they actually attempted to kill him. Saul may have “debated” but he does not appear to have been effective. Furthermore, the bible does not elaborate on exactly what was said. Was this in actuality an act of “debating” or was it mere preaching as in other passages? Was there an actual back and forth exchange with logical and factual propositions put forth, or did Saul merely preach what he uncritically accepted from the scriptures?

Acts 14:1:

At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the gospel. (Acts 14:1-7)

Once again, we are given nothing but vague pronouncements about some alleged form of convincing speech. And most did not appear to believe, since many of the Jews pointed out their absurdities and talked some sense into the others. And once again, Paul and Barnabas so offended the sensibilities of the Jews that they wanted to kill them. How is this an example of a convincing argument? And what kind of miracles were performed? Again, we are left with nothing but vagueness. This is hardly a convincing case that Christians relied on evidence and reason. In fact, it's the opposite and is actually proving the statements of skeptics such as Richard Carrier.

Acts 18:28:

For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 18:28)

I don't believe this requires much explanation. How effectively could Apollos “debate” his opponents when all he did was rely on scripture, which he clearly had no logical reasons to accept as true? Essentially he committed the same fallacy as Christians today. He assumed the scriptures were true and proceeded to argue from that proposition. The passage does not explain what counter-arguments were leveled against Apollos' claims so we cannot determine how effective he actually was at convincing anyone. The bible is an obviously biased source, so we cannot know how many people (if any) were actually convinced.

If this is all of the evidence Marshall could bring to the table to argue for his position I'd say he has failed poorly indeed. Most of these passages, when read in context, refute his claims of reliance on evidence and debate. This is likely why Christians only cite a single word or two at a time from the bible when making their case that the bible supports reason. If they would supply the context their claims would be dismissed outright.

Marshall's next form of evidence for the reliability of the gospels are the “critical accounts of Jesus' life.” (115)

He argues that the gospels “contain nit-picking, suspicion, entrapment, barbed comments, and angry denunciations, directed by respectable citizens at Jesus.” […] He argues that many of Jesus' followers were clearly not “eager to believe.” (115)

This does not prove the trustworthiness of a message. But, I must ask, how does this play into the reliability of these accounts? Are novels and films not written in the same fashion today? Are heroes or main characters not subject to “entrapment” or “barbed comments” in today's entertainment media? Of course they are. The same likely occurred in the past as well.

Marshall comments,

Christianity obviously did not succeed because its first audiences were all gullible rubes who lapped up any supernatural claim.” (115)

If you read the stories in Acts that's exactly what we find when we take a closer look at them in context.

The final criteria for authenticity cited are: miracles, prophecy, Jesus' personality, and the resurrection. (115-117) How these can count as a criteria for a story's reliability is beyond me. Marshall argues that miracles are “signs” that “imply purposeful communication.” (115)

How is turning water into wine an example of “purposeful communication?” The same applies to casting demons into a herd of pigs (Wouldn't some call that animal abuse? Jesus was lucky PETA wasn't around back then), or paying a Temple tax by placing a coin into a fish's mouth? Marshall is being very selective about the miracles he cites.

Marshall argues that one of Pascal's “favorite proofs was the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled.” (117) It's too bad I've got to break it to Marshall that this is not likely. The writers of the New Testament simply reinterpreted the Jewish scriptures to conform to their beliefs about Jesus. John Loftus writes how “Christian preachers simply went into the Old Testament looking for verses that would support their view of Jesus. They took these Old Testament verses out of context and applied them to Jesus in order to support their views of his life and mission.” [4] As one example, take Psalm 2. According to Christians it “expresses the hope for the Messiah, the anointed one, who was none other than Jesus whom the kings and rulers 'conspired against,' according to the apostles Peter and John (Acts 4:23-31).” Originally the term “the Anointed One” referred only to kings, but by the time the psalms were collected this phrase took on a new meaning, that of a “future ruler of Israel, the Messiah, and not to ordinary kings.” [5] These same mistakes and biases can be found throughout the New Testament.

I am hard pressed to see how the final two criteria, Jesus' personality and the resurrection, are evidence of reliability. Marshall writes, “No one would believe Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, if they claimed to forgive sins or be the unique Son of God.” (117) Actually, there are many people who would believe such things, even in today's modern world, let alone in the more superstitious ancient world. Take José Luis de Jesús Miranda as just one example. He claimed to have been Jesus' Second Coming and he amassed thousands of followers.

The resurrection accounts have no independent evidence for them outside of the gospels so it cannot be counted as evidence of anything. This is just begging the question.

Near the end of the chapter Marshall accuses scientists of relying on the “appeal to human testimony” when they cite other scientists in their work. “[R]ead Dawkins or Darwin and underline their citations of scientific work other people have done.” (118)

This argument should demonstrate just how little Marshall understands the scientific method. Dawkins does not rely on mere “human testimony” when he cites fellow scientists. First of all, the scientist in question has likely written peer-reviewed papers about his findings and has had them analyzed by other scientists. Dawkins could even look over the other scientist's evidence if he so chose. When it comes to scientific papers, those who authored it explain their methodology, the experiments they conducted, the evidence they gathered, and their results. All of this is laid out for anyone who cares to read it. Anyone who cares to can also seek to replicate the scientists' findings to ensure their methods were satisfactory. Countless scientific theories are borne out by exactly this rigorous process. Trying to compare reliance of the bible to reliance on fellow scientific authorities is highly illogical.

I've demonstrated how the bible does not rely on reason, logic, or debate to gain converts. Reason is used in an attempt to understand the bible but this is a grave misunderstanding regarding the usage of the word “reason.” By reason the New Atheists refer to the act of logically analyzing one's beliefs in order to determine whether or not they are true, and to logically justify the premises on which their beliefs are based. This is not what the original Christians did and it is not what modern Christians do.

If this chapter has demonstrated anything, it is that faith is very much divorced from reason. The bible does not depict stringent debate or arguments. David Marshall's evidence for the reliability of the gospels was inconsistent with the facts.

Chapter 11: Are Science and Christianity at Odds?, by Sean McDowell

In this chapter Sean McDowell tackles the issue of the war between religion and science. His position is one in which he believes that there “is no inherent conflict between Christianity and science.” (121) To back up this claim he argues how the “scientific enterprise […] emerged in Christian Europe […] a civilization primarily shaped by the Judeo-Christian worldview.” This is because, says McDowell, Christianity “provided the philosophical foundation as well as the spiritual and practical motivation for doing science.” (122)

While it is true that Christianity emerged in Christian Europe, this was not necessarily due to Christianity. This is a classic example of a fallacy. Just because science happened to take place in Christian Europe does not mean that the Christian religion caused the Scientific Revolution. There is an even larger issue, however. Typically, a “cause that fails to have its predicted effect despite being continually in action for a thousand years is usually considered refuted, not confirmed,” writes Richard Carrier. Despite Christianity being a dominant force in the “Eastern half of the Christian world,” and particularly in the Byzantine Empire, there was no scientific revolution in any of these areas. It took a thousand more years for the scientific revolution to develop. [1]

In the end, it was a moving away from the original values of Christianity that allowed science to begin again after the Greeks developed it. Richard Carrier writes that,

[M]odern science did develop in a Christian milieu, in the hands of scientists who were indeed Christians, and Christianity can be made compatible with science and scientific values. Christianity only had to adapt to embrace those old pagan values that once drove scientific progress. And it was Christians who adapted it, craftily inventing Christian arguments in favor of the change because only arguments in accord with Christian theology and the Bible would have succeeded in persuading their peers. But this was a development in spite of Christianity's original values and ideals, returning the world back to where pagans, not Christians, had left it a thousand years before at the dawn of the third century. Only then did the Christian world take up that old pagan science and its core values once again. And only then did further progress ensue. [2]

McDowell adds that it was Christianity's emphasis on the “insistence on the orderliness of the universe” along with “human reason, and its teaching that God is glorified as we seek to understand his creation [which is what] laid the foundation for the modern scientific revolution.” (122)

This is an odd argument since the “orderliness of the universe” can be plainly observed without any need for theology. In addition, this exact observation of the apparent “orderliness” took place long before Christianity with the Greek pagans. If this is the case, and it is, then how can McDowell argue that Christianity was a necessity for the scientific revolution? Apparently, he is simply swallowing this myth that has developed over the last several years. However, Greek atheists and “doubters” such as Strato, Erasistratus, Epicurus and Asclepiades looked for natural reasons for the occurrences in nature that they saw unfolding before them. [3] No theology and no Christianity required. Science had already been flourishing for long periods of time before Christianity even came on the scene.

McDowell discusses next the issue of religious scientists, both past and present. He argues that many scientists “derived their motivation for scientific research from the belief that God created the world [...]” (123) This is true, but I don't believe this is evidence, as McDowell seems to think, of the compatibility between science and religion. I think Sam Harris summed it up best when he wrote that,

The truth, however, is that the conflict between religion and science is unavoidable. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma alwayscomes at the expense of science. Our religions do not simply talk about “a purpose for human existence.” Like science, every religion makes specific claims about the way the world is. These claims purport to be about facts – the creator of the universe can hear (and will occasionally answer) your prayers; the soul enters the zygoyte at the moment of conception […] Such claims are intrinsically in conflict with the claims of science, because they are claims made on terrible evidence. [4]

I could not agree more. Religions, like Christianity, make truth-claims about the world all of the time that conflict with known scientific realities. Conflict between science and religion is unavoidable. It doesn't matter what scientists personally believe because the facts are clear. Their opinions are irrelevant.

In the next section McDowell discusses the infamous trial of Galileo as one of the more popular stories that are told to highlight the hostility of religion to science. He sums up the affair as follows:

Galileo's problem was not simply that he challenged the authority of the Church. The issue was far more complex. Galileo also upset secular professors whose careers were dedicated to the older cosmology. Prior to the 16th century, most educated people (regardless of religious persuasion) accepted the primary cosmological model of the ancient Greeks, who believed Earth sat stationary while the sun revolved around it. When Galileo offered scientific evidence against this model, he “rattled the cages” of both the Church and academia. (124)

While his telling of the Galileo affair is not entirely inaccurate, it does appear that McDowell tries to distance the religious nature of the Galileo affair, arguing that the situation was “far more complex.” First he argues that Galileo upset even the scientific community since the Copernican system was widely believed at this time. Second, he says that there were three main reason why Galileo got in hot water with the Catholic Church: Galileo “broke his promise not to teach that Copernicanism was true,” he “openly mocked the pope” in his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, and he “spoke authoritatively on the meaning of Scripture, which was clearly outside his area of expertise.” (124) McDowell closes by saying that the “popular claim that the Church persecuted Galileo for advancing science is a caricature.” (125)

This is an odd statement, given the fact that the majority of problems faced by Galileo was due directly because of the Catholic Church, which sent him to the Inquisition and who put him on trial for “hearsay” because of his statements about his scientific observations regarding the sun “being the center of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the center, and moves,” quoting Galileo's statement to the Inquisition. [5] In fact, the Inquisition even threatened him with torture in order to force him to recant his heretical views. [6] That this wasn't about his “advancing” of “science” seems to be quite a bit of a stretch, particularly since McDowell noted most of these facts himself.

Near the end of the chapter McDowell argues that “there is no inherent conflict between Christianity and science. […] naturalism and theism are at odds, not science and Christianity.” (125) This is an odd statement since Christianity is a form of theism. As I noted earlier there is an unavoidable conflict but McDowell does not address these facts in this chapter.

At the end McDowell writes that atheists can only do science “if they abandon their naturalistic worldview [because only] theism provides the necessary foundation for the logical, orderly nature of the universe and the powers of reason.” (128)

I've already responded to each of these claims. Above I showed how even Greek “doubters" used observation to learn about the orderliness of the universe and I've demonstrated the tremendous lack of reasoning in each of these chapters thus far. However, I am pleased that McDowell did manage to get most of the facts of the Galileo case correct.

It should be clear. Christianity was not responsible for modern science and Christianity, let alone any other from of theism, is not a necessary component of the scientific method.

Chapter 12: God and Science Do Mix, by Tom Gilson

Picking up where the last chapter left off, Tom Gilson is back in this twelfth chapter in which he argues that science and Christianity are perfectly compatible. He quotes Lawrence M. Krauss, who in turn quotes J.B.S. Haldane, from a 2009 Wall Street Journal article. [1]

My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world. (129)

Gilson responds to the article as follows,

[…] Krauss's point in this piece was that, Christianity is all about miracles and other such interfering-God nonsense. Science could never make sense under conditions like that.

He is right, of course, to take it that science depends on nature generally behaving itself. But he is wrong to think this is incompatible with Christianity. Far from being foreign to the Christian faith, nature's predictable regularity is an essential aspect of God's work in the world.

[…] The God of the Bible seeks relationship with the humans he created, which requires communication. […] [I]f there's too much chaos (“noise”) in a transmission, the message (signal) can't get through to be clearly understood. (129-130)

This is an unusual argument. While he denies providing ad hoc (132) justifications for this rationalization (a very interesting one, though) that's precisely what it is.

Gilson continues to argue that god wants his creations to “be responsible moral agents” and for that to be possible we cannot live in a world with “constant chaotic supernatural intervention.” (130) He continues to argue that “God intends that humans be able to “learn from experience.” If he intervened all of the time this would “work against God's purposes.” (131)

Essentially all Gilson is arguing is that his god doesn't want to dazzle his creations with constant supernatural interventions because he wants us to be able to predict with enough regularity the workings of the cosmos so we can do science and be responsible for our actions and learn from our experiences.

This argument fails for three reasons. First, it completely defies typical Christian experience; second, it contradicts the very foundation of Christianity; and third, this argument does not fit with what we know (or rather, don't know) about the universe.

Gilson's argument lies in stark contrast to what we find in the bible. Just a few chapters ago in Chapter 10 David Marshall was discussing all of the miracles that were performed in the book of Acts. Things like: “Peter and John tell a man who has never walked a step in his life to walk. He walks;” “Saul hears an audible voice, sees Jesus, [and] is struck blind;” and while in prison Peter “wakes up with an angel shaking his shoulder, chains fall off his hands, and all the prison doors are found open.” (116)

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. Christians in their every day lives see their god working little miracles all of the time. They yell out “Hallelujah, it's a miracle!” if a tornado misses their house, or in the case of an old friend of mine who happened to find chairs he needed as he was driving through a neighborhood. He passed by someone's house who it appeared had placed some very nice looking chairs on the curb, we assumed with the intention of having the garbage collectors pick them up. My friend said to me that he'd been needing some chairs and that these would be perfect. He pulled his truck off to the side of the road, got out, and proceeded to place the chairs in the back of the truck. He remarked, 'Thank you Lord,' and he tells me how he always sees god working little miracles like this in his life. But this begs the question. 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.

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 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.

This makes perfect sense on the naturalist view, however. Natural selection did not equip our minds to as easily grasp the universe on a much smaller scale. Richard Dawkins sums up this quandary beautifully in The God Delusion when he writes,

We are at home with objects ranging in size from a few kilometers (the view from a mountain top) to about a tenth of a millimeter (the point of a pin). Outside this range even our imagination is handicapped, and we need the help of instruments and of mathematics [...] Our imaginations are not yet tooled-up to penetrate the neighborhood of the quantum. Nothing at that scale behaves in the way matter - as we are evolved to think - ought to behave. Nor can we cope with the behavior of objects that move at some appreciable fraction of the speed of light. Common sense lets us down, because common sense evolved in a world where nothing moves very fast, and nothing is very small or very large. [2]

Naturalism explains this. Supernaturalism does not.

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.

Chapter 13: Historical Evidences for the Gospels, by Randall Hardman

Randall Hardman focuses on a few key aspects that relate to the reliability of the gospels: “the question of miracles” and the “skeptical bias,” the oral tradition, and historical accuracy.

Hardman begins the discussion about miracles and skeptics' “bias” against them. He argues that naturalism is a “philosophical assumption concerning reality and history.” (133) He continues to argue that this viewpoint “denies a priori an open system in which God might or might not intervene in human affairs and, therefore, unjustifiably presumes a closed system.” (134) Finally, in his denouncement of the scientific method he says that “science has never made a case for the necessity of philosophical naturalism, nor is it within science's competency to do so [...]” (134-135)

In actuality, science denies the supernatural, not for metaphysical reasons, as is assumed by Hardman (135), but because of practical reasons. Donald Prothero writes,

[S]cientists practice methodological naturalism, where they use naturalistic assumptions to understand the world but make no philosophical commitment as to whether the supernatural exists or not. Scientists don't exclude god from their hypotheses because they are inherently atheistic or unwilling to consider the existence of god; they simply cannot consider supernatural events in in their hypotheses. Why not? Because […] once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it. (emphasis in original) [1]

There are no philosophical assumptions, only practical ones, for the reasons mentioned. I also do not believe that science is incapable of making a case that methodological naturalism is the preferred means by which to do science. It's a simple fact that many scientific tests have confirmed that there is no evidence of the supernatural. Studies that contain strict protocols, such as ensuring double blind studies, have shown over and over again that there are no benefits of prayer, there are no psychic phenomenon, and a host of other supernatural claims have been investigated and found wanting.

Mark Isaak explains how,

[M]any supernatural explanations are rejected not because they are supernatural but because they cannot or do not lead anywhere. It is possible to come up with any number of possible explanations for anything – lost socks could be caused by extradimensional vortexes which our observations prevent from forming; hiccups could be caused by evil spirits inside us trying to escape; stock market fluctuations could be caused by the secret manipulations of powerful extraterrestrials. Scientists reject such claims on the grounds of parsimony. All of these claims are possible, but they require adding complicated entities which there is no adequate evidence for. [2]

Finally, early scientists were forced to abandon such thinking (“God did it.”) because the “scientific understanding of nature” went “nowhere.” Methodological naturalism became a necessity even to religious scientists such as Isaak Newton, Pierre Laplace, and James Hutton, because it was realized that “supernatural intervention did nothing to help” these scientists to “understand” the workings of the natural world. All of this was done by religious scientists so for Hardman to say this is some form of atheistic bias demonstrates he has not read up on the history of science very carefully. [3]

Having said this, I will now tackle Hardman's claims that the New Testament is reliable. He quotes NT scholar David DeSila who says “that if we can get past an anti-miracle bias and leave open the possibility of such occurrences, the potential for engaging the Gospels and Acts on their own terms increases exponentially.” (136)

Read that sentence again. Essentially what Hardman is advocating is a suspension of disbelief. If only we would accept such seemingly impossible tales as angels appearing, miraculous healings, and the like we might be able to understand the NT on its “own terms.” We could just as easily argue that if we took the Koran or the Book of Mormon “on their own terms” our eyes would be opened and the truth would finally be revealed. John Loftus' Outsider Test for Faith is instrumental in this situation. If only Christians opened their minds to the possibility that the Book of Mormon is just another testament of Jesus Christ... Of course, this will not happen. Why? Because Christians disbelieve the miraculous stories in the Koran and the Book of Mormon for the same reasons atheists reject the same kinds of stories in their own Bible.

Let me respond to this point more directly as it harkens back to what I said earlier. Due to the lack of evidence of genuine miracles it is simply illogical to assume they exist until one has been demonstrably proven. In addition, the people who wrote the bible believed almost everything was divine or a miraculous event because they did not understand the world in the way we do in these modern times. Christopher Hitchens writes,

Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody – not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms – had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance, and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion […] [4]

Speaking of taking the bible on its “own terms” I'd like to ask Mr. Hardman (or any other Christian) if he (or she) believes in the Leviathan, a giant sea monster, whom the bible claims god's “magic binds?” (Job 3:8, NEB) If we are to read the bible on its “own terms” as Hardman requests is he willing to accept the existence of sea monsters? Or what about “fiery serpents?” (Deuteronomy 8:15, NKJV) Does he believe in fire breathing dragons? [5] Is his mind open enough to accept the plausibility of these creatures?

Hardman continues to argue how Christianity's oral period was 1) not entirely oral; it included “note-taking,” and 2) the oral tradition was much stronger than is commonly believed. He cites Birger Gerhardsson's Memory and Manuscript, which argues that there was a “degree of oral stability” within both Judaism and Christianity, and that this careful process allowed for these writings to be “safeguarded” and “prevented them from inevitable distortion.” (139-141) Hardman says this research was beneficial but that it was ultimately “historically out of touch.” He argues that a more likely theory is called “informal, controlled model of orality,” which was developed by Kenneth Bailey. Hardman says that this oral tradition was kept accurate and controlled by the entire “community,” not a single authority as with Gerhardsson's theory. (143)

The problem with this line of argumentation is that it is based upon a gigantic assumption. In fact, we do not know if the works that ended up in the bible were memorized in this manner. Judging from the great amount of instability within early Christianity I do not believe this is likely. Unlike how the early Christian community is often portrayed, it was not a very close-knit community. This does not sound like a very effective, nor efficient, environment in which to pass along critical information from person to person, group to group, generation to generation, of which there were several, prior to the appearance of formal and codified gospels.

In early Christianity there were already problems with the earliest scriptures, let alone in any oral tradition. In fact, many scholars discount the inclusion of any oral tradition into the discussion in the first place because you cannot examine an oral tradition, like you can physical manuscripts, and any argument made about the oral tradition (what it contained and how effectively it was transmitted) is purely speculation. [6] This does not appear to be a very stable or effective environment for such oral transmissions. The problems only get worse once we begin to look at the early Christian churches and communities.

Before the gospels were written Paul commented how he felt great “concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). He noted how there were many “factions,” along with “hatred, discord, jealousy,” and “fits of rage” and tells these congregations to “not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:19-26) Paul also noted other disputes among the churches. He wrote, “My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ'.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-12)

Even church fathers writing much later would comment about their frustrations over the changing of scripture. Origen once wrote,

The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please. [7]

Not only Christians but their critics also took advantage of these poor copying practices. In Against Celcus (2.27) Origen quoted Celsus arguing how,

Some believers, as though from a drinking bout, go so far as to oppose themselves and alter the original text of the gospel three or four or several times over, and they change its character to enable them to deny difficulties in face of criticism. [8]

This problem was very well known in the ancient world, even prior to the period when the gospels were written, and the bickering and confusion only increased from that point on with various Christian sects claiming to represent the true teachings of Jesus, even though many of them held entirely contradictory doctrines. [9] The various beliefs of “Christians” during the second and third centuries were highly diverse, and each claimed to be following the “true” teachings of Jesus and his followers. There was no “agreed-upon” canon or scripture, only “diverse groups asserting diverse theologies based on diverse written texts, all claiming to be written by apostles of Jesus.” To quote Bart Ehrman,

In the second and third centuries there were, of course, Christians who believed that there was only one God, the Creator of all there is. Other people who called themselves Christian, however, insisted that there were two different gods – one of the Old Testament (a God of wrath) and one from the New Testament (a God of love and mercy). There were not simply two different facets of the same God: they were actually two different gods. Strikingly, the groups that made these claims […] insisted that their views were the true teachings of Jesus and his apostles. Other groups, for example, of Gnostic Christians, insisted that there were not just two gods, but twelve. Others said thirty. Others still said 365. All these groups claimed to be Christian, insisting that their views were true and had been taught by Jesus and his followers. [10]

The views pertaining to god were just as diverse as those about Jesus during Christianity's first few hundred years after the alleged crucifixion. Ehrman continues,

Some of these groups insisted that Jesus Christ was the one Son of God who was both completely human and completely divine; other groups insisted that Christ was completely human and not at all divine; others maintained that he was completely divine and not at all human; and yet, others asserted that Jesus Christ was two things – a divine being (Christ) and a human being (Jesus). Some of these groups believed that Christ's death brought about the salvation of the world; others maintained that Christ's death had nothing to do with the salvation of this world; yet other groups insisted that Christ had never actually died. [11]

These facts to do not bode well for Hardman's theory about the cohesion and reliability of the oral period with the continuous bickering and in-fighting among the various sects of Christianity. These facts also ought to cast doubt upon the gospel's alleged historical accuracy, because that's the next topic covered by Hardman.

He claims that Luke was an eye-witness “to some of the events he recorded, and, where he wasn't, he sought out eyewitness testimony.” (145)

I briefly covered the issue of the historical reliability of the gospel of Luke in chapter 10, so I will copy my response from there.

Luke composed a large bulk of his gospel by merely copying the gospel of Mark and Matthew, which are not eye-witness accounts. He “was simply pulling material from books and traditions that were never even claiming to be history, much less produced by eye-witnesses,” writes Richard Carrier. “And even had his sources been written by eyewitnesses, he could not interrogate or cross-examine a book or oral tradition anyway, no matter how skilled he was. And when we consider that evidence, in addition to the fact that Luke shows (or pretends to show) no awareness of conflicting stories (like the deviant nativity or empty tomb narratives of Matthew), and never makes any effort to show how he chose what evidence to accept or reject, we can rightly say that Luke was probably not a critical historian.” [12]

Not to be deterred, Hardman cites the initial passage of Luke to demonstrate that he was, in fact, an eye-witness:

If we suppose that Luke was in his 20s at the death and resurrection of Jesus, he would have been in his 60s when writing his gospel. […] [Hardman quotes the initial passage of Luke:]

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses (autopsai) and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4). (145)

First of all, Hardman's assumption that Luke was in his 20's is mere speculation. Given that the average lifespan during this time period was an average of 50 years-old it is highly unlikely the writer of Luke was an eye-witness, much less that there were eye-witnesses available to interview, assuming one could find any to begin with (and this is assuming the author of Luke did not die during the war (of 66-70 A.D.) or from persecution at the hands of Romans or Jews). [13]

How Hardman can argue this passage claims Luke was an actual eye-witness is beyond me. It says nothing of the kind. As I noted in chapter 10, how could Luke have “investigated” everything when he says quite plainly that these stories were “handed down” from alleged eye-witnesses? He says nothing about knowing who these alleged witnesses were, or that he received them directly from the witnesses themselves, nor does he explain the manner in which he went about checking their authenticity, which is in serious doubt in the first place. [14]

After looking at all of the facts what shall we conclude? Well, for one, science is not inherently biased against the supernatural; second, any oral tradition is impossible to study and this argument is further harmed when we consider the strife within the Christian communities and the contradictory claims about even basic doctrine. Finally, Luke did not appear to be a reliable historian and he was not an eye-witness and could not have checked his story for authenticity since he did not appear to know by whom the accounts he was recording were from.

Chapter 14: The Problem of Evil and Reasonable Christian Responses, by John M. DePoe

In this chapter DePoe responds to the common argument popularly called the Problem of Evil.

In the beginning of his chapter DePoe writes how the Problem of Evil “raises legitimate questions” and that atheists who raise such objections ought to be “willing to hear whether there are reasonable solutions to the problem.” (149) In the same vein, I believe reasonable Christians ought to respond to reasonable atheists who have thought deeply about these issues. It is unfortunate that DePoe did not engage more fully with atheists who directly responded to many of these arguments, such as John Loftus or Graham Oppy, citing only briefly John L. Mackie about free will and the Problem of Evil. (157)

DePoe begins by arguing that it is a “dubious assumption that a wholly good Being would desire his creation not to experience any pain, suffering, and other challenges presented by the existence of evil at all other costs.” (151)

I do not see how he can justify this premise. If humans were created in god's image (Genesis 1:27) then surely we would be like god in many ways. One way, one would think, is the desire not to see others suffer. Human beings often work very hard to avoid suffering and pain and to help alleviate conditions that cause it, and to help those who are in need of help. If human beings were created in god's image, why do humans have this desire to help others, but god apparently does not?

Similarly, if god is considered to be “the greatest conceivable being and therefore, the highest good,” quoting William Lane Craig from his debate with Sam Harris from Chapter 5, then it is only logical that “if there were simply a best world for God to create (not a best possible world), he would have no other choice than to create it.” As William Rowe argues, “to do less good than one could do is to be lacking in wisdom or in goodness.” [1] Given god's stated attributes, it only makes rational sense for him to eliminate suffering in the world. If the “sinful” and “imperfect” human beings are capable of such lofty acts, then surely the so-called “maximally great being,” to quote Alvin Plantinga, would have a deep desire to carry out those desires to an even greater degree.

Leaving these issues aside, DePoe's first argument is that evil is necessary for the “opportunity of character development.” He argues that without traumatic circumstances to find ourselves in human beings would not have the opportunity to develop the “goods of moral character,” such as “courage and patience.” (151) He makes it clear how he believes that “virtues like courage and patience cannot exist without evil. In order to be courageous, one must practice courageous acts. In order to practice courageous acts, there must be some evil that a person confronts in the right way. And since people are on the whole better beings if they are courageous than not, it follows that a wholly good Being has a morally sufficient reason for allowing some evil to exist.” (151-152)

I do not believe this argument holds up. I like what Corey Washington said in his debate with William Lane Craig: “We've got to hold theists to what they say […] If they say God is omnibenevolent, God is omnibenevolent, if they say God is omnipotent, God is omnipotent. We can't let theists to sort of play with these words. They mean what they mean. And if God is omnibenevolent, God will not have any more harm in this world than is necessary for accomplishing greater goods.” [2]

According to DePoe, evil exists to allow humans to be virtuous and practice courageous acts and patience, but it should be more than obvious that there is much more suffering and evil in the world than is necessary to allow humans to accomplish these virtuous acts. The Holocaust was an unspeakable tragedy and surely there were many brave people who sought to protect Jews from being taken away to the concentration camps, but were the millions of deaths proportionate to the amount of virtuous acts by those few who stood up to the Nazis? I honestly do not believe anyone who has a properly working moral compass can say there was. And given god's alleged omnibenevolence and “loving” nature, such a being would have stopped these massacres before they even got started.

There is an even greater problem that theists must solve if they propose this argument. John Loftus quotes William P. Alston who writes how,

[A] perfectly good God would not wholly sacrifice the welfare of one if his intelligent creatures simply in order to achieve a good for others, or for himself. This would be incompatible with his concern for the welfare of each of his creatures. [3]

John Loftus follows up this line of argument, writing,

Therefore, the theist has the difficult task of showing how the very people who suffered and died in the Nazi concentration camps were better off for having suffered, since the hindsight lessons we've learned from the Holocaust cannot be used to justify the sufferings of the people involved. It's implausible that their suffering did more to teach them [or anyone else] the virtues of character and cooperation than would banding together to win an athletic contest or help someone build a house. [4]

The largest problem with DePoe' argument, however, is his framing of the discussion in such a way that he defines courage as “the characteristic where a person is disposed to confront evil in the right way.” (151) However, this is not accurate. Courage is defined as the “ability to disregard fear; bravery.” [5] Merriam-Webster defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” He takes the same tactic when it comes to his definition of patience. DePoe defines patience as “the trait that disposes a person to endure evil in the right way.” (151) I'm sorry but this again is inaccurate. Patience is defined as “the ability to endure; perseverance; forbearance.” [6] Merriam-Webster defines the act of patience as being “able to remain calm and not become annoyed when waiting for a long time or when dealing with problems or difficult people.” (The search for “patience” redirected me to the word “patient.”) Neither courage or patience requires evil to exist in order for god's creatures to develop courage or patience.

Just as there are many ways of learning courage, such as becoming a lion tamer or performing daring stunts, of which no harm would come to anyone else but yourself, there are many ways one can learn patience without having to endure hardship. A slow, methodical game of chess or checkers can test almost anyone's patience, as does having children. But these acts do not inflict needless harms upon innocent people. If god is truly “the greatest conceivable being and therefore, the highest good,” then there is no logical reason why god would not choose for his creations to develop the virtues of courage and patience via activities that avoid needless suffering, rather than the other options like the Holocaust or a pandemic. In sum, there are numerous ways one could go about practicing courage, and especially patience. For instance, one could force themselves to attend as many Black Friday sales each year as possible. Or one could find the most rude and the most inattentive waitress and insist you are waited on by her. I'm sure these would instill in one great degrees of both courage and patience, but they do not require evil (unless you believe buying loads of useless stuff just because it's cheap, or rude and inattentive waitresses are evil).

I believe DePoe's argument ultimately fails because he has defined both courage and patience in such a way that necessitates evil, when there are many ways in which someone can “practice courage” and “practice patience” that are not a result of evil. The next argument DePoe cites is that of free will. He writes,

A second morally sufficient reason a wholly good Being has for sanctioning the existence of evil is for the purpose of granting free will. To make this point, there are two propositions that I will support. First, I will contend that free will is an intrinsic good that is outstandingly valuable. Second, I will argue that the existence of evil is necessary for the existence of free will. Taken together, these two claims provide the rational grounds for believing that a wholly good Being has a morally sufficient justification for permitting some evil to exist. (155)

He continues to argue how free will “makes it possible for people to be morally good or evil. […] A robot that has been programmed to vandalize private property is not a morally evil agent; in this case, the evil agent is the person who made the free choice to program the robot to commit acts of vandalism. […] In order for something to be a moral agent it is necessary for it to have the capacity to act in a free and responsible way. […] It is only with free will that anything is capable of being morally good or evil.” He concludes by saying “that the capacity for moral agency is an intrinsic good of enormous value. In order for the intrinsic good of moral agency to exist, creatures must be endowed with the capacity for free will. All things being equal, it is better for creatures to be endowed with moral agency than not. Most people recognize that it is better to be autonomous agents that freely control their own choices rather than automata with no ability to freely govern their own actions.” (155-156)

DePoe quotes a counter-argument by John L. Mackie who asks,

If God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good? If there is no logical impossibility in a man's freely choosing the good on one, or on several, occasions, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion. God was not, then, faced with a choice between making innocent automata and making beings who, in acting freely, would sometimes go wrong: there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but always go right. Clearly, his failure to avail himself of this possibility is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and wholly good.

DePoe responds to this argument:

Mackie's reasoning contains an assumption, and once it is revealed, it is easy to see what is wrong with his reasoning. Notice in the first sentence from the quotation above that Mackie begins by stating, “if God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil...” The assumption here is that all that is required to choose freely to do good is to have a preference to do what is good. Now if free will was only a matter of following one's strongest preference, then Mackie would be correct. God could have created all people with the strongest preference to do good, rather than evil. However, I think it is a serious mistake to think that a person is free by acting according one's strongest preference. In fact, if it is true that people always act according to their strongest preference – and people are not free to choose what they prefer most strongly – it follows that people would not act freely by following their strongest preferences. […] If one's will could be controlled this way, it wouldn't be free will. (157-158)

It appears that when he says, “I think it is a serious mistake to think that a person is free by acting according one's strongest preference,” he is arguing that if god restricts our overall choices of our actions we are not truly free and, thus, do not have free will. I do not agree with DePoe's line of reasoning.

What if our options are simply limited, as in Mackie's example? For the sake of argument let us argue that a person had a choice between four books to read: The God Delusion, god is Not Great, Breaking the Spell, and The End of Faith. Due to the arrival of an alien species who on their home planet considered the Four Horsemen to be kings, they destroyed every other book in existence. Now, you only have a choice between these four books. By doing this, did the aliens take away everyone's free will? No. They simply limited options, but their free will remained intact because they could freely choose between the options available. Similarly, if god only allowed “good” actions then he is simply limiting our options, but we'd still have the free will to choose between a range of “good” actions to take in our daily lives. If that's not free will I don't know what is.

Now that he has addressed the actions of "free agents," what about “the existence of non-moral or natural evil (e.g., diseases and natural disasters)? Surely an all-powerful and wholly good Being would eliminate these evils since they seem unnecessary for the existence of free and moral agency.” (159) DePoe continues,

Contrary to initial appearances, a closer inspection of natural evils shows that we cannot rule out the possibility that they are intimately connected with free agency. There are two reasons for this. First, the mechanistic workings of the natural world are essential to exercising free will. If the natural world was not governed by stable laws, we could not make meaningful free choices. For example, if I wanted to choose to help someone, the way in which I would try to help would depend on whether I had good reason to believe my actions would result in helping, rather than harming, that individual. My ability to make meaningful, moral choices depends on the world being a place where I can reasonably predict the effects of my actions. After all, if there were no laws of nature (in other words, the natural world was chaotic with no patters of regularity), how could I reasonably expect my actions to result in good or evil? […]

There is a second way in which natural evil is connected to free will. Natural evils, like hurricanes, tornadoes, and viruses, are not intrinsically evil. For instance, if a tornado touches down in the middle of a desert and harms no living thing, it is not an evil event. Likewise, it is not evil for a deadly virus to exist, if it does not ever make contact with living creatures. What makes these natural events evil is when their existence intersects with moral agents. […] The implication of this insight is that what is often called natural evil is ultimately due to the exercise of free agency. If people had not chosen to settle in an area prone to tornado activity or on a fault line, there would be no associated evil event such as tornadoes or earthquakes. […] It is important to notice that the claim is not that people who have chosen to live in proximity to potentially dangerous natural events necessarily deserve the natural evil that befalls them. […] If God prevents natural evils, it negates the responsibility and consequences that follow from the exercise of free will. (159-161)

He concludes that if “either of these two reasons are right, then it follows that natural evil is justified on the same grounds as moral evil – it is necessary to preserve free will.” (161)

I do not agree with DePoe's line of argumentation. If god created the laws of nature, as DePoe likely believes, then god has the power to tweak those laws even momentarily to save the life of an innocent person in a tornado's path for instance. This does not necessarily require the entire upending of the entire laws of nature, to the extent that we would not be able to determine the outcome of our actions. Remember, according to Christians, god is omnipotent, which means he can do anything, so why not tweak the laws he allegedly created to save his beloved creations from undue harm? To quote John Loftus,

The theist typically believes God created the universe out of nothing, and if he can do that, he can do anything in his world. Christian scholar Richard Swinburne agrees. “When theism claims about God is that...he can make planets move in quite different ways, and chemical substances explode or not explode under quite different conditions from those which now govern their behavior. God is not limited by these laws of nature; he makes them and he can change or suspend them – if he chooses.” […] Besides, since this present ecosystem is causing so much intense suffering, the question for the theist is why this ecosystem is necessary when God could create one without so much suffering […] [7]

While I would agree with DePoe that entirely upending the laws of nature might cause humans to be unable to determine how our actions will effect the world, I do not view this as a good argument against suffering. I would propose that god does not entirely upend the laws of nature, only tweak them on occasion to stop tragedies from occurring to his innocent creations. To go back to an earlier line of argumentation, god is considered by Christians to be the very embodiment of love and goodness. If this is true, then surely he would love his creations enough to keep them from undue harm. DePoe quotes John Hick who argues that “God's relationship to His creation [is very much] like the relationship between parents and children.” (153) While I'd agree with Hick that “[g]ood parents do not try to shelter their children,” good parents are likely to do all they can to make sure that no undue harm comes to them. For example, if an out of control car was bearing down on a toddler standing on the sidewalk the parent would no doubt risk their own life by leaping in front of that car to grab their child from out of its path.

If miracles that Christians claim happen on a continuous basis are occurring around the world and changing peoples' lives, and these many interventions have not caused the world to go haywire, I do not believe a little more drastic intervention by stopping natural disasters from occurring is in any way an impossible goal for an allegedly all-loving and omnipotent god. If a human's love is supposedly not nearly as great as god's then it stands to reason that god would want to save his creations from undue harm, even if it was a result of a poorly thought out decision, since humans are often compelled to do exactly that.

The final section briefly addresses how much evil in the world is too much and essentially argues that this argument is faulty because humans' minds are not capable of figuring out an answer because the subject is “too complex for any human to get a reasonable grip on.” (162)

I do not believe DePoe has satisfactorily addressed the Problem of Evil. In one instance, his very premises were flawed and in the second, he did not seem to consider other options, other than the extreme example of upending the laws of nature in their entirety. The Problem of Evil is an issue I do not believe has ever been successfully answered by any Christian, past or present.

Chapter 15: Christianity and Slavery, by Glenn Sunshine

In this chapter Glenn Sunshine wants to set the record straight about “one of the most challenging” of topics: Christianity and slavery. (165) Sunshine begins his discussion writing,

On the surface, the argument [that the bible sanctions slavery] seems to have some merit: the Old Testament Law has provisions for slavery, and the New Testament includes instructions for how masters and slaves are to interact. This suggests a de facto acceptance of the institution. The details and the history of the church's dealings with slavery, however, tell a different story. (165)

Sunshine writes how throughout most of the ancient world “slaves were legally property, not persons, and their status was permanent unless for some reason the master chose to set the slave free. The sole exception to this was Israel.” (166)

To support this argument he proceeds to cite the bible, which places term limits on the amount of time a slave can be held in bondage. He writes how slaves were to “work for six years and be set free without condition on the seventh year (Ex. 25:2). The 'slavery' was thus closer to indentured servitude than to the slavery of the other nations or of the American South.” (166)

This is a common argument among Christian apologists who seek to downplay, if not completely erase, the advances on the question of slavery in nearby cultures in order to make the bible seem progressive by comparison. The truth is that the bible was actually a regression of the treatment of slaves when we look at surrounding cultures and throughout the history that preceded the bible.

These claims by Sunshine cannot be substantiated with any facts and it appears he needs to read more widely because a legal code that predates the bible by hundreds of years called the Code of Hammurabi sets term limits, but that's not all. Law number 117 says,

If an obligation is outstanding against a man, and he sells or gives into debt service his, wife, his son, or his daughter, they shall perform service in the house of their buyer or of the one who holds them in debt service for three years; their release shall be secured in the fourth year. [1]

Compare this law to a similar one in the bible.

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free. “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life. (Exodus 21:2-6)

It should be obvious which law is more humane. The Code of Hammurabi predates the bible and it has not only placed limits on the amount of time one is held in bondage, it cuts the amount of time in half that one is held in bondage, as compared to the bible.

The second argument cited by Sunshine for why the bible was a progression of the treatment of slaves is in the ancient world slaves were thought of as “property, not persons, and their status was permanent,” with the one exception being Israel. Once again, it seems Sunshine has neglected to read more widely. As one example, the bible says,

If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. [emphasis mine] (Leviticus 25:39-46)

The bible's more lax regulations on slavery only applied to fellow Israelites and did not apply to peoples from the surrounding lands. In that case, their bondage was permanent, unlike the Code of Hammurabi. But does Sunshine tell his readers this? Of course not. He also does not tell you that in the bible slaves were viewed as a form of property, so long as they were not fellow Israelites.

Next, Sunshine argues that in the bible slaves were “given rights” which were “unknown elsewhere.” (166) Later, he argues that these passages prove how the slaves of “other countries in the Ancient Near East, by contrast, […] were commonly mutilated as legal punishment for disobedience [...]” (167) I will quote the passages cited by him in support of this claim, and I will respond after each quote.

Servants who had been injured by their masters were immediately set free (Ex. 21:26-27) […] (166)

There is a problem with this since just prior to this very passage Exodus 21:20-21 says, “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.”

Sunshine highlights the fact that a slave can be beaten and if a tooth falls out or if an eye is injured, they are released, but a slave master is allowed to beat a slave with a rod as much as he wants as long as he doesn't die. That doesn't seem very fair to me, especially when compared to one of the laws in Athens, which says that no one is allowed to strike a slave at all. Xenophon wrote in The Athenians that “You can't hit them there [in Athens].” [2] Which legal code is superior? Once again, it should be obvious.

Sunshine continues to argue that the “Law of Moses also commanded Israelites to protect runaway slaves from foreign countries (Dt. 23:15-16). This was unheard of elsewhere, where treaties mandated the return of slaves [...]” (167)

It is true that many treaties contained provisions for returning run-away slaves, but not all societies did this. In the “Hellenistic world,” for example, there were temples that were reserved specifically for run-away slaves to gain asylum. “A law passed by the Messenians around 91 BCE stated that 'slaves are allowed to flee to the Temple for refuge'” if their master was cruel. If the priest allowed the slave to stay, he was not returned to the slave owner and could go free. [3] It should be clear that protecting slaves was not “unheard of” in other countries.

Sunshine writes, “Kidnapping someone to sell as a slave was a capital offense in the Mosaic Law (Ex. 21:16), again unlike what we find in the law codes of other countries.” (167) And once again, as we saw before, Sunshine is wrong again. In the Code of Hammurabi it says,

If a man should kidnap the young child of another man, he shall be killed. (Law #14)

Hector Avalos writes about this passage:

Kidnapping children can also be related to the slave trade, in which case the Bible fares much worse. Consider what the biblical author allows Hebrews to do to Midianite virgins:

Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not know man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves […] And Moses gave the tribute, which was the offering for the LORD, to Eleazar the priest, as the Lord commanded Moses (Num. 31:17-18; 41).

Basically, the biblical author is allowing the killing of the families of these young virgins, who are then taken for what can be described as sexual slavery, as consent cannot be presumed on the part of these girls. Numbers 31:41 specifies that this abduction of virgins is part of God's plan, and not some rogue human action. [4]

This concludes Sunshine's look at the Old Testament. The New Testament is covered next.

Sunshine argues that “although a number of Pauline apostles and 1 Peter instruct slaves to be obedient to their masters, they also tell masters to treat their slaves with dignity and respect, in essence recognizing their humanity. This was a radical idea in the Roman world, more than we in the 21st century Western world can easily appreciate.” (167)

I find it ironic how Sunshine says that the bible told slave masters to recognize a slave's “humanity.” This is an odd thing to say since the status of being a slave meant you were not a real person, you were property, as the bible makes abundantly clear (for non-Israelis). Where is the humanity in that? I would also like to remind readers of the law in Athens which forbade the striking of any slave, which was more humane than anything in the bible by far. It also demonstrates just how incorrect Sunshine is when he says that this was a “radical idea in the Roman world.” No, it wasn't. There are once again clear precedents to the bible.

The next verse cited is Paul's famous passage in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Sunshine argues that this passage represents a “spiritual and moral equality.” (167) On the contrary, this passage is known to mean, even by conservative Christians, that all have an equal opportunity to partake is Jesus' salvation. This was not meant “to erase differences in gender, ethnicity, or social status […].” [5] Even Paul himself did not seem to view this passage in the manner Sunshine argues since Paul also wrote the following in Ephesians 6:5: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.”

The next passage cited is 1 Corinthians 7:21, which it is argued that Paul appears to be against slavery. The passage reads: “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you - although if you can gain your freedom, do so.” Sunshine writes how Paul is telling slaves that “should an opportunity to become free arise, slaves should take advantage of it.” (176)

This passage is greatly in dispute by biblical scholars. The passage I quoted above of 1 Cor. 7:21 was taken from the New International Version and it seems to depict Paul telling slaves that if you gain a chance for freedom, take it. However, other translations depict Paul saying the opposite; to remain a slave even if given the opportunity for freedom. The New Revised Standard Version for example translates the verse as follows: “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever.”

The contention surrounding this debate revolves around how scholars should translate verse 21. Should it be translated to be read as: 1) “Were you called a slave? Do not worry about it. But even if you can become free, rather make use of your slavery.” Or 2) “You were called as a slave. Do not worry about it. But if you can indeed become free, use instead [freedom].” [6] There is much confusion about whether the Greek should be translated as “use freedom” or “use slavery” and if another Greek phrase should be translated as “if indeed” or “even if.” [7] When biblical scholars are searching the ancient texts for parallels in order to figure out how to best translate these words, Avalos notes a much underused Gothic translation of the New Testament by Ulfilas. Avlaos notes that even Bruce Metzger views this translation as being “remarkably faithful to the original, frequently to the point of being literalistic.” This version translates 1 Cor. 7:21 as: “Even if you can become free...use [slavery] instead.” [8]

In a further attempt to demonstrate the Gothic translation's accuracy Avalos notes how Paul, in Philippians 2:4-11, “thought being a slave (servant) served a greater good for Christ, then it remains unexplained why Paul could not have thought the same applied to human beings.” [9] This passage reads:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)

The next passage cited by Sunshine in an attempt to demonstrate that Paul was anti-slavery is Philemon 1-21, which reads:

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker - also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul - an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus - that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

I am sending him - who is my very heart - back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever - no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back - not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. (NIV)

Sunshine says of this passage: “[A]lthough Paul did return Onesimus, a runaway slave, to Philemon, he also strongly hinted that he expected Philemon to set him free (Philemon 21). Tradition says this happened, and in the early 2nd century there was a bishop named Onesimus in Ephesus, though it is unclear if it was the same person.” (167)

Paul tells Philemon, “But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.” This does not appear to be anywhere close to a “strongly hinted” statement, as Sunshine would have his readers believe. It is clear that Paul is telling him that it is entirely up to Philemon if he wants to release Onesimus. Avalos looks at the original Greek to come to a tentative conclusion and says, “Paul admits that he could have commanded Philemon 'to do what is required', but chose to defer to the master's consent instead.” In the end, Avalos concludes that “in all fairness” there is not “enough information to settle the question of Philemon's status [as a slave or the brother of Philemon] or Paul's request.” [10] Sunshine's next assertion that “there was a bishop named Onesimus in Ephesus” is pure speculation and is backed with no evidence at all. It can be safely ignored.

The final two passages cited by Sunshine are 1 Timothy 1:9-10 and Revelation 18:13. (167-168) He argues that in 1 Tim. 9-10 Paul “lists slave traders among those who are 'lawless and rebellious.'” (167)

While many bible translations use the word “slave traders” in this passage, the more accurate translation would be “kidnappers.” “The standard lexicon of the New Testament Greek suggests 'procurer' as the standard translation of the Greek word [andrapodistes] in Tim. 1-10. […] Since the word occurs only once in the New Testament, we have to appeal to contemporary Greek sources outside of the New Testament to see how it was used. […] [In a Greek story titled “Callirhoe” written by Chariton, there is a character named] “Leonas, a steward who is being lectured by Dionysius about a recent bad slave purchase from a man named Theron. Dionysius tells Leonas the following: 'This experience will make you more careful in the future...[H]e [Theron] was a kidnapper [Greek word for andrapodistes] and that is why he sold you someone else's slave in an isolated place.'” [11]

Avalos also cites Plato's Laws (12.955a) that also contain this word (andrapodistes), and it is referring to kidnappers, and this practice is also condemned. Avalos concludes, “[I]f apologists are going to applaud the Bible for condemning an andrapodistes then they should applaud the Greek and the Romans for their condemnation, as well.” [12]

The final passage is Revelation 18:13. Sunshine argues that “trading in 'the bodies and souls of men' is included in the list of activities of 'Babylon the Great' (a symbol for Rome) and that would lead to its destruction (Rev. 18:13).” (167-168)

This is a very odd interpretation of Revelations 18:13 since Revelations 18:3 says explicitly why god destroyed Rome (and that this verse is even referring to Rome is in dispute) and it wasn't because of the selling of slaves: “For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.” (NIV) The crime was “fornication,” or adultery, or is commonly translated as idolatry, and has nothing to do with the selling of slaves. The verse Sunshine is referring to is this:

“The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore - cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

“They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn and cry out:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!

In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’

“Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ […] (Revelations 18:11-18; NIV)

The verse merely refers to many of the goods Rome (?) sold that produced in it great wealth and describes mens' grief at watching this luxurious city become destroyed. It is not condemning the selling of these goods. This was a horribly disingenuous interpretation of the bible by Sunshine here.

It should be clear that the bible was not in any way superior to nearby cultures, nor did it help to improve the conditions of those held in bondage. In fact, the bible created a regression in the treatment of slaves as compared to the Greek, Roman, and Mesopotamian societies. And despite Sunshine's best efforts, the bible not only regulates slavery but entirely condones it.

In the next section, titled “Slavery in the Early Church,” Sunshine cites only two pieces of evidence. One, a letter from St. Augustine to Alypius (Letter 10), where he expresses dismay about the slave trading he has witnessed. The second, he claims that the name “Onesimus” means “useful.” “At least two bishops of Rome (Pius I and Callistus) had been slaves. […] [T]he fact that slaves could become bishops demonstrates that early Christians saw them as human beings made in the image of God.” (168-169)

First of all, I am hard pressed to see how a handful of former slaves, turned Bishops, is somehow evidence that Christians were anti-slavery.

St. Augustine's letter says how a group of Christians “set free” “about 120 people,” but that he was not personally there to witness it. (169) After reading this letter, it appears that Christians are wrongly inferring that St. Augustine and other Christians were fighting against the slave trade, but it appears that what they were actually fighting was the illegal acts of slave-trading “Galatians” who would abduct free children and adults and force them into slavery. At the time in Rome it was legal for parents to “lease” their “children as indentured servants for a set number of years.” But, rather than get servants through legal channels, these traders sought to kidnap many people, including children, and force them into slavery. St. Augustine writes,

Almost all of these are free persons. Only a few are found to have been sold by their parents and these people buy them, not as Roman law permits, as indentured servants for a period of twenty-five years, but in fact they buy them as slaves and sell them across the sea as slaves. [13]

It appears from this quote from St. Augustine's letter that he was not opposed to slavery per se', he was opposed to the illegal form of slavery that was not in accordance with Roman law. And this would seem to fit with what we know about St. Augustine. He accepted slavery and believed slaves should just be happy with their place in life. He wrote in The City of God that “the prime cause, then, of slavery is sin, which brings man under the domination of his fellow.” He continues to say how “the apostle admonishes slaves to be subject to their masters, and to serve them heartily and with good-will, so they, if they cannot be freed by their masters, they may themselves make their slavery in some sort free, by serving not in crafty fear, but in faithful love […].” [14] Sunshine acknowledges Augustine's support of slavery, though he tries to downplay it, writing in his footnotes, “Although Augustine is frequently portrayed as a supporter of slavery, he considered it a result of sin and part of the fallen world. Like government, he saw it at best as a necessary evil.” (217) The evidence provided in this section was highly flimsy, bordering on irreverent.

The next section is titled “Slavery in the Middle Ages.”

Sunshine argues that “the first laws against slavery in history were promulgated under the Frankish king Clovis II due to the influence of his wife, Bathilda.” (169) He continues to argue how she “prohibited the importation of any new slaves into Frankish territory […] [and she] saw this as a first step toward the abolition of slavery altogether.” (170) Sunshine's source for this (for almost this entire chapter) is Rodney Stark's For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton University Press, 2003) and he quotes Stark directly about how this law “effectively abolished slavery in medieval Europe.” Sunshine clarifies Stark's statement and places the reason this was the case in brackets, writing that this occurred because of the “prohibition of enslaving Christians.” (170) However, given this fact, how can Sunshine argue that Queen Bathilda fought for the “abolition of slavery altogether?” This was not an act of abolitionism, let alone an attempt to end slavery “altogether.” “This was simply the act of prohibiting the capture and sale of fellow Christians, just as the bible commanded in Leviticus 25:39-46.

Hector Avalos writes,

Enslaving foreigners, and prohibiting the enslavement of people of your own privileged ethnic or religious group, was a routine practice in many cultures. There is no advance here relative to Plato or the Old Testament. [15]

The next section is titled “Early Modern Slavery and Abolitionism.” Sunshine writes,

What was the reaction of the Catholic Church to these developments [the increasing use of slave labor by Portuguese explorers in Africa for the production of their large sugar cane and wheat plantations, which the African economy was built upon]? When the Portuguese began enslaving the Canary Islanders, Pope Eugenius IV (1431-37) issued the bull Sicut dudum,

4. And no less do We order and command all and each of the faithful of each sex, within the space of fifteen days of the publication of these letters in the place where they live, that they restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands, and made captives since the time of their capture, and who have been made subject to slavery. There people are to be totally and perpetually free, and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of money [….] (171-172)

Immediately after citing this bull Sunshine writes, “This bull was followed by others by the Popes Pius II (1458-1464), Sixtus IV (1471-1484, and Paul III (1534-1549) condemning the slave trade in no uncertain terms. In fact, Paul III issued three separate bulls condemning the African slave trade, and with it, the enslavement of any people. The church's opposition to slavery was reaffirmed a century later by Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644).” (172)

It's unfortunate that Sunshine did not appear to have checked Stark's original source since Sunshine quoted only a fraction of the entire bull. Did anyone catch the number “4” before the statement? This should have been a clue that there is more text prior to the cited portion of the statement. This bull was not a denunciation of the slave trade at all, only the “continuation of the policy against enslaving fellow Christians.” [16]

The beginning of Sicut dudum says,

1. Not long ago, we learned from our brother Ferdinand, bishop at Rubicon and representative of the faithful who are residents of the Canary Islands, and from messengers sent by them to the Apostolic See, and from other trustworthy informers, the following facts: in the said islands—some called Lanzarote—and other nearby islands, the inhabitants, imitating the natural law alone, and not having known previously any sect of apostates or heretics, have a short time since been led into the Orthodox Catholic Faith with the aid of God’s mercy. Nevertheless, with the passage of time, it has happened that in some of the said islands, because of a lack of suitable governors and defenders to direct those who live there to a proper observance of the Faith in things spiritual and temporal, and to protect valiantly their property and goods, some Christians (we speak of this with sorrow), with fictitious reasoning and seizing and opportunity, have approached said islands by ship, and with armed forces taken captive and even carried off to lands overseas very many persons of both sexes, taking advantage of their simplicity. (emphasis mine) [17]

This first part of the bull makes clear that the only inhabitants of the island were fellow Catholics, who had no contact with “heretics” of any kind, implying only Christians were on the island.

Hector Avalos provides a brief background history about the Sicut dudum that helps to place it in context:

The potential loss to the Church of these natives, who might resent such treatment by these Christians [the Portuguese explorers who were also Christians], and their potential return to their non-Christian religion, is the main concern of the bull. This context is better understood by reading Sicut dudum in light of a slew of papal and royal correspondence before and after that document was issued. […] In particular, a document, dated between 1474 and 1481 by [Dominik Josef] Wolfel, was sent by Ferdinand and Isabella, the rulers of Spain, to the mayors of various towns concerning a petition by men named Pedro and Alonso, both Canary Islanders who had converted to Christianity. These men had petitioned the crown concerning the danger of being re-enslaved, and the royal couple responded as follows to those town officials:

Please understand that the Canary Islanders, Pedro and Alonso, related to us that, at a time when they were non-Christian slaves, they went to the city of Malaga and were there for some time, and learning later how to they can be saved by being Christians, they came to the aforementioned city of Malaga and they were baptized and became Christians. Therefore, they are enfranchised and free according to the rights and laws of our kingdom by having come from Moorish lands and converted to our faith...

In other words, the situation of Pedro and Alonzo continued for decades after Sicut dudum insofar as it was difficult to tell Christian from non-Christians, and because unscrupulous slave traders would kidnap Christian Canary Islanders. In any case, Sicut dudum and related correspondence clearly recognize that non-Christians, especially Moors, can be enslaved. It is enslaving Christians that is the major problem. [18]

Sunshine referenced Popes Pius II, Sixtus IV, Paul III, and Pope Urban VIII, but he cites not a single word they supposedly wrote about condemning the slave trade. However, Hector Avalos discusses Pope Paul III and the bull he issued, Sublimis Deus (1537). It read in part,

[…] [B]y our Apostolic Authority decree and declare by these present letters that the same Indians and all other peoples – even though they are outside the faith – who shall hereafter come to the knowledge of Christians have not been deprived or should not be deprived of their liberty or of their possessions [...] Rather they are to be able to use and enjoy this liberty and this ownership of property freely and licitly and are not be [sic] reduced to slavery and whatever happens to the contrary is to be considered null and void and as having no force of law. [19]

This sounds like a slam dunk for Sunshine's argument. Unfortunately, Pope Pius III a year later annulled Sublimis Deus because he believed it had been “extorted from him.” In Non indecens videtur he wrote,

It does not seem to us improper if the Roman Pontiff...revoke, correct, or change those [dispositions] in preference to one from whom they were extorted by stealth at a time when he was engaged in other matters...just recently he [Charles V] informed us that a certain letter in the form of a Brief was extorted from us and that it caused disruption to the peaceful state of the islands of the Indies to the west and south...Accordingly, by virtue of Apostolic authority, we revoke, invalidate, and annul the previous letter(s) and whatever is contained in it (or them) (whose tenor, content, and form should be expressed as though they were inserted word for word in the present [letter]) [20]

It should be clear that none of the bulls cited by Sunshine declare an end to slavery.

Sunshine continues at the end of this section to briefly mention the beginnings of the British abolitionist movement with the Quakers and notable abolitionists such as Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp, and William Wilberforce. (172-173) Sunshine writes, “The Quakers and the Evangelicals fought slavery for the same reasons the Catholic Church did: they were committed to the biblical ideas that humanity was made in the image of God, that we are all descended from the same parent and so are equal, and that we all have equal rights given by God that no one can arbitrarily take away.” (173)

As I've demonstrated throughout this chapter, there was not a single biblical principle that truly argued for the abolitionism of those held in bondage. Once again, Sunshine did not manage to cite any facts in support of his assertions about these British Abolitionists that they utilized any biblical principle in their fight against slavery. This topic is complex, so I can understand that Sunshine cannot be expected to address every issue, but I wish he would have provided a quote for each Christian abolitionist named, or at least cited sources for his information in his footnotes, which appear to be lacking in this case.

Since it bares on this issue, and because Sunshine mentions him, I will quote William Wilberforce's thoughts about using the bible in anti-slavery debates. In an unpublished letter from Wilberforce to an “unknown addressee” dated June 17, 1806, he recommends that the bible not be used in anti-slavery debates:

[…] there certainly cannot be a doubt as to the principle of the Holy Scriptures especially of the New Testament on the subject of the Slave Trade or even that of slavery; tho' on the latter point Explanations would be required. But I believe it was better not to enter into any such discussion in the House of Commons for many reasons. [21]

Hector Avalos sums up the overall strategy of the British abolitionists:

Contrary to those who think that the greatest British abolitionists were basing themselves on biblical ethics, the actual works written by these abolitionists show otherwise. We concur with John Barclay, whose study of British abolitionist exegesis concluded, “when it came to detailed exegesis and a commitment to take the Bible at face value, the pro-slavery arguments often had the better case.” [22]

I would highly recommend Hector Avalos' book Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship, as it includes the writings of a number of abolitionists and he demonstrates that the bible was barely, if ever, mentioned by any of them – even Wilberforce.

The final subject discussed by Sunshine is abolitionism in America in a section titled “Slavery in America.” As with the other sections, this one barely contains any arguments at all. All Sunshine does is cite a brief quote from the appendix of Frederick Douglass's Narrative explaining how he sees a tremendous difference between “the Christianity of this land [which upholds slavery], and the Christianity of Christ [which does not].” Sunshine cites this appendix in an attempt to refute those who would label Douglass a “freethinker” and “not a Christian.” (174)

It must be remembered that it is not the religious beliefs of the abolitionists that are in question. It is whether or not the bible played any role in the anti-slavery debates and whether or not “biblical ideas” were central to abolitionism. Douglass's personal religious beliefs don't matter much at all when it comes to this particular discussion.

While it is certainly true that Douglass was a preacher and adopted the religion of Christianity, the bible “formed a very marginal part of his [anti-slavery] argumentation.” [23] Avalos also cites Maria Diedrich's 1999 book Love Across Color Lines: Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass which contains a letter from Assing to Ludwig Feuerbach. Avalos writes “how Douglass's Christianity initially posed a problem between them. So she and Douglass read Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity together. She reported that Feuerbach's ideas 'resulted in a total reversal of his attitudes.' She adds that '[f]or the satisfaction of seeing a superior man won over for atheism...I feel obliged to you.' Even if Assing is exaggerating (or even if Diedrich's translation is not the best here), it is clear that toward the end of his life, Douglass spoke more like a deist or secular humanist.” [24]

Even if this information about Douglass's “reversal of his attitudes” turns out not to be entirely accurate, or even if it turns out to be completely false, just because Douglass was a Christian means nothing when it comes to the issue of whether Christianity or "biblical ideas" were influential in the abolitionist movement. Douglass rarely cited the bible in his anti-slavery speeches or writings, and when he did, “rarely” did he provide “extensive exegesis of passages.” [25]

As we've seen, Sunshine neglected to consult many of the primary sources cited by Rodney Stark. The bible both sanctioned and defended slavery, as did most of the major religious figures cited by Sunshine. The bible was not a progression of the treatment of slaves, it was a regression of the treatment of slaves. The bible was not the cause of the downfall of the institution of slavery. For that, it took a moving away from the bible, since even anti-slavery advocates such as William Wilberforce believed that the bible was more beneficial to the pro-slavery side and instead relied on legal arguments, recounted the many inhumane abuses that slaves were subjected to, and appealed to the humanity of those who would listen. The bible was largely irrelevant in these debates. [26]

Chapter 16: Did God Command the Genocide of the Canaanites?, by Matthew Flannagan

In this final chapter the author Matthew Flannagan argues that the stories of slaughter and genocide in the books of Judges, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua are nothing more than “common hyperbolic rhetoric of warfare rather than descriptions of what actually occurred.” (185) Flannagan provides this argument in response to those “critics of Christian theism [who] often ask a rhetorical question: How could a good and loving God command the extermination of the Canaanites?” (177)

I would agree that most of the battles depicted in these books did not take place, but of the battles that did it is “not clear from the record that these sites were actually destroyed by Israelites.” [1] Other than this fact, I am confused by this line of argumentation since this rhetorical question is most often asked because Christians continually argue that their god is the source of all things good and moral. But, then we find passages where the Christian god demands child sacrifice (which is not even addressed by the author), murder, and genocide. In this case, the genocide of the Canaanites. This argument is most often brought into play when Christians argue that the bible is a holy book, a moral book, and this is where they derive their morality from. But how could a Christian possibly get their morals from a book that contains such senseless violence, real or not? I do not believe this argument that these episodes are exaggerations or are mere hyperbole effectively respond to this criticism.

This makes me wonder who this chapter was written for. Flannagan cites unnamed “critics of Christian theism,” but does not provide any context into exactly how or why this complaint might be used. This only leaves Christians who are likely unsure of how to respond to these kinds of accusations, but as I said, I don't believe this response effectively answers the objection.

Clearly, the men (and likely women) who wrote the bible obviously believed their god could not just be a god of love, but could also be a god of war. While I am by no means a pacifist and believe violence is necessary in some circumstances, the violence employed by god is never justified. This is not about whether or not these stories actually occurred, it's about the moral of the story. And what kinds of morals can you derive from stories about genocide? About the kidnapping and enslaving of young women? (Numbers 31:35)

In the end, I would have to agree with Flannagan that most of these stories did not occur, and of those that did, they were not nearly as brutal as depicted in the bible. However, this still leaves that main question unanswered. How can Christians derive morality from a book that contains such immoral stories? Such gratuitous violence against the innocent? This response, while largely true, does not answer the question.


In the Epilogue editor Carson Weitnauer sums up this anthology: “We've looked at two tantalizing questions throughout this book: are the New Atheists reasonable? Do they reason well? And what about Christians and Christianity? Do they manage any better?” He answers: “[W]e conclude that New Atheist leaders often represent reason quite poorly, both in their irrational habits and because of their angry, demeaning outbursts about religion. By contrast, we find that the leading Christian respondents, while offering firm disagreement, generally seek to integrate both respect and reason as they join the conversation.” (193)

He continues to cite a number of examples from a number of sources to demonstrate the “name-calling” and attacks on “our character” by many of the New Atheists against Christians. (194) One of them was Richard Dawkins' reply when asked about a potential debate with William Lane Craig: “Don't feel embarrassed if you've never heard of William Lane Craig. He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a 'theologian.'” Weitnauer continues with what he sees as an unnecessary personal attack:

Dawkins ends this deeply misleading piece with a bit of nasty name-calling, mis-identifying Craig as a “deplorable apologist for genocide.” (194)

Richard Dawkins made this statement after learning that Craig defended the genocide of the Canaanites in the OT. In the article cited by Weitnauer Richard Dawkins explains why he wrote what he did (conspicuously missing from Weitnauer's Epilogue):

But Craig is not just a figure of fun. He has a dark side, and that is putting it kindly. Most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament. Anyone who criticises the divine bloodlust is loudly accused of unfairly ignoring the historical context, and of naive literalism towards what was never more than metaphor or myth. You would search far to find a modern preacher willing to defend God's commandment, in Deuteronomy 20: 13-15, to kill all the men in a conquered city and to seize the women, children and livestock as plunder. And verses 16 and 17 are even worse: "But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them" […]

[Richard Dawkins cites an essay by Craig defending and rationalizing away the slaughter of these innocent people and responds:]

"I have come to appreciate as a result of a closer reading of the biblical text that God's command to Israel was not primarily to exterminate the Canaanites but to drive them out of the land.[…] Canaan was being given over to Israel, whom God had now brought out of Egypt. If the Canaanite tribes, seeing the armies of Israel, had simply chosen to flee, no one would have been killed at all. There was no command to pursue and hunt down the Canaanite peoples. It is therefore completely misleading to characterise God's command to Israel as a command to commit genocide. Rather it was first and foremost a command to drive the tribes out of the land and to occupy it. Only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated. No one had to die in this whole affair."

So, apparently it was the Canaanites' own fault for not running away. Right.

Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn't, and I won't. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.

And if any of my colleagues find themselves browbeaten or inveigled into a debate with this deplorable apologist for genocide, my advice to them would be to stand up, read aloud Craig's words as quoted above, then walk out and leave him talking not just to an empty chair but, one would hope, to a rapidly emptying hall as well.

Judging by these facts, yes Craig is an apologist for genocide, as is every other Christian who whitewashes and/or defends the brutal, unjust passages in the bible. If someone is unable to see the unjustness of such a statement from Craig it is not the New Atheists who have the problem, the person complaining does. Will some Christians accuse me of being rude as they did Dawkins? Probably, but I don't understand why. It is only right and moral to condemn acts of murder in a just and moral society. When someone defends such actions those people ought to be condemned for their skewed moral compass and lack of proper judgment.

Other than this, many of Weitnauer's comments contradict what we find both in the book and in the real world. While Weitnauer applauded the book for its rational and polite tone, in a number of the essays the authors decided to deride the atheists they were discussing. A few examples: In William Lane Craig's chapter he belittled Dawkins by crowning his argument “the worst atheistic argument in the history of Western thought.” (22) In Chuck Edwards' chapter he likewise belittled Dawkins with comments such as, “So much for Dawkins’s 'incisive logic.'” (29) There were others, but I think that's enough.

In the real world, I have been witness to (not to mention the target of) numerous slanders, insults, and put-downs by Christians. I recall one instance many years ago when I was discussing Christianity with a number of Christians, some of whom proceeded to get rather rude. But to my surprise and my appreciation, several of the Christians I had been talking with came to my defense, telling these immature posters to back off, that I was a nice guy, and that we were having a good discussion before we were rudely interrupted. I recall one Christian woman from these forums who I had a number of friendly debates with, both on that same forum and via email, and we often chitchatted as well as debated and she was very nice. Still to this day I sometimes wonder how she is doing.

My personal experiences highlight an important point. Unlike how Weitnauer paints the situation, there are Christians who can be the nicest of people, and then you have Christians who fly off the handle over the slightest criticism of their work or they simply assail you without a second thought. Luckily, not all Christians are like this and I've had the privilege of discussing a wide range of interesting topics with many nice Christians (in the second link the discussion took place in the comments).

In the course of writing this response I have come to find out that there had been a second edition published. It is titled True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism (Kregel Publications, 2014) and I've read that it contains two new chapters about how reason and faith relate in a historical Christian context and about atheism and the argument from reason. In addition to two new chapters I have read that the authors edited and improved some of their essays, even including some responses to a few of the critics of the first edition. I've read what little I could of the newest edition online and I wasn't too convinced by the very few edits I saw. Unless new information comes to light, for the time being I believe this review will suffice for both editions.

Now, on to the current edition. I am sorely disappointed with the caliber of these essays. I think what made the book so unappealing was the constant claims of reason and rationality by Christians, all the while they were making mistake after mistake. Most of the authors did not appear to have a solid grasp of the topics they were discussing or they neglected to check primary sources for their accusations and claims. Given this fact, I am utterly astonished at the many positive reviews I've seen. Yes, it is a well-written book and nicely put together, but there was an enormous lack of effective argumentation throughout.

While I would agree with the authors that atheism is not synonymous with reason there is a distinct pattern that appears to be emerging after all of my years of reading apologetics literature. While atheists are only human too, it seems that atheists typically are often better able to utilize logic than Christians. This certainly isn't a hard and fast rule, but it does appear to be an observation I've seen over the years. At the same time, I cannot ignore those minority of atheists who do not always check their own facts when it comes to religion (or other topics for that matter). But this does not describe the New Atheists. While the New Atheists are not perfect, and their books do have a handful of minor errors in them (which most Christians can never seem to find...), their books have stood the test of time despite hundreds of critiques leveled against them and gallons of (printer) ink spilled.

True Reason is a book that seeks to argue that reason and clear thinking belong to Christians and to Christianity, but they ended up proving the New Atheists' point: more often then not, Christians cannot reason well and Naturalism (and atheism) has been vindicated from the ineffectual attacks upon it by Christian apologists yet again.


Chapter 1: The Party of Reason, by Tom Gilson

1. The Blind Watchmaker: Why The Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, by Richard Dawkins, W.W. Norton & Co., 1996; 451

Chapter 2: The Irony of Atheism, by Carson Weitnauer

1. The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, by Robert Wright, Vintage Books, 1995; 162

2. Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization, by Aldous Huxley, Harper & Brothers, 1937; 311-312; 315-318. This full text can also be read here: Ends and Means, by Aldous Huxley - accessed 5-16-14

3. Ibid.; 358

4. The Last Word, by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press, 1997; 130

5. Ibid.; 131

6. Ibid.; 131-132

7. Ibid.; 132, 133

8. PBS: Nine Conversations: The Question of God: A Transcendent Experience - accessed 5-16-14

9. The Believing Brain: The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, by Michael Shermer, St. Martin's Press, 2011; 37-42

10. Ibid.; 5, 186-187

11. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, by Michael Shermer, 70-72

12. Ibid.; 72

13. CNN Blogs: Anger at God common, even among atheists - accessed 5-16-14

14. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Mariner Books, 2008; 17

15. Anxiety Over Loss of Control Can Increase Belief in God...and Government; More Evidence Against The Making of an Atheist

16. The Uncredible Hallq: “There is no Lee Strobel” - accessed 5-16-14

17. Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary: How To Reach Friends and Family Who Avoid God and the Church, by Lee Strobel, Zondervan Publishing House, 1993; 17-43

18. The Uniqueness of the Christian Experience (1999): “McDowell's Testimony,” by Edward T. Babinski - accessed 5-16-14

19. Craig Keener’s Conversion Testimony - accessed 5-16-14

20. The Question Answered: Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?, by Lionel Luckhoo - accessed 5-16-14

21. Wisdom & Folly, by Jim and Amy Spiegel: ”To the God Who Might Be There” - accessed 5-16-14

22. Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig: Question #78: “Personal Testimony of Faith” - accessed 5-16-14

23. Atheism and the Case Against Christ, by Matthew S. McCormick, Prometheus Books, 2012; 69

24. Reasons for God: “The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection: Chuck Edwards” - accessed 5-16-14

25. Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2012; 312-319

Chapter 3: Dawkins' Delusion, by William Lane Craig

1. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 157

2. Ibid.; 113

3. The Myth of the Framework: In Defense of Science and Rationality, by Karl R. Popper, Routledge, 1994; 157

Chapter 4: Richard Dawkins: Long on Rhetoric, Short on Reason, by Chuck Edwards

1. The Blaze: “This Is How Your Brain Reacts During Intense Prayer,” by Billy Hallowell (Oct. 22, 2012) - accessed 5-16-14

2. Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?, by Thom Stark, Self-Published, 2011; 63-64

3. Panda's Thumb: “The Privileged Planet Part 3: The Anthropic principle” - accessed 5-16-14

4. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 137

5. Life's Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution, edited by J. William Schopf, University of California Press, 2002; 113

6. The Daily Galaxy: “"Was It the Origin of Life"? Biologists Create Self-replicating RNA Molecule - accessed 5-16-14

7. The God Delusion; 317

8. Science Blogs: Dispatches from the Creation Wars, by Ed Brayton: “Dawkins and the Religion Petition,” December 29, 2006, Comment # 159 - accessed 5-16-14

Chapter 5: Unreason at the Head of Project Reason, by Tom Gilson

1. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, by Sam Harris, Free Press, 2010; 9

2. The Secular Web: “Divine Command Theory,” by Keith Augustine - accessed 5-16-14

3. Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006; 6-7

4. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005; 23

Chapter 6: John Loftus and the “Outsider-Insider Test for Faith,” by David Marshall

1. Loftus, John W. The Outsider Test for Faith Revisited. The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, edited by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Press, 2010; 82

2. Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker, by David Eller, American Atheist Press, 2007; 14-15

3. Eller, David. The Cultures of Christianities. The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, edited by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Press, 2010; 25-46

4. The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True, by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2013; 96-97

5. Eller, David. The Cultures of Christianities. The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails, edited by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Press, 2010; 25-46

6. The Outsider Test for Faith, by John W. Loftus; 77; 84

7. Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed, by Richard Carrier, Lulu, 2009; 341

Chapter 7: The Explanatory Emptiness of Naturalism, by David Wood

1. Sense & Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, by Richard Carrier, AuthorHouse, 2005; 178

2. For an excellent discussion about the various cognitive biases that effect human reason and how to best solve this problem I'd recommend Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain. (2011)

Chapter 8: By It, We See Everything Else – The Explanatory Value of Christianity for Meaning and Ethics, by Samuel J. Youngs

1. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, by Richard Dawkins, BasicBooks, 1995; 95

2. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, by Walter Kaufmann, Princeton University Press, 1974; 3-18

3. Ibid.; 284

4. Ibid.; 287-288

5. Ibid.; 185

Chapter 9: Reason in a Christian Context, by Peter Grice

1. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, by Sam Harris, W.W. Norton & Co., 2005; 19

2. Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed, by Richard Carrier, Lulu, 2009; 385

3. Ibid.; 237-238

4. Ibid.; 203

5. The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters, by Ardea Skybreak, Insight Press, 2006

Chapter 10: The Marriage of Faith and Reason, by David Marshall

1. Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed, by Richard Carrier, Lulu, 2009; 173-187

2. Ibid.; 178-180

3. Ibid.; 177

4. Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2012; 353

5. Ibid.; 354

Chapter 11: Are Science and Christianity at Odds?, by Sean McDowell

1. Carrier, Richard. Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science. The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. Edited by John W. Loftus. Prometheus Books, 2010. 397

2. Ibid.; 413

3. Ibid.; 406

4. Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006; 63-64

5. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, by Michael Shermer, St. Martin's Press, 2011; 288

6. Finocchiaro, Maurice A. That Galileo Was Imprisoned and Tortured for Advocating Copernicanism. Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, edited by Ronald L. Numbers. Harvard University Press, 2009. 76

Chapter 12: God and Science Do Mix, by Tom Gilson

1. The Wall Street Journal: “God and Science Don't Mix,” by Lawrence M. Krauss - accessed 5-16-14

2. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 363-364

Chapter 13: Historical Evidences for the Gospels, by Randall Hardman

1. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, by Donald R. Prothero, Columbia University Press, 2007; 11

2. Ibid.; 11

3. Ibid.; 11-12

4. god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens, Twelve, 2007; 64

5. Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2012; 255-294

6. There Was No Jesus, There Is No God: A Scholarly Examination of the Scientific, Historical, and Philosophical Evidence & Arguments for Monotheism, by Raphael Lataster, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2013; 41

7. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman, HarperSanFrancisco, 2005; 52

8. Ibid.; 52

9. See Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew, by Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2003 and Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

10. Misquoting Jesus; 152

11. Ibid.; 153

12. Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn't Need a Miracle to Succeed, by Richard Carrier, Lulu, 2009; 177

13. Ibid.; 203-204

14. Ibid.; 173-192

Chapter 14: The Problem of Evil and Reasonable Christian Responses, by John M. DePoe

1. Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2012; 219

2. Ibid.; 228

3. Ibid.; 239

4. Ibid.; 239

5. The Oxford Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus: American Edition, Oxford University Press, 1997

6. Ibid.

7. Why I Became an Atheist; 247

Chapter 15: Christianity and Slavery, by Glenn Sunshine

1. Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship, by Hector Avalos, Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011; 76

2. Ibid.; 81

3. Ibid.; 90

4. Ibid.; 78

5. Ibid.; 109

6. Ibid.; 99

7. Ibid.; 99-100

8. Ibid.; 103

9. Ibid.; 106

10. Ibid.; 134

11. Ibid.; 125

12. Ibid.; 126

13. The Fathers of the Church: St. Augustine: Letters 1-29, Translated by Robert B. Eno, The Catholic University of America Press, Inc., 1989; 74-80

14. Saint Augustine, The City of God. Great Books of the Western World. Edited by Mortimer J. Adler et al. Vol.18. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1978. 521

15. Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship, by Hector Avalos; 169

16. Ibid.; 185

17. Documenta Catholica Omnia: "1435-01-13- SS Eugenius IV - Sicut Dudum" - accessed 5-16-14

18. Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship, by Hector Avalos; 185-186

19. Ibid.; 194

20. Ibid.; 195-196

21. As cited in Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship; 248

22. Ibid.; 249

23. Ibid.; 261

24. Ibid.; 266

25. Ibid.; 268

26. Here is a special treat for my readers. In 2010 Hector Avalos had written a brilliant take-down of David Marshall, one of the co-authors of this book, on the issue of slavery and the bible. Check it out!

Chapter 16: Did God Command the Genocide of the Canaanites?, by Matthew Flannagan

1. Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? - Second Edition: Revised, Reduced, and Expanded, by Thom Stark, Self-Published, 2011; 209 - accessed 5-16-14

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