10/13/2007

Breakpoint 1

I have been a subscriber to Charles Colson’s Breakpoint newsletter for a long time now, and I find it helpful. The commentary and intights are almost always worth the time to read.

This week’s was especially interesting as it begins a series on modern, militant atheism. Here’s a sample:


In a recent issue of Scientific American, arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins and
physicist Lawrence Krauss discussed the relationship between science and religion.

Dawkins, whose latest book, The God Delusion, is only one of a slew
of recent books attacking religious beliefs, prefers an "in your face" approach.
He once wrote that "if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution,
that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane." He then added "or wicked, but I'd
rather not consider that."


In his discussion with Krauss, Dawkins stood by his statement, calling it "a simple and sober statement of fact." …

All of this begs the question: "Is faith, in particular, Christianity, irrational?"
Neither Dawkins nor Krauss comes close to proving this. Instead, Dawkins and Krauss simply assume that materialism—the idea that there is nothing besides matter—is true. Thus, what makes a faith "rational" is whether it can be proven empirically...

Dawkins and Krauss do not offer any arguments to justify
their assumptions. They do not tell us why materialism is true: Instead, they
ask you to take its truth as a given—in other words, on faith…

Way to go Mr. Colson, and I look forward to the future newsletters in this series.

7 comments:

that atheist guy said...

Howdy, here I am again.

My biggest problem with Mr. Colson's essay has nothing to do with the topic. It's probably a lost cause, but I will keep fighting the good fight:
http://begthequestion.info/

Back on topic:
1. Is Dawkins really being "militant"? Don't you think it's hyperbolic to call someone who just writes books to be militant?

2. I'm not sure what is wrong with Dawkins' statement about people who don't accept evolution being ignorant. I'm ignorant about a lot of things. I have trouble accepting quantum mechanics and I bet that is largely because of my ignorance.

3. Dawkins is a scientist so I don't see how he could talk about anything but the material world. Materialism is the fundamental assumption that science is based on because we can only measure and observe material things. The religious claims that Dawkins feels justified in criticizing are those that intersect with the material world of science.

4. I often see religious people use the word "prove". Ignoring mathematical theorems, nothing is proven in science. Scientific theories can be either disproved, or shown to be more and more likely to be true. Everything is provisional, but with varying degrees of confidence based on the quantity and quality of evidence.

5. Now, is faith rational? Before I go down that path I would need for you to define "faith" and "rational". Colson calls Dawkins' definition of faith to be "idiosyncratic", but doesn't say exactly what is wrong with it, or his preferred definition.

6. You didn't quote it here, but Colson also wrote, "His technique, on display in the Scientific American piece, is to find the most extreme, fringe Christian positions and ascribe them to all Christians." I've read a lot of what Dawkins has written, and I have never seen him do what Colson is claiming he is doing here. I would need a direct quote, but I'm pretty sure this is a mischaracterization. Also, what exactly are "fringe Christian positions"? Maybe Young Earth Creationism? A huge percentage of Americans believe in a young Earth, so it is odd to call that "fringe", unless Colson was referring to something else?

7. Finally, Colson wrote, "Christians saw reason as a gift of a rational God, and it could, therefore, be used to explore the universe and world that God had made. This belief made modern science possible." There have certainly been plenty of Christian scientists, and I don't know enough history to make a good case either way, but with examples like Galileo and Giordano Bruno (burned at the stake) it's hard to see how the Catholic church encouraged scientific research over the centuries.

J. K. Jones said...

Atheist Guy,

Good to hear from you again.

I wanted to go ahead and publish your comment for the sake of time and fairness.

I have just started work on a new job, and the job requires a good bit of my time right now. It may be a little while before I respond properly.

I did want to point out that this is the first of five or so articles to be published by Colson on this subject.

As for Dawkins, please follow the Label Richard Dawkins at the end of the post (it goes here: http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/search/label/Richard%20Dawkins).

Talk to you soon.

Praying for you daily,

J. K.

J. K. Jones said...

Atheist Guy,

I had the chance to get back to you tonight. I was not expecting to be able to.

Some definitions: (selected from the different definitions in “The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary, Revised and Expanded,” 1981)

Militant: 1. aggressive

Faith: 2. belief in God

Rational: 2. acting in accordance with reason

Reason: 2. intellect; the faculty of understanding, inferring, and deducing…


Dawkins is very aggressive in his rhetoric. If you need samples, they are not at all hard to find in his book. You will find Dawkins’ attitude enunciated and critiqued in “The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine” by Alister McGrath (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dawkins-Delusion-Atheist-Fundamentalism-Denial/dp/0281059276).

You said, “Dawkins is a scientist, so I don’t see how he could talk about anything but the material world. Materialism is the fundamental assumption that science is based on because we can only measure and observe material things.” You seemed to imply that only things that can be measured and / or observed are the fitting subjects of rational discourse, or at least scientific reasoning.

Material things and their relationships can only be interpreted by logic. Logic is a collection of universal, abstract laws that cannot be observed or touched or measured. Materialists have no basis, given their assumptions, to apply logic to anything. Their worldview does not allow for universal, abstract entities like the laws of logic. The laws of mathematics are also universal and abstract, so a materialist has trouble consistently affirming those as well. Statistics and probability are an outworking of logic and mathematics, so the materialist is left without a basis to evaluate hypotheses in a manner consistent with current scientific practice. You might try http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v2/n4/atheism-irrational for more details.

Christians do not have these problems. Abstract entities are allowed for in our worldview. For more detail, please see my posts and links at: http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/search/label/Presuppositionalism

It seems to me that the materialist is the one begging the question.

I have no excuses for the Roman Catholic Church’s persecution of scientists. All I can do is apologize on behalf of the rest of us. Roman Catholics used a different interpretation of Scripture that the one I hold in both of the cases you mention. I think that is what Colson is getting to: not all Christians agree with the interpretations of the Bible that caused these conflicts.

Colson will have future short articles posted soon, and I hope you will take the time to read them. I do not expect detailed quotes and examples. Colson’s articles are too short for much of that. You can find what you are looking for in McGrath’s book listed above.

God bless you and yours.

JK

that atheist guy said...

Hi J.K.,

Thanks for taking the time to respond. I'll number things again, because I'm anal like that. ;-)

1. Regarding "militant" meaning aggressive. My impression, biased as it is, is that Dawkins is more passionate than aggressive. Aggressiveness implies some kind of violence. In that sense maybe Hitchens is a better example of a militant. I'm not sure if I posted or sent you the link before to the uncut interview between Dawkins and McGrath. I'm sure Google could locate it for you. In terms of aggressiveness both men seem to be very polite and diplomatic. Which person had good arguments is up to the viewer.

2. Faith (belief in God as you define it) might be rational depending on its basis. How do we judge if one person's faith is rational or not? Are Muslims being rational in their faith?

3. You wrote, "You seemed to imply that only things that can be measured and / or observed are the fitting subjects of rational discourse, or at least scientific reasoning." I think that is right. If we can't show other people our data and evidence how can they be sure what we say is true?

4. Regarding the laws of logic, I think material objects behave in logical ways. Our brains are made of material following the same natural logical laws and any brain that thought in non-logical ways would probably die out pretty soon in our logical natural world. Again, I'm not an expert in philosophy, but it seems to me that the abstract laws of logic are based on the material world itself. Now what is the material based on? Well it could very well be some kind of deity, or maybe it's something else. I have no idea. But I don't feel the need to jump to the conclusion that it is necessarily the Christian god. I think this topic is touching on the idea of platonic realism. For example, does the number "2" exist outside of our minds?

In short, the material world is all I have to work with. There may very well be, and probably are, more things out there than are dreamt of in my philosophy but how can I find out about them, know they are true, and share that knowledge with others reliably?

I'll keep a look out for Colson's other essays. I have your post here pinned in my feed reader so that should remind me.

Thanks again, and have a good day.

TAG

J. K. Jones said...

TAG,

I’m so glad you continue to comment.

I am planning to be back in my hometown this Saturday, and I will get a copy of Dawkins’ book to provide you with some quotes that lead me to characterize him as aggressive. Please suffice it to say that I find many of the things Dawkins says in his most popular book highly insulting.

How do we judge if a faith is rational or not? Does that faith, or view of the world, correspond to the facts that we are faced with in the world we live in. My contention is that Christianity is the only faith that is adequate in light of the facts. It is the only faith that explains all of the reality I see.

If the material world is all that you have, you have not yet appreciated the extent of your dilemma. If logic is based on the behavior of material things, then we should find logic to be as diverse as the physical things we see.

Objects in this universe change. One has said, “ The eternal law of nature is change.” Everything we see changes. The laws of logic do not. We have to have their unchanging nature to interpret the things we perceive. We cannot draw conclusions about our sense perceptions without invoking non-material, universal principles such as the laws of logic.

Please see the line of discussion at:

http://www.carm.org/atheism/logic.htm

although I do not appreciate the way the argument is stated. (This is not about an argument to be one; it is about a life to be lived in the presence of others.)

Another way to think about our discussion is much more simply grasped. If we say, “Only those things which can be verified by our senses are true,” then we cannot verify our first principle. The statement “only those things which are verified by our senses are true” cannot itself be verified by our senses. The notion cannot live up to its own standards.

We are, in our present discussion, sharing with each other those very things that we cannot verify with our senses. We are assuming that the principles of logic correspond to reality, are perceivable by our individual minds, and are communicable with other minds who exist in reality. We assume a lot when we talk to each other with words.

There are indeed many things that you do not want to acknowledge that are. I understand. I was once just as you are: a person blinded by the spirit of this age, a slave to my own understanding, a person made in God’s image yet in bondage to my own sin.

My prayer is that you will come to yourself, that you will see your condition and turn to Christ, the Person who wins our freedom from all that would bind us.

JK

that atheist guy said...

I hope you don't mind these long comments. If you rather not clutter your blog with a long comment thread, feel free to e-mail me.

I think this time I'll put what you wrote in quotes.

"...I will get a copy of Dawkins’ book to provide you with some quotes that lead me to characterize him as aggressive."

OK. I already sent you a note about another Colson essay where he completely misread what Dawkins wrote. Hemant gave the details here:
http://friendlyatheist.com/2007/10/15/did-he-think-we-wouldnt-catch-him/

"If the material world is all that you have, you have not yet appreciated the extent of your dilemma. If logic is based on the behavior of material things, then we should find logic to be as diverse as the physical things we see. "

I admit there is a big mystery at the core. I don't know the answer. But are physical things so diverse? Water always flows downhill, action and reaction, the motions of the planets and subatomic particles. All we see follow regular patterns.

"...Everything we see changes."

Water is always water, and electrons are always electrons.

"Please see the line of discussion at:
http://www.carm.org/atheism/logic.htm"

OK, I checked it out. But immediately some things stood out to me. (I will put quotes from that website in square brackets.) That web site said:

[Atheism maintains that physical laws are properties of matter, and that truth and logic are relative conventions (agreed upon principles).]

I agree with the first part, but I don't know many atheists who think truth and logic are relative. I think this is a mischaracterization. But it might also be irrelevant, since "atheism" just means disbelief in a god or gods. It doesn't encompass other claims about physical laws. I very much disagree with truth being relative. As Mulder said, the truth is out there! (I'm sure there are postmodern relativists out there who are also atheists and they would agree with that statement wholeheartedly. Again, "atheism" is too narrow a definition to describe a world view. I've met atheist conspiracy nuts and atheist UFO maniacs, and I could never say they share my world view.)

[Atheists will use logic to try and disprove Gods existence...]

Do I? There may be some god models that are logically contradictory. (Silly example: My god is a square circle...). I think most atheists say the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim. I start here: I know nothing. You tell me about an entity called "God", and it is your job to give me evidence. (Again, personally I rather stay away from the word "prove". I mean, I believe electrons exist, but I feel uncomfortable saying it was ever "proven" to me.)

Finally, the web site might have a case that something transcendent is required to ground the laws of math and logic in our universe, but that only goes as far as a vague pantheism or deism. I'm perfectly open to that possibility. But jumping from there to Allah, Yahweh, or Brahman is a very big jump indeed.

"We are, in our present discussion, sharing with each other those very things that we cannot verify with our senses. We are assuming that the principles of logic correspond to reality, are perceivable by our individual minds, and are communicable with other minds who exist in reality. We assume a lot when we talk to each other with words."

I agree.

"There are indeed many things that you do not want to acknowledge that are. "

Example?

"I understand. I was once just as you are: a person blinded by the spirit of this age, a slave to my own understanding, a person made in God’s image yet in bondage to my own sin."

Since I was never like you, I can't say the same thing. But I have heard other atheists who were once religious make similar statements, about how they use to be "blinded by religion." Your statement could also have been made by a Muslim. I would like you to elaborate on how you were a "slave to [your] own understanding". I don't get that part.

"My prayer is that you will come to yourself, that you will see your condition and turn to Christ, the Person who wins our freedom from all that would bind us. "

I understand why you feel that way. I also hope to get as close to the truth as I possibly can, and I hope the same for you and everyone else.

J. K. Jones said...

I am always glad to have a long comment.

“…I admit there is a big mystery at the core. I don't know the answer…”

There are many questions I don’t yet know the answer to myself. I strongly believe in the basic principles of Christianity, and I have every reason to trust what Jesus taught about the things I do not understand. In other words, I have faith. It seems you have that kind of trust in your principles as well.

That trust is what I mean by faith. That’s why I say faith is reasonable.

“… But are physical things so diverse? Water always flows downhill, action and reaction, the motions of the planets and subatomic particles. All we see follow regular patterns…”

Physical things can cease to exist. They can change their forms. If based on properties of matter, so would logic.

“…the web site might have a case that something transcendent is required to ground the laws of math and logic in our universe, but that only goes as far as a vague pantheism or deism. I'm perfectly open to that possibility. But jumping from there to Allah, Yahweh, or Brahman is a very big jump indeed…”

I think we can get quite a bit further with this argument that a vague form of pantheism or deism. Pantheism would be another form of grounding logic in matter. It would be trying to base a universal, invariant principle on a changing thing, and no different from materialism.

Deism, narrowly defined, would not allow anything in this universe to be based on God or upheld by Him. Everything was created and then let to itself. Once again we find unchanging laws based on changing things in this universe.

This is not the only argument for God’s existence. You might try some of my other attempts to state positive, compelling evidence in an understandable way:

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/search/label/Nine%20Reasons%20Why%20Christianity%20is%20The%20Only%20True%20Religion

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/search/label/Cosmological%20Argument

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/search/label/Teleological%20Argument

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/search/label/Argument%20from%20Scripture

http://jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com/search/label/Moral%20Argument



If I don’t communicate well, and that’s a real possibility, just follow some of the embedded links.

Again, it’s good to hear from you.

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