March 18, 2009

Whose Miracle?

Posted in Atheism, Personal Experiences tagged , at 10:04 am by Andrew

Over at Evangelical Realism (a great site), Deacon Duncan poses a great question to theists that seems a propos of the recent elf-discussions here:

[A] guy is suddenly decapitated and lies dead on the ground, and an hour later his head magically re-attaches itself to his neck, all his wounds are healed, his spilled blood is replenished, and he walks away unharmed. This time, however, a whole crowd of people shows up to pray for him. Some Catholics are there praying to various saints. The Buddhist monk is there praying to Buddha. Muslims show up and pray to Allah. Mormons show up and pray to a polytheistic Jesus. Pentecostals show up and pray to the Holy Spirit. Asians show up praying to their ancestors. There’s even a few neo-pagans praying to various members of the old pantheons.

Now, the guy gets up and walks away, and each of the pray-ers want to claim their God or god or saint or spirit is responsible. Which of them has a reasonable basis for claiming that it was their deity/entity, and no one else’s, that worked the miracle?

So far, no theists have replied. So, to my Christian readers: what do you think? Do you have a reasonable basis for claiming that it was God, Jesus, the saints or the Holy Spirit (depending on your denomination of Christianity) that worked the miracle?  More importantly:  how would you disprove the identical claims of followers of other faiths?


March 5, 2009

Why The “Minimal Facts” Model is Unpersuasive

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism tagged , , , , , , , , at 3:35 pm by Andrew

This post continues a thread over at Victor Reppert’s Dangerous Idea on what seems to be an increasingly common apologetic tactic designed to assert the historicity of Jesus Christ’s resurrection (and from there, assert the truth of Christianity).

As far as I can tell, this argument originates with Gary Habermas’ book Historical Jesus; what appears to be a straightforward summary from a Christian source can be found here. (UPDATE: epologetics seems to be down at the moment; here’s another site. You can also download a podcast of Gary Habermas explaining his argument on the Infidel Guy show.)
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February 20, 2009


Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, The Bible, Worldview tagged , , , , , , at 2:20 pm by Andrew

During the last 20 minutes of last week’s episode of The Atheist Experience — a consistently outstanding show, if you haven’t seen it — a fellow named Matt Slick from CARM (a Christian apologetics website) called in to the show armed with his presuppositional Transcendental Argument for God (“TAG”).

Let’s take a look at the underlying arguments.
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February 11, 2009


Posted in Atheism, Worldview tagged , , , , at 1:30 pm by Andrew

4. Atheism is Not a “Worldview.”

This post summarizes the fourth set of answers to potential objections to my Summary Case for Atheism, in which some Christians argue that it is reasonable to believe that non-material things exist. In many cases, this argument is extended to include the claim that atheists subscribe to a “worldview” that arbitrarily excludes the supernatural.

I contend that a) atheism isn’t a worldview, and b) that my arguments survive the shared worldview both of the atheist and the theist. My ongoing, in-depth analysis of these sets of responses is permalinked to the right and can be found here.

Atheism is not a worldview, and does not entail hardcore materialism. This is such a basic issue that I’m surprised the “worldview” argument has taken such hold in contemporary apologetics.

As Wikipedia helpfully tells us, a “worldview” is defined as one’s comprehensive framework for evaluating the world, including theories of why we are here, where we’re going, how to get there, how to behave, and so on.

On face, then, atheism cannot be a worldview, because different atheists have different answers to those questions! In terms of ethics alone, we know that some atheists are Randians; some are Bethamite utilitarians; some follow more closely to John Stuart Mill; some are even Kantians. Many atheists follow Hume’s theory of epistemology, but many others do not. And so on. If atheism does not provide a single answer to these fundamental questions, it cannot be a worldview, by definition!

I think many Christians want to label atheism a worldview as part of a chain of argumentation that goes something like this: atheism means hardcore materialism, and hardcore materialism is self-contradictory; therefore, atheism is self-contradictory.

But, of course, nothing in atheism mandates hardcore materialism. At most, atheists believe in methodological naturalism, which says (roughly) that empirical claims require empirical evidence. (All of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, share this limited aspect of “worldview” — otherwise, we’d be awash in a sea of credulity.)

Contrary to the arguments of some Christians, nothing in this limited methodological naturalism rules out the supernatural a priori. Consider, for example, J.B. Rhine’s parapsychology experiments at Duke beginning in the 1930s with Zener cards and the like. (These experiments are parodied in the opening scene of Ghostbusters.)

Now as it turns out, Rhine’s studies were inconclusive at best (and in many cases, faked), but *had* they revealed statistical evidence for ESP, atheists would have had to take those results seriously using the principles of methodological naturalism. Similarly, double-blind efficacy-of-prayer studies seem to me to be a good way to test for the supernatural; it’s just that — like ESP — all of those studies to date have either been inconclusive or faked.

In other words, methodological naturalism contains no inherent bias against miracles.

Finally, Christians sometimes contend that other non-material things “exist” — like mathematics, love, morality, and the like. My short response is that these things exist as abstractions, as contingent upon the human mind. For example, we can arguably say that “five” exists — but only because we can either rationally comprehend “five” as a component of pure mathematics or because we can count out five apples, five puppies, and the like.

Note that this limited claim is, in turn, contingent on empirical verification. For example: it would obviously make no sense to claim that “five” exists, but that it was simultaneously impossible to tell if a pen full of puppies contained five, or fifty, or five million puppies. Similarly, “love” may be an abstraction, but it too manifests itself to our senses, both electrochemically in the brain and in terms of extrinsic behavior.

If someone wants to claim that God exists in the limited, contingent way that “five” or “love” exist — as an abstraction or a human mental concept — then I don’t disagree with them. But that is not Christianity.

I thus conclude that the fourth and final set of objections against my general case for atheism are not sufficient to warrant belief in God. My in-depth, updated (and lengthier) discussion of this issue can be found here.