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William Lane Craig is widely considered the best Christian apologist living. Hitchens said that before this debate he received emails from fellow atheists, stating, “please don’t let us down.”
Dawkins has thus far refused to debate Craig, stating, “I don’t debate professional debaters.” But Hitchens is always willing to jump in the ring. It’s a long debate, so you’ll probably watch it in bits and chunks. But it’s a good one.
Here’s a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dr. David Berlinski, an admitted secular Jew who does not practice any religion. He does however have advanced degrees in mathematics and philosophy. Hitchens’ reputation is well known.
In this debate, two debate the opposite proposition that Hitchens made in one of his books, that religion poisons everything.
Science of course does not need to compete with God even if God exists. But I’ve decided to begin posting debates between experts on issues of evolution and religion and science in general as it relates to the existence of God. I will try to pick debates that I consider well-argued from both points of view. Keep an open mind.
Also keep in mind, that the person arguing in favor of religion always faces a disadvantage. Afterall, he or she is trying to convince of something unseen. Just as it is easier to convince a man standing in the United States of the US’ existence than it is to prove to him the existence of China while he’s not in that country.
If you haven’t heard, Richard Dawkins has a problem with religion. He says his primary complaint with religion is that it makes people stop asking questions. Dawkins:
Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.
My religion never had this effect on me. In fact, every bit of science that i learn about feels like I am learning something about the character of God. That’s important to me.
It may be the case, and this is only a theory, that science in the modern day falls more in line with Dawkins’ assertion, than does religion, at least in Western countries. And by science I do not mean the scientific process, or empirical, direct evidence. I mean the mere label of science and its effect on the laymen. As long as the headline reads, “Study shows” or “scientists say”, there’s not a whole lot of consideration that goes into whether there are holes in the conclusions. Another problem is that much is lost in the translation between scientific journal and popular media headline. Of course, many times the scientists are correct.
Humans, and thus scientists, are very good at producing tests and using empirical evidence to draw conclusions about specific, short term phenomena. They are not so good at extrapolating these observed phenomena far into the future or the past. Consider a game of chess between world class players. Chess involves no chance, and today’s best players have played so many games and studied chess to such an extent that they know the correct response to all opening moves. But they do not extrapolate dozens of moves into the future as is sometimes believed. They only consider the board as it is in front on them, and perhaps 5 moved ahead. The possibilities become so complicated as a player looks 10-20 moves ahead, that it becomes a waste of precious time, as the clock ticks in professional matches.
And so comes my major problems with the science of global warming and Darwinism: The extrapolations conducted by the most powerful chess minds on the planet are dwarfed by the extrapolations made by evolutionary scientists and global warming theorists. It’s not even close. Besides the obvious problem with looking millions of years into the past through the lens of theory, there are logical problems that are difficult to clear up, in the case of evolution for instance; ie irreducible complexity, the Cambrian Explosion, the problem of speciation etc. Really throwing a wrench into the works are recent studies that show Lamarckian Evolution is real. It seems the sins of the father really are laid upon the children.
These two new studies are unique in that the environmental change that triggers the effect–enrichment or early abuse–occurs before pregnancy. “Give mothers chemicals, and it can affect offspring and the next generation,” says Larry Feig, a neuroscientist at Tufts University School of Medicine, in Boston, who oversaw part of the research. “In this case, [the environmental change] happened way before the mice were even fertile.”
In Feig’s study, mice genetically engineered to have memory problems were raised in an enriched environment–given toys, exercise, and social interaction–for two weeks during adolescence. The animals’ memory improved–an unsurprising finding, given that enrichment has been previously shown to boost brain function. The mice were then returned to normal conditions, where they grew up and had offspring. This next generation of mice also had better memory, despite having the genetic defect and never having been exposed to the enriched environment.
I’m not proposing we cynically disregard everything coming from the world of science. That would be foolish. I am asking that people use their own brains, and look at studies and articles in popular outlets with a critical eye. Scientists do not always adhere to scientific processes or thought. The classic case is outlined in this WSJ article, talking about the collapse of the fat consumption/disease dogma that was prevalent for 6 decades in America. In fact, it seems scientists may have had it exactly wrong. Animal may be good for us. And institutional and political momentum can play a huge role in science: Once a scientist, politician or pundit makes a claim, it’s difficult to go back on the issue. By the time millions of dollars and political capital are spent spreading “the truth”, the damage is done and no one wants to admit that maybe they contributed to damaging people.
But there was no turning back: Too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Dr. Keys’s hypothesis. A bias in its favor had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense. As Harvard nutrition professor Mark Hegsted said in 1977, after successfully persuading the U.S. Senate to recommend Dr. Keys’s diet for the entire nation, the question wasn’t whether Americans should change their diets, but why not? Important benefits could be expected, he argued. And the risks? “None can be identified,” he said.
In fact, even back then, other scientists were warning about the diet’s potential unintended consequences. Today, we are dealing with the reality that these have come to pass.
Then there are the problems inherent in positivism. The economist EF Schumacher explained:
The architects of the modern worldview, notably Galileo and Descartes, assumed that those things that could be weighed, measured, and counted were more true than those that could not be quantified. If it couldn’t be counted, in other words, it didn’t count.
Or Werner Heisennberg, the discoverer of quantum mechanics:
The positivists have a simple solution: the world must be divided into that which we can say clearly and the rest, which we had better pass over in silence. But can any one conceive of a more pointless philosophy, seeing that what we can say clearly amounts to next to nothing? If we omitted all that is unclear we would probably be left with completely uninteresting and trivial tautologies.
In other words, science should be as much concerned, maybe more, with what is hidden, as with what is obvious.
In the case of global warming, I perceive a severe lack of consideration by scientists that there’s a lot they can’t know about what determines climate. These climate scientists boldly state their recordings (some of which they made up, as we know), plug their numbers into their computer models, see that the models don’t get the predictions correct, and then lay a guilt trip on us for questioning “science”. They fail to consider what they have not measured.
Darwin was a great scientist, and not only because of his powers of perception, but because he was an immensely honest man who wanted to see the truth. In his book, The Origin of Speiies, Darwin wrote two entire chapters (chapters 6 and 9) that addressed why he may be wrong. He calls the addressed arguments against his theory, “grave”, or in other words, powerful. Imagine that from Richard Dawkins. I’ve read these chapters, and indeed they are so powerful they actually strengthened my belief that Darwin’s theory is wrong. The foolish thing that many scientists like Dawkins do today, is make their opponents out to be unintelligent people, unthinking idiots. When Darwin synthesized his theory, he presented it to the most prominent biologist in the world at the time, Louis Agassiz of Harvard university. Agassiz is considered one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes him as follows:
Louis Agassiz, (born May 28, 1807, Motier, Switz.—diedDecember 14, 1873, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.), Swiss-born U.S. naturalist, geologist, and teacher who made revolutionary contributions to the study of natural science with landmark work on glacier activity and extinct fishes. He achieved lasting fame through his innovative teaching methods, which altered the character of natural science education in the United States.
Darwin had immense respect for Agassiz and hoped he would back Darwin’s belief. To Darwin’s dismay, Agassiz rejected the theory of evolution.
Every great scientific truth goes through three stages. First, people say it conflicts with the Bible. Next they say it has been discovered before. Lastly they say they always believed it.
Then there is also the recent evidence, discovered by world-renowned Chinese JY Chen. Chen found that the fossil beds from the Cambrian era show that Darwin’s tree of life is upside down. That is, the number of species has not increased; the tree narrows at the top. Many Chinese scientists believe that the fossil record shows a sudden apearrence of complex life without an evolutionary lead-up. When Chen lectured in America on his findings, he asked his sponsor why none of the scientists in the audience asked any questions about how all this impacted Darwinism. His sponsor said it was probably because scientists in America are afraid to question Darwin. Chen responded: “In my country we cannot question the government. In America, you cannot question Darwin.”
The scientism of today is leading to the closing of our minds. In the areas of computer science, math, and engineering, we’re doing very well, because testing theorems in those fields yields immediate feedback. But the name-calling coming from some against alternate theories in biology and climate is really just subterfuge. The name-callers don’t want to debate the facts in many cases. They just want opponents to go away. The accusations that dissent stems from a hatred of science is just not true. Dissent stems from the knowledge that scientists and journalists are human, and that they have biases and are prone to misinterpret data just as are the rest of us.
I like Scott Adams, author and artist of the Dilbert comic strip. his blog posts are insightful, though I often disagree with the angles he takes. For instance, in this post, Adams writes about Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality that momentarily got him suspended from his show, Duck Dynasty.
Adams states that he is “pro-gay” but does not believe the response by other pro-gay people to Robertson’s comments was a consistent response. He writes:
It seems to me that Phil Robertson was born with the brain he has. He didn’t have a choice in the matter. And science is starting to understand that religious folks have different brain structure than non-believers. So how is it fair to belittle Phil for acting in the only way he could, given the brain he has?
Adams supports this argument by stating, that because gays are born gay, they should not hold Robertson responsible for acting in a way consistent with his biology, just as pro-gay people ask others to accept the actions of gays because because gays are born this way.
Adams employs his argument as A priori, that is, he makes little attempt to prove that gays are born that way, or that Robertson is born believing that homosexuality is a sin other than to point out that almost all modern people believe homosexuals are born homosexuals and that studies on the brains of religious people shows that their brains are different. Indeed, there are studies that show people who meditate or pray may have differences in their brain.
But Adams misses the point entirely, it seems, after reading the results of those studies. What the studies seem to show, is that meditation in prayer change the brain, it is not the A priori structure of the organic tissue that caused meditation or prayer. He puts the cart before the horse, which I have increasingly noticed to be a habit of scientifically predisposed liberals, of which Adams is one. Adams’ argument is much like saying that someone lifts weights because they are strong. Now, at elite levels, or in highly specialized arenas, there is some truth to this notion. For instance, Olympic athletes are not only very adept at what they do because they are Olympians, they in fact showed an extraordinary talent in their early years which incentivized the activity. The best gymnasts are not only strong because they are gymnasts, but they are likely great gymnasts because they received the positive feedback of success against others of similar experience early in their careers. This is called the self-selection bias. People like to do things in which they can be successful. Thus it could be argued that certain organic traits in a person’s brain may involved in the person’s religiosity, especially if the person showed great insight of religious nature, such as Martin Luther, or Thomas Aquinas. They could be rightfully termed religious prodigies. And homosexuals may have attributes not directly related to sexuality that predispose them to being gay. But this does not mean genetics is destiny.
Another hole in Adams’ reasoning is that he must willfully ignore the fact that some nations and cultures show higher levels of religiosity than others. Pakistan and Afghanistan for instance are much more religious than Canada. Are we to believe that the people in Pakistan have distinctly different brains than the people in Canada? Also, in the past, humans were generally more religious than they are now. Did our brains change so dramatically in a matter of 100 years? These are rhetorical questions to which nearly everyone knows the answer. And the same argument must be made for homosexuality. If homosexuality is innate, why did almost all ancient Greeks practice it to some degree?
And just as with the studies on the religious brain, we must consider that homosexuality may change the human brain, Ex-post facto. Even if defining differences are discovered between homosexual and heterosexual brains, are the structural differences the cause or the result of homosexual thoughts and actions? We know the human brain is very plastic, its organic structures very susceptible to outside influence.
And this brings us to an even deeper question: What is the First Cause of thought? The purely materialistic view states that thought is nothing more than microscopic movement of matter, in ways poorly, but generally understood. However, the observed science seems to contradict this. If thinking can change the organic structure of the brain, how can the organic structure be the cause of the thought? What, at this very moment caused you to reach for your coffee cup, change the channel, stand up? It could not be a random impulse, otherwise our daily life would have no order. So, it seems to me, the First Cause lay deeper than the material, in a sort of spiritual realm.
But are we a Tabula Rasa, a blank slate upon which the external world, though training, rhetoric and dogma can elicit from us any response it likes? I do not believe we are. We obviously possess some innate inner qualities. I am often amazed at the things my three year old daughter knows without really having been taught these things. For instance, I have noticed that she knows what is “scary”, and thus evil or bad, in some cartoons, even though to my knowledge she had no way of being taught that such things were supposed to be evil. Some studies show that children have a general idea of good and bad from a very young age.
An easy solution to the question of Tabula Rasa, is that humans have many general inborn traits, but that any of them can be subdued through training, culture, or other factors, for good or bad. Just as all humans get hungry after going for a time without food, all humans can to varying degrees, stave off the act of eating through acts of will.
Without a vision of God, the people run amok. ~Proverbs 29:18
My friend, Bill, recently posted a comment in which he states:
FWIW, you have changed my mind on more than a few things, and one that I was very resolute about. I still have trouble digesting the emphasis on God in your posts though, not on an individual level but in it’s relation to society. It honestly seems like exactly the opposite of a position you’d hold so I’m missing something. Would love to discuss further some time 😉
This presents a very complicated issue, one that will require more extensive thinking and planning than are needed for most blog posts. I’ve thought about this what a post explaining my stance would entail, and felt that I perhaps would be too lazy to properly express myself, or perhaps merely incapable of doing so. My response could take a book, and there are many books written that would far surpass anything I could put down that would enunciate why I think that without God, society goes mad. Even as those who note society’s growing madness cannot fully grasp why this is happening. They still grasp at materialist reasons.
Several years ago, I gravitated toward Existentialism , not in a deliberate manner, not in a seeking for some “ism” to satisfy Man’s inherent need for meaning, though existentialism speaks primarily of Man’s need for meaning. The need for meaning is at Man’s core–without it he falls into madness, despair, self-destructive behavior, and loses almost all ability to examine himself. He becomes a ship without a compass, floating on a sea with no islands and no shores. His ship is quickly running out of food and drink. Even when I read of anti-theist movements like Bolshevism, there is the need for a driving force, a cause, a need to get up in the morning, for energy and drive.
Many who’ve read my writings or who’ve had cursory political conversations with me may believe that I am an ultra righter-winger, with no sympathy for the root of socialist or Communist thought. They would be wrong. My family on both sides was blue collar through and through. Welders, wood cutters, mill workers, union members. I know how tough physical labor is; I’ve done it myself on many occasions throughout my life, and I hated it; it was so boring all I could think of was the end of the day. Marx speaks to me at several levels. He talks about how the proletariat’s work is boring and provides only enough money to scrape by. Though I’d argue that my blue collar family did better than Marx would have predicted. My father, as a mill worker and welder, and my uncle as a boiler-maker, another uncle as a commercial fisherman, did quite well. The Communists and Socialists for the 40 hour work week and 8 hour days. People in Britain during the Industrial Revolution used to have to work 10-16 hours a day, 6 days a week. Believe it or not, being in the US Army made me more sympathetic to Marx, not less. I’ve seen how some managers and leaders will work people to death to make themselves look good, with almost no thought for others as human beings. On the other hand the Army has many traits inherent to a Socialist society, and these too create many problems. But in truth, I consider the US military to be one of the most un-American organizations in America. It removes too much choice, freedom of thought and audacity. It suffers its own consequences.
The people who fought for justice for workers should be commended. There is a tendency toward increasing efficiency in any business, and often this results in people being treated as mere commodities. But not always, and I would argue that business can get more out of people and attract better people by treating them well.
One of the problems with the Manichean universe of Socialist/Capitalist conflict, is the belief that material needs are the basis for happiness. The Communists want us to believe that money is evil, and yet in many cases it is them who want the poor to have more money. It is they who primarily argue that money and the material comforts that it brings is what makes life bearable. Both Capitalists and Socialists argue almost the same thing. Almost. The big difference is that most free-market capitalists argue for freedom, that people should be free to get as rich as they please. It does not necessarily make a person evil to do so. Our nation is founded on basic freedoms, agreed upon in the Bill of Rights.
Even more important to me, is that Communism’s root is atheism. Communism expresses that Man’s only salvation is through materials, the exact thing that Marx explicitly railed against, but then built an ingenious argument for. Communists and their softer cousins, Progressives, expect too much from this life. The more you expect from this life, the more you will come to hate it. The more you come to find joy in small things, the more joy will be imparted to you.
Of all writers, perhaps Dostoevsky understood Man’s conundrum the best.
And so I seek a deeper meaning for myself and Mankind. Shredding all the money in the world, as the Communists want, will not bring nobility or contentment to humans. When I read the writings of the old Communists, Lenin, Mao, Marx, I’m astounded how men of such genius and energy could be so blind. Where did they get their energy? How could 75 years of hard living on this Earth give them enough motivation to fight so hard for something so transient? Where could they find the raw energy to commit such sustained atrocity, and to write with such power?
When humans drift away from the deeper meaning of existence, they almost always fall into self-destructive cycles. The West is abandoning God. The message is that only the uneducated and unthinking believe in God. And yet the further we drift from God, the more uneducated and unthinking we become. Our depravity, fed from an infinite well in a meaningless universe, was its own end. The message fed to us has been that freedom from God was the key to happiness. Much or our “art” is a celebration of our basest instincts, a celebration of historically aberrant behavior, drug use, arrogance, hate, raw sexuality, the pointless accumulation of money and trinkets.
Marx’ opening statement in The Communist Manifesto rings true, but it is not complete:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
In truth, all men have striven for meaning. Take away God and provide Man with only raw materialism, and we find that what Whitaker Chamber’s said presents a much fuller picture of human history:
“Man without mysticism is a monster”
And so, since the powerful motivator of “The Cause” the ideologies like Communism provided men like Lenin has been replaced by vacuous nihilism. Without an external materialistic philosophy to drive him, Man turns from killing one another and turns to killing himself. But what proof do I have? Aren’t Americans more comfortable than ever? Maybe, but are they happier? Look at these statistics and decide for yourself:
- Illegitimacy in the US, since 1960, has risen from 5 percent to 41 percent.
- From 1960 to 1990, teen suicide rates tripled.
- Violent crime from 1960 to 1992-murder-rape-assault, increased by 550 percent.
- America imprisons more people than any country in the history of the world. We have to, to keep the monsters we have created from destroying the monsters of the future. 2.3 million people are in American prisons. Countries like Britain who’ve refused to throw people in jail at such a high rate have suffered the consequences: Britain has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world.
- SAT scores in America have been dropping for decades.
- “One in 10 Americans now takes an antidepressant medication; among women in their 40s and 50s, the figure is one in four.”
- Suicide in the military has skyrocketed; nothing the military has done to try to stem this has slowed the rates of self-inflicted death. And nothing will because the problem is spiritual not based in materialism.
- Western civilizations do not produce at a rate which will sustain them. While this says nothing of the truth of Christianity, it does hint that societies who at least think children are important enough to birth may be the societies that rule the Earth in 100 years. You may believe this is a good thing. Until you realize that young people are the ones who sustain the elderly in democratic-socialist societies such as our own.
How are we better off? Are we a more or less religious people than we were through the 30s, 40s and 50s? We are in very concrete ways, more violent, depressed, and stupid. What more measurement could we ask for to prove our decline? The first challenge of doomsayers such as myself, is not to convince of the correct medicine for our sickness, but to convince people we are sick at all. If the demise of civilization were apparent to everyone, it would never happen. But as TS Eliot noted, it’s not with a bang, but a whimper that we die.
Beyond the scientific facts is my personal anecdote. And in the true existentialist tradition, anecdote is important to me. It is important to everyone, even the most rational among us. Nobody lives his life day to day on scientific experiment. We know that getting hit by cars is bad for us, not based on Newtonian physics, but because we heard of someone else dying when they were struck by a car. And our parents told us not to play in the road. in my own experience, people now are indeed dumber, coarser, less able to see themselves as the world sees them. Lacking manners of the faintest sort, they are loud, base, uttering curse works in virtually every sentence. Many are unable to write a clear sentence, gravitate toward the most brutal and meaningless of music and cinema. If you want to know where a society is headed, look at its art. This brutal music is not admired despite its barbarity and coarseness, but because of it. Many celebrate the worst traits in humans, while scoffing at nobility.
Why all people in Western Society, even Christians, must face Nietzsche
Nietzsche predicted the downfall of the West. He declared:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
Nietzsche, one of the few truth-tellers of the modern age. He is of the same blood line as Dostoevsky. Nietzsche’s answer to the idea that God is dead and that we killed him with unbelief, is the construction of the Ubermensch , a human beyond the cares imposed on humanity by the inevitability of death. To the Ubermensch, death, troubles, pain, mean nothing. The Ubermensch is able to find meaning in his life despite all of this. To Nietzsche, that is the only way to avoid utter despair and the logical conclusion of self-destruction: To become so strong psychologically, that none of it matters.
And that is why I, a Christian, still admire Nietzsche. He didn’t smooth things over for the atheists. He told them exactly what kind of world they would create. It would be a world, “beyond good and evil”, that is, evil. The classic Christian ethics would be tossed aside, and human psychology would be reduced to physiology.
And who has suffered first and foremost in our post-Nietzschean world? The intellectual elites in our universities, the libertine millionaires in Hollywood? No, it is the underclass. Our destruction is truly a grassroots movement. There was a time in America when being poor was not synonymous with slovenly, greedy, thieving, bitter, uncaring, leading an unexamined life. I grew up poor and it was none of these things. There were of course exceptions, but now in many cases being poor is the direct result of a criminal mind. And where did the criminal mind come from? It is the brood of a godless world. Unable to examine itself, a brute child who knows only the satisfaction and existence of its own passions.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. The slide to the bottom will not be instantaneous, but we have begun the journey. The statistics that I posted above are but a small fraction of the facts displayed in several books that show where we are going. To some people, this decline will not be so apparent. America and Europe are, after all, not monolithic entities. Pockets of noble humans remain. But even in many of these pockets, these noble humans have forgotten their Christian birthright. And each generation’s memory lapses more. And so, our society is not yet Somalia, but it is draining its well. As GK Chesterson stated:
The modern world, with its modern movements, is living on its Catholic capital. It is using, and using up, the truths that remain to it out of the old treasury of Christendom.
Make no mistake, the pale horse coming is not at a full battle gallop, but trots slowly at the horizon. Ask yourself, if America were to decline and fall, what would it look like, if not exactly what it looks like now when compared to our past?
We must understand, that in this predominately agnostic society we created, we also created people who must do one of two things:
- Ignore the fact that all humans die, and that our life on this Earth means nothing without the hereafter. 75 years is the mathematical equivalent of zero when juxtaposed with infinity. Any number is zero when compared to infinity.
- People who acknowledge the meaninglessness of a life and thus intentionally subscribe to nihilism and destructive though immediately satisfying behavior. I myself would do heroine if I thought there was nothing beyond this life.
All societies that have tried to create an Ubermensch-by any other name- have brought almost unimaginable horror to mankind. The Nazis were directly influenced by Nietzsche. The Communists attempted a humanist utopia made of men who lived beyond the natural needs and desires of humans. The mountains of corpses generated from these societies are a lesson that the atheists of our day try to sweep away with their postmodern cynicism.
In ending, my thesis is that our society is disintegrating in very concrete ways. And why is this? Because we no longer have a reason to live, to do good…to even try.