Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Stephen C. Meyer debates Charles Marshall on the Cambrian explosion

Here is a summary of recent podcast of Unbelievable between intelligent design proponent Stephen C. Meyer and UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Charles Marshall. Dr. Marshall had previously reviewed Dr. meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt” in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal “Science”.

Details:

Stephen C Meyer is the world’s leading Intelligent Design proponent. His new book Darwin’s Doubt claims that the Cambrian fossil record, which saw an “explosion” of new life forms in a short space of time, is evidence for ID.

Evolutionary biologist Charles Marshall of the University of California, Berkeley has written a critical review of the book. He debates Meyer on whether Darwinian evolution can explain the diversity of life in the Cambrian rocks.

For Meyer & Darwin’s Doubt http://www.darwinsdoubt.com/

For Charles Marshall’s reviewhttp://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6152/1344.1.full

You can get the MP3 file here.

The brief summary this time is not provided by me, it’s from Evolution News.

Excerpt:

This past weekend Britain’s Premier radio network broadcast a debate between Stephen Meyer and UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall, recorded at the beginning of November. As David Klinghoffer noted yesterday, the subject of the debate was Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. Yes, that’s the same Charles Marshall who reviewed Darwin’s Doubt in Science back in September. See here for our multiple responses.

It was an excellent debate, with both participants offering important insights and good arguments, though in my opinion Meyer unquestionably had the better of it, especially concerning the key scientific question of the origin of the information necessary to build the Cambrian animals. Nevertheless, both parties came to the table ready to engage in serious, thoughtful, and civil discussion about the core issues raised in Darwin’s Doubt, and we commend Marshall not only for participating, but for focusing his critique of the book on the central scientific issues, something other critics have conspicuously failed to do.

The debate was consequently both constructive and civil. Both parties complimented, as well as critiqued, the work of the other. Marshall, for example, described the first third of Darwin’s Doubt – the section that discusses the Cambrian and Precambrian fossil record, Marshall’s own area of principle expertise — as “good scholarship.” He also said it “looks like good science” and that Meyer “writes well,” and that he (Marshall) “really enjoyed reading”Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer, for his, part expressed his admiration for Marshall’s many scientific papers in paleontology and noted that he had been looking forward to the conversation because he and Marshall clearly “shared a passion for the same subject,” despite their different perspectives. Of course, Marshall is not pro-ID and both men expressed spirited disagreements, but they did so in a mostly respectful way that made the debate all the more interesting and engaging to listen to.

I was very impressed with Dr. Marshall’s performance during the debate, although he did try to poison the well a bit against ID at the beginning, and he got nasty at the end. It’s amazing how Dr. Meyer was able to get him to stop it with the politics and get serious, just by sticking to the science. Even when Marshall got insulting at the end, it was still valuable to see how the other side has to abandon rational argument and scientific evidence once they see that they can’t win on the merits. It’s “Inherit the Wind” in reverse.

Evolution News also posted a more complete guide to the debate in this post, and I recommend that you read that post before listening to the debate if you are not familiar with the science.

This is a great debate, and you definitely ought to listen to it. I hope I’ve posted enough here to convince you. If you haven’t yet bought “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt“, then I urge you to get them, although they are intermediate/advanced level books. The two books are the state of the art in intelligent design research, good enough to be debated with a University of California, Berkeley professor of biology. Dr. Meyer is the real deal, and if you want to be convincing on these important scientific issues, you need to learn the scientific evidence from his books.

If you are not a regular reader of the Evolution News blog, you really should be. It’s also a good idea to subscribe to the Intelligent Design: The Future podcast.

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UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall’s dishonest review of “Darwin’s Doubt”

There have been a series of Evolution News posts responding to a critical review of Darwin’s Doubt, published in the journal Science. I have been keeping up with them, but when I read this post by Casey Luskin about a challenge from Charles Marshall against Meyer’s book, I really felt that I had to blog about it.

You have to read this to believe it:

In his review of Darwin’s Doubt in the journal Science, UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall claims that Stephen Meyer “completely omits mention of the Early Cambrian small shelly fossils,” which he claims causes Meyer “to exaggerate the apparent suddenness of the Cambrian explosion.” Yet both of Marshall’s claims are false. Meyer does not fail to mention the small shelly fossils and he does not exaggerate the brevity of the Cambrian explosion.

In the first place, Marshall has his facts wrong. Meyer does discuss the small shelly fossils on page 425 of Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer writes as follows:

The Cambrian period 543 mya is marked by the appearance of small shelly fossils consisting of tubes, cones, and possibly spines and scales of larger animals. These fossils, together with trace fossils, gradually become more abundant and diverse as one moves upward in the earliest Cambrian strata (the Manykaian Stage, 543-530 mya).

Nevertheless, although Meyer discusses the small shelly fossils, he does not treat them as a solution to the problem of the explosion of morphological novelty that arises later in in the Cambrian period. The small shelly fossils appear in the fossil record at the base of the Cambrian period about 542-543 million years ago. The main pulse of morphological innovation that Cambrian paleontologists commonly refer to as the “Cambrian explosion” first begins about 530 million years ago and then lasts about 10 years through the Tommotian and Adtabanian stages of the Cambrian period. During the first 5-6 million year stage (the Tommotian) of the explosion, between 14-16 novel phyla first appear in the fossil record. Without actually asserting that the small shelly fossils somehow explain the subsequent explosion of all these novel forms of animal life (or even that the small shelly fossils represent ancestors to all, or some, of these forms), Marshall faults Meyer for not treating them as part of the Cambrian explosion.

Now from this, you might expect that other biologists who do not believe in intelligent design think two things. One, that these fossils are important to explaining the Cambrian explosion. And two, that these fossils count as part of the Cambrian explosion – extending the period of innovation from 10 million years (at the most!) to 23 million years. In fact, you might expect that Marshall thinks that the small, shelly fossils DO explain the Cambrian explosion, and that the Cambrian explosion DID last 23 million years, and not 10 million.

But you’d be wrong – all of this nonsense about SSF is just a mendacious smokescreen to smear Meyer:

For example, in a 2006 paper in Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Marshall acknowledges that these fossils are of unclear evolutionary affinities and importance. He calls them “largely problematic fossils” that are “hard to diagnose, even at the phylum level.” Figure 1 of his paper portrays them as apparently disconnected to the later radiation of Cambrian animals. This impression is reinforced in the text of his article where he notes that the small shelly fossils for the most part are “problematic” organisms of unknown classification… 

Marshall himself does not think that the SSF are an explanation for the Cambrian explosion – he only insinuated that in his review in order to smear Meyer.

In fact, other naturalists agree with Meyer (and Marshall!) that these SSFs are not part of the explanation for the explosion in new information:

Other authorities agree that these small shelly fossils [SSFs] are of unclear evolutionary significance and affinity. In his book On the Origin of Phyla, James Valentine argues that the SSFs “are very difficult indeed to interpret.” Valentine’s 2013 book, The Cambrian Explosion, co-written with Douglas Erwin, notes that “many SSFs are still poorly understood.” Simon Conway Morris found them so unimportant that he does not mention them in either of his authoritative books on the Cambrian explosion (Crucible of Creation or Life’s Solution).

Valentine and Conway Morris are two of the top experts on the Cambrian explosion. Neither is a proponent of intelligent design.

But wait! There’s still more dishonesty from Marshall!

Marshall also argues that Meyer is mistating the length of the Cambrian explosion:

But what about the claim that Darwin’s Doubt exaggerated the brevity of the Cambrian explosion? Should Meyer have included the appearance of the early Cambrian small shelly fossils as part of the explosion when he estimated the length of that event? Not according to a very recent paper by Marshall himself. In 2010, Marshall co-wrote with James Valentine in the journal Evolution (emphases added):

By the beginning of the Cambrian Period, near 543 million years ago, a few kinds of “small shelly” fossils are found, <2mm in largest dimension. The small shellys rose to a peak in abundance and diversity during the period from 530 to 520 million years ago, when representatives of living phyla are found among them. During that same period, a chiefly larger-bodied invertebrate fauna of up to a dozen phyla, and including many soft-bodied forms, is also first represented by fossils. This geologically abrupt appearance of fossils representing quite disparate bodyplans of many living metazoan phyla is termed the Cambrian explosion…

Let’s unpack the construction of this paragraph, in which Marshall explains the length of the Cambrian explosion in relation to the small shelly fossils. Starting at the end of the quote, Marshall and Valentine equate “the Cambrian explosion” with the “geologically abrupt appearance of fossils representing quite disparate body plans.” They further identify this period with “that same period” wherein “a chiefly larger-bodied invertebrate fauna of up to a dozen phyla, and including many soft-bodied forms, is also first represented by fossils.” Marshall and Valentine also equate that period of time with “the period from 530 to 520 million years ago” and distinguish it from the earlier time in which the first small shelly fossils arose. Thus, according to Marshall — in a co-authored technical paper written in 2010 — the Cambrian explosion does not begin with the first appearance of the small shelly fossils 543 million years ago, or during the earliest part of the Cambrian period. Rather, he and fellow paleontologist James Valentine affirm that the explosion begins about 530 million years ago and lasted to about 520 million years — a date consistent with what Valentine has written elsewhere, including in his recent book with Erwin that Marshall cites approvingly in his review of Meyer.

Thus, by Marshall’s own admission, (a) the appearance of small shelly fossils around 543 million years ago does not mark the beginning of the Cambrian explosion, and (b) the Cambrian explosion should be dated to 530 to 520 million years when we see the “abrupt appearance” of many disparate body plans, long after the small shellies appear. This means that Marshall has acknowledged in print that the “Cambrian explosion” itself lasted only about 10 million years — just as Meyer affirmed in Darwin’s Doubt. Indeed, Marshall and Valentine affirm that SSFs appear long before the primary explosive radiation of Cambrian animals and they affirm a 10-million year duration for the Cambrian explosion.

So here you have a naturalist who is so desperate to smear a proponent of intelligent design that he has to resort to outright deception – deceptions which he knows are false from his own writings!

This reminds me of how Lawrence Krauss misrepresented that e-mail from Vilenkin during his debate with William Lane Craig. Apparently, naturalists just aren’t bound by the same sense of morality as theists. Should we be surprised that people who repudiate the idea of objective morality would then proceed to act dishonestly like this? In an accidental universe, anything goes – and truth is not as important as getting ahead in your career by any means necessary.

So the take away lesson for the rest of us is this: Sometimes you don’t need to understand all the scientific details exhaustively in order to know what to think about a controversial issue. You just have to spot the liar.

By the way, Dr. Meyer has some comments of his own about these small, shelly fossils in this post.

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Audio, summary and review of William Lane Craig vs. Stephen Law debate

You can also download the audio at Apologetics 315.

Scorecard:

Craig’s case:

  • The origin of the universe: Law had no response.
  • The moral argument: Law denied that there are objective moral values.
  • The resurrection argument: Law told a story about a UFO sighting.

Law’s case:

  • The evidential argument from evil: Law later denied that evil existed, thus undermining his entire argument. Christian theists DON’T consider it evil when people suffer, if that suffering is necessary in order to get people to know God. We don’t agree with Law’s definition of evil that “people suffering” is automatically evil – because there can be a morally sufficient reason why that suffering is allowed by God to happen, since his goal is not our happiness but for us to know him. Law was not able to show how we know that God doesn’t have a morally sufficient reason to permit the evils we do see. And he has to prove that in order to assert (in his premise 1) that gratuitous evil exists. How does he know that? How does he know that some specific instance of evil is pointless for the purpose of improve the knowledge of God overall? The one good thing that Law did was to press Craig to defend his premise that if God doesn’t exist, then objective moral values also don’t exist. Craig did talk about how if there is no God, then morality is just a herd morality that evolves by accident, though.

Final score: 3 to 0 for Craig. Law was better than Craig’s average opponent though, for all the snarky things I might say about him, below.

Below is the snarky summary of the debate. I sometimes paraphrase entire sentences and insert commentary in order to explain what’s going on without the spin.

William Lane Craig opening speech:

Two contentions:

C1) There are good reasons to think that God exists.
C2) There are no good reasons to think that God does not exist.

Arguments for the existence of God.

A1) The origin of the universe

1. Whatever begins to exist requires a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe requires a cause.

The beginning of the universe is confirmed by philosophy and science.

An actual infinite number of past events is impossible. The concept of an actual infinite is mathematically unintelligible for the operations of subtraction and division.

Cosmologists have now proven that any universe that is now in a state of expansion must have begun to exist, independent of any physical description of the model. Even speculative alternatives to the current Big Bang model require a beginning at some point.

The cause of the universe must be transcendent and supernatural. It must be uncaused, because there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. It must be eternal, because it created time. It must be non-physical, because it created space. There are only two possibilities for such a cause. It could be an abstract object or an agent. Abstract objects cannot cause effects. Therefore, the cause is an agent.

A2) The moral argument.

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective morality does exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Michael Ruse, an atheist philosopher agrees that if God does not exist, then there is only a “herd morality” that is determined by biological evolution and social evolution. There no objective moral standard, just different customs and conventions that vary by time and place. Anyone who acts against the herd morality is merely being unfashionable and unconventional.

Dr. Law affirms objective morality in his written work (but can he ground it on atheism?).

In order to be able to make a distinction between good and evil that is objective, there has to be a God to determine a standard of good and evil that is binding regardless of the varying customs and conventions of different people groups. Even when a person argues against God’s existence by pointing to the “evil” in the world, they must assume objective moral values, and a God who grounds those objective moral values, in order to make the charge. Therefore, it is impossible to complain about the evil in the world without assuming the existence of God.

A3) The resurrection of Jesus.

1. There are certain minimal facts that are admitted by the majority of historians, across the ideological spectrum; the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances of Jesus, the early belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
2. Naturalistic attempts to explain these minimal facts fail.
3. The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.

Craig’s opponent thinks that Jesus never existed, a position that virtually no historian holds.

Stephen Law’s opening statement:

A1) The evidential argument from evil

1. Gratuitous evil exists.
2. God would be able to remove evil, would know about the evil, and would want to remove gratuitous evil.
3. It is implausible that God exists.

There are moral evil actions committed by agents
There are natural evils like earthquake.

Animals suffer. e.g. – from being eaten by other animals.
Humans suffer, e.g. – from disease.

Craig’s cosmological argument does prove that a Creator exists, but the evidential argument from evil proves that this Creator is not good.

If the Creator really were good, then we would all be spared from all suffering, both physical and mental, because God has no morally sufficient reason for allowing anyone to suffer. God, if he existed, would prevent humans from committing moral evil by removing our free will. God would also prevent us from having any unhappy feelings caused by natural evil.

A2) Theodicies offered by Christians fail

Freedom Will Theodicy: An evil God might like to allow humans to have free will.

Laws of Nature: An evil God might like to have laws of nature to allow predictable consequences.

Afterlife compensation: An evil God might like an evil afterlife to make us suffer more.

Craig’s first rebuttal:

RA1) Law’s evidential argument from evil fails

The mere presence of evil is not a problem if God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting instances of evil. Since Dr. Law is making the claim that God would not allow the evil, then he has to bear the burden of proof for showing that there is no morally sufficient reason for God to permit evil and sufering.

The purpose of life on the Christian view is not merely to have happy feelings. The purpose of life on the Christian view is coming to know God and having a relationship with him. Many evils that are not good for giving us happy feelings may be good for getting us to think seriously about whether God is there and what to do to have a relationship with him.

Theists don’t infer the goodness of God because they survey the universe and find lots of good things. They infer the goodness of God based on the mere fact that they are aware of an objective moral standard of good and evil, and inalienable human rights, and they identify God as the source of that standard of Good and evil. Those things cannot exist unless there is a God to ground an objective standard of right and wrong. Since the source of the standard is God’s own unchanging nature, he cannot act in a way that is evil.

Moral evil actually proves the existence of God. If Dr. Law claims that there is moral evil, then he has to have an objective moral standard that allows the distinction between good and evil. The only way to make an objective distinction between good and evil is if there is a Design for the universe that determines what is good and evil. And a design for the universe requires a Designer of the universe.

With respect to animal suffering, any ecosystem require predators in order to control population. For example, in Canada, Canadians have had to reintroduce wolves into the ecosystem in order to cull the populations of caribou, which was de-stabilizing the ecosystem. Since humans depend on the existence of these animals, God has to allow these predators in order to balance the ecosystem.

Animals do not suffer pain the same way as humans do, research shows that although they suffer pain, they are not aware of that suffering in the way that humans are. Once you understand the biology of animals, you understand that they do not experience pain the same way as humans.

Law’s first rebuttal:

Craig thinks that you need an objective standard in order to judge things as objectively good or evil. But that’s false. I can use my subjective opinions to claim that some things are objective evil. If God doesn’t do what I like (prevent moral and natural evil), then he isn’t objectively good. I don’t need to buy into the notion of objective good and evil in order to say that something is good or evil. I can say that something is good or evil while denying the existence of objective good and evil. (IMPORTANT NOTE: DR. LAW HAS AT THIS POINT RETRACTED HIS SUPPORT FOR OBJECTIVE MORAL VALUES, WHICH MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE TO EMPLOY THE EVIDENTIAL ARGUMENT FROM EVIL)

Dr. Craig says that I think that people determine the goodness or evilness of God by counting good things and evil things. But that’s false. My argument is that people determine the goodness or evilness of God by counting good things and evil things. It’s completely different!The presence of good things undermines the existence of evil God, and the existence of evil things undermines the existence of good God.

Craig’s second rebuttal:

Dr. Law has not yet responded to any of the 3 arguments for God’s existence.

A1) No response to the argument from the origin of the universe. How can you admit to a Creator of the universe and still be an atheist? His argument from evil doesn’t refute a supernatural cause of the universe.

A2) Dr. Law is now denying that objective moral values exist, contrary to his written work. This means that he is not able to use the terms “good” and “evil” intelligibly. He is merely expressing his subjective opinions, and therefore he cannot press the evidential argument from evil, because there is no such thing as evil, objectively speaking, on his view. It’s just his personal preference.

A3) No response to the argument concerning the resurrection.

RA1) He has to show that God doesn’t have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils we see. He admits that he can’t.

He says that the world is morally ambiguous and you can’t infer the goodness of God by counting the amount of evil and good in the world, just like you can’t infer the evilness of God by counting the amount of evil and good in the world. And that’s correct, and theists don’t infer God’s goodness by counting good and evil instances. The point is that if you can’t infer God’s goodness or evilness by counting instances of good or evil, then you can’t infer that God isn’t good, because you don’t know whether God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting the evils that we see. And it’s the atheist’s burden of proof to show that God DOESN’T have a morally sufficient reason, and Dr. Law is unable to do that.

Dr. Law says that you don’t need to have a standard of good and evil to press the problem of pain and suffering. But if you deny that there is any good or evil independent of pain and suffering, then you can’t impugn God’s goodness because you don’t have a standard in place to say that gratuitous pain and suffering is evil.

Any event that occurs in history can have effects far into the future or in another country. Physicists understand that small effects can trigger results that cannot be foreseen. And what this means is that humans are simply not in a position to know whether God has a moral sufficient reason for permitting specific instances of evil.

Finally, the purpose of life on the Christian view is not to have happy feelings and be free from suffering. God’s purpose for us is to know him and to be rightly related to him. Many instances of evil may be pointless for making people feel good, but may be effective for drawing people towards God.

Law’s second rebuttal:

RA2) The vast majority of philosophers reject the moral argument, for example Richard Swinburne. (No reasoning for the denial is explained, just the denial of the argument’s effectiveness by citing Richard Swinburne as an authority). This is a fallacy of arguing from an authority.

Dr. Craig has to prove that no atheistic account of morality can be given. He has disprove them all, even the ones that no one has thought of yet. It’s not my job, AS THE ATHEIST, to prove that I can give an account of objective truth of moral claims can be given ON ATHEISM. I don’t have to do anything except stand here and speculate about some possible account of morality on atheism and I win.

The existence of objective moral values is not obvious to me. I.e. – I don’t see anything objectively wrong with torturing babies for fun, it’s a matter of opinion. I also don’t see anything evil about those things that I said were evil in my first speech. I was just kidding, people, can’t you take a joke? It just seems to some people like Dr. Craig that there are objective moral values, but actually there aren’t. Dr. Craig merely wants to believe that evil is real, but actually it isn’t. Except when I want to argue that it is in in my evidential argument FROM EVIL.

RA3) Although the majority of ancient historians accept the historicity of the empty tomb because of the early sources, multiple attestation, enemy attestation etc., the tomb was not empty because of this story I’m going to tell about a UFO.

Although virtually all ancient historians accept the post-mortem appearances because of the early sources, multiple attestation, etc., the post-mortem appearances did not occur because of this story I’m going to tell about a UFO.

Although virtually all ancient historians accept the early belief that Jesus was bodily resurrected because of the early sources, multiple attestation, etc., the early belief that Jesus was bodily resurrected did not occur because of this story I’m going to tell about a UFO.

Craig’s final rebuttal:

A1) Dr. Law accepts that the universe was created by an eternal, non-material, uncaused being. What a strange sort of atheist, who admits that there exists a supernatural Creator of the universe.

A2) Dr. Law employed the fallacy of arguing from authority. But Dr. Craig can cite a much longer list of atheists who agree that if God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist, e.g. – Nietzche, Russell, Sartre, Mackie, etc. Consistent atheists understand that if there is no God, there is no design for how the universe ought to be (natural evil), or how we ought to be (moral evil).

A3) We have to be careful when inferring a supernatural explanation and use objective criteria. All natural explanations fail to explain the full set of minimal facts that virtually all historians accept. In addition, the resurrection takes place within a religio-historical context where one might expect God to intervene if what Jesus was saying was true.

RA1) You can’t disprove God’s goodness by appealing to instances of evil, nor can you disprove God’s evilness by appealing to instances of good. This is because humans are not in a position to assess the ripple effects of permitting any instance of evil (good). It is therefore possible and inscrutable as to whether God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting any and all instances of apparent evil (good).

Dr. Law’s final rebuttal:

A2) There is a lot of pain and suffering in the history of the world. This is a challenge to God’s goodness because God’s purpose for us is to make us happy, and not at all for us to know him or for us to be related to him, as the Bible says.

Here’s my argument. Craig thinks that you can determine God’s goodness by counting instances of good and evil in the world, although he explicitly denies that. And I’ve actually done the counting and found that you can’t determine God’s goodness because there’s too much gratuitous evil. Never mind what Craig said about the ripple effect through time and space, or about chaos theory, or about morally sufficient reasons. These instances of gratuitous evil I’m telling you about have no morally sufficient reasons, in any time or in any place. Trust me, I looked everywhere and in the future, using my time machine.

Now, in my argument, when I said the word evil, I don’t really mean evil, because to use an objective standard of good and evil, I would have to have a moral lawgiver to ground that objective standard. So when I say moral and natural evil, I don’t mean moral and natural evil, I actually mean things that I don’t personally like. So I’m going to change my argument’s name to the Evidential Argument From Things That I Find Yucky.

Dr. Craig provided no justification for his premise that “if there is no God, there there are no objective moral values”. And it’s not my job to produce an atheistic theory about how objective moral values could exist, especially since my argument from evil relies on objective moral values.

A3) UFOs.

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William Lane Craig reviews new Dawkins/Krauss movie “The Unbelievers” in The Blaze

Dr. William Lane Craig

Dr. William Lane Craig

On The Blaze, a major political news site, Dr. William Lane Craig reviews a new atheist movie entitled “The Unbelievers” starring Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins.

Excerpt:

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss are two of the most important figures in the New Atheist movement. So one would naturally have high expectations that their new documentary, The Unbelievers, would present a vigorous, powerful attack upon the rationality of religious belief, featuring interviews with impressive scientists laying out the case against God.  Instead, the film turns out to be merely a travelogue of Dawkins and Krauss’ “magical mystery tour” of speaking engagements before their enthusiastic fans. Rather than thought provoking, the film is shallow, boring, and narcissistic.

[...]Featuring sound bites from celebrities and film stars in support of their cause fits Dawkins and Krauss’ purpose more than substantive interviews with qualified but largely unknown academics. The film’s purpose is not to present a case but primarily to rally the troops.

But there is a more fundamental reason for the absence of argument against religious belief. Dawkins and Krauss proceed on the unspoken assumption that science and religion are fundamentally mutually exclusive. Therefore, all one needs to do in order to discredit religion is to extol and celebrate the greatness of science. Science and religion are like two ends of a teeter-totter:  if the one end goes up, the other automatically declines. Thus, Krauss asks Dawkins which he would rather do:  explain science or destroy religion?  It is assumed that these are two ways to the same end. Dawkins, of course, chooses to extol science. “I’m in love with science, and I want to tell the world.” His implicit assumption is that one cannot love both God and science.

There is no argument given for the mutual exclusivity of science and religion; rather it is the unquestioned presupposition of the film. This is ironic because one of the repeated emphases of the film is the necessity of critical thinking. No view is off limits to examination; we must insist on permission to question everything. Yet Dawkins and Krauss are strangely oblivious to their own unexamined assumptions. Why think that science, restricted as it is to the exploration of the physical world, is incompatible with the existence of God?  Alas, we are not told.

[...]Indeed, given their ignorance of the literature, one cannot help but wonder if Dawkins and Krauss are not, in fact, incapable of engaging in substantive conversation on these matters. Hence, their open endorsement of ridicule as “a useful tool for illuminating reality.” Dawkins’ philosophical gaucherie is on display when complains that his dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury was “ruined” by the chairman (Sir Anthony Kenny, himself an agnostic), who “is a philosopher and so thought it his duty to clarify things,” which led, says Dawkins, to “skewing.”  Similarly, Dawkins breezily dismisses “Why?” questions as “silly.”

So what do we make of Dr. Craig holding Dawkins and Krauss accountable? Well. it’s one thing to treat Peter Millican and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong nicely. But Krauss and Dawkins really need to be spanked for their own good, at this point. What else do you do with ignorant children who run around insulting grown-ups?

What I find ironic is that there are 7 areas of science where theism has gained decisive support in the last 50 years:

  1. The Big Bang cosmology
  2. The cosmic fine-tuning
  3. The origin of life
  4. The origin of phyla in the Cambrian explosion
  5. Galactic habitability
  6. Stellar habitability
  7. Irreducible complexity

Each of these poses a threat to naturalism, and a few of them are lethal to naturalism on their own. Atheists have been reduced to holding onto speculations to get around them. You know the sort: nothing creating something, unobservable multiverses explain fine-tuning, unseen aliens seeded the Earth with life, undiscovered pre-Cambrian fossil record, and so on. It’s a bad time to be an atheist. Science has refuted atheism over and over again!

William Lane Craig podcasts about “The Unbelievers”

There are 3 of these podcasts so far in the series:

  1. What was the point of the film?
  2. Is science opposed to religion?
  3. Unscientific assertions in the film

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Douglas Groothuis’ 752-page Christian apologetics book is now under $22

Christian Apologetics

Christian Apologetics

Looking for a good textbook on apologetics that covers everything you need to know? Check out Dr. Groothuis’ book. It’s now under $22 on Amazon.

Here are the chapters:

Part I: Apologetic Preliminaries
1 Introduction: Hope, Despair and Knowing Reality
2 The Biblical Basis for Apologetics
3 Apologetic Method: Evaluating Worldviews
4 The Christian Worldview
5 Distortions of the Christian Worldview–or the God I Don’t Believe In
6 Truth Defined and Defended
7 Why Truth Matters Most: Searching for Truth in Postmodern Times
8 Faith, Risk and Rationality: The Prudential Incentives to Christian Faith

Part II: The Case for Christian Theism
9 In Defense of Theistic Arguments
10 The Ontological Argument
11 Cosmological Arguments: A Cause for the Cosmos
12 The Design Argument: Cosmic Fine-Tuning
13 Origins, Design and Darwinism
14 Evidence for Intelligent Design
15 The Moral Argument for God
16 The Argument from Religious Experience
17 The Uniqueness of Humanity: Consciousness and Cognition
18 Deposed Royalty: Pascal’s Anthropological Argument
19 Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters by Craig L. Bloomberg
20 The Claims, Credentials and Achievements of Jesus Christ
21 Defending the Incarnation
22 The Resurrection of Jesus

Part III: Objections to Christian Theism
23 Religious Pluralism: Many Religions, One Truth
24 Apologetics and the Challenge of Islam
25 The Problem of Evil: Dead Ends and the Christian Answer
26 Conclusion: Take It to the Streets

Appendix 1 Hell on Trial
Appendix 2 Apologetic Issues in the Old Testament by Richard S. Hess

Here’s a review of the book by Michael D. Stark.

Introduction:

Contemporary Christians interested in apologetics can now turn to another text that is bound to become one of the most-used textbooks in apologetics. Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for the Biblical Faith (InterVarsity, 2011) may have more breadth both in content and wisdom than any apologetics text to date. The subtitle is justified as the book, over 700 pages and 26 chapters long (not including two appendixes), presents the need for apologetics and explores the main philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Unlike other apologetics texts, Groothuis includes chapters examining truth in postmodern society, religious pluralism, and a tactful approach to dealing with Islam. Furthermore, biblical scholars (and Denver Seminary colleagues) Richard Hess and Craig Blomberg build on an already strong text by writing chapters on apologetics in the Old Testament (Appendix 2) and a historical approach to the person of Christ and the gospels, respectively.

Here’s a snip from the review:

The chapter on cosmological arguments is superb and only further qualifies Groothuis as a proficient thinker. This chapter without question is the chapter I learned the most from. Groothuis engages very difficult scientific and philosophical concepts and communicates them in a way that even the beginner will be able to grasp. Though there are many different versions of the cosmological argument, the chapter hones in on the kalam cosmological argument as put forth by William Lane Craig. The kalam argument is superior to other cosmological arguments in that it supposedly secures the theistic doctrine of ex nihilo if the arguments proves successful (note: a minor quibble of this chapter is that Groothuis purports that the Thomistic cosmological argument does not endorse ex nihilo. I believe this to be false). This specific chapter was sensational – however I was left disappointed that no time was given to addressing the cosmological argument posited by Aquinas. In some respects, the Thomistic cosmological argument is the simplest form for people new to apologetics. The Thomistic version does not get into the technical issues of the metaphysics of time and Big Bang cosmology that the kalam version uses, nor does it require knowledge of the principle of sufficient reason that the Leibnizian version necessitates. While the kalam and Leibnizian versions are logical and sound arguments, they may confusing to people new to apologetics. Because of this, beginners ought to take the time to read this chapter slowly and more than once because of the finer technical details.

Chapters 12-14 are devoted to the design argument and issues relating to it. Groothuis opposes macroevolution and thus goes to great extent to battle Darwinism. Those interested in the philosophy of science will be drawn to these chapters. The chapter focused on intelligent design relies heavily on the work of William Dembski and Michael Behe. These chapters serve as a valuable introduction for those new to discussion between Christian and naturalistic sciences.

Chapter 15 is perhaps the most successful chapter of the entire book as it deals with the moral argument. It is my belief that the moral argument is the most successful argument for the existence of God as it appeals to everyone, Christian, atheist, and non-Christian religious persons. Ethical theory may perhaps be the most widely debated philosophical topic throughout history and thus Groothuis could have taken many approaches when discussing the moral argument. The way he structured his chapter, however, is nearly flawless. Building off his chapter examining truth in the postmodern culture (chapter 7), Groothuis correlates the denial of objective truth to the ridding of objective moral value. He unmercifully attacks moral relativism and brilliantly shows its dangers. He states that cultural relativism reduces to individual relativism, which, in turn, ultimately rests on nihilism. The setup of this reductio ad absurdum points the reader to a moral system that does not reduce to nihilism. Thus, a worldview that embraces objective moral truths must be embraced. Groothuis makes the claim that the source of objective moral truths is found in the absolute Being – God. Groothuis puts for the notion that God is the source of all perfect moral code because he himself is incapable of an evil act as it would be a contradiction of God’s Being.

I think that the big advantage you get from Doug Groothuis is his worldview. He has the most fully-integrated worldview of any Christian scholar I know.

I bought one copy of Dr. Groothuis’ book, but I gave it away. So I got myself another one. It’s a must have. My favorite four apologetics books are this one, “Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview” by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Michael Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus” and Stephen C. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell”. I think that if you add Wayne Grudem’s “Politics According to the Bible” to that list, then that’s a very practical set of tools.

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