Chapter 2 starts out discussing a seminar presented by James Sire that shares the title of this chapter. They say that Sire has four categories for why people believe what they do: sociological, psychological, religious, and philosophical reason. Before continuing, I'd like to point out that, first, the sociological category seems to be more specifically social psychology. Second, the religious reasons could be rephrased as "Obedience to Authority," but these points are trivial.
The authors go through a hypothetical dialogue between Sire and the students of some college Sire may have presented at. This following part bothers me a little, though my objections are not related to the objectives of the book:
Sire: Okay, what about cultural influences? Do you think people ought to believe something just because it's accepted culturally?I am fine with the idea that culture is a crappy reason for believing something. My issue is with that of Nazis supposedly having a "culture." Generally, when I think of "culture," I think of something that takes a few generations to develop. The Nazis didn't have generations. They were a political group that sprung up to power in...oh, probably less than a decade. My point being that these beliefs had to exist in German culture prior to the Nazis; the Nazis simply took advantage of the existing culture. (Perhaps this culture has a history the authors don't want you to know!) After that, though, they use a common atheist argument!
Students: No, not necessarily. The Nazis had a culture that accepted the murder of all Jews. That sure didn't make it right! (p52)
...We might be comforted by the belief that there's a God out there who cares for us, but that doesn't necessarily mean he really exists. Likewise, a junkie might be temporarily comforted by a certain type of drug, but that drug might actually kill him. (p52)Ramen! I have actually seen some Christians use the comfort argument in defense of their beliefs, so I must give kudos to the authors for objecting to such an argument. The next two statements are also good, going into the idea, as they did in Chapter 1, about ideas having consequences.
At this point, please take a note to their comments in regards to Jesus.
...The Bible says that Jesus died on the cross and rose three days later (1 Cor. 15:1-8), while the Qur'an says he existed but didn't die on the cross (Sura 4:157). If one's right, the other one is wrong. Then again, if Jesus never existed, both of them are wrong. (p53)This is an accurate assessment. Oddly enough, the authors are going to forget a part of this only 4 pages later.
As good as that hypothetical was, the paragraph immediately following is laughable. Here, the authors state, "An apologist is someone who shows how good reason and evidence support or contradict a particular belief" (p53). Uh...no! An apologist is "a person who argues in defense or justification of something, such as a doctrine, policy, or institution." First, an apologist, by definition, does not ever "contradict a particular belief;" they only support. (Though, they may attempt to contradict beliefs opposing the one they support.) Second, there is no requirement for an apologist to use "reason and evidence." My guess is they threw in this statement to try to boost their own credibility (thus, a disguised argument from authority).
I agree with the rest of this introduction section, but I find it interesting that, in the second point, they brought up Pascal: "As Pascal said, people almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive" (p54). As did, apparently, Pascal himself. He is known to atheists for Pascal's Wager. It's a very flawed wager, and you can read more about my thoughts on it here. In short, the idea is that it is better to believe in God because of the supposed reward (heaven) related to belief, and has nothing to do with the evidence (apparently Pascal thought God could never be proven through evidence and/or logic).
For just one last quick comment, they have brought up "evidence, logic, and science" (p53 and p54) twice in this section. Science uses evidence and logic, so it is somewhat redundant to list all these things. They could just say "science," as science also uses other skills, such as questioning. It makes me curious as to what they think science is and if they understand how science works (as the following four chapters deal with science, this is important to know...or at least to consider when reading through those chapters).
Indian logic. In what I've learned about this logic, it seems that the 'both-and' logic that the authors refer to is an exception in this logic system. In other words, most of the time, this logic does not apply and 'either-or' logic is primarily used in Indian logic, so the authors have created a slight straw man fallacy here. It seems that this 'both-and' logic is used only to explain contradictions that supposedly occur naturally. I have my suspicions that this 'both-and' logic came about so people would have an excuse to not deal with solving contradictions, but it could be that Indian logic is not actually against reason, but beyond reason! (Refer to page 352 — Chapter 13, section "Objections to the Deity of Christ," subsection "Objections to the Trinity.") At any rate, I use "Western" logic, I guess, so I have no major objections to this section other than it is disappointing the authors resorted to using straw men to make their case.
false dichotomies. Let's start with God.
Either the theists are right—God exists—or the atheists are right—God doesn't exist. Both can't be correct. (p56-57)Well, it is true that both can't be correct, which correctly presents the Law of Noncontradiction, but both can be wrong! One problem here is that they are also describing the Law of Excluded Middle, though they have failed to name it here. That law states that "for any proposition, either that proposition is true, or its negation is." So when the authors talk about how either the theists are right or the atheists are right, that's the Law of Excluded Middle, not the Law of Noncontradiction!
The second problem is that "God" is referring to a specific deity, but, more importantly, it only refers to one deity. What about two deities? Or three, like the Hindu's have? Or four? Or five? These are all acceptable alternatives and they do not violate the Law of Excluded Middle. With not-logic, you basically have two sets: one set contains the object in question and the other set contains everything else in that category. So, the set "not [one] god" contains zero gods, two gods, three gods, four gods, 101 gods, and so on. (Actually, the two sets should be theist, containing every positive number—1 to infinity—and atheist should contain just zero (note that negative numbers don't make sense in this situation). The authors should have done a better job of defining their terms...speaking of which, I must remind everyone again that an atheist is not necessarily a person who believes no gods exist, as I've addressed in my coverage of the Introduction; for the sake of argument, I'll play along with their poor definition this time.)
The idea here is that if something is not a cube, it can still be something else. Take a basketball, for example. It is either a cube or it is not a cube, agreed? Well, a basketball is not a cube. But if someone were to ask you if a basketball were a cube, would you just tell them that it is not a cube? Hopefully you would be more helpful and inform them that it is not only not a cube, but it is actually a sphere. After all, we seldom define things by what they are not, and for good reason! What things are not can be quite broad, and therefore defining as such can make something mean just about anything! (Reread that a few times if you must.) Perhaps a better way to state this is to ask the following: if I were to define a basketball as an object that is not a cube, would that help you understand what a basketball is?
Moving on, this section is also where they forget something important in regards to Jesus.
Likewise, either Jesus died and rose from the dead as the Bible claims, or he did not as the Qur'an claims. One is right, and the other is wrong. (p57)If you recall back on page 53, they said (in their hypothetical conversation), "Then again, if Jesus never existed, both of them are wrong." Now they've changed their tune, claiming one has to be right. Well, this time they are wrong! (And they were right the first time.) The key here is that they said "either Jesus died and rose from the dead..." Emphasis mine. The word "and" makes this statement a logical conjunction. There are actually two separate conditions, which means both can be negated. This results in two times two, or four*, possibilities:
- Jesus died and rose from the dead.
- Jesus died and did not rise from the dead.
- Jesus did not die and rose from the dead.
- Jesus did not die and did not rise from the dead.
* Likewise, if there was a third condition, we'd multiply by two again to get eight possibilities; a forth for sixteen, a fifth for thirty-two, and so on.
supplemental section below.
Another thought on this section is that Hume's conditions are actually verifiable, despite what the authors claim when they say, "'Since the principle of empirical verifiability itself is neither true by definition nor empirically verifiable, it cannot by meaningful'" (p59). Actually, it is somewhat verifiable. More importantly, it is falsifiable. All that one has to do to falsify Hume's idea is show a metaphysical claim that is meaningful. But the authors don't do this; they only assert that there are other meaningful statements. Otherwise, every non-metaphysical claim that is shown to be meaningful adds to the evidence that Hume was correct.
Another thing I am curious about is why the authors are bashing Hume. Back on page 58, they quote Hume saying, "'Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?' No. Commit it then to the flames" (p58). In the next paragraph, the authors say, "Do you see the implications of Hume's two conditions? If he's correct, then any book talking about God is meaningless" (p58). But wait! Isn't one of the points of this book to show how much evidence there is for Christianity? If they have the evidence, then Hume's ideas of empiricism should not concern them.
Look for a second out the window at a tree. Kant is saying that the tree you think you are looking at appears the way it does because your mind is forming the sense data you're getting from the tree. You really don't know the tree in itself; you only know the phenomena your mind categorizes about the tree. In short, you "kant" know the real tree in itself, only the tree as it appears to you. (p60)
|Figure 5 - Which line is longer?|
The design of the above image causes the viewer to tend to
think the lower line is longer. In fact, they are the same length.
The authors then go on to ask a relatively simple question, though they intended it to be rhetorical. The question is, "Why is it that the average person on the street doesn't doubt what he sees with his own two eyes, but supposedly brilliant philosophers do?" (p60). Easy! The "average person" likely gives things little to no thought!
This philosophy that they cite is not as bad as they claim. I agree that it is problematic when taken to the extreme where one claims that we cannot know anything, but ideas that our senses are not the most accurate are important. Again, refer to the video in the supplemental section.
I also object to their claim that Kant's philosophy fails their Road Runner tactic. Why can't there be an exception to the idea that no one can know anything about the real world, with that exception being that idea itself? Later, they claim Kant "knows the data that gets to his brain is nothing but phenomena" (p60, emphasis original). Does he? Maybe; again, I don't know a lot about Kant. But what is phenomena? Couldn't "phenomena" just be a word that represents the method by which data gets to the brain? I would think so; though, I realize that this still admits that there is a method. The authors address this, too, by using an example of a desk and paper. I agree here, but I think I can eliminate the problem if I modify it to say that there is no desk. By that I mean if one admits there may not be a real world, then the problem goes away as we are left with only phenomena. It would seem the authors catch on to this idea, too, when they say, "Then how does he know the real world is there?" (p61). Exactly! He should not.
As with Hume, I think one of the mistakes the authors are making is that they appear to be implying that all of modern philosophy follows the ideas of Hume and Kant to the letter...that there can be no modification or deviation from those ideas. That is just absurd. The student they quote is quite right when they say, "'No! It can't be that easy, Dr. Geisler. You can't destroy the central tenet of the last hundred-plus years of philosophical thought in just a couple of simple sentences!'" (p61).
If you say that someone's position is wrong, you must know what is right in order to say that (you can't know what is wrong unless you know what is right). Even if you say, "I don't know," you are admitting that you know something; namely, you know you don't know something else about the topic in question, not that you don't know anything at all. (p62, emphasis original)On the first part, I can actually say I know something is wrong without knowing what is right. Let's say we are given the math problem 231 * 52. If someone tells me the answer is 7, do I have to know the right answer to know that is wrong? No, I don't. Granted, I do have to know something about how multiplication works. Just looking at the numbers, I can say that the answer must be more than 10,000. And, if I took the time to crunch the numbers, I could actually find out the right answer. Yet, the point still remains that I do not have to know what the right answer is to recognize a wrong one. As an engineer, this is true in much of my work. Recognizing that a product doesn't work as intended can be quite easy, but figuring out the correct solution can be a challenge. Once again, though, I do have to know something about the product and I have to know what the goal of the product is. Yet this is not the same as knowing the answer. As for the second part, of course! I don't really see why knowing that I don't know something is important, though...especially after they went overboard criticizing Kant on this same point.
In the second paragraph, they claim that the first principles are "inherent...and are thus self-evident" (p62). Granted, this is a minor point to object to, but I disagree with this. I agree with the author of the video in the supplemental that these are discovered through experience. As the author of the video would suggest, tell a class of kindergarteners that these are "self-evident" and see what type of reaction you get. So, no, no one knows these "intuitively," but I grant that people don't necessarily have to think about them "explicitly." Perhaps the way to say this is that other non-explicit cognitive processes are likely responsible for figuring this all out.
In the third paragraph, the authors finally mention the Law of Excluded Middle, though they had given examples of this earlier as I've already discussed. Once again, the reader should be aware that the "not" condition may contain other options, so the idea that "there are no third alternatives" (p62), while technically correct, can mislead those who are not familiar with logic and the context to which such a statement applies.
The authors then go on to give some good, basic examples to explain logic. They stumble on some of their terminology toward the end of page 63, however. There they say, "An argument can be logically sound but still be false because the premise of the arguments do not correspond to reality" (p63). It is a minor point, but such an argument is actually unsound. An argument is sound when the argument is both valid, as the argument they give for an example is, and all the premises are true. In their example, the premises are not true, so the argument is not sound. I realize that, overall, the discussion on the limits of logic is correct, but I do think it is important to make sure we correctly understand the terminology.
Following that, the authors give a good example of why the principles of logic are not "self-evident": "When you observe something over and over again, you may conclude that some general principle is true" (p63-64). Exactly! They give this as an example of determining the existence of gravity, but we can apply this to setting up statements of logic. Let's use their example of all men being mortal. This premise can be derived from observing that every man who lives eventually dies. One can then conclude that all men are mortal. (The authors are also correct back near that example that maybe there are immortal men, but no one has observed this.) Then, if you see a man named Spenser, it is easy to conclude that Spenser is mortal. Likewise, we know that the author's second example of logic is unsound because we have observed men that are not four-legged reptiles. (And I'm pretty sure no one ever has made such an observation.) The authors do actually bring all of this up, so I'm being a bit redundant. But I feel it is important to be clear how the rules of deduction can be discovered through induction.
The last important point to discuss in this section is the idea that one cannot be absolutely sure about conclusions reached through induction. This is true, and it is important to remember when discussing topics of science. (Also recall that I brought this point up early when reviewing Chapter 1.) In general, the more evidence we have to support a premise, the more sure we can be about that premise being true. We also see them use their bizarre definition of the word "faith," but as was discussed in my review of the Introduction, this is acceptable as long as we recognize what their definition is and address their use of the word based on their definition.
So let's conduct a little thought experiment. If you have some paper and a pencil handy, please draw what gravity looks like. What might you draw? Might you draw an object falling off a table, as was described when the authors discussed gravity just paragraphs ago? Is that really gravity? Or are you just drawing the effect of gravity? I would suggest it is the later. The same goes for sensing gravity. I don't think one could say that we directly observe gravity (and the authors agree); we simply observe the effects of gravity. Now ask yourself if gravity is unobservable. Is it? I would say, "No." If something has effects that are observable, then the thing itself is observable, though indirectly. Then, if God is "unobservable," there should be no observable effects, either.
Alternatively, an analogy I saw taught to children at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Iowa City, IA, sometime in April 2010 was that wind, like the Holy Spirit, is invisible, yet we can feel its effects. This gets even better than my gravity example, because we can directly observe wind! It's true that we can't see it, but we can certainly feel it! They even had the children generating wind by having them blow on a pinwheel. I'm really curious as to what, exactly, these supposed effects of the Holy Spirit are. Not to get too sidetracked, but can you measure them in any way like wind? With wind, we can measure wind and direction. From the air that produces wind, we can measure a number of other things, such as humidity, pressure, and temperature. Again, what can we measure of the Holy Spirit? Nothing? Then how is it like wind, again?
The overall point I'm trying to make here is that there are a lot of cases where theology is contradictory when you really dig into it, but the contradictions are often obscured through fuzzy language. What does "unobservable" mean? How is this "unobservable" God that causes observable effects different than something like gravity? (Or wind?) Likely theologians will tell you there is a difference, because the next question that can be asked is why don't scientists have anything to say about God if the effects are observable, just like gravity (or wind)?
Why, for example, are scientists not convinced that "the universe itself" (p66) is an effect "that [points] to God" (p66) as the authors claim? The problem here is in the observations. Rather, what observations? Immediately before this, the authors use the example of the book itself to show how one can conclude that the book has at least one author.
You've never seen the wind, the rain, or other natural forces produce a book; you've only seen people do so. So despite the fact that you didn't see anyone writing this book, you've concluded that it must have at least one author. (p65)This is, for the most part, correct. The idea that one has never seen natural forces produce a book is mostly irrelevant; the important observation is seeing people write books. But how does this relate to their claim of a God being tied in with the universe (by which I assume they mean that their God created the universe)? More importantly, what would their deductive argument look like? Would it be something like "All universes are created by a god"? Where's the observation for that? Well, maybe we'll get a better clue in the later chapters. I will suggest that the reader keep these thoughts in mind for when we get there.
The first objection I have in this section relates to the idea that "every law declares one behavior right and its opposite wrong" (p67). Um...really?!? Take the example of abortion. If abortion is legal, does that mean its opposite—not getting an abortion—is illegal/wrong? Certainly not! Or euthanasia—if that were legal, would that outlaw death through natural causes??? So what exactly are they talking about???
The second objection I have is to a statement I hear quite often from Christians (or it could reasonably come from other theists that believe in an afterlife) that pisses me off! (Warning: more harsh language ahead!)
If the atheists are right, then we might as well lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want because this life is all there is, and there are no consequences in eternity. (p68)Fuck them! What about this life??? What about the consequences right here, right now? What was the point of near the past two pages saying that people don't care or talking about "Enrons or Tycos" (p66)? Why worry about choices bringing prosperity or ruin? Why worry about the Dred Scott decision or the Nazis? Why bring all this stuff up if the afterlife (or eternity) is what they are really concerned about?
First of all, I try to not lie, cheat, and steal because I don't want to. Second, as I alluded to in the previous paragraph, there are consequences in this life. Lying, cheating, and stealing wouldn't necessarily be wise because I could be punished. But then, I don't know why I have to say this since they already did!
On the other hand, I am glad people who honestly think they would lie, cheat, and steal if they believed there was no afterlife. Usually I support the notion that people should hold as many true beliefs and as few false ones as possible, but this is an exception. If that belief keeps one a more moral person...keep believing! (I don't think many people would actually engage in such behavior if they didn't believe in an afterlife, though. I think such statements are rather a result of much exposure to the idea that one needs religion to be moral...so much exposure that people accept it as true without thoroughly thinking about it.)
But forget eternity for a minute. Consider the temporal implication of religious teachings around the world. (p68)Good! That's what we were doing earlier...before they had to take an unfair swipe at atheists. (Yes, I'm still bitter about that remark!)
Unfortunately, it only took one more paragraph for them to make another unfair remark.
Wouldn't it be better to teach them the religious truth that God wants them to love their neighbor? (p68)Whoa! Isn't that a bit presumptuous? They haven't even started getting into their supposed evidence for their god claim. How, then, do they justify stating that this is a religious truth? Isn't that jumping the gun a bit? Granted, I might not be so taken back by this remark if this weren't a part of Christian theology (appearing in Mark and Matthew). This adds the additional issue that they are implying that, not only is their god real, it's the Christian concept of a god as well. On top of that, they are taking some of the nicer verses out of the Bible (I bet you can find some nice verses in the Koran about peace) and ignoring some of the worse verses, such as those in Luke that immediately follow the idea of loving your neighbor, that are based on racism towards Samaritans. Do we even want to start digging through the Old Testament, which teaches things like obeying God is to be praised, even when God's command is to kill one's son?
And the pain just continues in yet the next paragraph!
Does this religious (atheistic) "truth" matter? (p68)If you didn't catch on, they are talking about the theory of evolution. The first part is that this is not an "atheistic" truth. As I've objected to earlier in the Introduction, atheism does not make any truth claims. Sure, this is a theory (like all scientific theories, by the way) that does not involve a deity in the process, but that doesn't make it "atheistic." Second, I just love (sarcasm) how they put the word "truth" in quotations, considering that they spoke of a Christian concept as a truth without the quotations.
They continue to stab at evolution, implying that it "[produces] criminals who see no meaning or value in human life" (p68). Really? That's apparently why I am writing this post from jail right now. I thought I was living freely in a house, freely going to my day-job as an engineer, but apparently I'm actually a petty criminal. (sarcasm) I suppose maybe—just maybe—if one didn't value the life of pigs that their conclusion could be true. What if you're someone who values all life? Otherwise, please take special note of what they say here about how evolution teaches "that there's really no difference between any human being and a pig" (p66, emphasis original). If I recall correctly, it'll be important come Chapter 7*.
Do I dare start on Mother Teresa? She did not "help" the poor and suffering near as much as Christians love to claim. Some of the "help" she provided was easing the pain of death (and very little at that), but apparently she did little to prevent death. Instead, she seemed to have a goal to convert people to Christianity to save them from going to hell. That's quite a worthless goal if that hell does not exist! Oh, and she thought suffering was a beautiful thing, saying, "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people." Yes, the Hindu caste system is awful, but Mother Teresa's beliefs were little different. Is it really that much better to help the poor if you have no intention to help them to be not poor? This sounds a lot like exploitation to me. And if I were to really ask the "millions whose lives she touched" (p69), I'd probably find that I can't because most of them are likely dead. Most of the people she "touched" are probably people she never physically laid a hand on, but rather loads of Christians who have the impression that she did noble works (such as the authors of this book).
Overall, it is quite disappointing that they are making their conclusions quite clear (even though we did know beforehand that these are Christian authors) before getting into their evidence. This isn't how the book format should look. It should attempt to be inconclusive at the beginning, treating every conclusion as equally likely until eliminating them through evidence and staying silent about their conclusions until that time. It is unfortunate that they are not sticking to such a format, taking stabs at both atheism and Islam in the process. For those who don't see the problem, it is that, if the reader is trying to be impartial, it can begin to create biases in the mind of that reader—biases that will likely diminish the reader's critical thinking skills and lead them to examine the evidence with a bias favorable to the authors' conclusion. The way in which this works is that if you, for example, implant this idea that evolution has horrible implications, as the authors have, then the reader won't want evolution to be true. Likewise, when they shine a positive light on Christianity, the reader may want Christianity to be true. They will then examine the evidence with a slant toward their personal desires. This is known as "poisoning the well."
* Or I might have this confused with a video I once saw on YouTube from a Christian using this same point, only moments later to claim that the Nazis were influenced by evolution, which is why they thought they were the superior race. Think about that. One moment, evolution teaches that we are not different. The next moment you suddenly have "superior" races. I'm thinking the authors of this book make similar contradictory statements. The problem, as with the producer of that video, is that they make these statements far apart, so one can easily miss the contradiction if they are not paying close attention.