Sunday, August 28, 2016

Biblical Criticism

Atheist: I used to love Gleason Archer's Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Now they also have The Big Book of Bible Difficulties by Norman Geisler. This is what I call the hermeneutical song and exegetical dance. I picture Richard Gere in the movie Chicago doing the tap dance. That's a good analogy to what these books are. The alternative model, that the Bible is errant and is not divinely inspired, written by several authors, each with their agenda, inspired by their culture, beliefs and superstitions, is a far more plausible explanation.

Me: (1) Do words have meaning? (2) Did the authors of the Bible simply assemble a collection of words with no apparent purpose or do the passages in question have an objectively discoverable purpose?

Your English teachers from high school taught you wrong. Not all interpretations are equally good, and truth isn't relative to each person. Some interpretations are right and some interpretations are wrong. All you're saying is that it's possible for someone to interpret the Bible as an incoherent mess. So what? Seriously, why should I care that someone found out how to interpret the Bible in a stupid manner? I'm sorry, but the fact that this is possible isn't shocking or new to anybody in the Evangelical community. We all know about Julius Wellhausen and the documentary hypothesis (which is only one of three alternative hypotheses to the traditional authorship to the Pentateuch, the other two being the supplementary hypothesis and fragmentary hypothesis), and just because it's possible to interpret the Pentateuch in this way doesn't mean it's the correct interpretation (as the existence of competing hypotheses in higher criticism shows).

If you decided to study a real humanities discipline in university, like the classics (i.e. Greek and Latin literature), you would know that the "reader response" theory of interpretation very quickly will make you a laughingstock among your colleagues and professors.

Another thing you would learn if you studied a real humanities disciple is that you always interpret any work in the most charitable manner possible. Your dismissal of any attempt to discover original purpose to the biblical canon as nonsense is extremely uncharitable and would not be accepted in academia.

On a tangential note: at the turn of the 19th century, inspired by positivism and Wittgenstein's sentiment that all truth is merely a culturally-defined language game, a group of artists decided to take this to its logical conclusion and produce anti-art. You see, in the artists' mind, their ability to produce garbage and say its art somehow proved that art was just culturally defined and that there is no such thing as objective beauty and excellence, so it went in their twisted thinking. But their reasoning is unsound. Their ability to betray the standard of art doesn't prove that art is meaningless, it just proved that they betrayed the standard. And your ability to disbelieve the truth doesn't disprove truth, it only proves that you disbelieve it. 

"If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is." (II Timothy 2:13)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Analyzing Richard Dawkins on Why He Refuses to Believe in God

On The Poached Egg, a feed of Christian apologetic articles, one came up asking famous living atheists why they did not believe in God. Both because of the notoriety of its author and its acerbic tone (even compared to the responses from other atheists), Richard Dawkins's antiapology was especially salient, so I will be breaking it down (that's what the word "analyze" means, by the way) piecewise interspersing it with my comments.
I don't believe in leprechauns, pixies, werewolves, jujus, Thor, Poseidon, Yahweh, Allah or the Trinity. For the same reason in every case: there is not the tiniest shred of evidence for any of them, and the burden of proof rests with those who wish to believe.
When Dawkins says "not the tiniest shred of evidence for any of them," the first question we should ask is whether he's talking about evidence in the sense of objective epistemology or evidence in the sense of subjective epistemology. The difference between objective and subjective epistemologies is best illustrated in a joke I read at Facebook (the good jokes always make you laugh, then make you think):

Teacher: Why don't you participate in my class? You might learn something new.
Student: You're teaching history. There's nothing new in it.

The teacher is using "new" in the sense of the subjective epistemology of the student, while the student is using "new" in the sense of the objective epistemology of surviving information found in documentation. Richard Dawkins is equivocating the two, making it unclear if he is talking about what he knows with regard to evidence of God or whether there is any possible justification for God's existence. Unfortunately, reading from Dawkins's other comments made in the past does little to clarify what sense he is using the word "evidence," as he sometimes takes the strong atheist position that God definitely cannot exist to the subjective epistemological claim that he's really unsure if God exists. If I were forced to make a judgment, I would say that he is using "evidence" in the sense of subjective epistemology in this case.
Even given no evidence for specific gods, could we make a case for some unspecified "intelligent designer" or "prime mover" or begetter of "something rather than nothing"? By far the most appealing version of this argument is the biological one - living things do present a powerful illusion of design. But that is the very version that Darwin destroyed.
Dawkins begins his response with an "intelligent designer" (alluding to Paley's formulation of the teleological argument for God's existence) then changes it to a "prime mover" (alluding to Aquinas's First Way) and then changes once more to the begetter of "something rather than nothing" (alluding to Leibniz's Contingency Argument). Dawkins appears to recognize the difference between the teleological argument from the rest [a few sentences later he confuses the teleological designer with the first cause] but later on seems to confuse Aquinas's First Way with Leibniz's Contingency Argument. I do not know if he even realizes how different the two arguments are, both of them relying on two very different philosophical principles (the first being the Aristotelian conception of efficient causation, while the second being the principle of sufficient reason).
Any theist who appeals to "design" of living creatures simply betrays his ignorance of biology. Go away and read a book. 
Even if evolution (in the strongest form of universal common descent) were true, the formal structure of living creatures demands a formal cause. It cannot be the case that all teleology and all information are merely epiphenomena resulting from humans's ape-brain meatware being programmed to view things in terms of teleology and "structure," even if structure doesn't exist (such as how often naive humans are taken aback by the presence of true randomness). To take such a view entails eliminative materialism, which undermines reason itself. The formal structure that emerges from natural selection still demands a formal cause, which no atheistic evolutionist has ever supplied, preferring instead to take the view of eliminative materialism.
And any theist who appeals to biblical evidence betrays his ignorance of modern scholarship. Go away and read another book.
Secular Biblical scholarship has no unified counterthesis to the supernatural nature of the Bible, especially with regard to the New Testament, but also applying for the most part to how the analyze the Old Testament. Some skeptics say that Jesus was a magician because of the inclusion of Aramaic magic phrases in the Gospel of Mark, while simultaneously claiming that Jesus was actually trying to hide his divinity (but these are contradictory). Some skeptics say that Mark was the earliest gospel because it has no resurrection accounts, while simultaneously claiming that because of the bereavement vision hypothesis of the resurrection that therefore the bereavement accounts must have been in the original (which would put either Matthew or Luke as the earliest gospel). There's no unified thesis or explanation behind gospel skepticism, so we can immediately know that there's no intellectually honest basis for gospel skepticism.

Even with regard to the Old Testament, there are only three things that scholars agree upon, which is that Genesis 1-12 are fiction, the Book of Daniel was pseudepigraphical and written during the Hellenistic Era, and that Isaiah had more than one author and that the first author definitely didn't write the bit containing Cyrus the Great. Everything else is a potpourri of contradictory and trendy theories put forward by academics wanting to get an "original" view in a publishing system that awards "original" publication to the detriment of either quality or logical consistency.
As for the cosmological argument, whose God goes under names such as Prime Mover or First Cause, the physicists are closing in, with spellbinding results. Even if there remain unanswered questions - where do the fundamental laws and constants of physics come from? - obviously it cannot help to postulate a designer whose existence poses bigger questions than he purports to solve.
That an explanation raises bigger questions is not a problem for scientific research. Many theories raise bigger questions than they purport to solve. Otherwise Evolutionary Biology would have to be considered a pseudoscientific endeavor (for the record, Dawkins is technically an entomologist not an evolutionary biologist).

Also here he conflates the teleological designer with the first cause, without giving any justification as to why it is logically valid for him to switch between the two.
If science fails, our best hope is to build a better science. The answer will lie neither in theology nor - its exact equivalent - reading tea leaves.
This is a rehash of the failed promises of positivism made during the 19th century. His optimism for the death of metaphysics is so outdated and benighted that it is almost cringeworthy.
In any case, it is a fatuously illogical jump from deistic Unmoved Mover to Christian Trinity,
The Unmoved Mover is not mutually exclusive with the Christian Trinity, which makes Dawkins guilty of posing a false dilemma here (although by insinuation, just like how one saying that "Hitler was against smoking" is clearly insinuating something bad about opposition to smoking).
with the Son being tortured and murdered because the Father, for all his omniscience and omnipotence, couldn't think of a better way to forgive "sin".
Dawkins is now just being emotional. There's not even a claim or a proposition here to rebut. So I have no comment.
Equally unconvincing are those who believe because it comforts them (why should truth be consoling?) or because it "feels right".
This is the first and only statement Dawkins makes in the whole tirade which is rational, justified, and accurately corresponds to reality.
Cherie Blair ["I'm a believer", New Statesman, 18 April] may stand for the "feels right" brigade. She bases her belief on "an understanding of something that my head cannot explain but my heart knows to be true".
While this obviously isn't justification, it's not clear that Cherie Blair is being accurately represented here. Almost every piece of scientific and mathematical research begins with intuition, with formal and rigorous justification being the very last step of an idea's journey to becoming knowledge. Dawkins appears to insinuate that if a belief's path of discovery isn't exactly the same as its path of justification, then it is not worth the paper it's written on. And that's just not true.
She aspires to be a judge. M'lud, I cannot provide the evidence you require. My head cannot explain why, but my heart knows it to be true. Why is religion immune from the critical standards that we apply not just in courts of law, but in every other sphere of life?
Most ironic of all of Dawkins's pronouncements is this one, because the process most successful and paradigm-shifting scientists have underwent almost always starts with an intuitive feeling similar to that of Blair's. So Blair is, in fact, using the same process with religion that a scientist would use in developing a theory, or a detective would use in searching for evidence, or any other sphere of life. He further insinuates Blair's position with that of justification, which Blair never claimed to espouse but he nonetheless keeps attacking (thereby putting words in her mouth).

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The "Just One God Further" Objection

In my previous post, I wrote about the Occam's razor objection to God's existence, and how it does not logically follow if the theist rejoins with the principle of sufficient reason. Another atheistic argument that is closely related to the Occam's razor objection doesn't have a formal name, but many (including yours truly) simply refer to it as the "just one god further" objection. It goes something like this:
You don't think there's any evidence for the existence of the Greek gods, or the Hindu pantheon. I just take it one god further.
The skeptic in this case is implicitly arguing that monotheism is really just a proto-atheism, and that a consistent theistic worldview requires a primitive polytheistic conception, so atheism is just the logical next step of monotheism. However, much to the skeptic's chagrin, if one defines monotheism properly and studies how polytheistic societies (such as Ancient Greece) conceived of polytheism, one comes to the conclusion that it is atheism which is more similar to polytheism than monotheism.

The unique idea shared by all monotheists, from Aristotle to the Jews, is that there is at least one entity which is completely sovereign over all natural phenomena. From the fact that this entity is completely sovereign, it follows that this entity is unique and one. So monotheism is, at its very core, a statement about sovereignty of God, and in fact this concept of sovereignty is so essential to monotheism that God is defined to be the unique absolute sovereign over all of creation. No sovereignty, no God.

But is this how polytheistic societies viewed their gods? First of all, the very concept of an absolute sovereign demands a unique sovereign, otherwise there cannot be said to exist a true sovereign. So right away we know that sovereignty is inconsistent with the core thesis of polytheism. But historical evidence regarding the doxastic content of polytheistic societies corroborates this. In Ancient Greece, the gods were a feature of reality, but the true origin of creation was the primordial chaos. So the gods existed in the same way the planets and the animals existed, as a feature in the backdrop of reality, but in no way sovereign over it. In fact, if one compares the idea of the primordial chaos and how contemporary atheists conceive of the universe, one actually sees that Ancient Greece had a worldview that's more similar to contemporary atheism.

I, by the way, am not the first person to notice this. One highly intelligent atheist whom I dialogued with has said that even though both monotheism and polytheism are irrational, polytheism is slightly less irrational than monotheism, as it is more consistent with a naturalistic universe than monotheism is. So this rejoiner