Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The no true Scottsman fallacy

Evolutionist: All scientists believe in evolution.
Creationist: What about Michael Behe?
Evolutionist: He's not a scientist.
Creationist: Why do you say that?
Evolutionist: Because he doesn't believe in evolution. All true scientists believe in evolution.

No true scientist would ever deny evolution.

Orthodox Jew: All Jews deny that Jesus is the messiah.
Messianic Jew: Wait a minute. I'm a Jew, and I think Jesus is the messiah.
Orthodox Jew: You're not a Jew.
Messianic Jew: Why do you say that?
Orthodox Jew: Because you think Jesus is the messiah. That makes you a Christian, not a Jew.
Messianic Jew: I am a Christian, but I'm also a Jew. "Christianity" is a subcategory within Judaism.
Orthodox Jew: Now who do you think is in a better position to say what a Jew is? A Christian or a Jew? As a Christian, you have no right to say what constitute a Jew. Only Jews have that right.
Messianic Jew: But I am a Jew, which gives me the right to say what constitutes a Jew.
Orthodox Jew: No, you're not. You're a Christian. Christians are not Jews.

Round and round they go.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Born again Jehovah's Witness style

This morning, a couple of Jehovah's Witness women rang my door bell. It has been many years since the JW's have visited me, and this visit was unlike any I've ever had from them. In the past, every time they have come by, they have asked me a lot of questions. Usually, the questions come from their book, Reasoning from the Scriptures. But this time they didn't ask me any questions at all. They read a verse in Ecclesiastes about how oppression causes craziness (which I thought was kind of random), and then they they gave me an Awake magazine and a Watchtower magazine.

The Watchtower magazine is dated April 1, 2009, and the featured article is called "Born Again: What Does It Mean?" As I read the first part of the article, I was surprised by how Calvinistic it sounded. First, they pointed out that one cannot enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Then they argued that one cannot choose to be born again. God is the one who decides who will be born again. They cite such scriptures as John 1:13, which says, "...who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," and 1 Peter 1:3, which says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."

But then in the next section, they argue that being born again isn't for all Christians. It's just for the heavenly class of 144,000 who will rule with Christ in heaven for 1,000 years. The rest of Christians will live in a paradise earth, and they are not born again. Being born again is not necessary for salvation, and entering the kingdom of God is not the same as being saved or having eternal life.

In the next section, they explain how the new birth takes place. John 3:5 says, "Unless anyone is born from water and spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," so a person is born again by water baptism and spirit baptism. Does that strike anyone else as odd? Earlier they argued that being born again is entirely an act of God and not a choice that people make. But clearly water baptism is a choice that people make, and they are arguing water baptism is necessary for the new birth. They go on to argue that water baptism comes first. Nobody is baptized with the spirit until they are first baptized with water.

In the next section, the authors equate those who have been born again with those who are the adopted sons of God. If you have been born from the spirit of God, then you have been adopted as a son of God. Earlier, I said that they cited John 1:13 as a proof text showing that when people are born again, it is by the will of God, and not by the will of man. But John 1:13 is the second half of a sentence that begins in verse 12, which they did not include in their citation. Together, it reads, "But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." So this new birth experience isn't limited to 144,000 Christians. It applies to all Christians because it applies to all those who receive Jesus and believe in him.

Being born again isn't some special privileged status God bestows on a select group of Christians. Being born again is an act of God whereby he cures you of your rebellion which enables you to receive Christ in the first place. One cannot put their trust in Jesus if they have not been born again. All Christians are adopted sons of God. And entering the kingdom of God doesn't mean going to heaven. The JW's are right that the kingdom of God is a government. One enters the kingdom of God when they become citizens of that government. That includes all Christians. Jesus makes exclusion from the kingdom out to be a bad thing. Here are some examples:

Matthew 5:20 "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness."

Matthew 13:37-43 "The one who sows the good seed is the son of man, and the field is the world, and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The son of man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." (see also v. 47-49)

Matthew 25 is another good example. It has the parable of the ten virgins which Jesus compares to the kingdom of heaven. Some were included and some were excluded. Starting from verse 31, Jesus explains the judgment, saying he will put "the sheep on his right" and "the goats on his left." He'll say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels." There are only two groups--those who enter the kingdom, and those who don't. Those who don't enter eternal punishment.

As far as "entering the kingdom of God" being the same as "being saved," Matthew 19:24-26 says, "'And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, 'Then who can be saved?' And looking upon them Jesus said to them, 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"

Many more verses could be cited, but I think this is enough.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Review: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

I got a copy of The God Delusion for $5.98 at one of the Half Price Books in Austin, TX. Wahoo! I love a good deal.

I couldn't decide whether I was going to blog on this book or not. I just didn't have the motivation to take detailed notes, and as I began reading it, I quickly lost my enthusiasm for it. So my review is not going to be very detailed.

Whenever I read a book that expresses a different point of view than mine, and I want to critique it, I always look for clear statements about the purpose of the book. Then I evaluate the book based on that purpose. I do that because it's easy to get sidetracked on rabbit trails that don't have much to do with the central thesis. I like to stay focused if I can. The more you can dismiss as irrelevant, the less work you have to do.

Dawkins did me a huge favour by making his purpose clear and by filling the book full of irrelevant material. That's not to say a lot of it wasn't interesting, and it may have even been useful for people who agreed with his point.

Dawkins wrote, "If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down" (p. 28). So the whole purpose of the book is to persuade the reader to be an atheist. But there are two different kinds of atheism, so I'm told. There's strong atheism and weak atheism. Weak atheism is just a lack of belief in the existence of God, and it is consistent with agnosticism. Strong atheism is the view that God does not exist. Dawkins appears to have been defending strong atheism. In chapter 4, which he says contains his central argument, he concludes: "If the argument of this chapter is accepted, the factual premise of religion--the God Hypothesis--is untenable. God almost certainly does not exist" (p. 189).

In the first chapter, Dawkins writes, "I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented" (p. 57). But he doesn't attack all things supernatural in this book. If that was his intention, I think he ought to at least had a chapter on the mind/body problem, and maybe a chapter on paranormal phenomena like witchcraft, ghost hunters, psychics, and things like that. I don't think anything in his book amounted to an argument against all things supernatural.

There are really only two chapters in this book that support his main purpose--chapters 3 and 4. In chapter 3, he responds to several arguments for God. In chapter 4, he makes his case that God almost certainly doesn't exist. The second half of the book, while interesting, doesn't address the question of whether God exists or not.

In chapter 3, Dawkins responds to Aquinas' "Five Ways," Anselm's ontological argument, Pascal's Wager, the argument from religious experience, and a few other obscure arguments for God. In the end, he said the most promising argument was the argument from design, so he dedicated the whole of chapter 4 to addressing the argument from design. There are two versions of the argument from design that he addressed--the fine tuning of the universe for life, and biological complexity.

I think that given his goal of converting people to atheism, he should've addressed some of the more contemporary arguments for God such as the kalam cosmological argument, and maybe even Plantinga's ontological argument. If you're going to write a book refuting a whole worldview, you ought to address its best defenders. I wish he had addressed William Lane Craig's kalam cosmological argument or J.P. Moreland's argument from mind. Maybe he could've even addressed Greg Bahnsen's transcendental argument.

I've never thought the design argument was very persuasive until maybe the last three years or so. I still don't think it's the strongest argument, but apparently, a lot of other people do. It seems to be the primary argument that caused Antony Flew to go from atheism to deism.

I know I'm not being very specific about Dawkin's arguments (I didn't take good notes), but there is one part of chapter 4 that I think deserves mention because I thought he made a good point. He said that "if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin's theory" (p. 151). The problem is that it's almost impossible to demonstrate that anything is irreducibly complex. He said:
More generally, there are many structures that are irreducible in the sense that they cannot survive the subtraction of any part, but which were built with the aid of scaffolding that was subsequently subtracted and is no longer visible. Once the structure is completed, the scaffolding can be removed safely and the structure remains standing. In evolution, too, the organ or structure you are looking at may have had scaffolding in an ancestor which has since been removed. p. 156
So some things can appear irreducibly complex even if it isn't, and we have no way of knowing. That makes it almost impossible to demonstrate that anything is really irreducibly complex.

Although Dawkin's meant chapter 4 to be an argument against God's existence, I don't think it amounted to any such thing. It doesn't follow that "God almost certainly doesn't exist" just because the design argument is fallacious. It could be that God exists for some other reason. Or it could be that God exists, and we don't know about it. Or maybe some other kind of god exists that Dawkins doesn't address.

The whole purpose of this book is to demonstrate that God doesn't exist, but only one paragraph in the entire 420 page book amounts to an argument against the existence of God--specifically, the Christian God. It comes on page 101. The Christian God is both omniscient and omnipotent, and Dawkins argues that the two attributes are incompatible. If they are, that would prove the Christian God doesn't exist, or at least that the Christians are wrong about the attributes of their God.

If God is all-knowing, then he knows everything he is ever going to do. If he knows everything he's ever going to do, then he can't change his mind about what he's going to do. And if he can't change his mind, then he isn't all-powerful. The problem with this argument is that elsewhere in the book, Dawkins seems to concede that omnipotence is the ability to do all things logically possible. The reason an all-knowing God couldn't change his mind is because it is logically impossible. So it isn't because of a lack of power that he can't do it.

I read the book from cover to cover, and it did not cause me the least bit of doubt about the existence of God. That is not to say I'm 100% certain of God's existence, just that Dawkins failed to diminish in the least what confidence I have. According to Dawkins, the reason I was unconvinced is because I'm a "dyed in the wool faith-head," who is "immune to argument," and my resistance to argument is "built up over years of childhood indoctrination" (p. 28). Good grief! How many people are so confident in their own arguments that they think the only reason a person will not immediately change their minds because of them is because they are "immune to argument"? Is it not even possible that maybe some of Dawkins' arguments are unsound or that he just didn't make a persuasive case?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

On the third day

Earlier this year, I put my ipod through the washing machine. It was an accident, of course. Not surprisingly the ipod was completely dead. I didn't throw it away immediately, though. I kept pushing the button every time I got in my car just to see what would happen if anything. For two days, it was completely dead. Then, on the third day, it came back to life. The screen didn't light up like it was supposed to, though. It was dim. But it played just fine, and I was happy and relieved. Ipods are expensive. About a week later, the screen lit up, and the ipod was just like new. At that point, I was pretty impressed with ipods. But then somebody stole it out of my car. Bummer!

Of course anybody who does some studying knows this story couldn't possibly be true. I'm a Christian, and I've been a Christian for many years. The Bible is full of third day motifs, not least of which is the resurrection of Jesus. The story of the dying and rising ipod has too many parallels with the dying and rising myth of Jesus to have been a coincidence. Why, even the ipod being stolen is similar to Jesus' ascension where the disciples could see him no more. Clearly, the story about the ipod was borrowed (perhaps even subconsciously) from the story of Jesus.

But the ipod story is true.