Tuesday, December 12, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 8: The Wedge game

On the Amazon page for The God Delusion, Scientific American -- BTW, not a peer-reviewed journal -- gushes over the following favourite argument of Professor Richard Dawkins:

Richard Dawkins . . . tells of his exasperation with colleagues who try to play both sides of the street: looking to science for justification of their religious convictions while evading the most difficult implications—the existence of a prime mover sophisticated enough to create and run the universe, "to say nothing of mind reading millions of humans simultaneously." Such an entity, he argues, would have to be extremely complex, raising the question of how it came into existence, how it communicates —through spiritons!—and where it resides.

Now, this deeply flawed assertion, first, just begs for analysis:

1] Observe first the assumption that Faith in God [presumably within the Judaeo-Christian Worldview] and working as a scientist are viewed as inherently in opposition. Conspicuous by absence is the commonplace, inconvenient fact of the history of Science underscored by Dan Peterson: "Far from being inimical to science, then, the Judeo-Christian worldview is the only belief system that actually produced it. Scientists who (in Boyle's words) viewed nature as "the immutable workmanship of the omniscient Architect" were the pathfinders who originated the scientific enterprise."

2] Next, Peterson is also apt to observe: The assertion that intelligent design [which is a big chunk of what Dawkins has in mind] is automatically "not science" because it may support the concept of a creator is a statement of materialist philosophy, not of any intrinsic requirement of science itself." In short, we see Mr Dawkins here speaking way beyond his competence, and blundering into philosophical issues. Scientific American, uncritically, follows suit. For, sadly, there is here a blatant imposition of a worldview level begging of the question, i.e. assuming self-refuting evolutionary materialism, in the teeth of the otherwise most likely explanation of the functionally specific, complex information beyond the credible reach of chance and associated blind "natural" regularities in the molecular technology of life, in the massive increment in that complexity required to explain the macro-level diversity of life, and of course in the delicately balanced, finely tuned, finitely old cosmos we observe.

3] Mr Dawkins then makes the truly fatal step: he imagines that he poses an unanswerable difficulty: how could a complex God capable of doing what the Judaeo-Christian worldview envisions come into being? In short, he simply does not understand that there is an issue of comparative difficulties at work:
* It is hard to deny that we wonder why, whenever we observe or think about something important. So, little bangs require an explanation, and big ones do ever more so. This is what Mr Dawkins is resting his case on, in fact.

* But, what he is missing is the implications of the issue that WHATEVER BEGINS TO EXIST -- and thus is contingent [it needs not have existed] has a cause external to itself. [For, we do not expect what is not to bring itself into existence.] And, thence we see the evident absurdity of an infinite regress of contingent beings.

* That is, we are back at the cutting edge of the principle of sufficient reason. For, observations of things that begin to exist say exactly noting about those things that do not begin to exist, i.e. are not contingent beings. Thus, we raise the issue of a NECESSARY -- thus beginning-less -- being as not only existent in itself, but also as the causal ground for the many contingent beings we do observe; up to and including the observed cosmos.

* Thus, within the Western, scientific universe of discourse, we are at the alternatives: [1] a quasi-infinite [thus unobservable!] material chaos that has randomly thrown up our observed cosmos as the necessary being, or else [2] an intelligent, intelligent and powerful being capable of designing and effecting a cosmos and life in it directly or indirectly. It should be immediately plain that [2] is not at all less rational than [1] as a fundamental explanation!

* Further, to reason about all of this, we have had to trust our minds and observations. Evolutionary materialism provides no basis for such a credible mind. For, such materialism is forced to in effect argue that "what we subjectively experience as "thoughts" and "conclusions" can only be understood materialistically as unintended by-products of the natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains. (These forces are viewed as ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance and psycho-social conditioning, within the framework of human culture.) . . . . the "thoughts" we have and the "conclusions" we reach, without residue, are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, or validity . . . . Thus, evolutionary materialism reduces reason itself to the status of illusion." That is, it is self-refuting.

* A capital example of this strange result is the Nobel Prize winning Sir Francis Crick, who in his 1994 work, The Astonishing Hypothesis, argues that “ ‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” As Philip Johnson acidly but aptly observes: “[t]he plausibility of materialistic determinism requires that an implicit exception be made for the theorist.” Oops!
4] Mr Dawkins' rhetorical flourish about "spiritons" and where such an entity as God could reside is further revealing of his assumed materialism: he simply cannot conceive of the reality of entities that are not based on material objects. But to argue about that, he uses the evident reality of morality [he is in effect accusing theistic scientists of hypocrisy] and of the credibility of logical reasoning, thus the existence of not only propositions but truth. [Indeed, under another head he set out propose changing Britain's libel laws to allow lawsuits against those who challenge Darwinian Materialism, as being harmful to truth . . .]. Notoriously, truth and propositions too are not in themselves material. Indeed, the sense of oughtness that underlies moral truths raises the implication of obligation to the Lawgiver of the Cosmos! As Koukl aptly points out in the just linked:
The first thing we observe about moral rules is that, though they exist, they are not physical because they don't seem to have physical properties. We won't bump into them in the dark. They don't extend into space. They have no weight. They have no chemical characteristics. Instead, they are immaterial things we discover through the process of thought, introspection, and reflection without the aid of our five senses.

This is a profound realization. We have, with a high degree of certainty, stumbled upon something real. Yet it's something that can't be proven empirically or described in terms of natural laws. This teaches us there's more to the world than just the physical universe. If non-physical things--like moral rules--truly exist, then materialism as a world view is false

There seem to be many other things that populate the world, things like propositions, numbers, and the laws of logic. Values like happiness, friendship, and faithfulness are there, too, along with meanings and language. There may even be persons--souls, angels, and other divine beings.

Our discovery also tells us some things really exist that science has no access to, even in principle. Some things are not governed by natural laws. Science, therefore, is not the only discipline giving us true information about the world. It follows, then, that naturalism as a world view is also false.

Our discovery of moral rules forces us to expand our understanding of the nature of reality and open our minds to the possibility of a host of new things that populate the world in the invisible realm . . .

In short, Mr Dawkins and Scientific American have unknowingly blundered into deep philosophical waters, and have floundered badly. But, that simply brings us to the key issue for this post: the power of a rhetorical wedge.

To see that we must ask: WHY is it that Mr Dawkins, his editors and publishers, Scientific American and many other enthusiastic secularist reviewers failed to spot such obvious philosophical blunders? For that matter, why is it that -- as observers of his public presentations are reporting, he is raising hoary old Bible difficulties chestnuts and long litanies of the sins and alleged sins of Christendom? Why is it that there is a whole genre of similar works emerging under a cluster of similar authors?

The answer is not pretty.

Men like Mr Dawkins are highly confident that they are not going to be publicly called on their philosophical blunders in a way that will discredit them, because they know that the public has been long since indoctrinated in evolutionary materialism under the label "science" and that the public is woefully ignorant of and despising of philosophy.

Similarly, even though the theological difficulties and philosophical questions with say the Trinity have long been competently addressed by many highly qualified thinkers over the ages [cf. also a brief introduction here], the public knows little of that so it is easy to ridicule what seems an absurdity to many. The litany of the sins and alleged sins of Christendom gives a perverse sense of moral superiority to many who otherwise have no claims to moral excellence. (Cf. JP Holding's response to Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, here. Of course, it always needs to be said that sadly, we are not only finite, fallible and fallen, but also often ill-intentioned; so, any long-running movement in society will have its list of great sins and crimes. What I find highly telling is that nearly always , the skeptics who raise such litanies, fail to acknowledge the massive and positive impact of the Christian Faith on the past 20 centuries. Cf here for a recent discussion in this blog, and here for a report on the case of the fall of the Iron Curtain in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. )

Likewise, few will know that there are excellent works on Bible difficulties that give quite good answers to the sort of questions that used to be a favourite tactic of the resident village skeptic/atheist/idiot. [Cf here for a good start, at the CARM web site. Archer's Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties is a good first resort as a print resource.]

In short, Dawkins et al are seeking to drive a wedge of misunderstanding and hostility between those who adhere to the Biblical worldview, and those who either are secularist or are secularism-influences in Western culture. A capital example of this, is how consistently such reporters distort and misrepresent the nascent Theory of Design, in the public, in the classroom, and even to peers who have not had the time to check out the facts for themselves. The persistent pattern of attempts to not only -- falsely and slanderously -- say that Biblical Christianity is an enemy of liberty, but also to assert or imply that we are morally equivalent to AL Quaeda terrorists and the like, is of the same ilk.

In short, we are back to what Aristotle warned us against long ago, in his The Rhetoric:

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question . . . . [Cf discussion here]

So, we have our work cut out for us, to not only address the technical arguments but to expose and break that wider strategy of polarising the community through hateful misrepresentations and sowing of discord. That means that we will have to equip Christians and the wider public across our region to understand basic analysis of reasoning, faith and argument, and Worldview Analysis 101, as well as basic theology and Bible study -- with a practical answer to typical Bible difficulties.

In turn, that requires a major commitment to educating the church and the wider public, on a consistent basis from now on, for the bar for credible witnessing has just been raised by this emerging secularist wedge rhetoric strategy.

But, in fact, this is not really new. For, we may read the longstanding counsel of the Apostle Peter on this:

1 Pet 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

In fact, part of why we are facing the hurdle described above, is arguably because we have not paid sufficient attention to this exhortation.

We cannot afford such a luxury any longer. END

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