Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Hitchens’

Devotional Podcast #26: “Is Jesus Enough for Us?”

July 14, 2018

Devotional Text: Mark 5:21-43

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Saturday, July 14, and after a long break, I’m back with you for Episode Number 26 in my series of podcasts. I apologize for the time away. I’m an itinerant United Methodist pastor, and I was recently appointed to a new church. So over the past two months I’ve had to pack up and leave one town and one church move to another town and church. But now that I’m getting settled in, I hope to bring you these podcast episodes with more regularity.

You’re listening to “The Waiting” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, his hit song from 1981. I recorded this directly from the band’s long-playing vinyl record Hard Promises. The song is a happy song, in a way, because the singer sings it on the other side of a long and difficult wait. For the singer, the waiting is finally over—at last—because, you know, he’s finally found true love or whatever. But he wants you to know that waiting for true love was very difficult. In fact, “it’s the hardest part.” “Every day,” he says, “you see one more card”—you don’t see all the cards all at once; you just see one at a time, and you trust—you “take it on faith”—that you’re going to be holding all the right cards before the game is over.

And so it is for us Christians today, and so it was for Jairus in today’s scripture, which comes from Mark 5:21-43. I need to read it because, otherwise, you may not know what I’m talking about… [Read Mark 5:21-43.] 

Jairus is a synagogue ruler in Capernaum, the town that served as Jesus’ home base during his ministry years. That means, among other things, that Jairus is a powerful, wealthy, well-respected member of his community. He is sincerely religious, as we learn in v. 23, where Mark tells us that he “implored Jesus earnestly” to heal his terminally ill daughter. Read the rest of this entry »

Devotional Podcast #4: “Thank God for Unanswered Prayer”

January 17, 2018

As someone who’s interested in Christian apologetics, I used to think that unanswered prayer posed a bigger “challenge” to Christianity than I do today. I explain why in this podcast. The gist is this: I know my own heart to some extent. I often don’t know what’s good for me. And I often want things that ultimately cause me harm. Our Father, by contrast, only wants to give us “good things,” as Jesus says. So we can trust him.

Devotional Text: Matthew 7:7-11

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Wednesday, January 17, and this is the fourth podcast of my new series of devotional podcasts. I’m posting new podcasts in this series every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’ll also post my Sunday sermons whenever I get around to it. So stay tuned.

You’re listening to the song “Beautiful One,” by the band Daniel Amos, sometimes known as DA, from their 1986 album Fearful Symmetry. It’s hard not to hear echoes of the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe.”

Years ago—eleven, to be exact—I attended a debate in Atlanta between Christopher Hitchens, a well-known British political commentator, author, and journalist, and Timothy Jackson, one of my professors at the Candler School of Theology. At the time, the late Mr. Hitchens was staging debates with religious people as part of a publicity tour for his new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Hitchens was a quick wit and a famously fierce debater, and, although you wouldn’t know it from the boisterous reactions of Hitchens partisans in the audience—it was his book tour, after all—my guy, Dr. Jackson, won the debate… handily. In fact, the debate sparked my interest in Christian apologetics—the art of defending the Christian faith—that remains to this day. It’s hard to remember this now, but I started my blog in 2009 in part to address skeptical questions about the Christian faith.

One such question is the challenge posed by unanswered prayer. How do we square the fact of unanswered prayer with Jesus’ own words on the subject—for example, Matthew 7:7: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Or John 14:13: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

There are many good answers to this question, but I like this analogy from science: Chaos theory teaches us that a butterfly flapping its wings in China could be “magnified through a ripple effect so as to determine the path of a hurricane in the South Pacific.”[1] So even a seemingly small event like a butterfly flapping its wings can change the course of history in ways that we can’t predict. Now think about our prayer petitions: the things we ask God to do for us will likely be far more significant than a butterfly flapping its wings; and only God can foresee whether the consequences of granting our petition will ultimately be good for us, for everyone else, and for the rest of Creation.

My point is, if God doesn’t grant our petition, we can trust that he knows best; we certainly don’t. As pastor Tim Keller puts it, “God gives us what we would have asked for, if we knew everything that God knows.”

I like that answer… I do! But it’s still a little academic.

How about this answer: Often God doesn’t give us—his children—what we ask for because God wants us to be happy—I mean, deeply happy; with a lasting kind of happiness, an invulnerable kind of joy. And we simply don’t know what we need in order to achieve that kind of happiness. But God does.

In that same passage from Matthew chapter 7 that I referred to a moment ago, Jesus says, “[W]hich one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”[2]

Notice Jesus says that our Father will give us “good things.” I hate to say it, but I’m not convinced I want good things much of the time!

Don’t get me wrong: I want things! For example, I desperately want recognition… I want people to praise me… I want people to appreciate me… I want people to show me how much they love me.

And you might say, “What do you want? A medal?” Yes! That’s a good start!

And if I don’t get a medal, I’d be willing to settle for lots of money! I’m not hard to please!

My point is, the things I want… even if I got them, they would never be enough. I would never be satisfied. God knows that!

So thank God for unanswered prayer! I mean that literally… Thank God! Our Father only wants to give his children good things. See, I’m the one asking for stones, and my Father gives me bread instead. I’m the one asking for a serpent, and my Father gives me a fish instead. Or, from Luke’s gospel, I’m the one asking for a scorpion, and my Father gives me an egg instead. Thank God!

God wants us to be happy… Our problem is our willingness to settle for something far less than happiness. Listen to the way C.S. Lewis puts it in The Problem of Pain:

George Macdonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men, ‘You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give you.’ That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe ever can grow—then we must starve eternally.[3]

“O God, I’m weary from hunger. I don’t want to starve any longer. Give me your bread of life. Give me your Son Jesus! Give me Jesus, and I’ll be satisfied. Amen.”

That’s a prayer that God will answer every time!

1. Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (New York: Dutton, 2013), 100.

2. Matthew 7:9-10 ESV

3. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 47.

Ask Dr. Olson a question? You bet I will!

June 2, 2016

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know how much I admire Roger Olson, a historical theologian at Baylor (not to mention an Arminian Baptist), and his blog. He has a new post this week, “Ask a Theologian a Question,” in which he’s fielding questions from readers.

My question was of a nagging apologetic concern that I’ve had. Dr. Olson was gracious enough to answer. The key, I believe, is that God doesn’t merely want us to know that he exists. Mere knowledge hardly produces love, or self-sacrifice, or worship. Doesn’t it seem likely that many convinced atheists wouldn’t submit to the kind of loving, trusting relationship that God wants us to have with him, even if they had more tangible proof? Both the late writer Christopher Hitchens and English actor Stephen Fry, among others, have said they wouldn’t want the Christian God to exist, and if he did, they wouldn’t bow down to them.

Besides, as James says, even demons know that God exists—and shudder. As I imply in my question, I agree with Olson: Believing that God exists is our natural state of affairs. Evidence from history, not to mention scripture, bears this out.

(Click on graphic to expand.)

olson

Sermon 03-01-15: “King, Cross & Crown, Part 2: The King’s Arrival”

March 12, 2015

lenten_sermon_series

During Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowd shouted “hosanna,” meaning save us. They wanted and expected their Messiah to save them from Roman occupation and taxation. In other words, they said, “Save us, Jesus, but only a little.” They didn’t realize how much they needed salvation—that if Christ was going to save them, he was going to save them all the way. They needed—and we need—to be transformed them from the inside out.

Do we want a little bit of Jesus, or are we prepared to surrender everything to him?

Sermon Text: Mark 11:1-18

Right-click here to download an MP3 version of this sermon.

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

So… Is it white and gold? Or blue and black?

In case you you’ve been living under a rock, the internet broke last week, as millions of us wondered what color this dress is! The image in the middle is the actual image. The image on the left is the way I saw it—white and gold—which is the right way. And the image on the right is the way other people mistakenly saw it. Raise your hand if this dress is white and gold… Now raise your hand if this dress is blue and black? Of course, I liked this meme that Georgia Tech shared.

I read in Wired magazine that, as hard as it is for me to comprehend, the actual dress is blue and black—and the reason so many of us see it as white and gold has something to do with the way our brains process colors. Our brain is playing tricks on us.

dress01

The point is, we’re all looking at the exact same picture, yet our responses to it are drastically different. That’s not unlike people’s responses to Jesus in today’s scripture. When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowd praises him as king and Savior. So that’s how one group of people viewed Jesus.

But the very next day, this other group of people, in verse 18, views this same Jesus as not only wrong about being king and Savior, but dangerously wrong—so much so that they want to get him killed.

So it’s one or the other… Which is it? Read the rest of this entry »

“Reason to Believe,” a new three-week class on the resurrection

March 5, 2015

reason_to_believe_class

I mentioned in last Sunday’s sermon that back in 2007 I witnessed a debate in Atlanta between bestselling atheist author Christopher Hitchens and one of my seminary professors, Dr. Tim Jackson. To say the least, Dr. Jackson was facing an intimidating adversary in Hitchens, yet he was able to meet his every objection with humor and equanimity.

I felt inspired: Dr. Jackson’s example made me want to take seriously Peter’s command to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

The only problem, as I said last Sunday, was that I was effectively living as an atheist myself, for all the difference God’s Word was making in my life. Among other things, I did not hold a high view of the authority of scripture. I had become a professional Bible reader—studying it mostly to prepare sermons and Bible studies, or to get a good grade on an exam or essay.

Thank God the Holy Spirit got hold of me soon enough—using thinkers like N.T. Wright, whose book The Resurrection of the Son of God was another formative influence on me. I repented. I began to take God’s Word seriously once again. And within a couple of years I started this blog, in part to defend the Christian faith.

With all this in mind, I’m excited to begin a three-part class this Sunday night on the resurrection of Jesus Christ called “Reason to Believe.”

Does our belief in the miracle at the center of our faith rest on solid historical evidence? Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected? What about alternative theories that attempt to explain Easter Sunday?

Our stakes in answering these questions couldn’t be higher: Christianity stands or falls on the historicity of this miracle. As Paul rightly understood, if the resurrection didn’t happen, then our faith is futile, we are still in our sins, and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).

For the class, I’ll draw upon the “minimal facts” approach of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, as well as insights from N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Glenn Peoples, and others.

I look forward to a lively discussion!

C.S. Lewis on the moral argument against God

June 25, 2014

lewisWhen a Christian apologist says that we “need God” for objective moral values, unbelievers often mishear or misunderstand the statement. They think he’s saying, “We need God in order to be moral people”—at which point, they might, for example, point to Israel’s conquest of Canaan in the Old Testament and say, “I don’t need that God telling me what’s good and bad!” Or they might become indignant, thinking the apologist is saying that unbelievers are incapable of being moral people. I witnessed the late Christopher Hitchens exhibiting this same confusion in both ways in a debate with my Christian ethics professor many years ago.

Needless to say, both these responses miss the point. As David Bentley Hart has written:

We all know that countless persons of no creed whatsoever—atheists, agnostics, the indeterminately “spiritual,” the genially indifferent—are able to behave with exemplary kindness and generosity. Spend some time working with Doctors Without Borders, for instance, and you will meet many physicians who joined the organization out of religious conviction, but also many who did not, and it is impossible to discern any great differences among them as far as compassion or heroism goes.

That said, I have to observe that… I have been led to a few dark and desolate locales, of the sort that never get mentioned in tourist guides, and it is hard not to notice that the nearer one gets to the ground in places where poverty, disease, despair, and terror are simply part of the quotidian fabric of existence, the more the burden of humanitarian aid is shifted onto the shoulders of religious institutions (generally, though not exclusively, Christian). I don’t doubt the good will, decency, or dedication of atheist altruists, or the supererogation of which many of them are individually capable. But I do occasionally entertain doubts that in general, considered purely proportionately, they can rival their believing counterparts for sheer moral stamina.

That is not an accusation, however. The real question of the moral life, at least as far as philosophical “warrant” is at issue, is not whether one personally needs God in order to be good, but whether one needs God in order for the good to be good.

For Hart, it’s “blindingly obvious” that we need God in order for the good to be good. You can read his essay for more on that.

Many atheists, by contrast, convinced already that the good is really good, reject faith in God on that basis. C.S. Lewis, who did the same thing himself early in life, points out the logical problem with doing so in the following paragraph from Mere Christianity:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.[†]

† C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002), 41.

The “boomerang effect” of the moral argument against God

October 21, 2013

One seemingly strong argument against God’s existence has to do with something David Hume once wrote:

Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered. Is [God] willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?[1]

Enlightenment thinkers like Hume and Voltaire led the modern charge against God’s existence with this kind of moral argument. How can we believe in a benevolent God when there is so much evil in the world?

This remains a pervasive argument among atheists today. It was the foundation of the late Christopher Hitchens’s “new atheist” bestseller many years ago. People make the argument after natural disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, or even after appalling example of human-made evil like Newtown. If you don’t believe the argument is widespread, consult the comments section of any Huffington Post article from sympathetic Christian writers who write as if the scale of suffering and evil embarrasses their Christian faith (such articles are legion over there).

While I feel the weight of the argument viscerally, the logic of arguing from scale escapes me: If it’s wrong for God to allow 300,000 people to die in one fell swoop from a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, is it any less wrong for three people to die from a tornado in a trailer park? As C.S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain, arguments from scale are a red herring. There’s no sense speaking of a “sum of suffering” because no one suffers it. The worst suffering in the world is the maximum pain that one person can experience, which is horrifying enough.

If we’re going be indignant, let’s be indignant on behalf of one person’s suffering. Attempting to “multiply” that suffering by the number of people suffering should add no further indignation.

But the point of this post is indignation. Many of us are indignant about God’s permitting genocide, or holocausts, or large-scale natural disasters, or torture, or the suffering of young children. If God exists at all, God is wrong, or evil, or immoral.

As Timothy Keller observes in his new book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, arguing against God on the basis of morality has a “boomerang effect.”

It is inarguable that human beings have moral feelings. A moral feeling means I feel some behavior is right and some behavior wrong and even repulsive. Now, if there is no God, where do such strong moral instincts and feeling come from? Today many would say our moral sense comes from evolution. Our feelings about right and wrong are thought to be genetically hardwired into us because they helped our ancestors survive. While that explanation may account for moral feelings, it can’t account for moral obligation. What right have you to tell people they are obligated to stop certain behaviors if their feelings tell them those things are right, but you feel they are wrong? Why should your moral feelings take precedence over theirs? Where do you get a standard by which your moral feelings and sense are judged as true and others as false? On what basis do you say to someone, “What you have done is evil,” if their feelings differ from yours?

We call this a conundrum because the very basis for disbelief in God—a certainty about evil and the moral obligation not to commit it—dissolves if there truly is no God. The ground on which you make your objection vanishes under your feet. So not only does the argument against God from evil not succeed, but it actually has a “boomerang effect” on the users. Because it shows you that you are assuming something that can’t exist unless God does. And so, in a sense, you are relying on God to make an argument against God.[2]

Keller goes on to cite a few atheists who converted to Christianity on this basis, including C.S. Lewis.

Of course, nothing I’m saying (or Keller is saying) begins to “prove” God’s existence. As atheist friends would say, wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so. But let’s concede that we all want it to be true, at least the non-sociopaths among us. We want our incredibly strong intuition about right and wrong to be based on something more substantial than our personal feelings, proclivities, or tastes.

1. Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (New York: Dutton, 2013), 85.

2. Ibid., 103-4.

An argument about morality in The Swedish Atheist

March 12, 2013

Probably my favorite argument for God’s existence—in the abstract, apart from considerations about the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus—is the moral argument: We have these strong moral intuitions that atheism can’t account for. If atheism is true, we have no objective morality; our moral intuitions are merely aesthetic or utilitarian: Ultimately, I help this old lady across the street, rather than push her in front of a bus, because it pleases me to do so, or at least I’ll avoid getting into trouble, not because doing one or the other is objectively better. Since there’s no good, there’s no better or worse.

Not so fast, many atheists object. Hasn’t evolution encoded within us a sense of morality to ensure the survival of our species (or something)? In his new book on apologetics, which I discussed in yesterday’s post, Randal Rauser’s atheist opponent, Sheridan, makes this argument: We have evolved as a species to obey these ethical rules, which facilitate survival of the species. As long as we’re human beings—as opposed to hungry lions who may eat humans with no ethical problems—we are bound to live by this code of behavior. If that’s not strictly “objective,” isn’t it close enough?

It’s no surprise that Rauser doesn’t think so. But he also doesn’t think that Sheridan thinks so—not if he really thinks about it. Suppose a group of aliens from outer space came to our planet. These aliens obviously enjoy intelligence, reason, language, and culture. In many ways they are more highly evolved than we homo sapiens are. Like us, they are moral agents: they have evolved their own morality, which guides their behavior—only, their moral system allows them to torture, rape, and murder human beings with impunity.

Is it possible, based on Sheridan’s account of morality, that such space aliens could exist? Yes, Sheridan concedes. Is it morally O.K. for these aliens to torture, rape, and murder? Sheridan agrees that we human beings would have no basis for judging them.

What about your moral intuition? Rauser asked. Wouldn’t it be screaming that what these aliens are doing is wrong? “That’d hardly be the first time our intuitions have misled us,” Sheridan said. “But Sheridan,” Rauser said, “I don’t see any reason to think our moral intuitions are flawed about something so basic as the necessary evil of raping moral agents for pleasure.”[1]

Rauser then tries a different tack. He asks Sheridan to consider convergent evolution: two different species can have a strikingly similar trait or bodily form even though their common evolutionary ancestor didn’t possess this trait or form. He gives the example of the North American flying squirrel and the marsupial squirrel glider. Genetically, these mammals are very different, even though they look the same.

What if homo sapiens had similar humanoid cousins, who were physically indistinguishable from us? Suppose they walked and talked like us but had a very different evolutionary history? It’s possible that such a humanoid could exist. Suppose this humanoid species had evolved with a morality that permits them to torture, rape, and murder human beings with impunity. Would their actions be morally O.K.?

While Sheridan is less sure of himself, he complains that it doesn’t matter: Rauser’s example is pure science fiction. After more arguing, Rauser says,

“Sheridan, repeatedly intoning about ‘science fiction’ is a red herring. Not only are your views implausible as descriptions of morality, but they also wreak havoc with our sense of moral progress. Right now we humans strive—in word if not always in deed—to achieve certain ends like courage, justice, patience, and kindness. Your view entails that depending on the way our evolutionary trajectory progresses, there may come a point where we have to rethink and even abandon these virtues. More to the point, there may come a time when they are no longer virtues for us. Perhaps in the future it will become morally praiseworthy for a more fully evolved humanoid descendant of ours to rape and torture other creatures. Perhaps Ramirez [a serial killer who claimed that his morality was “beyond” that of ordinary human beings] is a glimpse into our own moral future when the most morally virtuous of us are those who can rape and kill without conscience. That’s possible in your view. But in my view, that fluid notion of moral progress is falsified by our very absolute moral intuitions. We know that certain actions and behaviors are always to be cultivated and others always to be avoided regardless of the future evolutionary direction of our species.”[2]

Of course, this doesn’t prove that there’s a God. Maybe our moral intuition lies to us constantly. Evolution only purports to explain what is, not what ought to be, regardless how deeply we feel this ought-ness in our bones. Wishing something were true doesn’t make it so, as atheists have told me a few times.

However…

Years ago, I saw Christopher Hitchens in a debate in which he kept referring to Occam’s Razor: the simpler explanation is usually preferable to the more complex one. Therefore, why bother with God to explain our world if something as simple as non-theistic evolution will do just fine?

While I strongly disagree that evolution alone accounts for much—and Hitchens’s idea of God’s “complexity” is bad philosophical reasoning—I’m happy to invoke Occam’s Razor against the New Atheists when it comes to moral intuition. Why is this sense of right and wrong so incredibly strong and pervasive—at least among us non-psychopaths?

We Christians have a far simpler explanation than they do.

1. Randal Rauser, The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2012), 181.

2. Ibid., 184.

A good reason to believe in God

January 16, 2013

For a few months now, Scot McKnight has allowed a philosophy professor named Jeff Cook, a Christian, to guest-post on his Jesus Creed blog. Cook’s first series of posts was the Top Ten best reasons not to believe in God. The second series, which finished up today, is the Top Ten best reasons to believe in God. As interested as I am in apologetics, I found most of these reasons to be persuasive (why wouldn’t I, right?), if a bit mind-numbing. Not being a philosopher myself, all those P’s and C’s make my eyes glaze over. I prefer my arguments to be more narrative, if you know what I mean.

Still, even I thought the argument for today’s reason—love and freedom—which ranks #1 on his Top Ten reasons to believe in God, was straightforward and easy to follow. You might think that “love and freedom” are two reasons, but his point is that love is only possible if we are also free. (This should be uncontroversial, except to the most hardened Calvinist!)

Anyway, I’ll excerpt the argument and then add a few words to his.

P1  If materialism is true, love is a chemical reaction in your skull.
P2  Love is not simply a chemical reaction in your skull.
C1  Materialism is false.

Very few of us are able to look at our beloved, at our child, at our comrades and actually believe that our connection to them is *exclusively* chemical activity. Certainly some of it may be. But I would suggest many of us experience something more.

P3  If materialism is true, all our thoughts and actions are determined by the unthinking, non-rational movement of chemicals in our skulls.
P4  If P3, then if materialism is true we have no freedom of thought and action.
P5  We experience freedom of thought and action (we are in fact free of total coercion in both our thinking—what we believe—and our behavior—what we do).
C2  Materialism is false.

We think the human beings around us ought to do certain things (“avoid abusing children” for example) and believe certain things (“other human beings are valuable”). But if materialism is true our beliefs and actions are all determined by the unthinking matter in our skull over which “we” have no control.

He goes on to argue not only against materialism but for God. See the post.

In my view, this is a strong argument. Human freedom is a major problem for the philosophical materialist. Why? Because they live their lives as if freedom and love (and justice and any number of other things) have real meaning. In fact, we all do. We want badly for love and freedom to be real.

As far as I know, we can offer a strictly scientific or materialistic account for why we have the (illusory) experience of love and freedom, but this account is unsatisfying to those of us who aren’t complete nihilists.

And I know the counterargument: So what? We can want love, freedom, justice, beauty, God—and anything else—to be real and objectively meaningful, but our desire, no matter how strong, doesn’t make it so.

And of course that’s true.

But I used to hear the late Christopher Hitchens (and probably Richard Dawkins) talk a lot about “Occam’s razor”—the idea that the simplest explanation is best. So why resort to the “God” hypothesis if the atheistic hypothesis works just fine: Darwinian processes explain everything, so why bother with God?

I disagree that Darwinian processes “explain” everything, for a number of reasons. One thing it doesn’t explain, as Jeff Cook’s post pinpoints, is this desire. Throw the Christian God back in and suddenly that makes sense, too.

Personal incredulity is not an argument

April 26, 2012

A Facebook friend helpfully pointed me to a webpage that reminds us of eleven mistakes of logic that we often make when arguing. As I’m currently preaching a sermon series on evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I’m trying my best to avoid them. One fallacy, which I had never heard of before, is “personal incredulity.” Here’s the description:

I’m struck by the fact that he uses evolution as an example. I get his point, but I also note that this same mistake is often made by skeptics and atheists concerning God, theology, and resurrection.

Recently, my friend Mike was watching an online debate between Christian apologist William Lane Craig and the late Christopher Hitchens. I assume this debate was part of Hitchens’s God is Not Great book tour several years ago. (Click here to read about a debate I witnessed live between Hitchens and my Christian ethics prof, Timothy Jackson.)

Mike was impressed with Craig, and why wouldn’t he be? Craig knows all the arguments backwards and forwards, and is well-prepared to take on any comer. (Last year, Craig challenged Dawkins to debate him in England, but Dawkins turned him down. Smart man!) But my friend noticed that Hitchens had zero interest in engaging any of Craig’s arguments. And since Craig is such an earnest fellow, I can’t imagine that he fared well playing Hitchens’s game of scornful derision masked as witty repartee.

My point is, the fallacy of personal incredulity is a primary tactic of our celebrity atheists. Dawkins himself deflects criticism that he knows nothing about Christian theology by talking about fairies and flying spaghetti monsters. Why bother learning anything about theology? he would say. It’s such obvious nonsense.

And so it is with evidence for the resurrection. The attitude of many skeptics is, “It doesn’t matter what you tell me, I’m not going to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. That’s beyond the realm of possibility.” Whatever else happened, we know in advance that that didn’t happen.

One thing I hope to get across in this “Reason to Believe” series is this: If the resurrection of Jesus did happen, then the evidence we have is the precisely the evidence that we should expect.