Saturday, August 18, 2007

One more reason to vote for Mitt

Apparently Mormonism is excellent preparation for a career as either a porn star or sociopathic killer (among other professional highlights):

Dear Jon

Jon Curry has been hawking the views of Bobby Price on the dating of various NT books. Now, even liberal NT scholars feel the need to present a concrete alternative to the traditional attributions. Indeed, a major reason they reject the traditional attribution is because they imagine that the various NT books don’t fit the milieu to which they’ve been traditionally assigned, but, instead, fit with some later milieu.

Hence, before we can properly evaluate the evidence for his position, Jon needs to get far more specific about what his own position actually amounts to.

So, let’s ask him a few basic questions of the sort that liberal and conservative scholars alike try to answer in order to argue for their own position.

1.What are the “real” dates that you assign to each of the 27 books of the NT, and what’s your evidence?

2.Who actually composed the various books of the NT? What individual, circle, religious movement, or school of thought? And what’s your evidence?

3.Where were the various books of the NT actually composed, and what’s your evidence?

4.What concrete circumstance occasioned the composition of each NT book, and what’s your evidence?

5.What was the target audience or implied readership for each NT book, and what’s your evidence?

6.In addition to treating some or all of the NT writings as forgeries, you are also prepared to treat some of the patristic writings a forgeries. Which patristic writings do you regard as spurious?

7.Please repeat steps (1)-(5) for each patristic writing you regard as spurious.

8.When you deny the authenticity of a writing, do you also deny the historicity of the person to whom the writing is ascribed? In other words, do you deny the writer as well as the writing?

I ask because you’re apparently prepared to deny the historicity of Jesus. If so, do you extend your scepticism to the historicity of the apostles or church fathers? If so, which ones, and why?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ancient ebooks

Here are some online primary sources relevant to NT textual criticism, ancient stenography and the like.

Catalogue of New Testament Papyri & Codices: 2nd—10th Centuries
Oxyrhynchus Online
Papyri from the Rise of Christianity in Egypt
Interpreting Ancient Manuscripts Web
Leuven Database of Ancient Books
Lists and Catalogues in Greek Paraliterary Papyri
Advanced Papyrological Information System

The Apostle John's Long Lifespan

Jon Curry's arguments are getting increasingly ridiculous. Not only does he deny that Jesus existed as a historical figure, but he now also argues that every New Testament document attributed to Paul is a forgery, and he proposes absurd theories like the following:

"Maybe the 10% [the percentage of the Christian population that was more reasonable than the other 90%] left Christianity, and as Christians assumed power under Constantine they destroyed all evidence they could which showed their claims to be false. I'm unaware of any anti-Christian polemics that survived the Christian purges other than that which is preserved in the writings of Christians themselves (and hence rebutted)....Had the people at Nag Hammadi not hidden away some of those old texts about Jesus in response to Constantine's orders to have everything burned we'd have never known that some people viewed Jesus as the reincarnation of Seth, or Zoroaster. The orthodox tradition burned the evidence away."

When Jon is asked about the presence of eyewitnesses and their contemporaries in early Christianity, one of his responses is to try to date the death of the apostles and other relevant sources as early as possible. He'll suggest that Christians of the early second century, for example, may not have been influenced by sources like the apostles as much as Christians think they were, since the apostles might have died significantly earlier. The Christians of the second century may have been far enough removed from the apostles so as to have a radically inaccurate view of who the apostles were, what they taught, etc.

One of the problems Jon's argument faces, among many, is the evidence we have for the apostle John's long lifespan. In a recent thread, Jon attempted to dismiss that evidence with the following comment:

"We have other historical reports of John dying early along with James. So it's kind of hard to say. See my above link on the discussion of Papias."

When we go to that link, we find that it's yet another thread that Jon Curry left without interacting with reasonable objections to his claims. And what evidence does he cite there relevant to the lifespan of the apostle John? He cites a passage from Papias, as described by a fifth century source, Philip of Side.

For those who don't know, the writings of Papias were extant until the Middle Ages, but aren't extant any longer. Some sources of earlier centuries, such as Philip of Side, discussed what was in Papias' writings, though, so we thereby have indirect access to some of what Papias wrote.

Here's what Philip of Side tells us:

"Papias in the second volume says that John the theologian and James his brother were done away with by Jews."

We can't assume that Philip meant to say that Papias refers to James and John as dying at the same time. Philip doesn't say that. John could have died later, even if he died in the same general manner. The involvement of Jews in the death of James and John doesn't assume a death before the late first century either. James was martyred by Herod through the influence of the Jews (Acts 12:1-3). The same sort of involvement in John's death wouldn't require that the temple still be standing. Jewish opposition to Christianity, including participation in the persecution of Christians, continued after the destruction of the temple, as multiple post-70 sources report. And Jon Curry is assuming the Biblical chronology of Acts 12, in which James died long before the close of the first century. Given how Jon assumes that the New Testament is radically wrong on so many other issues, shouldn't he give us a justification for accepting Biblical chronology here? But even if we accept the chronology of Acts 12, Philip of Side doesn't claim that Papias refers to James and John as dying at the same time or prior to the year 70. Thus, the source Jon cited to support his claim doesn't actually support it. And this was explained to him months ago, in the thread where he cited Philip of Side. Why does Jon keep repeating arguments that have already been refuted?

Another source who had access to Papias' writings, George the Sinner, wrote:

"And, after Domitian, Nerva ruled as king for one year, who, having called John back from the island, released him to house in Ephesus. Being then the only one still alive from the twelve disciples, and having composed the gospel according to himself, he was held worthy of martyrdom. For Papias, the bishop of Heirapolis, who was the eyewitness of this man, in the second volume of the lordly oracles claims that he was done away with by Jews, having clearly fulfilled with his brother the prediction of Christ about them and their own confession about this and submission."

George the Sinner seems to be citing the same passage of Papias that Philip of Side mentioned (both of them cite Papias' second volume), and George explicitly dates John's death to the late first century.

See, further, my documentation of other early sources supporting John's long lifespan here. Compare the quality of the evidence I've cited to the quality of Jon's evidence. See if you agree with Jon that it's "kind of hard to say" which side of the argument is more credible.

I think that Jon reaches such a conclusion for much the same reason why he concludes that Jesus didn't exist, that every Pauline New Testament document is a forgery, etc. He's careless and dishonest about Christianity. Here's what he wrote about himself in another thread, when he was trying to explain why it took him so long to notice some allegedly obvious errors in the Bible:

"I believed for years because I was indoctrinated to believe as a young child, as are many people. I'd sing 'Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.' I'd see as Christians would beg and plead with others to convert and guilt people that didn't tow the line. That has an effect on people. I didn't want to see the inconsistencies and the unrealistic nature of the gospel accounts because like a lot of cultists I was conditioned to not see such things. It's a hard nut to crack. And maybe I'm a little slow."

It seems that he has much the same mindset now. But instead of following sources like his parents and his church in the manner he describes above, he now follows sources like Robert Price and whatever other skeptical material he finds on the web with a Google search.

Praying the Impreccatory Psalms

Wiley Drake, you wily lil' devil.

HT: SBCOutpost

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Canon & community


I was thinking of the biblical canon (specifically the New Testament canon) and your belief that its divine authority is only revealed directly by God in the heart of the believer. The only way that its authority is declared to a person is by a private revelation inside the elect.

In virtue of the Bible's authority, it requires divine authority as backup which grounds its authority. Accuracy is not the same as authority. The accuracy of the Bible is publicly-accessible; we are agreed on this. But is the authority of the Bible publicly-accessible divine revelation?

As I have argued in my responses to you, these lines of evidence do not establish the authority of the entirety of the Bible, much less the biblical canon. Some of these lines of evidence help to establish the accuracy of the Bible; but accuracy is not sufficient for authority.

I take it this is your ultimate explanation for how a Christian can recognize the authority of the Bible. Is this correct?

Also, I don't think it would establish in a publicly-accessible way the authority of the New Testament canon.

Given the accuracy/authority distinction, is there any publicly-accessible divine authority that bridges the gap between accuracy and authority? I don't think this specific issue is just a "high churchy a priori". Sometimes high church folk will use a priori arguments about the criteria for a true church. But in this case, I think the status of Christian revelation as publicly-accessible truth (a commitment of most who claim faith in Christ) is severely threatened by Protestant theology.

I’ve already answered MG on my own grounds—since that’s the answer he was angling for. But now I’d like to approach the answer from an Orthodox perspective.

From an Orthodox viewpoint, I find his invidious contrast between Protestant and Orthodox concepts of authority to be rather odd. For, from what I’ve read about it, Orthodoxy has a decidedly decentralized and communal understanding of authority.

There’s a relative authority structure in Orthodoxy, viz.

Layman>priest>bishop>church father>ecumenical council.

But from what I’ve also read, authority is ultimately vested in the sobornost of the universal church.

Yet if that is true, then the Orthodox concept of authority is fairly diffuse, and appeals to Christian consciousness as whole.

But, in that event, what would make Orthodox consciousness superior to Catholic consciousness or Evangelical consciousness?

Since MG has also gone on record as declaring himself to be an inclusivist, he thinks it’s possible for Catholic and Evangelical believers as well as the Orthodox believers to share a common Christian experience.

So how would he adjudicate between an Orthodox canonical consciousness and a Protestant canonical consciousness to authorize the canon?

Listen up! Mother Church is speaking!

Dutch Bishop Suggests Calling God Allah

The grass is always greener...

The standard argument which Catholic and Orthodox apologists alike normally use to promote their position over Protestantism is a consequentialist argument. They fault the Protestant rule of faith because it leads to “chaos.” It’s every man for himself. Every man does right in his own eyes. The synonyms vary, but the argument remains the same.

Now, on the face of it, this argument is fallacious. Suppose we were to apply it to the Mosaic covenant. By that logic, we could argue that the Mosaic covenant was a failure, and, hence, uninspired, for the Mosaic covenant resulted in national apostasy.

But, to approach this issue from another angle, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we can judge the true rule of faith by its consequences.

A further problem with the consequentialist argument is that it cuts both ways. It’s only as good as the alternative. Do the competition offer a superior alternative?

As I say, I think this is a fundamentally wrongheaded way to frame the question, but let’s play along with it for a while.
Catholic and Orthodox apologists remind me of salesmen who tell homeowners, “Here’s your chance to get out of that dump you’re living in and moving into our wonderful new housing development!”

They have a slick website (“Desert Springs”) with glossy mockups of dream homes in a gated community—complete with a community pool, golf course, tennis court, gym, and so on.

“Here’s your chance,” the sales pitch continues, “to get in on the ground floor. Buy your dream home while presold units are still available!”

And as long as we compare the “dump” we’re living in with the virtual paradise on the website, well…there’s simply no comparison.

But some of us don’t think it’s especially prudent to buy a house sight-unseen. Some of us have driven to the construction site.

We’ve seen the termites, cockroaches, and mildew, the cracked foundations, leaky roofs, leaky gas lines, dripping faucets, open sewers, drafty rooms, loose plaster, broken windows, buckling walls, sagging ceilings, bare wires, combustible insulation, peeling paint, and piles of rat-infested garbage.

Thanks for the offer, but we like our “dump” better than your dump.

Pastoral Ministry Resources

WTS Books is having a sale on certain books on pastoral ministry:

Called to Awaken the Laity by John H. Oak
The Cross and Christian Ministry by D.A. Carson
The Elder and His Work by David Dickson
From Embers to a Flame by Harry L. Leeder III
The Heart of a Servant Leader by C. John Miller
Making Kingdom Disciples by Charles H. Dunahoo
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
The Peace Making Pastor by Alfred Poirier
The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter
Shepherd's After My Own Heart by Timothy S. Laniak
Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Defending Owen's double-jeopardy argument

Greg Welty is doing a fine job in defending Owen's double-jeopardy argument against universal atonement.

What price William Lane Craig?

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays)

William Lane Craig has a website with a q/a segment. Among other things, he’s been fielding questions about inerrancy.[1]

Craig says a number of helpful things along the way. However, he also makes a number of dubious statements along the way.
Inerrantists freely admit that no one reading through the Bible and keeping list of difficulties encountered along the way, whether inconsistencies or mistakes, would come to the conclusion at the end of his reading that the Bible is inerrant. He would likely conclude that the Bible, like almost every other book, has some errors in it.
Well, I guess this says a lot about the impression that Scripture makes on Craig. But although this autobiographical confession may be true of his own experience, it is rather presumptuous of him to testify on behalf of every other inerrantist. Certainly he doesn’t speak for me.

i) For me, the list of difficulties diminishes rather than accumulates. For starters, there’s a difference between reading the Bible from front to back (Genesis to Revelation), and reading the Bible from back to front.

I don’t mean that we literally read the Bible in reverse chronological order, although that would be a useful exercise. What I mean, rather, is that Scripture ought to read very differently in retrospect, when you see how the story ends, than when you begin in Genesis and move forward—one chapter at a time.

Many pieces of the puzzle which were initially puzzling eventually fall into place as you see the overall pattern gradually emerge.

ii) In addition, most-all of the difficulties are, indeed, generated when a modern reader treats the Bible like almost every other book. One needs to make reasonable allowances for the fact that our contemporary cultural paradigm will often be a very inadequate standard of reference for understanding a book (or anthology of books) set in a very different cultural milieu.
As Friedrich Schleiermacher once put it, “We do not believe in Christ because we believe in the Bible; we believe in the Bible because we believe in Christ.”
Do we? Once again, Craig is free to speak for himself, but he doesn’t speak for me. Surely Scheiermacher’s logic is far too facile.

Is believing in Christ separable from what the Bible says about Christ? Is believing in Christ separable from the words attributed to Christ in Scripture?
Now the question raised by your letter is what our reaction should be if we become convinced that there really is an error in the Bible. Won’t such a conclusion have a kind of reverse effect along our chain of deductive reasoning, leading us to deny Jesus’ resurrection and deity? This was apparently the conclusion of Bart Ehrman, who says he lost his faith in Christ because he discovered one minor error in the Gospels.
Such a conclusion is unnecessary for two reasons. First, we may need instead to revise our understanding of what constitutes an error.
This is excellent advice. Craig would do well to stick to this point.
Nobody thinks that when Jesus says that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds (Mark 4.31) this is an error, even though there are smaller seeds than mustard seeds.
That is simply untrue. There are critics of inerrancy who cite precisely this example, among others.

I agree with Craig that it’s a lousy example, but that doesn’t prevent critics of inerrancy from using lousy examples, of which this is one.
Why? Because Jesus is not teaching botany; he is trying to teach a lesson about the Kingdom of God, and the illustration is incidental to this lesson.
It’s hard to parse this statement. It could either be true or false depending on how you develop it.

There are other, simpler, sounder ways of dealing with this example:

i) Jesus was using a conventional or proverbial illustration.

ii) Jesus was using hyperbole.

Either (i) or (ii) is consistent with inerrancy.
Defenders of inerrancy claim that the Bible is authoritative and inerrant in all that it teaches or all that it means to affirm. This raises the huge question as to what the authors of Scripture intend to affirm or teach.

We can extend the point by considering the proposal that the Gospels should be understood as different performances, as it were, of orally transmitted tradition. The prominent New Testament scholar Jimmy Dunn, prompted by the work of Ken Bailey on the transmission of oral tradition in Middle Eastern cultures, has sharply criticized what he calls the “stratigraphic model” of the Gospels, which views them as composed of different layers laid one upon another on top of a primitive tradition. (See James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered [Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2003].) On the stratigraphic model each tiny deviation from the previous layer occasions speculations about the reasons for the change, sometimes leading to quite fanciful hypotheses about the theology of some redactor. But Dunn insists that oral tradition works quite differently. What matters is that the central idea is conveyed, often in some key words and climaxing in some saying which is repeated verbatim; but the surrounding details are fluid and incidental to the story.

So the stories in the Gospels should not be understood as evolutions of some prior primitive tradition but as different performances of the same oral story.

Now if Dunn is right, this has enormous implications for one’s doctrine of biblical inerrancy, for it means that the Evangelists had no intention that their stories should be taken like police reports, accurate in every detail. What we in a non-oral culture might regard as an error would not be taken by them to be erroneous at all.
A couple of problems:

i) It disregards the evidence for literacy among 1C Palestinian Jews.[2]

In addition, Maurice Casey, by means of retroversion (from Greek into Aramaic), thinks that at least portions of the Jesus tradition in the synoptic gospels are based on primitive written sources—even direct transcriptions from the original speeches of Jesus.[3]

ii) Craig is apparently conceding that the Gospels may contain any number of incidental, detailed inaccuracies.
By contrast, the case for Jesus’ belief that the Old Testament Scriptures are inerrant is much weaker.
I’m baffled by why Craig would say that. Many writers, like B. B. Warfield and Roger Nicole have argued otherwise.
At the center of our web of beliefs ought to be some core belief like the belief that God exists, with the deity and resurrection of Christ somewhere near the center. The doctrine of inspiration of Scripture will be somewhere further out and inerrancy even farther toward the periphery as a corollary of inspiration. If inerrancy goes, the web will feel the reverberations of that loss, as we adjust our doctrine of inspiration accordingly, but the web will not collapse because belief in God and Christ and his resurrection and so on don’t depend upon the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.
This admission tells us a lot about his own theological priorities. But, once again, it’s far too facile. What God does he believe in? The God of the Bible or some other Deity?

Can we draw such a cut-and-dried distinction between our belief in God, and our belief in the word of God? Once you lose your doctrine of revelation, you thereby lose your doctrine of a revelatory God.

Does he believe in a God who is a doer, but not a speaker? A mute God? In Scripture there’s a tight knit correlation between divine words and divine deeds—between what God says and what he does.
As I explain in my Question of the Week on “What Price Biblical Errancy?” Ehrman, when he was a Christian, had a flawed theological system in which inerrancy lay at the very center of his web of beliefs, so that once he became convinced of a single error in Scripture the whole web collapsed.
The problem with Ehrman is not that “he had a flawed theological system in which inerrancy lay at the very center of his web of beliefs,” but rather, that he had a flawed conception of inerrancy, along with an unscriptural expectation regarding the inerrancy of the MSS. That’s why his faith fell like a house of cards.
As a result, the doctrine of inerrancy looms abnormally large in his thinking. But the case for Jesus’ resurrection which I presented doesn’t in any way presuppose the inerrancy of the documents, so that the doctrine becomes irrelevant so far as belief in the resurrection goes.
It’s true that you can sometimes bracket inerrancy when doing apologetics. But what is (temporarily) expendable in apologetics—as a matter of one’s apologetic strategy—may not be expendable in theology.
You say those who go to a university committed to biblical inerrancy should be able to explain these discrepancies. That’s silly, Grant. Why think that Coach Holmquist should be able to explain these discrepancies? Why think that even someone in the New Testament department should be able to explain these? Maybe there just isn’t the historical information available to resolve every discrepancy.
That’s sound advice. Well-worth repeating and emphasizing.
Now that puts the issue in quite a different perspective! The question of biblical inerrancy is an important one, but it’s not like the existence of God or the deity of Christ! If we Christians can’t find a good answer to the question before us and are, moreover, persuaded that such a command is inconsistent with God’s nature, then we’ll have to give up biblical inerrancy. But we shouldn’t let the unbeliever raising this question get away with thinking that it implies more than it does.
Several problems:

i) It’s true that attacking inerrancy doesn’t removed the onus on the unbeliever to deal with the historical evidence.

ii) As far as the execution of the Canaanites is concerned, this involves both OT legal injunctions as well as OT historical narratives that record the implementation, or failure thereof, of the legal injunctions.

To surrender inerrancy on this one point alone is to surrender quite a swath of OT material. And if we’re prepared to take a pair of scissors to these injunctions and narratives, then why not cut away other offensive injunctions and narratives? And why stop with the OT?

You end up with the Jefferson Bible. It seems to me that Craig’s position ranges along the same continuum as Spong. Spong is at the far end of the continuum, but what, in principle, is the difference between them?

iii) Why should we ever be persuaded that such a command is inconsistent with God’s nature?

iv) Craig acts as if doing theology is like writing a screenplay. Sometimes studio executives order the director to shoot alternative endings, then preview the alternative endings to a focus group at a prescreening to see which ending is more marketable. Their favorite ending makes the final cut, while the alternative endings remain on the cutting room floor.

That works in cinematography, where every ending is equally fictitious. But it’s no way to do theology. Somewhere along the line, Craig apparently forgot that Christianity is a revealed religion. That makes it a package deal. A Christian is not at liberty to delete the scenes that rub him the wrong way.

To some extent, Craig represents the triumph of apologetics over theology. Craig does a lot of useful things that you’ll never get from Van Til, but because Van Til was a systematic theologian as well as an apologist, Van Til would never succumb to Craig’s compartmentalized piety.


[2]A. Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (NYU 2000).
[3]M. Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (Cambridge 1998); An Aramaic Approach to Q (Cambridge 2005).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Stenger's Failed Hypothesis

This weekend, I read God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist by Victor J. Stenger (2007. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.). Any book that has two subtitles is obviously going to be worth commenting on…

Stenger's book is typical of the new breed of anti-theists (including folks like Dawkins, Harris, et al) insomuch as he relies on a lot of hand waving and rhetoric to overcome his horrendous logical and philosophical problems. Stenger begins by defining what he means by God (which, unlike many anti-theists, he at least capitalizes when he writes it, leaving the uncapitalized "god" for any other deity that might be invoked). Stenger's God is called the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, which already presents us with a huge problem. There is no Judeo-Christian-Islamic God! Right off the bat, we could easily agree that this concept of God is a failed hypothesis because it is so poorly construed as to be irrelevant to any religion.

Indeed, Stenger's "God" only exists in the minds of atheists who use it as the strawman they can torch. But even ignoring that, Stenger still goes out of his way to define God as something that no one believes in:

Note…that the traditional attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence--the 3O characteristics usually associated with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God--have been omitted. Such a God is already ruled out by the arguments of logical inconsistency summarized above (p. 42)
We will examine Stenger's "ruling out" of the 3Os later, but one is left wondering what Stenger thinks he will accomplish if he "disproves" a God that doesn't have "characteristics usually associated with" what people actually believe. Why does he spend so much time and effort into a project that on the one hand is completely irrelevant to any actual religion, and on the other hand ignores so many atheists who argue that science cannot look into matters of religion?

The problems only mount. Stenger treats evidence that rules out one form of theism as evidence that rules out all theism (thus engaging in a category error as well as the fallacy of composition). And indeed, sometimes what he argues against doesn't even have to deal with religion. Stenger treats disproving ESP and psychic fortune telling as evidence against God too (despite the fact that God condemns necromancers in the Old Testament—thus in at least two of the three representatives of his Judeo-Christian-Islamic mish mash—so why would we expect God to demonstrate Himself through these mediums?).

Most importantly of all, Stenger doesn't bother to acquaint himself with the basic beliefs of the religions he's criticizing. He argues, for instance:

The parts of the human body hardly resemble a watch. In an article in Scientific American titled "If Humans Were Built to Last," S. Jay Olshansky, Bruce Carnes, and Robert N. Butler have looked at flaws in the human body and shown how an engineer might have fixed them to enable us to live a hundred years or more in better health. They trace our physical defects to the Rube Goldberg way evolution cobbles together new features by tinkering with existing ones (p. 69)
Yet had Stenger simply acquainted himself with the concept of sin, he wouldn't make such a foolish mistake here. The human body is not "perfectly designed" in its present environment, because it has been corrupted by the noetic, physical, and spiritual effects of sin. Further, God has specifically limited the length of a person's life, according to Scripture. It would hardly seem logical to complain that the human body isn't able to live an extra 100 years when God has specifically limited the ability of people to live that long.

In any case, lest anyone be swayed by Stenger's words, let us now dismantle them systematically.

The Hypothesis

For his argument, Stenger gives us his following definition of God:

A supreme being is hypothesized to exist having the following attributes:

1. God is the creator and preserver of the universe.

2. God is the architect of the structure of the universe and the author of the laws of nature.

3. God steps in whenever he wishes to change the course of events, which may include violating his own laws as, for example, in response to human entreaties.

4. God is the creator and preserver of life and humanity where human beings are special in relation to other life-forms.

5. God has endowed humans with immaterial eternal souls that exist independent of their bodies and carry the essence of a person's character and selfhood.

6. God is the source of morality and other human values such as freedom, justice, and democracy.

7. God has revealed truths in scriptures and by communicating directly to select individuals throughout history.

8. God does not deliberately hide from any human being who is open to finding evidence for his presence (p. 41-42).
Given this definition, he provides his hypothesis:

1. Hypothesize a God who plays an important role in the universe.

2. Assume that God has specific attributes that should provide objective evidence for his existence.

3. Look for such evidence with an open mind.

4. If such evidence is found, conclude that God may exist.

5. If such objective evidence is not found, conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that a God with these properties does not exist (p. 43, italics his).

Now we've already noted how his definition of God doesn't match very many people's actual beliefs, lacking the 3O (as he calls it). To that we can add the errors of definition step 6—for instance, simply trying to define "freedom" and "democracy" before trying to attribute the source of them to God is no trivial task (although Stenger treats them that way); "justice" is only less trivial because we can link it to "morality" earlier in the definition. Further, definition step 8 is based on a naïve understanding of the relationship sinners in rebellion against God have with an "open" mind. As written, I completely agree with step 8, but have to point out it is completely trivial—there is no one who is "open" or "neutral" in their approach to God, but God would indeed not hide from such a mythical person. We could just as easily add a step 9: "God does not deliberately hide from unicorns, leprechauns, or honest politicians" too.

Furthermore, we have Stenger's appeal to "objective evidence in hypothesis step 5. This is by no means the only place he uses the term "objective", for we also read:

In this book, I will take science to refer to the performing of objective observations by eye and by instrument and the building of models to describe those observations (p. 12).

True that science generally makes the assumption called methodological naturalism, which refers to the self-imposed convention that limits inquiry to objective observations of the world and generally (but, as we will see, not necessarily) seeks natural accounts of all phenomena (p. 15, italics his)
Notice that all these quotes rely heavily on the word "objective"—yet nowhere does Stenger provide a way for us to know what is meant by "objective." Given how heavily objectivity weighs on his claims, the fact that he has not even bothered to define the term for us is a huge black mark on his methodology. His lack of precision means that it is possible to "escape" from every single one of his arguments, which renders them all useless (regardless of whether you believe in God or not).

Indeed, baring some form of transcendent philosophy, how could science give us any concept of "objective evidence"? Usually this is done by asserting that multiple people have to observe the same event (yet when that occurs in the case of, say, multiple observations of miracles, skeptics label it as "mass hallucination"); or that it has to be predictive (yet when this occurs in Bible prophecy, for instance, skeptics label it as "self-fulfilling prophecy"), etc. But the fact is, even if we ignore the skeptics, there is still no scientific way to have objectivity, because science is based on observation, and observation is a subjective experience for all involved. It cannot make the leap to objectivity without a controling philosophy governing science—and which one is a point that is much in dispute.

The scientist believes that he has the capability to make a neutral observation. Yet theology teaches us a sinner in rebellion against God cannot have an open mind to weigh evidence. But even aside from the Scriptural claims, basic science demonstrates the myth of "neutral observation." Stenger himself admits to the theory-laden nature of observation (p. 35). But he apparently doesn't understand the philosophical consequences of this. Moti Ben-Ari, in Just A Theory: Exploring the Nature of Science (2005. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.)—note that it is also published by Prometheus; you know, that right-wing, biased, theistic organization—notes:

Galileo was the first to "observe" the moons of Jupiter and the mountains on the Moon through his telescope. If other people looking through the telescope did not make these observations, it was not because Galileo had better eyesight or because they were being unreasonably obstinate. When you look up into the sky, there are no legends (like the balloons containing conversation in cartoons) that tell you what you see: "Hi! I'm Europa, a moon of Jupiter!" To identify these points of light as stars or planets, you have to know what you are looking for. If this sounds somewhat circular, it is, and it can help explain why scientific advance is difficult (p. 7)

Clearly, science must start with observation, but once some initial observations have been made, a circular process takes place. Observations lead to theories, which guide further observations, which influence the theories. The presentation of the process of science as initially and primarily inductive is so oversimplified as to be useless. There are serendipitous discoveries in science, in which observations truly instigate the development of theories, but they inevitably occur to those who have the necessary framework within which to understand the importance of what they are observing (p. 8)
Theory-laden observation means that it is impossible for scientists to have objectivity, and therefore they cannot have an open mind. They will always rely on previous theories that will frame the issue. This is, indeed, the very reason why scientists must hold all their view provisionally. If they actually had objective truth, they wouldn't need to qualify their statements by admitting their provisional status.

"Objective" is not the only undefined word that causes Stenger problems. A further problem lies in his non-defining of the term "plausible." For instance, Stenger writes:

If we can find plausible ways in which all the existing gaps in scientific knowledge one day may be filled, then the scientific arguments for the existence of God fail. We could then conclude that God need not be included in the models we build to describe phenomena currently observable to humans. Of course, this leaves open the possibility that a god exists that is needed to account for phenomena outside the realm of current human observation. He might show up in some future space expedition, or in some experiment at a giant particle accelerator. However, that god would not be a god who plays an important role in human life. It is not God (p. 17).
Of course this all hinges on what you accept as "plausible." In reality, Stenger's argument is about as meaningful as if I said, "If we can find plausible ways in which this book could have been written without Stenger, then the scientific arguments for the existence of Stenger fail. We could then conclude that Stenger need not be included in the models we build to describe books currently observable to readers. Of course, this leaves open the possibility that a stenger exists that is needed to account for books outside the realm of current libraries. He might show up in some future space periodical, or in some text through a giant Galactic inter-library loan. However, that stenger would not be a stenger who plays an important role in the production of this book. It is not Stenger."

Indeed, I could continue this quite some way. Since there are millions of books in the world written by non-Stengers, Stenger is obviously not a required being for the production of this book. In fact, it is more plausible that Stenger does not exist than that he does (after all, there are nearly 7 billion non-Stengers compared to only one proposed Stenger, who's actions could be done by any number of those 7 billion non-Stengers). Etc. But we can already see how absurd the structure of Stenger's argument is.

So in a very real sense, Stenger is setting up an experiment that violates the rules of science, logic, and philosophy, and doesn't even match the religious views of any great number of people. This calls into question the validity of the premise of his book already, but we shall examine his arguments anyway. Before we do so, let us first look at Stenger's dismissal of "the 3O": omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence.

Sadly, Stenger doesn't give us much to work with here. Instead, he says: "For the details, see the individual essays in the compilation by Martin and Monnier" (p. 31); which is nothing more than an argument from authority presented as if it was valid. Stenger then lists out the philosophical arguments without providing any definitions of the terms or anything useful to work with before concluding: "The reader will undoubtedly see much in these bare formal statements that needs clarification; again I address you to the original essays for details and additional disproofs of this kind" (p. 33). Since Stenger is using these arguments to deal away with what he has said constitutes the majority view of God, it would have behooved him to actually have done his work here. Instead, we are left with a slip-shod sleight of hand to replace actual thought—how very scientific.

In any case, here are the arguments.

An All-Virtuous Being Cannot Exist

1. God is (by definition) a being that which no greater being can be thought.

2. Greatness includes the greatness of virtue.

3. Therefore, God is a being that which no being could be more virtuous.

4. But virtue involves overcoming pains and danger.

5. Indeed, a being can only be properly said to be virtuous if it can suffer pain or be destroyed.

6. A God that can suffer pain or is destructible is not one than which no greater being can be thought.

7. For you can think of a greater being, one that is nonsuffering and indestructible.

8. Therefore, God does not exist.
Of course it is not at all clear that "virtue involves overcoming pains and danger" as 4 stipulates, nor is it all together clear that "a being can only be properly said to be virtuous if it can suffer pain or be destroyed." These definitions of virtue seem to be specifically written for this "disproof." Further, we can think of someone who overcomes pains and dangers who is not virtuous—for instance, a robber who risks the dangers of prison, who sprains his ankle and injects himself with heroin to kill the pain, is not virtuous in anyone's book despite having overcome danger and pain. In any case, even if we accept this definition of virtue, it is by no means the case that this is the virtue that is referred to in 3.

Additionally we can throw in the fact that this definition of virtue makes it impossible to ever have a "greatness of virtue", for greatness of virtue would require infinite pain and infinite danger—if it ever ceased at time T1, then a being that went through pain and danger for a time (T2) that was more than T1 would be more virtuous. Therefore, the overcoming of pain and danger must be eternal; but if it is eternal, then it is never "overcome" and thus a being that would suffer an eternity of pain or danger cannot be said to be virtuous for it has overcome no pain or danger. Therefore, eternal pain and suffering does not yield eternal virtue, and the term virtue as it is being used in the above argument is irrational, for there can be no such thing as "greatness of virtue" as defined by this argument. This means 2 is false; the argument is refuted.

The next argument is:

Worship and Moral Agency

1. If any being is God, he must be a fitting object of worship.

2. No being could possibly be a fitting object of worship, since worship requires the abandonment of one's role as an autonomous moral agent.

3. Therefore, there cannot be any being who is God.
To which I respond: Huh? Who defines worship as "abandonment of one's role as an autonomous moral agent"? Further, why would that definition render it impossible for another being to be a "fitting object of worship"?

Stenger then gives us the problem of evil, which has already been beaten into the dust. There's no need to rehash that, so we'll move on to the next argument:

A Perfect Creator Cannot Exist

1. If God exists, then he is perfect.

2. If God exists, then he is the creator of the universe.

3. If a being is perfect, then whatever he creates must be perfect.

4. But the universe is not perfect.

5. Therefore, it is impossible for a perfect being to be the creator of the universe.

6. Hence, it is impossible for God to exist.
This argument actually relies on the ambiguity of the term "perfect." What does it mean to say that the universe is (or is not) perfect? There are two different ways we can take this: we can compare the universe to an ideal universe, in which case the ideal would be defined as perfect. (Of course, this leads to all sorts of questions, such as How would we know what an ideal universe would look like in the first place? and Isn't our assumption of a perfect universe rather heavily anthropomorphically biased? etc.) But the secondary definition of perfect is that the universe is behaving as it was intended to behave. That is, if I design a box with a hinge that will open and close, and it accomplishes what I want it to accomplish, then I have a perfect box with a hinge; I do not need to design a box that can also give me the time or play music for me. That is not the intent of my creating the box. (Of course, this leads to all sorts of questions, such as How would we know what the designer of the universe intended to make?)

A Transcendent Being Cannot Be Omnipresent

1. If God exists, then he is transcendent (i.e., outside space and time).

2. If God exists, he is omnipresent.

3. To be transcendent, a being cannot exist anywhere in space.

4. To be omnipresent, a being must exist everywhere in space.

5. Hence, it is impossible for a transcendent being to be omnipresent.

6. Therefore, it is impossible for God to exist.
This does not follow, however. Imagine, for a moment, a being that exists in the fourth dimension. Actually, before we do that, let's simplify it. Imagine a two-dimensional world that consists of a 1 x 1 square on a flat surface (such as a sheet of paper). Imagine that there is a cube one millimeter above the square in the third dimension, a dimension that the square is unaware of. This cube is 2 x 2 x 2 (for ease of thought, we will just make it twice as big on each surface as the original square). This cube transcends the square's universe, for it exists in a different dimension. Now put the cube against the paper such that the square is covered and the distance between the plane and the cube's face is 0. The cube is now touching every single point on the square, by virtue of the third dimension, as is therefore omnipresent to all points. Yet the cube is touching every point on the square in the third dimension—a dimension the square does not know exists! Thus, the cube is still transcendent. It exists at every point in the square's universe and fully permeates it—there is no space between the point on the flat surface of the paper and the point just above it where the square is being touched. Yet, the square remains ignorant of how this process can work, for the square can never leave the two dimensions.

Now expand that out. A fourth dimensional object that is sufficiently large to touch every point in the universe can be omnipresent and yet still transcendent. The same would be true of any object with higher dimensions than that. Currently, M theory proposes that the universe consists of eleven dimensions. A twelve dimensional object that was larger than the universe can be both transcendent and omnipresent quite easily. But we do not need to go that far in reality, for theologians would only be dealing with the three dimensions of perception anyway, so a four dimensional object would be sufficient.

In any case, existence "outside" of space and time is not what theologians mean by the term transcendent anyway. They simply mean that God exists fully as God at every point of existence. Thus, God transcends because He is not localized—He is universal. Omnipresence means God is everywhere; transcendence means that God is fully God wherever He is (there is not "more of God" in a church building than in a pub, for instance).

A Personal Being Cannot Be Nonphysical

1. If God exists, then he is nonphysical.

2. If God exists, then he is a person (or a personal being).

3. A person (or personal being) needs to be physical.

4. Hence, it is impossible for God to exist.
Of course, no argument is given as to why a person (or personal being) needs to be physical. This is simply asserted. I would, in fact, reverse this argument: personhood is nonphysical. That is, what makes us persons is not merely a physical body, but the immaterial spirit as well. Thus, I would reverse this argument to state that if humans beings are persons, then they have an immaterial aspect to their existence (i.e. a soul). At this point, we see that the basic disagreement as to 3 renders this argument moot.

The final argument is:

The Paradox of Omnipotence

1. Either God can create a stone that he cannot life, or he cannot create a stone that he cannot life.

2. If God can create a stone that he cannot life, then he is not omnipotent.

3. If God cannot create a stone that he cannot life, then he is not omnipotent.

4. Therefore, God is not omnipotent.
This is such a trivial argument, it has been countered countless times already. Omnipotence does not mean the ability to do that which is logically impossible (and in God's case, it also excludes the ability of God to sin). God is not omnipotent in that sense. Instead, we say that God can do all things that are possible, so long as they are consistent with His moral standards. As such, Stenger's reproduction of this argument is an example of his engaging in the fallacy of the irrelevant thesis.

Since these "disproofs" took all of two and a half pages out of the book, it is obvious that they had very little to do with the content of the rest of the book. So let us now turn our attention to that.


Stenger begins his attack against his strawman deity by launching an attack on the concept of design. There is nothing original in his attack. Further, he consistently misidentifies the Intelligent Design (ID) movement as being religious in nature, but such is erroneous as we have already demonstrated on this site numerous times. The fact that Stenger treats the ID movement as religious causes him to make some very elementary errors.

For instance, he writes on "bad design":
Some evolutionists have tried to counter the Paley claim [i.e., the watch analogy] with what might be called the argument from bad design, pointing out all of the ways that a competent engineer could improve upon what nature has given us (p. 68-69, italics his).
Yet this argument is not attacking either the ID movement or more traditional Creationism at all. Let me give you a specific example: Microsoft Windows Me. The version of this OS has got to be the worst OS ever programmed. When I had it on my old system, it was a rare day that went by when I did not get the infamous BsoD ("Blue Screen of Death"), but only because it was a rare day that I didn't use my computer. But despite all its flaws, it would be downright stupid of me to say, "Microsoft Windows Me was not designed." Thus, actual poor design does not rule out a designer at all (therefore, ID does not suffer by this argument since ID doesn't require a perfect designer).

Or let us give another more recent illustration: the bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River. The structure of the bridge failed, but in this instance that may not be indicative of bad design at all. Instead, it appears more likely the culprit was poor maintenance of a good design. Since Creationists believe that Adam sinned and that we are no longer in our perfect state, this is analogous to a perfect design being defaced by "poor maintenance."

So evidence of "poor design" is both not evidence against a designer and not evidence that the design itself was poor in the first place—perhaps the design was perfectly fine, yet it was not maintained correctly. Poor design is therefore a fallacious response to the design argument.


Stenger then moves on to the immaterial world. Here, he treats experiments against ESP and telekinesis as if they have bearing on religious claims. While such is rather humorous under other circumstances, it is only annoying here.

Stenger moves to the question of prayer after that. He states:
One of the defining characteristic of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God is that he is believed to respond to entreaties from the faithful and steps in to change the natural course of events when he is sufficiently moved by the intensity and piety of the petitioner (or, whenever he wishes) (p. 94).
This quote gives us such horrendous theology that there is no question as to why the experiments Stenger looks at would fail. Firstly, Stenger ignores the rather basic point that Jews, Christians, and Muslims by-and-large all believe that members of the other religions are not saved and that God is under no obligation to listen to the prayers of the heathen. Lumping all the religions together like this makes it impossible for Stenger to validate prayer. Indeed, Stenger ironically misses the fact that the greatest disproof of the real Judeo-Christian-Islamic Gods as a group would be if the prayer support did work.

Stenger moves from prayer to immortality, which he rejects by examining…near death experiences. That's right, NDE is supposed to provide evidence against immortality because NDE can be explained by physical processes. How this escapes non sequitur is never explained, and makes it a typical argument from this book.


Stenger moves into cosmology, which is a very frustrating chapter if you've recently read Brian Green's two excellent books The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, as I have. Stenger engages in gross simplification and horrendous one-sided reporting of the theories of cosmology to "prove":

The Creator, if he existed, left no imprint. Thus he might as well have been nonexistent (p. 121).
Since the science involved is so long, I will take time at a later date in a separate post (if I feel like it) to examine the cosmological claims more fully. For now, it is sufficient to point out another thing Stenger said:
I also need to respond here to an objection that has been raised by physicists who have heard me make this statement. They point out, correctly, that we currently do not have a theory of quantum gravity that we can apply to describe physics earlier than the Planck time. I have adopted Einstein's operational definition of time as what you read on a clock. In order to measure a time interval smaller than the Planck time, you would need to make that measurement in a region smaller than the plank length, which equals the Planck time multiplied by the speed of light. According to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, such a region would be a black hole, from which no information can escape. This implies that no time interval can be defined that is smaller than the Planck time (p. 120)
Aside from the fact that Stephen Hawking has demonstrated that black holes do radiate at a very low level, it is important to note that Stenger is arguing that we can push the Big Bang back only to the point in time that is equivalent to Planck time after the big bang occurred. We can never probe earlier than that. As such, science cannot give a reason for why the Big Bang happened. As such, Stenger cannot say that the Creator left no imprint—for the very existence of the universe itself can be that imprint. To say that the existence of the universe itself is not that imprint, or that it can be explained by natural means, is to go beyond science, as Stenger himself admits. Therefore, his conclusion that God might as well be nonexistent is assuming too much even if we grant him everything.

When Stenger moves on to the laws of physics, he claims that these arose out of nothing. In this instance, he at least admits:
My views on this particular issue are not recognized by a consensus of physicists, although I insist that the science I have used is well established and conventional (p. 131).
But Stenger then plays his shell game:
Once again, I do not have the burden of proving this scenario. The believer who wishes to argue that God is the source of physical law has the burden of proving (1) that my account is wrong, (2) that no other natural account is possible, and (3) that God did it (p. 132).
Note that Stenger is violating all kinds of rules of logic here. Not only is he requiring someone to disprove his theory (i.e., he is begging the question), but he requires that in the process the theist must prove a universal negative—that no other natural account is possible. Such is absurd and an irrational requirement. Stenger seeks to win by definition, but he can only do so if he abandons reason.

The Anthropic Principle

Stenger then turns to the way that Earth appears to be designed for humans. Unfortunately, he demonstrates his bias very quickly by asserting:

Let us take a look at the scientific facts about life in the universe hopefully unbiased by theological considerations (p. 141)
He apparently has no problem with atheological considerations though.

In any case, one striking comment by Stenger is:
Of course, one might wonder why a perfect God would build a universe that was so delicately balanced. If he really designed it for life, you would think he could have made it a lot easier for life to evolve (p. 145, emphasis added).
What makes this quote so interesting is that the previous page, he said:
Clearly we are not yet in a position to determine whether complex life is common or rare in the universe. However, the fact is that complex life exists on one planet, Earth. And that existence is not implausible, given the conditions we know exist in the universe (p. 144, emphasis added).
So which is it? Is it "not implausible" for life to evolve or is it difficult? (Note: to avoid confusion, we are not talking about Darwinian evolution here; we are talking about the ability of life to come from nonlife, as the context of the quotes should still make clear.) Stenger wants to play both sides of the fence here because he is not dealing with science, but with his presuppositions. Indeed, Stenger displays them here:
The anthropic argument for the existence of God can be turned on its head to provide an argument against the existence of God. If God created a universe with at least one major purpose being the development of human life, then it is reasonable to expect that the universe should be congenial to human life. Now, you might say that God may have had other purposes besides humanity. As has been noted several times in this book, apologists can always invent a god who is consistent with the data (p. 154)
And in response, I can note that atheists can always invent a god who is inconsistent with the data and then pretend that that god is the God theists actually worship…

In any case, continuing with the above, Stenger then notes:
If the universe were congenial to human life, then you would expect it to be easy for humanlike life to develop and survive throughout the universe (p. 154)
But this doesn't at all follow. If God's purpose was primarily human oriented, it is also human oriented in a specific place. Perhaps God never intended humans to go into the vastness of space. Maybe God wanted humans in a little corner of the universe for His own purposes. Just because you would do things differently is no argument that God had to do it your way.

But we should not expect Stenger to concern himself with considering what God thinks anyway. After all, he cannot even state the issue correctly:
Earth is not the flat immovable circle at the center of a firmament or a vault of fixed stars, circled by the sun, moon, and planets pictured in Genesis (p. 155)
Except of course that it is not pictured that way in Genesis. It was pictured that way by Aristotle. Stenger is then reading Aristotelian physics into the Biblical text and eisegeting it to mean whatever he needs it to mean.

Further, he errs when he says:
In fact, when you think of it, why would an infinitely powerful God even need six days? Wouldn't he have the ability to create everything in an instant? And, why would he have to rest when he was all done? (p. 157)
A) Why is Stenger concerned with omnipotence after he dismissed it from the start? B) Stenger, as is typical of anti-theists, doesn't even have a Sunday school level grasp of Creationism, yet he deigns to criticize it. The six-day creation period has nothing to do with God's power, nor did God "need" to rest. The six-day pattern followed by one-day rest is just that—a pattern. It was for man's sake that we have this pattern. The Sabbath was made for man, as Christ Himself pointed out. So you ask why God did as He did: for our sake.

But accepting this would refute Stenger's claims, so he doesn't even bother to acquaint himself with the issue.

Amazingly, just after this, Stenger goes on to complain: "Let us also ponder the enormous waste of matter" (p. 157). But how is it a waste for an omnipotent God to create lots of matter? If it is a mark against God's power that it took Him six days instead of an instant, then surely the excess of matter would be a mark for God's power, wouldn't it?

Of course there is a bigger issue. Does this not presume that Stenger knows the purpose for why God does what He does (and as shown above, Stenger cannot grasp even the most obvious purposes of God as spelled out explicitly in Scripture)? Does this not also presume that God's creation of extra matter somehow diminishes the power of God, such that He is less for having created it? Else how could it be considered a waste?


Stenger moves on to revelation, wherein he shows yet again that he is incapable of interpreting Scripture as it was written. (Interestingly, we should note that despite his calling God the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God, he never looks at Islam in this chapter…) This isn't much of a shock by now; indeed, one wonders how much of the Bible Stenger has actually read and how much of it he has "read" by looking at essays by Bertrand Russell or by reading the Skeptic's Annotated Bible and such. Therefore, there isn't anything new in this chapter either.

One thing that I will point out is Stenger's flawed understanding of what revelation is supposed to accomplish. He states:
If a person undergoes a religious experience that truly places her in communication with some reality from beyond the material world, then we may reasonably expect that person to have gained some deep, new knowledge about the world that can be checked against the empirical facts (p. 171).
This is not at all a reasonable assumption, however. A) Revelation wasn't designed to give people super-knowledge about the universe; it was to give people information about God. B) If information given in revelation can be seen empirically, then revelation is unnecessary here.

Thus, Stenger doesn't appreciate the point of revelation. It is no difficult task for science to disprove something no one believes in. Further, Stenger ignores the sin issue (again), stating: "But [skeptic's] eyes are open and we see no convincing evidence for phenomena that under the God hypothesis would be expected to hit us all square in the face. If the religious experience were as deeply significant as the monotheistic religions have taught, then data would exist that even the most die-hard skeptic could not ignore (p. 173)." Yet when the issue of sin is examined, we see that there is indeed data that even the least die-hard skeptic would be able to ignore quite easily. And this ought not be that difficult for Stenger to grasp, for he basically considers the reverse to be the case already (that is, he basically already affirms that no matter how obvious science is, there will still be believers who are deluded into not accepting it). Why does this road only run one way in Stenger's mind?


Stenger moves into questions of morality, where he is on even worse philosophical footing. Again, there is nothing new here. In fact, this section reads as if Stenger was John Loftus.

That Stenger doesn't comprehend the nature of Scripture's moral precepts is evident when he claims: "The theist may respond that the above quotation is not a law but merely the report of an event, but the stories of the Bible are supposed to provide guides to proper behavior (p. 204)." No, the stories are the telling of historical events. When the Scripture details events that occurs, it is not telling us "This is how you ought to behave" any more than reading a history textbook is a moral guide. It is the Law that gives the moral precepts.

Naturally, Stenger disagrees with large portions of the Law itself. Yet his disagreement has more to do with personal taste than anything else; and until he can give a reason why his view is right and the Bible's view is wrong, then he has no argument against the morality of God.

One ironic part of Stenger's chapter is that after accusing the Bible (and the Qur'an—at least this time he included that!) of promoting atrocities throughout history, he lists three religious fanatics (Yigal Amir, a Jew who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin; Paul Hill, who murdered an abortion doctor in 1994; and Mohammed Bouyeri, who murdered Theo van Gogh in 2004) and concludes:
But, thankfully, they are the exception. Furthermore, each of these fanatics would be hard-pressed to demonstrate where exactly in their scriptures were they commanded to commit their dreadful acts (p. 206).
This leads me to ask: which is it? Do these Scriptures promote atrocity or is the one who commits evil in the name of the Scriptures "hard-pressed to demonstrate where" they got these view from "their scriptures"?

After this, Stenger gives the argument from the problem of evil yet again. Since we have dealt with it numerous times already, I will skip this section, only providing one quote which illustrates Stenger's fallacy:
We are once again confronted with the undeniable fact that our instincts about good and evil take precedence over supposed divine commands, when those commands offend both the common sense and the reason that has been cultivated over the centuries as humankind has gradually and incompletely evolved from brutish predecessors (p. 224).
In other words, our morality is right and God's is wrong; therefore God is evil (if He exists). But of course this begs the question that our morality is right. And if our morality is simply what has evolved from "brutish predecessors" then we know that our morality is likely to be biased toward brutality.

Possible and Impossible Gods

The penultimate chapter of the book deals with various possible types of gods. It is interesting to note Stenger's over-all position here:

The exact relationship between the elements of scientific models and whatever true reality lies out there is not of major concern. When scientists have a model that describes the data, that is consistent with other established models, and that can be put to practical use, what else do they need? (p. 228-229)
Such an admission gives us more of Stenger's control philosophy, which in this case is basically pragmatism. Ultimately, he doesn't care about which God is possible to exist; he only cares about his models. (This is somewhat contradicted by the fact that he argues against the existence of God…but let's overlook that for now.)

Stenger's entire position is an anthropocentric position. Virtually every "disproof" he brings forth about God is a disproof only if one assumes the primacy of human (specifically Stenger's) thought. Thus we see conclusions like:
A God who fine-tuned the laws and constants of physics for life, in particular human life, fails to agree with the fact that the universe is not congenial to human life, being tremendously wasteful of time, space, and matter from the human perspective (p. 230, emphasis mine).
In the end, Stenger is not interested in what is real, but in what he wants to think is real. He has his version of reality, and thus he will always read the evidence to match that version. He is not seeking outside evidence to form his idea—his idea is already formed, and the outside evidence is pasted in in an ad hoc fashion.

Further, he continues to ignore the sin problem, stating:
In short, a perfectly-loving God would not deny knowledge of his existence to any human who is not resistant to that knowledge. The empirical fact that many humans are open to knowledge of God and still do not believe demonstrates that such a God does not exist (p. 238).
Yet the noetic effects of sin on the human mind and will negate this claim. It is not the case that "many humans are open to knowledge of God and still do not believe" for humans are depraved individuals. And in fact, this is evidenced by the conclusion of the chapter:
The existence of the Catholic, evangelical, extreme Muslim, extreme Judaic God who hides himself from all but a selected elite cannot be totally ruled out. All I can say is that we have not one iota of evidence that he exists, and, if he does exist, I personally want nothing to do with him. This is a possible god, but a hideous one (p. 240, emphasis added).
In short, if Christianity is correct, then Stenger merely adds to its correctness by pointing out that he does not want anything to do with it; which is exactly the point made by me above. He is not looking at this from an objective position, for he considers this possibility to be hideous, and one he wants nothing to do with. We can hardly consider him to fairly evaluate the evidence with this kind of attitude toward what is not only the actual belief of the majority of theists, but where the fair reading of the text of Scripture leads us to go.

A Godless Universe

Stenger closes the book by dealing with the question of the usefulness of religion. As would be expected, he doesn't think religion does any good, only evil (of course he hasn't provided any philosophical reasoning as to what good or evil is in order to make this judgment).

To make his case, Stenger talks about the various wars that have occurred due to religion (forgetting the various wars that occurred apart from religious motives) and the like. Again, fairly typical stuff. He argues that the good that people of religion do is something they would have done anyway (p. 249) because they were basically good people to begin with, thus they don't need God.

One must wonder how basically good people could have created such a horrific institution as religion, if Stenger's views are all correct. But he doesn't concern himself much with consistency at this point. Instead, the book ends with emotive appeals not based in logic or science at all.
Now, you might say this has nothing to do with the existence or nonexistence of God. However, the concept of a beneficent, loving God held by most people would reasonably be expected to lead to a better world when God is widely worshipped. Well, God is widely worshipped and we do not have a better world because of it. On the contrary, the world seems worse off as a result of faith (p. 250)
Again, I wonder how Stenger could possibly know what the world would have become like apart from religion. Does he have access to special knowledge that no one else does? Can he read parallel universes?

No. He's making this up because he wants it to be true. This isn't science, this is a just-so story.

So, to wrap it up, we see that Stenger's examination of the God hypothesis is too flawed to be useful. The hypothesis he uses gives a God that no one believes in. The problems that confront this fictional God are easily thwarted by simple understanding of Christian theism. Finally, Stenger has nothing better to offer than his own personal relativistic concepts. On the whole, the book was not very useful at all. There's nothing in it that you couldn't already find at Debunking Christianity.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Let Christ be Magnified

Let Christ be Magnified: Calvin’s Teaching for Today by J. H. Merle D’Aubigné
publisher's Description: John Calvin was born almost 500 years ago on 10 July 1509. Many Christians around the world will celebrate the occasion in various ways. But perhaps the best way to commemorate the birth of the Reformer is to remember the gospel he preached. According to J. H. Merle D’Aubigné, the great historian of the Reformation period, Calvin’s teaching centred on Christ – his Word, Person, Grace, and Life. Quoting the Reformer’s own words, D’Aubigné insists: ‘Let us give honour to persons who excel in the fear of God, but on condition that God remains above all – and that Christ triumphs.’
At Westminster Books for only $6.12!

Energetic Processions of the Quaternity

“Following John of Damascus, and especially Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), the East considers the essence of God to be unknowable, and only God’s energies or operations being revealed, the things around him (‘all that we can affirm concerning God does not shew forth God’s nature, but only the qualities of his nature’ [John of Damascus]). This dichotomy, as a sympathetic critic like T. F. Torrance argues, ‘implies that to know God in the Spirit…is not to know God in his divine Being—to know God is only to know the things that relate to his Nature as manifested through a penumbra of his uncreated energies or rays.’ This drives a wedge between the inner life of God and his saving activity in history, ruling out any real access to knowing God in himself,” R. Letham, Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective (Mentor 2007), 233-34.

“The questions to be addressed to these developments are whether, firstly, a yawning chasm has not been opened between the economic trinity and the immanent trinity, and secondly whether there is not a tendency towards a quaternity—the unknowable divine essence plus the three revealed persons. Along these lines, Fairbairn suggests that the distinction tends to create ‘a crisis of confidence in God’s character. If we insist that we can know nothing of God’s inner life…then can we really be confident that God’s outer life is consistent with his inner life” ibid. 234.

“Gregory Palamas’ development of the distinction between the unknowable essence (being) of God and his energies has won widespread approval. However, this drives a wedge between the immanent and economic trinities, between God in himself and God as he has revealed himself. This threatens our knowledge of God with a profound agnosticism, since we have no way of knowing whether God is as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ,” ibid. 283.

“It also defies rational discourse, since we cannot say anything about who God is. The acme of the Christian life becomes mystical contemplation rather than fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). As Barth says, ‘it goes beyond revelation to achieve a very different picture of God antecedently in himself’” ibid. 283.

“The point here is that this is not merely a development from the Cappadocians, whose work led to the resolution of the Trinitarian crisis. It is more than that—it is a distortion of the classic doctrine of the trinity. It introduces into God a division, not a distinction. As Dorthea Wendebourg comments, it results in the persons of the trinity having no soteriological functions. The classic doctrine affirmed that the three persons, each and together are the one God. By introducing a new level in God, the trinitarian settlement is undermined. It is the defeat of Trinitarian theology,” ibid. 283-84.