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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label New atheists. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New atheists. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Events in Charleston Contradict the New Atheists

The late Christopher Hitchens wrote a best-selling bromide against religion entitled God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In that book, he claimed "As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything."1

Richard Dawkins takes a similarly dismissive view of religion in general and Christianity in particular. In chapter six of his book The God Delusion. Dawkins seeks to lay out how an evolutionary paradigm can account not only for self-preservation ,but altruistic actions such as older relatives caring for younger ones or acts of altruism that result in mutual benefit of both parties.2

Dawkins, Hitchens, Sam Harris and other atheists have all claimed that they base their beliefs on reason and evidence. They hold up evidence as the highest ideal. But the ruthless murders of black parishioners in Charleston have provided evidence contradicting the position that religion is detrimental to humanity. It is proving that Christianity has the power to transform a story into something very different than the expected narrative.

Different than expected

We have watched in horror as cities like Ferguson or Baltimore erupt into violent protests and citizens riot after the death of a single black man. In each of those cases, there was some considerable gray area as to the actions of the officers involved: Michael Brown had just stolen from a convenience store and wouldn’t comply with the officer’s requests. Freddy Gray was under arrest and was being transported when he died from injuries that may or may not have been inflicted accidentally.

In Charleston we have nine people attending a Bible study who were mercilessly shot by Dylann Roof with the intent, according to investigators, "to start a race war."3 Outrage over these events should have been more acute than the others, yet there have been no riots. What was the difference?

AME Elder and interim pastor Rev. Norvel Goff, Sr, explained, "A lot of folk expected us to do something strange and break out in a riot. They just don't know us because we are a people of faith, and we believe that when we put our forces and our heads together, working for a common good, there is nothing we cannot accomplish together in the name of Jesus."4

While the lack of looting and rioting is in itself noteworthy, that wasn’t the most amazing thing to happen in Charleston. Just 36 hours after Roof slaughtered them, the victims’ family members stood in court, stared directly at roof and they forgave him. CNN quotes victim Ethel Lance’s daughter as she said to Roof , "I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you."5 

Felicia Sanders was in the church during Roof’s rampage. She saw her son Tywanza die while trying to reason with him. She and her daughter only survived by playing dead. Yet, Sanders looked at Roof and asked God for mercy for him. "Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. As we said in the Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you."

These Christians were doing something that was the opposite of poisonous, something that in the natural order would make no sense at all. They were following the example of Jesus, who taught that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Jesus forgave his murderers from the Cross and his followers at the Emmanuel AME Church would seek to do the same.

The power of their actions was noticed by those both inside and outside the faith. Jewish columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote in his column, "Not being a Christian, I can only marvel at the dignity and courage of the victims' relatives who forgave the shooter. If I could ever manage such a thing, it would probably take me decades. It took them little more than a day."6 Charles C.S. Cooke tweeted the video of the families offering forgiveness and commented:
Did the fact that Christians who followed their Lord’s command poison things in South Carolina or is this evidence that directly contradicts that claim? There is no way for Dawkins, Harris, or the other New Atheists to spin this as some kind of evolutionarily advantageous action. It isn’t. In fact, forgiving a threat instead of destroying it would be evolutionary deleterious. It makes no sense given a naturalist accounting, but it makes all the sense in the world given a supernaturalist accounting.

For those atheists who say they’re all about reason and evidence, here it is. Anyone issuing a retraction yet?


1. Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. New York: Twelve Books, 2007. 23.
2. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print. 217-218.
3. Ellis, Ralph, Greg Botelho, and Ed Payne. "Charleston Church Shooting: Questions Swirl around Suspect Dylann Roof." CNN. Cable News Network, 19 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015.
4. Rodriguez, Vanessa. "Peace, Not Rioting at Charleston Church." Christian Examiner. Christian Examiner Newspapers, 22 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015.
5. Ellis, 2015.
6. Goldberg, Jonah. "In the South, Grace and Dignity after Charleston Church Shootings." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 23 June 2015. Web. 24 June 2015.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Responding to Atheist Critiques of Christian Hypocrisy

In his paper "The Plight of the New Atheism: A Critique", Dr. Gary Habermas notes that some atheist criticisms of cultural Christianity should be addressed and not dismissed. One that he points to specifically is the charge that modern-day Christians like to cherry pick the causes they support. He explains how New Atheist Sam Harris "asks why Christians expend so much energy opposing abortion, stem cell research, and extramarital sex resulting in AIDS, while ignoring much of the greater amount of suffering in the world (p. 26). Or, he asks why Christians sometimes resist a vaccina­tion program for papillomavirus (HPV) on the grounds that this disease is an impediment to premarital sex, instead of being more concerned about the 200,000 people who die of this virus every year (pp. 26-27)."1

Later, Habermas answers Harris’ questions, explaining:
Even Christians sometimes resonate with atheists when it comes to complaints about the behavior of religious persons, all the worse when it is Christian behavior, and when the result is the unjustified taking of lives down through history. Therefore, whether it is the Crusades, religious inquisition, witch trials, or other opposition such as the fighting that afflicted Ireland in recent years, I think Christians agree generally that such actions are despicable. They would certainly agree with atheists that there is no place in the world, either, for Muslim suicide bombers and other unjust attacking of Christians and Jews, as well as other Muslims. Sure, the issues are complicated, but the bottom line is roughly the same. There is no need to belabor this point.

I have also indicated above that I think Sam Harris raises particularly good questions regarding Christians who pick and choose which pro-life issues should be supported and which should be ignored. I have for many years asked my students why widespread famine throughout the world often has been largely ignored by Christians until just recently, and still by far too few believers. Incredibly, these are often the ones that claim far more lives!

I hasten to add here that, in my opinion, the proper evangelical response is not to jettison current pro-life stances, but to get radically involved with the ones that we have ignored for far too long, such as worldwide hunger. Thankfully, evangelicals do a much better job with worldwide relief efforts after natural disasters, whether it was hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or tsunamis on the other side of the world. Still, I think that, generally, Western Christians are still far too materialistic and far too unwilling to share more than a pittance with those in need. Radical teachings such as those by Jesus (such as Luke 10:25-37; 12:33-34; 14:33) and others (such as 1 Tim 6:8-10, 17-18; 1 John 3:16-18) need to be heeded and taken in all their literalness.2
I think Habermas is onto something. As Christians we cannot simply talk about things like our objection to same-sex marriage without also discussion the problems such as no-fault divorce, which has caused infinitely more damage to the sanctity of marriage than the former. We must look at our worldview as just that and get involved in every level. Then, excuses like Harris’ objection will lose all potency and the world will be a better place.


1. Habermas, Gary R. "The Plight of the New Atheism: A Critique." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51.4 (2008): 817. Web. 16 June 2015.
2. Habermas, 2008, 819-820.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

How to Have a Justified Belief

The concepts of belief and knowledge are woefully confused today by both Christians and non-Christians. Some of this has to do with anti-theistic rhetoric made popular by the New Atheists, some is the prevalence of Internet memes that make slick sounding but fallacious charges, and some is just the general ignorance. For example, here's how Christopher Hitchens tried to separate himself from beliefs:
And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.1
First of all, everyone has beliefs. For Hitchens to say that he doesn't have a belief is simply ridiculous. He believes he should rely on science and reason alone and he believes he should distrust other forms of knowledge.  His entire book is a treatise on what he believes and what he believes you should believe, too! So, let's set aside any nonsense that one can hold to facts without beliefs. As I showed yesterday, any claim of knowledge requires one to believe that the claim is true.

Yesterday, I was asked, "To what degree do you think it's possible to be 'belief-free'?" It's simply impossible to be belief free, since beliefs are a core part of our knowledge. The famous philosopher Rene Descartes developed a thought experiment where he tried to doubt everything. He even doubted his own senses, considering the possibility that they may be manipulations of a deceiving spirit (think the Matrix).  But he found that he couldn't doubt the fact that he was doubting! He had at least found one belief—that he was capable of thinking and doubting—he held to always be true.

What is a Justified Belief?

All people hold beliefs, but that doesn't mean that all beliefs are equal. There is a difference between a justified belief and an unjustified belief. For example, I may mention to you that I believe a certain sports team will win in the playoffs this year. You would naturally ask, "Why do you believe that?" If I respond with statistics about the team or how they have performed against their opponent, you would know that my belief isn't based on nothing, but I've come to my conclusion using information appropriate to make a decision. Even if you disagree with me, you wouldn't say my belief was arbitrary. It is rational given the facts presented. My belief is justified. It was derived based on relevant data, and it is not an unreasonable conclusion.

However, if I were to tell you that the team will win because I picked them out of a hat, or I liked their team colors, or even because they are "my team," then you could conclude that my belief is not justified. Team colors or a person's allegiance doesn't affect the outcome of a professional sporting match. They have no influence on the performance of the players.

Of course, there are degrees of justification, too. The strength of the facts presented and how well the belief explains other things we know give a belief more justification than one that rests on just a few facts. Roderick Chisholm breaks justification into six degrees of positive belief (Certain, Obvious, Evident, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, Epistemically in the Clear, and Probable) and defines each one to show how one belief may be stronger or weaker than another.2

One Cannot Justify Science and Reason without Belief

All people have beliefs and some of those beliefs concern how one understands God, life, and the world around us. These are important beliefs, as they make up our worldview. If one's beliefs can be shown to be justified and they don't contradict one another, then that person has a coherent worldview.  Hitchens' has a problem, however. He holds that science and reason are good and beliefs are bad. Yet, one cannot have science or reason without beliefs. That means that Hitchens' worldview is contradictory; he wants to reject beliefs and uphold rationality when rationality forces one to choose whether to believe a claim or not.

Beliefs matter and they are fundamental to knowledge. To discount belief is to know nothing at all.


1. Hitchens, Christopher. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything New York: Twelve Books, 2007. Kindle Edition. 8.
2. Chisholm, Roderick M. Theory of Knowledge. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989. Print. 8-17.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

10 Conflicting Beliefs of Modern Atheism

Recently, I saw an article by Ben Johnson on Life Site News listing "15 contradictions you have to believe to fit in with pop culture." The article was clever enough and it dealt mostly with the tension of conflicting beliefs of those who would hold up abortion as acceptable. I decided to take a stab at a similar list, looking at beliefs of the pop atheist community and how some of their views sit in conflict with one another. Below are ten beliefs that I've found most atheists to hold, and how they sit in conflict with other affirmations. I've provided links to articles I've written that explore each of these statements a bit more. For item #5, though, you'll have to grab a copy of True Reason and read my chapter on the argument from reason to get a fully developed argument.

  1. Apparent design in creation can usually be explained, even if the explanation appeals to transitions and development even when science has absolutely no clue as to how such development occurred. However, appealing to a designer should be immediately dismissed as a "God of the Gaps" argument.
  2. Good and evil are not objective, but simply the shared preferences of individual cultures and they can change from culture to culture – unless one is talking about the God of the Bible.  He's objectively evil.
  3. Since miracles are much more rare than our everyday experiences, it would be more reasonable to ascribe a seemingly inexplicable event to possible sources we know could account for the event. However, assuming something like the cell that shows fantastic complexity and apparent design is actually the product of design is completely unreasonable.
  4. The fact that divergent religious claims try to explain the existence of the cosmos prove that all religions are false while the fact that there are divergent scientific theories seeking to explain the existence of the cosmos is how knowledge is acquired and is necessary to eventually arrive at the right conclusion.
  5. Reason is the only reliable way to establish what is true, and we reason with brains that evolved only for survival value with no regard for the truth of a belief.
  6. Science is a field of study centered in experimentation and observation and science dictates that life came from nonliving material, even though in the entire history of mankind, no one has ever once observed life coming from non-life.
  7. It is only through planning, intelligence, and hard work that scientist have been able to extend the lives of human beings while the very life they extend is ultimately the product of no planning, no intelligence, and mere accident.
  8. The Universe came into existence from nothing – and that nothing is made up of at least two things: quantum fluctuations and time.
  9. All human beings are the product of evolutionary forces including survival of the fittest, which means that only those who hold the best attributes will advance the species, but all human beings are completely equal and no one is more valuable than another.
  10. Belief in God is a delusion, religion is a virus and it is morally wrong to push religious beliefs on other by expressing them in invocations or other community-centered meetings, which is why atheists seek to push their belief of the nonexistence of God upon all aspects of society.
Can you come up with any more? Let me know and I'll publish the best ones here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Atheist Insults Believers and Is Stunned at the Result

If you've ever been involved with countercult work, you will know how easily the charge of persecution is levied by those who hear arguments against their beliefs. I've had both Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, when presented with evidence that the teachings of their organizations are demonstrably false, claim that they are being persecuted for their beliefs. But telling someone they're wrong or being lied to is neither wrong nor persecution. It's correction.

The reason the persecution charge is thrown so easily is because it holds some hidden premises. People who feel persecuted because of the rejection of an idea believe they're right. They think that their beliefs are obvious, and there are no rational positions contrary to their own. Therefore, any kind of dissent must be some kind of ignorance or bigotry. They believe "Those people who dismiss my view have been infected with wrong thinking."

But it isn't just those who knock on doors who feel this way, but certain atheists as well. Just this week, evolutionary psychologist Sue Blackmore posted an article on Richard Dawkins' site complaining that 100 students walked out of a talk she was giving at Oxford Royale Academy on memes. Blackmore explains:
Then I arrived at religion. I pointed out that religions demand lots of resources (I showed them pictures of a church, a Hindu temple, a Jewish menorah and Muslim pilgrims on Hajj); they pose threats to health (I showed people ‘purifying their souls' by wading in the stinking germ-laden Ganges) and make people do strange things (I showed rows of Muslims bent over with their heads on the floor). I hadn't gone far with this before five or six young men got up and began to walk out. They had a good distance to go across the large hall, so I said ‘Excuse me, would you mind telling me why you are leaving?' There was a long silence until one said, ‘You are offending us. We will not listen,' and they left. Soon after that another bunch left, and then another.

…By the time I arrived at a slide calling religions (Richard's fault!) ‘Viruses of the mind', the lecture hall was looking rather empty. 1

Blackmore said that she "was still shaken by yesterday's lecture and its aftermath." She even reports on calling out to some of the departing students as they were walking out, "Can't you even listen to ideas you disagree with? In Oxford, of all places, you should be open-minded enough to hear alternative views." 2 She ends the article by claiming the high ground:
Walking miserably up the High Street I felt profoundly depressed at the state of the world. I could cheer myself with the thought that I'd learned something. I learned that Islam has yet another nasty meme-trick to offer — when you are offended put your hands over your ears and run away. This would be funny if it weren't so serious. These bright, but ignorant, young people must be among the more enlightened of their contemporaries since their parents have been able and willing to send them on this course to learn something new. If even they cannot face dissent, or think for themselves, what hope is there for the rest? And what can I do?3

Modeling What You Claim to Despise

Blackmore wants to claim bewilderment on why her talk went so badly. While I'm sure there are some who may left because they didn't want to hear any criticisms at all, given Blackmore's own descriptions of her talk I probably would have walked out, too. She was condescending while at the same time being ignorant of the facts. She caricatured religious belief and belittled it, having volunteers mock the Christian Bible, and lumping all beliefs together as if they were equal to one another. She created a flimsy straw man and began knocking it down, taking joy in the discomfort of her listeners as she did.

Such actions would have told me that this woman is not worth listening to and I would have gotten up and left. My actions would have been a result of my thinking for myself and not passively letting a person make bad arguments and get away with ridicule on my dime. The Oxford Royal Academy is an optional summer school program where parents pay for their high-school age students to attend and explore topics more deeply to "gain an academic edge" over their peers.4 Given that, leaving is appropriate.

But Blackmore simply can't understand why some 17 and 18 year olds would choose to walk out of her offensive lecture instead of engaging the instructor in an impromptu debate. Even if their facts were strong, the man with the microphone will usually win that debate. Afterwards, Blackmore talked with some of the Muslim students outside. "I was angrily told that I'd made them feel ignorant." Instead of trying to hear them and understand that they were talking about their feelings as human persons who have inherent worth, Blackmore sought to justify herself. "What should I have done? They are ignorant aren't they?" (emphasis hers.)

Blackmore here shows that she cannot think past her atheistic, memetic worldview. She's a bright, after all, smarter than some kids. In damning those who walked out of her talk, she has become what she claims to despise—one who will not consider a contrary opinion or the fact that she may be wrong on whether she's worth listening to.  The reaction by so many "bright, but ignorant, young people" should have told her she was wrong somewhere, even after she "prepared carefully" by delivering the talk to one relative and adding Internet trends to her slides. But I get the feeling that Blackmore believes she couldn't be wrong. She can't think of anything to do differently, categorizing any apology as cowardice.

Even the chairman of the unit, who invited Blackmore was not pleased, yet she chalks this up to nothing more than the fact that he was a Christian. ‘After all, he must have known when I was invited that I was a vociferous atheist, and since I was invited to talk about memes he must have expected me to mention religions." Yes, I'm sure he did. But perhaps he anticipated something more academic and less acerbic. But I guess Blackmore cannot offer any kind of religious believers (you know, those who make up the vast majority of people on the planet)5 an ounce of respect for their views. She mocks them and then uses their umbrage to make herself feel more enlightened. It is Blackmore who wants to put her hands over her ears and not listen to dissent, dissent in the form of people walking out on her.


1. Blackmore, Sue. "A hundred walked out of my lecture." The Richard Dawkins Foundation. 18 Aug. 2014. Web.
2. Blackmore, Ibid.
3. Blackmore, Ibid.
4. "Why Choose ORA?" Oxford Royal Academy. Web. Accessed 22 August 2014.
5. "Religions." The World Factbook. The Central Intelligence Agency. Web. Accessed 22 August 2014.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Is Christianity or Atheism the Virus?

As I've written before, the New Atheist movement and its proponents' goal is to proselytize the masses into believing that religion is not only untrue, but dangerous for society. The attitude is no more clearly on display than in the late Christopher Hitchens' book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens took the same stance as Richard Dawkins who wrote that religion is a virus1. They are among a number of authors who continue their assault on religion in general and Christianity in particular as being, well, bad for us all. They categorize faith as dangerous, deadly and evil.

Let's examine the charge of religious belief as a virus. One way you can identify a viral infection is the individual will have symptoms that cause their bodies to not operate properly. It is only when one feels ill or aches or one exhibits some other condition where the body is not operating as it should that gives the person reason to go to the doctor and get an examination. Granted, there are viruses that will stay inert for years, but they do eventually present themselves in some way. The same can be said of poisons. They destroy or impair certain processes of the body which results in harm to the individual.

Using this understanding, it would be interesting to see how non-believers compare with the faithful in their effect on society. If religion is a poison or a virus then one would expect to see some negative ramifications those views are causing. The person who believes would be like an infected cell, and that view spread across a significant portion of the population would affect the health of the society. So, can we tell if  Christian belief is either aiding or hindering the overall health of the society at large? In looking at a recent study released by the Barna Group I think  we can. The Barna Group regularly deals with matters of faith and it has looked at those individuals in the United States "who openly identified themselves as an atheist, an agnostic, or who specifically said they have 'no faith'."2 They then compared their answers against active-faith adults, (those who have gone to church, read their Bible and prayed within the last week of the survey.)

The results are telling. When compared to those with an active faith, those in the no-faith camp are:
  • Less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%)
  • Less likely to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20% versus 30%)
  • Less likely to describe themselves as "active in the community" (41% versus 68%)
  • Less likely to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41% versus 61%).
A big difference Barna notes is the huge disparity in giving between the groups.  In a 2012 study, Barna reports "More than three-quarters of evangelicals (79%) have donated money in the last year, and 65% and 60% of them have donated items or volunteer time, respectively. Additionally, only 1% of evangelicals say they made no charitable donation in the last 12 months." What about the non-religious Americans? The report goes on to say, "One-fifth of people who claimed no faith said they made no donation over the last year, still noticeably higher than the number for all Americans."3

So, is faith a virus, a deadly poison that is damaging humanity? It seems that looking at altruistic measurements – basically people helping those in need – that faith is a tonic to society. People of faith volunteer more, give more, and are more active in making their communities as better place than those of no faith. In these measures, it would seem that having no faith is the true virus that needs to be addressed. Dawkins, Hitchens, and other atheists claim to be basing their arguments on a rational review of the evidence, but it seems to me that they're ignoring the real-world test data that pollsters such as Barna have uncovered.

As an aside, it seems that external measurements aren't the only way no-faith adults don't measure up. When asked about an internal perception of contentment, voiced as a feeling of "being at peace", 67% of no-faith adults described themselves in this way, as opposed to 90% of active-faith adults. This was one of the largest gaps between the two groups in the study.

So, by certain internal as well as external measurements, people of faith are more active, more altruistic, and more "at peace" than their no-faith counterparts. If I was diagnosing a patient, I think I can tell which one has the real virus.


1. Dawkins, Richard. “Viruses of the Mind”. [Online] 1991. [Cited: July 7, 2007.]
2. “Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians.” The Barna Group. June 11, 2007.  Accessed 4/8/2014.
3. "American Donor Trends." The Barna Group. April 12, 2013. Accessed 4/8/2014  

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Sam Harris' Wrongheaded View of Christian Faith

Photo courtesy Auren Hoffman.
If I ask Christians for a biblical definition of faith, many times I have Hebrews 11:1 quoted to me: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." But, is that the end of the story? Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith, takes Hebrews 11:1 as an example of how Christians are not reasoning, how faith is diametrically opposed to reason. He writes, "Read in the right way, this passage seems to render faith entirely self-justifying: perhaps the very fact that one believes in something which has not yet come to pass ( 'things hoped for') or for which one has not evidence ('things not seen') constitutes evidence for its actuality ('assurance')."1

Obviously, Sam Harris is not a Greek scholar, nor is he a biblical scholar. He knows nothing about exegesis and he's just flat wrong on this, but he wants to prove his point. The assurance of things hoped for does mean the assurance of future things. Faith does deal with those things that we don't necessarily know, or that we don't have 100% confidence in. By the way reason deals with things we don't necessarily have 100% confidence in. You can reasonably believe something or you can claim you know something with less than 100% confidence.

As an example, think about a man dating a women he is considering marrying. He talks with his friends and says, "I think it's time to ask her to marry me." His friends may reply, "Well do you think she will say yes?" A reasonable response would be, "I have faith that she's going to say yes so I'm going to ask the question. If I had no faith that she would say yes, then I wouldn't ask at all."  Is such a faith a blind faith? Or is it based nio years of involvement and growing to know one another? I had faith that my wife and I would be compatible together as husband and wife. How can I know that? The only way to know how compatible we are is to become husband and wife. We cannot know that beforehand.

When we talk about "the assurance of things hoped for," it is not merely something which does has not come to pass. When we talk about "the conviction of things not seen," it is the writer using a Hebrew idiom where if they wanted to stress a point or add emphasis they would repeat it. That's what the writer of Hebrews is doing here. The lines "The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" is the same phrase said differently. It's a linguistic device.

Both Sam Harris and Christians need to realize that the Bible isn't meant to be taken so superficially. Hebrews 11:1 it is a good definition of one aspect of faith. It is not the sum total of what faith means, just as saying God is love is not the sum total of all that God is. God is also defined as a Spirit. God is also defined as a consuming fire. We are told many things that God is in the Bible and love is one aspect of God's character, but it's not the sum total of God's character. God has more depth to Him than merely love. Similarly, Hebrews 11:1 does not provide a complete definition of faith. One must take the passage for what the author intended, and not limit the whole concept of faith to that one verse. If you'd like to read a fuller definition of the biblical meaning of faith, see this post. But there is one thing you can actually know, and that is that Sam Harris' version of Hebrews 11:1 is nothing but a straw man.


1. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith.
(New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2004). 65.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Would the World Be Better Without Religion? (podcast)

Skeptics such as Richard Dawkins often claim that the biggest evils in the world are perpetrated because of religious beliefs. Does religion cause more wars, more hatred and prejudice than other views? What would a world free of religion look like? Listen into our latest podcast series where I demonstrate why why such claims have no grounding in reality.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Challenging the New Atheists

In the November 2006 issue of Wired magazine, Gary Wolf coined the term "New Atheist". In his article, "The Church of the New Believer" he defined the New Atheist as someone who will "not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God."1, In other words, there is a movement today where atheists are engaged in an ideological war with people of faith, and they feel they are on the side of virtue.

Three primary proponents of this "war against faith" (Wolf's term) are highlighted in the article - zoologist and evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins, End of Faith author Sam Harris, and philosophy professor Daniel Dennett. Although each seems to take a different tact in their approach to unseating the entrenched religious viewpoints of the masses, they all seem to argue that they advance their cause as a moral obligation.

Eroding the Moral Argument

The fact that Dawkins, Dennett and Harris all appeal to a moral framework in their belief system fascinates me, for by its nature, atheism has no objective standard by which to claim moral values. The article restates Dawkins position that bad ideas foisted on children are moral wrongs. But talking about things like moral rights and wrongs bring the question of good and evil into play and that requires a moral framework from which to judge things as being either "good" or "evil".2  One must have a basis to compare one's actions or ideas to classify them as falling into one category or the other .

This is one area where an atheistic worldview fails. Moral frameworks require a moral lawgiver who transcends humanity. In other words, moral laws require an all-good God who can tell us what's good and what isn't. Without God, then man is the ultimate arbitrator of what's good and what's not, which simply means that it's my opinion against yours. In fact, if evolution is true, if we really are here only due to a random series of natural processes, then saying we "shouldn't" do this or that is tantamount to saying a comet shouldn't have struck the earth and killed all the dinosaurs. So the primary premise of the New Atheists really rests on an assumption of God's existence while they try to deny that very existence! Every time they claim a moral reason for advancing their cause, they are trying to smuggle in a condition that could only exist if God does.

Self-Refuting Assumptions

The contradictory nature of Dawkins and company doesn't stop with morality, though. Dawkins admits in the article that the main point of contention is a clash of worldviews - those who hold to naturalism versus supernaturalism. Naturalism is the belief that the only things that can be believed are those things that can be measured by science. We see this in the article as it says how some scientists who hold to a supernatural world view have "implicitly accepted science as the arbiter of what is real. This leaves the atheist with the upper hand… There's barely a field of modern research - cosmology, biology, archaeology, anthropology, psychology - in which competing religious explanations have survived unscathed."

First of all, the second statement is really question-begging. Only if one assumes that we must nullify supernatural explanations for natural ones does one arrive at these "corrosive arguments". But, beyond that, the concept of scientific naturalism collapses upon itself. You see, one must first start with the assumption that the only things we can really know are those things that can be verified scientifically. But that particular premise - that we can only know something if it is scientific -cannot itself be discovered by any type of science. It is a statement of fact that cannot be justified by its own criteria. Imagine if I said to you "Only statements in Latin are true facts." Since that statement is in English, it doesn't meet its own criteria - it refutes its very premise and must therefore be false. The same is true for the scientific naturalist.

Dennett believes that "neutral, scientifically informed education about every religion in the world should be mandatory in school." But again, science cannot test for God any more than it can test for love. They start with an assumption that supernaturalism cannot be true and then build a set of rules that by definition exclude supernatural causes from being considered evidence. However, the rules that they build do not themselves stem from scientific discovery, so they must be false.

Having Faith in Non-Faith

The fact that Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett hold to these rules is one example of how these "freethinkers" really are nothing of the sort, merely adherents to another form of faith. The article points to research by anthropologists that we humans are naturally wired for faith and atheism, when examined carefully, is simply one type of belief system with its dogmas and orthodoxy. The language throughout the article cannot escape this. We see Harris talking about a kind of "religion of reason" with a Sabbath and prayer. Dennett says that no rational creature would be able to do without unexamined, sacred things. Dawkins invokes morality in his position. But to build a religion on non-religion is also contradictory. And by the end of the article, the author begins to note this himself.

Wolf writes that "Dawkins' tense rhetoric of moral choice, Harris' vision of the apocalypse, their contempt for liberals, the invocation of slavery - this is not the language of intellectual debate but of prophecy." He then goes on to conclude that, while he is an agnostic, he couldn't be one of the New Atheists. "The irony of the New Atheism, this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism - is too much for me." Wolf claims that his desire to not be dogmatic about his nonbelief is reasonable. "It simply reflects our deepest democratic values. Or, you might say, our bedrock faith: the faith that no matter how confident we are in our beliefs, there's always a chance we could be wrong."

My question to Wolf would be from where do the values of democracy come? This is certainly not the way evolution works, claiming survival of the fittest and let all the others go extinct. Indeed, as the New Atheists become more and more vocal in their opposition to faith in general and Christian faith in particular, they cannot help but draw upon the tenets of faith in order to make their points. And that, as rational beings should see, is telling evidence that they are wrong.

Recently, I've contributed to a book that focuses on the New Atheism movement and the problems inherent there. Entitled True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheists, it holds contributions from prominent apologists including William Lane Craig, Sean McDowell, and Tim McGrew on why the New Atheism fails. Now, you may receive your copy as free thank you gift for supporting our efforts at Come Reason. Just click here for details.


1. "Church of the Non-Believers"  Wired Magazine, November 2006.  See for the full article.

2. There is, of course a third option, that the thing in question is neither good nor bad but morally neutral. Given the purposes of our discussion, though, the categories above will suffice to make my point.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Does the authoritative teaching of Christianity stifle reason?

Although G.K. Chesterton wrote Orthodoxy over 100 years ago, it continues to provide prescient, applicable wisdom for us today. At the beginning of chapter three in that book, a chapter entitled "The Suicide of Thought," Chesterton notes how the sages of our modern age trade on poor assumptions.

Concerning the rejection of religious authority, he writes:
Religious authority has often, doubtless, been oppressive or unreasonable; just as every legal system (and especially our present one) has been callous and full of a cruel apathy. It is rational to attack the police; nay, it is glorious. But the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars. For there is a great and possible peril to the human mind: a peril as practical as burglary. Against it religious authority was reared, rightly or wrongly, as a barrier. And against it something certainly must be reared as a barrier, if our race is to avoid ruin.

That peril is that the human intellect is free to destroy itself. Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."
Chesterton here asserts that faith is not the enemy of reason, but that reason relies upon faith for its relationship to reality. While skeptics and atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris continue to shout that they have claimed the high ground of reason, Chesterton ably shows how those claims crumble, and he does so nearly a century before the New Atheists even made them!

The fact that the man or woman who holds to faith in Christ can truly be considered reasonable is made even more clearly with the release of the book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheists. I was fortunate enough to have contributed to this volume and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for ways to demonstrate how Christianity is intellectually as well as spiritually satisfying.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What to Think About the Atheist Church Movement?

The intriguing headline read "Atheist 'Mega-Churches' Take Root across Us, World." Following was an AP story describing how the Sunday Assembly, a weekly congregation of atheists that began in the UK, has just launched new congregations in several major cities across the United States. Their vision, according to their web site is to give the godless person a communal experience, allowing them to "celebrate life" and to "be a force for good" with the mutual support of other atheists. Their motto proclaimed clearly on their web site is to "live better, help often, wonder more."

The story attracted a lot of attention online; social media and the blogosphere were immediately inundated with links to variations of the story from the Huffington Post, CBS News, or other outlets. Of course, some of it was more hype than help. For example using the term 'mega-church' in both the lede and the story copy was terribly misleading. A mega-church is defined by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research as a protestant congregation of 2000 or more persons in attendance at weekly worship ." The kickoff Sunday Assembly meeting in Los Angeles attracted "several hundred" attendees according to the story. Given that Sunday Assembly founder Sanderson Jones was the special guest, it remains to be seen what the actual average weekly attendance will prove to be, but they were far from mega-church numbers.

Bigger questions than the AP's misleading hyperbole come to mind, though. One is just why those that ascribe to no higher authority could have any objective calling to "be a force for the good." Just what is "the good" when there is nothing to ground your moral understanding? What does it mean to "live better?" Does one live better by honestly acquiring wealth or by living in meager conditions so he can give more of his wealth away? Is one being a force for good if she helps advance the race by promoting the best and the brightest or by trying to give equal time to the unlearned so that all people have an equal chance to be heard? Perhaps being a force for good is following Richard Dawkins' concept that teaching children religious ideas is worse than sexual abuse. They should therefore seek to extract all children from those homes, as anyone would properly do with the children of a pedophile.

The fundamental problem with the Sunday Assembly is the fact that there is no grounding at all for such gatherings, other that the subjective feelings of the participants. Without a transcendent authority, that is without an objective God that provides meaning to life and morality, you are only left with a false shell of what church is all about. Such hollow actions may make the adherents feel good, but I think they're doomed to failure as any counterfeit would be. Los Angeles Sunday Assembly organizer Ian Dodd said it explicitly to Salon Magazine: "What we're trying to do is hold on to the bath water while throwing out the baby Jesus."

Yes, and anyone who thinks the bathwater is valuable when you've lost the baby has their priorities upside down.

Jones is not hiding the fact that he is trying to duplicate much of what he likes about the Christian church experience. In the AP article he says, "If you think about church, there's very little that's bad. It's singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people - and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?"  Nothing, except the glue that holds the church together and allows all those incredibly different people to be one body is Jesus Himself. Christians are called to be conformed into Jesus' image. We have an objective idea of what love and what self-sacrifice is because He modeled it for us. And we, as followers of Christ, have a reason to love our enemies and forgive one another. Without Jesus, it would all be about who likes what, but with no compelling motivation to follow the teachings that you really don't like. It's doing those hard things that provide so much more meaning to life than simply singing catchy songs or hearing an interesting speaker.

When I was a kid, I used to take a piece of spearmint gum from the pack, carefully remove the stick from the aluminum wrapper, then refold the wrapper and slip it back into the paper sleeve and back into the pack. The whole point of this deception was to offer a stick of gum to my friends and watch the hilarity of them grabbing an empty package. It was silly and it was kid stuff that we laughed at because we were childish in our outlook. Atheist churches offer a promise of real satisfaction, but I fear the only thing they can deliver is a package that holds nothing more than an aroma of what living better actually means.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Does Religion Cause War?

The charge that most of the wars in history were religiously motivated is a popular one, especially with the New Atheists and their followers. Sam Harris has written in his book The End of Faith that religion is "the most prolific source of violence in our history."1 But a cursory review of the wars fought throughout history shows the opposite is true.

As Robin Schumacher reports "An interesting source of truth on the matter is Philip and Axelrod's three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars that have been waged over the course of human history. Of those wars, the authors categorize 123 as being religious in nature, which is an astonishingly low 6.98% of all wars. However, when one subtracts out those waged in the name of Islam (66), the percentage is cut by more than half to 3.23%."2

To see just how far the New Atheists will go to keep their fable about religion being the major source of war and violence in the world, one has to look no farther than Christopher Hitchens. As William T Cavanaugh writes in his book The Myth of Religious Violence, Hitchens is guilty of very selective classification of not only what causes violence, but what classifies as religion and what doesn't.3 Not only does Cavanaugh provide examples where Hitchens takes clearly secular states, such as Stalin's regime, and ascribes their atrocities to the "religious impulse", but he also points out that religious pacifism is discounted because it isn't violent. He writes:
"Hitchens thus seems to employ a functionalist conception of religion, but he does not do so consistently. For most of his book, what Hitchens means by religion seems to be limited to some substantivist list of world religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism all come in for criticism and dismissal. When it helps to make his case against religion, however, things like Kim Jong-Il's militantly atheist regime in North Korea count as religion too. … Religion poisons everything because Hitchens identifies everything poisonous as religion. Likewise, everything good ends up on the other side of the religious-secular divide. For example, Hitchens writes of Martin Luther King, Jr. 'In no real as opposed to nominal sense, then, was he a Christian.' Hitchens bases this remark­able conclusion on the fact that King was nonviolent and preached forgiveness and love of enemies, as opposed to the Bible, which in both the Old and New Testaments is marked by a vengeful God. Here, what is not violent cannot possibly be religious, because religion is defined as violent."4

Echoing Cavanaugh's concern on the misleading lumping of the pacifistic teachings of Jesus and his act of self-sacrifice that becomes the ultimate example of humility and peace for all his followers, Keith Ward tells us the real reason for the continual string of wars that color our history:
"Human history as a whole is a history of warfare and violence. The early recorded history of humanity is a story of imperial conquests and wars. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Egypt and Greece, together with almost endless waves of so-called barbarian hordes, make our books of early human history into chronicles of almost continual conquest and warfare.

"Religion may have played some part in these affairs, but it is the desire for power and wealth that is the constant factor. It is natural that warrior-kings should try to enlist the loyalty of their followers by getting them to defend some preferred set of values, and to denigrate the values of other societies. Since religions usually embody values, kings can readily enlist the gods on their side, as protectors of the values of the empire."5
It is clear, then, that the charge of religion as the primary progenitor of war is on its face absurd and folks like Harris and Hitchens really have neither interest in history nor the roots of conflict between states.  Rather, they simply want to continue to paint a picture that may win them their own converts and offer slick talking points, Unfortunately , those interested in facts find a different answer.


1. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.
(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005). 27.

2. Schumacher, Robin. "The Myth that Religion is the #1 Cause of War" Accessed 3-5-2013

3. Cavanaugh, William T. The Myth of Religious Violence:Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict.
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) 218.

4. Ibid.

5. Ward, Keith. Is Religion Dangerous?(Oxford: Lion Hudson ple, 2011). 68.
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