Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Atheist Inquiry Pt 4, Hitchens and D'Souza

Tonight I've been listening to Hitchens versus Dinesh D'Souza, 13-part debate at the Catholic Thomas Center. There are other debates between these two I may get to eventually.

Dinesh starts out saying he isn't going to argue from Biblical Christianity but from reason and skepticism. I'm disappointed in this. I think the arguments simply for the existence of God are futile and irrelevant.

But then it turns out his focus is on the history of Christianity and the major influence it had in the West, that compassion for instance is not a value in any other culture or religion, but it became a value in Christendom because of the influence of the Christians, also that although slavery persisted in Christian societies it also declined and was challenged in Christian societies and nowhere else on earth, all other cultures taking it for granted. He also points out that science developed only in the West, and would not have developed anywhere else because only Christianity has a concept of a rational Creator who made a rational and law-governed universe that can be rationally studied. These are important arguments I've also tried to make at times, to show that there is a real-world positive impact of Christianity you can trace historically. This should prove at least that something of a very high order happened back there in Jerusalem.

[I left out the reason for his addressing this historical information: he starts by pointing out the values expressed by the atheists that they direct against Christianity, so his answer is to show that those very values derived from Christianity and exist in no other context.]

Hitchens, however, either completely ignored or completely misunderstood the point and launched into his familiar polemic against his straw man conception of religion claiming to be the source of morals, which has been answered in many a debate in many ways but he keeps at it anyway. He says morality is innate as if anyone had ever said anything different.

He also repeats his familiar story about the evolutionists' claim of a minimum 100,000-year history of the human race, 95,000 years of which were theoretically lived in misery and fear without the slightest attention from God, who then decided only a few thousand years ago it was time to intervene. Some God, huh? Some plan.

D'Souza did correct his misunderstanding, clarified that he wasn't saying it took Christianity to bring morality into the world, and that it's quite clear that all human beings are born with a conscience, a built-in sense of morality. I'm glad that was finally said as nobody else had answered Hitchens on that one in other debates.

Unfortunately D'Souza is another theistic evolutionist rather than a creationist so he doesn't make the point about the whole story being nuts because of the bogus timeline, that I made in one of my last posts, but he does make an interesting point: that Hitchens' view of this history puts his own theory in trouble since he has to explain how clever homo sapiens, with all the attributes, brainpower etc. of homo sapiens possessed by all of us, managed for all those 95,000 years to accomplish absolutely nothing in the way of civilization or invention and so on, which only took off in the last few thousand years. Why no reading and writing, history and so on? It's a very good objection to Hitchens' claim. It really DOES raise an important question: How DO evolutionists explain those 95 to 250 thousand years of no progress whatever in the human race followed by a sudden explosion of inventiveness and knowledge that has increased by leaps and bounds for only a few thousand years since? It really is an observation that calls the whole evolutionary scheme into question. Too bad that apparently wasn't D'Souza's objective.

But Hitchens just shrugged it off as usual, even groaned at it while D'Souza was stating it as I recall. Which reminds me to mention that at least at a couple of points when D'Souza was talking Hitchens either fell asleep or pretended to fall asleep, breathing loudly into the microphone.


One other remark Hitchens made in this debate, later on, was again to assert that faith is something you believe without evidence. D'Souza answered that there are other kinds of evidence than empirical evidence. And somewhere in there Hitchens said that sometimes Christians will claim they have evidence, usually miracles, and followed that with the remark that apparently "faith is not enough." Always there is this straw man idea that faith is blind, based on absolutely nothing. Maybe the biggest straw man of all Hitchens' straw man arguments. You have to know something about what you have faith IN, after all, you have to be convinced that the object of your faith is worthy of your trust, so at some point you must have evidence that persuades you of this, and in fact believers often need fresh reminders of God's presence and oversight of our lives to renew our faith. Evidence. But primarily the entire Biblical testimony is evidence, evidence to God's reality, nature and will. God provided enough supernatural evidence to demonstrate His otherness and His power, His judgment and His mercy. Jesus likewise did miracles to prove His claim to be the Messiah. These are our evidence. We believe the witnesses to all these things.

But the atheists scorn the witnesses and destroy the evidence and then claim there is no evidence for what we believe.

The Atheist Inquiry Pt. 3: Evidence

Watching the Book Expo debate with Hitchens and four Christians, 11/12

"Faith is believing things without evidence" says journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, lobbing an atheist grenade from his well-supplied stronghold in his current war on religion. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins also says religion is irrational because there simply is no evidence for the existence of God.

This is a sort of mission I've been on over the last few days to get a grasp of the current arguments for atheism, listening to both Dawkins and Hitchens among others on various videos posted at You Tube, as they present their case against religious belief. I also watched a film clip at Netflix of Jonathan Miller interviewing British philosopher Colin McGinn on the same general subject. These are all not merely atheists, but self-described anti-theists, men who do not merely not believe in God (or anything supernatural), but who actively object to anybody's believing in God, considering faith in God to be a perniciously irrational and dangerous thing.

McGinn says he'd like to be able to believe in God, while Hitchens quite adamantly declares he wouldn't like it one bit, as it would entail being constantly watched and supervised and judged by such a Being. McGinn, in answer to the question how he explains so many others' belief in God, speculates that it is this very quality of religion that is appealing to people, to be in constant communication, not merely through bodily means, but directly mind to mind, answering our essential loneliness in a way communication through the medium of the body simply can't.

I found this to be one of the most insightful remarks anyone has made, and I hope with all my heart that God might show McGinn that his wish that he could believe can become a reality. However, of course this loneliness, this longing for intimate communication, can never be a reason for belief, can't bring about belief -- or probably McGinn himself would now be a believer himself. Believers are no different in that respect -- wishing does not make it so. {A few days later: I just checked McGinn's website and find him going in the other direction, away from God.}
However, I do think that anyone who really does have such a wish, a real yearning for God to be real, is probably already being drawn by Him and will most likely eventually find true faith. Such a person would be a true seeker, investigating all the clues to find out one way or another whether God really is a reality. Casual wishing won't do it, of course, it must lead to diligent seeking. He would encounter all kinds of doubts of the sort atheists take as gospel truth, but he wouldn't just dismiss out of hand any claims for God just because he isn't convinced by them. He would, in short, have some humility toward such claims, respecting those who make them and those who believe them as certainly meaning SOMETHING by them even if he doesn't yet grasp what they could possibly mean. For instance, when Luke and Matthew say that Mary said an angel told her she as a virgin would bear a son by God's miraculous intervention, such a seeker might be made quite nervous over the violation of natural law in such a claim as something he doesn't think he's ever going to believe, but at the same time he would see no reason to call the gospel writer or Mary a liar or a moron and therefore he would have to live for some time without resolving the question. There would be a lot of tension in such a seeking before it would be resolved one way or the other.

The miraculous doings of God in the Exodus. [Side note: Hitchens claims that Israeli archaeology has proved that none of that actually happened. We've been here before. It was once believed that the people called the Hittites didn't exist because archaeology had found no evidence of them. Then they found some evidence of them. And besides, doesn't it violate some basic tenet of science to claim that a LACK of evidence amounts to a positive proof against the existence of something? Not to mention that the Biblical record itself IS evidence and to claim otherwise is irrational. AND that record does NOT read like fiction, fable, human invention at ALL.]

For this reason I don't think purely logical or scientific claims to prove God's existence have much pulling power. Anything that can be determined purely intellectually isn't ultimately going to be of much value in drawing people to God, although of course the Holy Spirit CAN make use of such arguments too. The kinds of claims that are more likely to make a difference are the above).

How one comes to belief is still the question. DOES anyone come to belief without evidence? Is it a totally irrational process, a leap in the dark? Certainly not. I don't think any of us is made that way. It may SEEM that way in certain situations when doubt has been so heaped on the word of God that believing it seems to have no footing at all, but I don't think anyone can genuinely believe in anything by simply deciding to believe it. We DO need evidence, that's the way we're made, though it may not be the kind of evidence science requires, and in many cases we may not be able to articulate our apprehension of the evidence that persuaded us either.

The interviewer on the show The Hour, on which both Hitchens and Dawkins have appeared, answered Dawkins that a believer would no doubt point out in response to the insistence on evidence that if faith were based on evidence then it wouldn't be faith. To which Dawkins replied, yes, but that isn't a point in its favor, is it?

It isn't enough to say that if faith were based on evidence it wouldn't be faith, you have to say that faith IS in itself evidence. As scripture says: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. That makes NO sense until you are born again of the Spirit and then you just find yourself saying Yes Yes Yes to all such strange Biblical conundrums. That's also how I responded to Pascal's Pensees, which I read very soon after becoming a believer. It seemed that everything he said was something that had already been shown me in my own spirit, it was all Yes Yes Yes, and yet I wouldn't have been able to say any of it myself, I simply recognized it when he said it.

Same with all those difficult passages in the Sermon on the Mount that Hitchens finds to be so insanely immoral. They only make sense in the light of the Spirit of God. At least he is true to his fleshly frame of reference. To the unregenerate these commands DON'T make any sense and those who are not Christians who admire them don't know what they are talking about. You CAN'T love your enemy without the power of Christ; you CAN'T rejoice in persecution unless the Holy Spirit is with you. Hitchens is honest in that respect. His finding it all immoral as well as impossible goes further than most do, however, but that too is consistent with the mind of the flesh. Of course we will fight our enemies if we do not understand that it is God's power that works in us to love them instead. It's natural to hate your enemy and resent and flee from persecution; but in Christ we exchange the natural life for the spiritual life, the old man for the new man, the old creation for the new creation, the Adam who brought death for the Christ who brings life. Hitchens would find all this absurd, of course, but he COULD be humble about it and give us the benefit of the doubt instead of pronouncing it all absurd and pronouncing us liars or morons or childish. Being told THIS, however, would probably send him into even greater fits of indignation at the arrogance of anyone to suggest his judgment might be skewed. "I won't be talked to in that tone of voice" he'd say. OK man, have it your way.

But prior to that there is still the question of the evidence that leads one TO faith. What is it that makes you think it might all be true? I can't say there's only one way, but the main way, and in fact the way that fits scripture best, is by simply believing the witnesses. The witnesses IN the scripture, the witnesses who WROTE the scripture. We all eventually have to have this kind of evidence or we will not be Christians at all, but that's the evidence that drew me. I believed what people said about their own experience, and I'm including nonChristians who had supernatural experiences of various kinds, and experiences of what they called God that I came to believe was not God after all, but I believed their description of their experience. Even where I had some such reason to question their understanding I didn't just dismiss their testimony, I kept seeking until I found the witnesses that were the most reliable. The Biblical witnesses are reliable. They report on hundreds of other witnesses' experiences that are also reliable. If you can't believe the Biblical witnesses then you can't believe in Jesus Christ. And those who spend all their energy, as Hitchens does, in tearing down and discrediting the testimony of those witnesses, as delusionals and idiots and morons and so on, just dig themselves deeper into unbelief until they may never have a way out even if they wanted it.

Hitchens thinks more evidence is needed than the Biblical reports. He fails to appreciate the wealth of evidence in those reports. Genuine witness evidence of miraculous things and the mind of God. The Biblical witnesses speak of things that are NOT normal, that's why so MUCH witness testimony to so MANY supernatural events was provided for us. God knows our skeptical hearts. He knows we are blind unless He shows those things to us, shows Himself to us. But, of course, Hitchens and Dawkins aren't interested in knowing Him, they want THEIR idea of evidence and that is that.
John 3:11-12 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

1 John 1:1-2 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)

John 20:29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
But this rapidly becomes pearls to swine when a carnal mind encounters them and refuses to respect them.


Here's a short excerpt of a discussion between atheist Peter Atkins and Christian William Lane Craig on William F. Buckley's show in 1998 where Craig answers the idea that there is nothing science can't explain and that anything taken on faith is erroneous. Atkins actually says that science is "omnipotent."

(Why, by the way, are all these atheists British? Yes, ALL of them, Hitchens, Dawkins, Atkins, McGinn.)


The beauties of the creation. Despite its blasted condition, its deterioration since the Fall, the ravaging of the planet by the worldwide Flood, enough of the original beauty still comes through to stagger us at times. But I must admit that I'm more often impressed by its ruined and battered appearance.

Astronomy: WHERE did the Big Bang happen? It occurred to me to ask this after hearing Hitchens keep bringing it up. I've had in mind for many years this image of the universe as all arranged on the surface of an expanding balloon that I saw somewhere once and if that model is accurate enough then we ought to be able to point to a location in the universe and say it started ... right ... there. But that model doesn't fit the idea that Andromeda is on a collision course with the Milky Way -- In the image I've had in mind all the objects in the universe are flying away from one another. I guess it's more complicated than that. And WAY more complicated than any idea that there was a LOCATION to the Big Bang at all, from which location all things are flying outward. Here's a mystifying description of the current understanding:
The best, non-mathematical description that any cosmologist can create for describing the Big Bang is that it occurred in every cubic centimeter of space in the universe with no unique starting point. In fact, it was an event which our mathematics indicate, actually brought space and time into existence. It did not occur IN space at a particular location, because it created space ( and time itself) as it went along. There may have existed some state 'prior' to the Big Bang, but it is a state not described by its location in time or space. This state preceded the existence of our time and space.
Mathematics mystifies me completely but it's nice to know there are people who can understand it and explain the universe by it.

Oh and I'm pretty sure without completely understanding it myself that William Lane Craig's argument that the Big Bang must have had a cause is a good argument for the existence of God, but all the atheist seems to feel obliged to say to any of our arguments is "poppycock" anyway. Flat denial, no evidence or discussion.

Well, Hitchens and the other atheists have been good for a lot of thoughts about these things. More are crowding in the wings. Maybe I'll get to them later. Again, sorry for the disorderliness of these posts.