Friday, June 28, 2013

Darwin's Doubt: six prejudices.

I love the smell of bombast in early summer! 

Flame wars between Darwinists and fans of Intelligent Design seem to be one way God teaches America science.  So with Steve Meyer's new book, Darwin's Doubt, now off the presses, it is the season in which the kings go to war.  Bombast rises like a smoke screen over the field of battle, lame and wounded arguments limp slowly to the rear, and explosions of high-octane vitriol are beginning to split the evening air.  It is hard to tell, under the fog of war, who is advancing, and who retreating. 

Especially since I haven't pressed the "Proceed to Checkout" button, yet. 

But here are a few of my prejudices, since you can't find those anywhere else on the Internet (heh):

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Are there atheists on mountains in New Guinea?

I'm reading EO Wilson's autobiography, Naturalist.  He's a wonderful writer.  A decided atheist, but
then he looses this passage, from New Guinea.  It is so beautiful, I just thought I'd share it, without any commentary or argument on my part:

A day's walk farther south, the two rivers converge to form the greater Mongi, which runs on to the sea at Butala.  As  I strolled back at dusk one day at the end of one of my final excursions, I watched the clouds clear over the entire Bulum Valley below me.  I could then see unbroken forest rolling down to the river and beyond for fifteen kilometers to the lower slopes of the Rawlinson Range.  All that domain was bathed in an aquamarine haze, whose filtered light turned the valley into what seemed to be a vast ocean pool.  At the river's edge 300 meters below, a flock of sulfur-crested cockatoos circled in lazy flight over the treetops like brilliant white fish following bottom currents.  Their cries and the faint roar of the distant river were the only sounds I could hear.  My tenuous thoughts on evolution, about which I have felt such enthusiasm, were diminished in the presence of sublimity.  I could remember the command on the fourth day of Creation, 'Let the waters teem with countless living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of heaven.' (191-2)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Deconstructing Inanity: John Loftus runs out of arguments.

Because we Christians have "stunted imaginations," as atheist John Loftus informs us, we often turn to our critics to find arguments for our faith.  This is one valuable service sites like Loftus' own Deconstructing Christianity have sometimes provided.  (Along with the thrill Churchill described of being shot at without effect, and [for new apologists] the sort of practice a lioness gives her cubs in taking down wounded game.)   DC has, in the past, offered at least one interesting argument against Christianity, which properly understood turned out to be an argument for Christianity.  That was John's famous Outsider Test for Faith, which I deconstruct, then reconstruct, in the present edition of Touchstone Magazine, and in a chapter of the forthcoming True Reason.  (Though despite my lack of imagination, I anticipated the argument in Jesus and the Religions of Man (2000), as did G. K. Chesterton in Everlasting Man long before.)

But lately, even after taking on several co-writers, and despite all the imagination their skepticism lends them, Loftus and Co can't seem to think of any real arguments.  They have taken, instead, to posting pictures of criminals who work in churches, scoffing at the sins of Sampson, which needless to say have been picked over before, calling philosopher Alvin Plantinga (of all people) "stupid," and reminding Christians of our want of imagination!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Followers of Jesus who saved / messed up Planet Earth?

I'm composing two lists, one of people who were inspired by Jesus to change the world enormously for the better.  The second is of people who were inspired by Jesus to change the world enormously for the worse. 

Here's my preliminary "help" list, including several suggestions from people on another web site where I asked the first (but not second) question:

A.  People who were inspired by Jesus to change the world for the better in a serious way:
(Saint) Alcuin; (King) Alfred; (Saint) Ambrose; Benigno Aquino; (Saint) Augustine; Bach; (Saint) Benedict; Francis Bacon; Roger Bacon; Bartelome (Des Las Casas); William and Catherine Booth; Rudy Bridges; Robert Boyle; John Bunyan; Jean Buridan; John Calvin; William Carey; Clement (of Alexandria); Charles Colson (second career); Copernicus; Dante; Fyodor Dostoevsky; Jean-Henri Dunant (Red Cross); Michael Faraday; Francis (of Assisi); Millard Fuller (Habitat for Humanity); Mohandas Gandhi; Wilhelm Grimm; Robert Grosseteste; Hans Hague; George Handel; Paul Hewson (Bono); Justin (Martyr); Johannes Kepler; John Paul II; Martin Luther King; Benjamin Lay; C. S. Lewis; David Livingstone; Martin Luther; Lin Yutang; John Milton; George Muller; Nelson Mandela; Isaac Newton; Blaise Pascal; (Saint) Patrick; William Penn; Jackie Pullinger; Mateo Ricci; Pandita Rumabai; Ram Mohan Roy; Mary Slessor; Alexander Solzhenitsyn; Sun Yat-sen; Hudson Taylor; (Mother) Theresa; J. R. R. Tolkien; Leo Tolstoy; Cameron Townsend; Alessandro Volta; Lech Walensa; William Wilberforce; Richard Wurmbrand; John Wycliffe; Xi Shengmo.
B. People who were inspired by Jesus to mess up the world in a serious way:
I just thought of this question, and am now taking suggestions for both.  Bare in mind that the criteria are (1) people inspired by Jesus in important and relevant ways, whether or not they were Christians (2) who changed the world in important ways (3) deriving from that inspiration. 

Adam Lee spin-doctors abolition

What is the relationship between Christianity, slavery, and abolition?  In The Truth Behind the New
Atheism, and elsewhere, I have argued that Christianity implicitly, if not always explicitly, undermines human bondage.  I have also suggested that Christian teachings were the main
motivational force behind the abolition movement.  These claims have often been contradicted, and sometimes confused.  (For instance, with the claim that the Bible clearly renounces slavery, or that Christians never owned slaves or engaged in the slave trade.) 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Jason Pratt's interview, Part II: The New Atheism

Part II: The New Atheism

Of course Dan Dennett's the one to drink white wine.
Here's the second part of Jason Pratt's interview with me, after The Truth Behind the New Atheism: Responding to the Emerging Chellenges to God and Christianity.  came out.  None of the issues seem to have died down, so I can't say any of this is old news.  It was interesting to find John Loftus (whom I did not know then, I don't think) commenting in the comments section, saying no, he was not a "New Atheist."   

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Scientific Progress vs. Religious Progress?

This graph, in case you were wondering, shows us how not to think rationally about religion and history. 

My response:

"What the graph shows is how little progress there has been in philosophy and general clear thinking among people who espouse scientism over the past 100 years.

"Science is a means of discovering facts and patterns of facts, comparable in that sense to history, mathematics, the Law, Wikipedia, gossip, and opening the window shades. These are the activities to which it should properly be compared.

"Religion is best understood as the set of "ultimate concerns" that people espouse. Ultimate concerns include views of reality that rely on different means of finding things out -- including all those listed above -- also existential commitment to truth of some sort, even if it's just the purported truth that "I've only got one life to live, so I'm going for the gusto!"

"So in that case, what ought to be compared is not "religion" with "science," but different religions -- Christianity, Pure Land Buddhism, Secular Humanism, Marxism-Leninism, Objectivism, Hedonism, Nihilism, etc -- with one another.

"And then, of course, there is the issue of cherry-picking and mockery as a substitute for genuine historical reasoning."  (Click on the "History" icon below for my attempts here.) 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lord, please make me stupid, like Alvin Plantinga.

Lord, please make me stupid, like Alvin Plantinga.  Don't make me smart, like John Loftus


Monday, June 10, 2013

Why does Brian Blais oppose slavery?

Physicist Brian Blais has been challenging my historical defense of Christianity on his web site.  Brian hasn't read any of my books, so far as I know, but began by critiquing a few remarks I made on Justin Brierley's Unbelievable radio program on Premier Christian radio in London, as part of a series responding to the Unbelievable programs.  I responded last week, then Brian replied with this second and then this third post.

The most recent issue, which I would like to focus on, is how Christianity dealt with slavery, an issue that Christians and atheists have debated fiercely in recent years.  Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens all bring the subject up, blaming the Bible for not forthrightly condemning it (which Harris supposes was the patently obvious thing to do), and blaming the Church for at best,  turning a blind eye.  I responded in The Truth Behind the New Atheism by arguing that ending slavery was not really all that obvious, but zealous Christians reading their Bibles accomplished it anyway, not just in the West, but around the world. 

More recently, after I pointed out numerous errors in his harsh attacks on the Christian record, Iowa State Religious Studies professor Hector Avalos came after my 3-4 page argument on slavery in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, and myself as a scholar, in a long and no-holds-barred piece.  I responded willingly, and I think pretty effectively, first here and then here.  Avalos subsequently published a long book on that very subject, and sent me a manuscript copy, which I still hope to read and report on some day. 

Thankfully, Brian argues at a lower decibel level.  He does make a couple interesting points, but I think still needs to look at the bigger historical picture.    

Saturday, June 08, 2013

When can we visit Perelandra?

On a warm evening the other day, I was watering the tomatoes on the hill behind our house.  A hummingbird drifted in front of me.  He seemed to hesitate for a second, then flew right through the spray of water, and on to his other business for the evening.  "Ah!  That hit the spot!"  He doubtless said in hummingbird-ese.

I read many books for pleasure, which tend to find their way to the floor beside my bed: Dickens, Journey to the West, Tang poems, lately Bunyan.  But there are probably no writers to whom I return as often for refreshment of soul and mind, that spray of cool water on a hot summer day, as to C. S. Lewis and his friend, J. R. R. Tolkien.  Recently I began reading Lewis' Space Trilogy for the, oh, tenth time?

I won't say much about Out of the Silent Planet today.  The science is, of course, embarrassing.  Ransom can't figure out he's going to Mars, even though the space ship is moving away from the sun?  The space ship is massive enough to create its own gravity, so how did it get into space?  It doesn't use jets to stop its fall towards Mars?  Their fuel is solar radiation -- and they get up to 50,000 miles an hour?  There are no germs on Mars, and the Martians aren't concerned among human germs?  Ransom mistakes Earth for the Moon?   

Once one arrives at Mars, though, Lewis' fertile imagination takes over, along with his rich talent at mimicry and psychological insight, and the story never lets up after that. 

For his journey to Venus, the hero Ransom is carried by angels in a coffin-like object.  Lewis explains why he made the switch elsewhere.  He realized even pretending to be "scientific" was just not his thing.  He wanted to write moralistic fantasy, not science fiction in the technical sense, like Arthur C. Clarke.  So you might as well go all-out with frankly magical means of conveyance.  (Of course he does the same in his Narnia tales -- so this proves a useful dry run.) 

This means there is less stupid science to swallow in Perelandra.  Lewis' imagination, though, goes to town on the Planet of Love, projecting all his own dreams of paradise.  (In his autobiographical allegory, Pilgrim's Regress, the hero John longs all his life for an island of paradise, which once discovered, turns out to be the same as the mountain of orthodoxy that he learned to fear growing up in Northern Ireland, I mean in Puritania.  So I think Lewis' invention here is especially close to his heart.)

For those who have not read Perelandra yet, but have seen Avatar, a few words of comparison might be helpful.  Avator is the most gorgeously crafted alien world I have seen on film.  Some of the science is just as bad as in Out of This Silent Planet, especially the mountains that float above the earth, even though made out of rock. 

Perelandra is perhaps even more rich in invention, and mostly avoids that kind of error, unlike Out of the Silent Planet.  (Though one
wonders why mountain-sized waves allow plants to grow low down on the fixed lands.  Also, Ransom sees no death on Venus until the Unman arrives.  Why do the flowers bloom, then?  And why does the lady -- beautifully portrayed -- expect to have children, as the animals do?  There wouldn't be much room to reproduce if the world were full of things that never died!  Here we touch on an interesting theological and philosophical question, which Lewis' wonderful imagination fails to find an answer to.) 

The chief invention of Perelandra are floating islands, where bubble trees and sweet gourds grow, along with nuts and other fruits that make the mouth water.  I can not only imagine those islands, Lewis makes me greatly wish to visit them.  Lewis also imagines underwater, subterranean, and fixed-land ecosystems, in less detail but with some creatures just as fetching, such as the singing beast, and the banner forest.  He makes creation good without being banal, and mysterious, without being evil.  It's a remarkable work of invention, in some ways among the best I know of in science fiction.  (And certainly more attractive than Venus' actual surface conditions of 800+ degrees and carbon dioxide!  Though apparently there may be a breathable atmosphere above the planet at a certain height.)

Still, evil does come into Perelandra, in the form of a devil-possessed physicist.  (The Unman has to be a physicist, because otherwise he couldn't have invented a space ship.  Lewis is not dissing the physical sciences, which I think he rather likes, from a distance.  I wonder if he ever chatted with Schrodinger, who was also at Magdalene College?) 

In the context of so much beauty, the cleverness and realistic horror with which Lewis describes his Unman, makes this book something of a masterpiece, in my opinion.  (Though the philosophical hymns at the end take some patience to endure -- I don't think they quite succeed.)  Good and evil set one another out more clearly.  Ransom's internal dialogues are subtle and true to life, and also among the virtues of the novel.   

So when will someone make movies out of this series?  What director could pull it off?  You'd need someone with real talent, and also some philosophical and theological imagination.  But I hope they do it: I'd love to see this world, especially, on the Silver Screen. 

Genuine refreshment of the soul, after all, may also come through movies, though that seems to be an even rarer accomplishment. 

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Response to Brian Blais

A physicist by the name of Brian Blais recently critiqued the comments I made in debate several years ago with Barry Duke, on the Unbelievable radio show in London. 

In most cases, Brian begins with a summary or quote of my comments, then offers his own critical comments.  He refers to the cartoon to the right below; let's set it here, to set the tone of his historical-forgetful style remarks from the start. 

Again, to keep things clear, I put my critic's words in dark green, my own previous comments in brown, and comments by others in purple.