Atheism and the design of the universe
Another night on the streets and discussions with the atheists. This time with Peter and Paul (not their real names), and the conversation went something like this.
I had finished a bottle of Diet Coke, and as I stood there holding it in my hand, the discussion began concerning interpretation of data—the ‘facts’. This is not the first time I’ve had this kind of discussion with these two characters. But sometimes you can step into the same topic a different way and get a better result. Tonight was such a night.
Now the discussion had turned towards the creationist argument that ‘no one was there historically to observe what went on.’ Peter and Paul were keen to establish that that argument went in both directions, that it applied to creationists as well as atheists. I agreed the argument went in both directions, but there were some other issues to be considered.
I was tempted initially to go down the path of ‘God was there’ and turn it into a discussion yet again on the existence of God. I resisted, and went in another direction. Sometimes it’s necessary to sidestep an important argument temporarily in order to make your case somewhere else.
I held the plastic Coke bottle up and suggested we view it as a fossil. Both the atheists and myself had the same data in front of us. None of us were ‘there’ historically to observe what happened, so we had to find a way to ‘interpret’ the data in front of us—my imaginary fossil.
Very quickly Peter and Paul suggested we would need more information in order to interpret this ‘fossil’. I agreed. All of us would need additional information in order to interpret the data.
But what if the other information we had was wrong? Could we still ‘interpret’ this fossil with incorrect data? Of course not, they agreed. But the ‘scientific method’ had within it steps to check and confirm the accumulation of data collected along the way, they reminded me. I agreed that might be the scientific method, but these two atheists were about to learn a lesson about jigsaw puzzles.
Renaissance (lit. re-birth) man was confident. There was accumulating wealth and new business activities, such as metal engraving. Cotton was beginning to appear; double-entry bookkeeping improved the reliability of financial management. The trade fraternities grew in number and competition with each other, as members jockeyed for key work assignments. Craftsmen entered the guilds as apprentices, were eventually promoted to journeymen, and finally became masters. But self-interest took over, and the current masters worked to keep a monopoly on their position. Protectionism appeared everywhere. Riots broke out as the lower classes, deprived of the ability to work their way up the economic ladder, literally starved through lack of work. When the Black Death drove up the price of labor, there was a concerted effort to keep a lid on what was paid by the rich employers. Economic control was important.
The selling of indulgences pushed the laity over the edge, but it highlighted a major problem of the period: the need for money.
Meanwhile, knowledge expanded as schools and universities flourished. For example, in Florence it was estimated that at one time as many as 10,000 children were learning to read. The search for perspective in art, by painters such as Uccello, Giotto, the Gaddis, and Cennini, raised the quality of the frescoes to new levels. Music, too, took on a new lease of life, as the use of harmony expanded and music notation developed so that the harmony and counter melody could be written against the canto fermo or basic melody.
The Corruption of the Church
Everything appeared to be moving forward with the exception of the Church, where corruption had become a regular part of life. Bishoprics were not earned, but were auctioned to the highest bidder. This was also the age of Wycliffe and Huss, the dawning of the Reformation which did not appear over the horizon in full flight until Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. These rumblings were a warning of the great eruption that was on its way. The church was decadent, as competing claims to the Papacy—the Great Schism—led to confusion and a growing rejection of the church and its clergy. What could be expected when the various Popes, each claiming to be the true representative of God on earth, declared that those following other Popes were headed for eternal damnation. The selling of indulgences pushed the laity over the edge, but it highlighted a major problem of the period: the need for money.
- Pirenne, Henry, A History of Europe (Birkenhead: Willmer Bros & Co. Ltd, 1936), p. 379ff.↵back
- The city population at the time was estimated to be about 90,000 men, women and children. David Herhily, ed., Medieval Culture and Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 187.↵back
- Lang, Paul Henry, Music in Western Civilization (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd,  1963), p. 125ff.↵back
- Durant, Will, The Story of Civilization: VI:The Renaissance (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953), p.361ff.↵back
“Thus the first step that the current scientific method is asking you to take is to assume that the facts that you meet are brute facts. I say you are asked to assume the existence of brute facts. If you did not assume this you could not be neutral with respect to various interpretations given of the facts. If God exists there are no brute facts; if God exists our study of facts must be the effort to know them as God wants them to be known by us. We must then seek to think God’s thoughts after him. To assume that there are brute facts is therefore to assume that God does not exist.”
Cornelius Van Til, “A Calvin University,” in The Banner, November, 1939.
Atheists are Good Without God!
An Atheist announced on an internet discussion board, “Atheists are good without God!” It was not the first time I had heard it. Over the past twelve years, on the many atheist forums I had visited, the atheists and even some professing “Christians” had made this claim. To support their assertion, they posted a few “studies” that showed how atheist ethics (devised from their own empty non-belief system) were superior. Atheists had lesser numbers in prison, they claimed, a lower divorce rate, less crime in secular countries, and better raised children because they taught their children (the atheist ethics of) tolerance (which excluded Christians), anti-racism and the “Golden Rule” or empathy. Empathy, they avowed, was the best guide for morality. Empathy, in fact, would create the Utopia the world has, since the Garden of Eden, yearned after for so long. This godless form of morality was purportedly superior to all notions of cold and rigid religious dogma and objectivity.
Upon first consideration, exchanging cold, hard, objective morality for that of warm, gentle, compassionate empathy is appealing. But is it correct? In this blog I will show my readers how in truth it is a recipe for failure and the reasons why.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines empathy as: 1. The imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it. 2 The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this.
The Mythology of Science
On the surface, a myth is the illusion of an age or a culture whereby life and its origins are interpreted. As such, the myth has an axiomatic truth to the age and is its criterion for judging and assessing reality.
To fill a role he never wrote, to enter on stage at a time not of his choosing, this man resents.
But much more is involved in the concept of myth. A myth is the attempt of a culture to overcome history, to negate the forces and ravages of time, and to make the universe amenable and subject to man. The myth reveals a hatred of history. History shows movement in terms of forces beyond man and in judgment over man; history rides heavily over man, is inescapably ethical, shows a continuing conflict between good and evil, and clearly shows man to be the actor, not the playwright and director. And this man hates. To fill a role he never wrote, to enter on stage at a time not of his choosing, this man resents. The purpose man then sets for himself in his myths is to end history, to make man the absolute governor by decreeing an end to the movement that is history. Where his myths acknowledge man’s lot in history, man ascribes his sorry role, not to his depravity, but to the jealousy of the gods. The goal of the myth, progressively more clearly enunciated in time, has become the destruction of history and the enthronement of man as the new governor of the universe.
The purpose of magic is the total control by man over man, nature, and the supernatural.
The means used by man to accomplish the goal of his myth is magic. The purpose of magic is the total control by man over man, nature, and the supernatural. Whatever the form magic takes, this is its goal. The relationship of magic is therefore basically to science rather than to Biblical religion. Under the influence of Christianity, science escaped from magic. The purpose of science ceased gradually to be an attempt to play god and became rather the exercise of dominion over the earth under God. The redeemed Christian is God’s vicegerent over the earth, and science is one of man’s tools in establishing and furthering that dominion. For science to overstep that role is to forsake science for magic. The purposes of modern science are increasingly those of magic, the exercise of total control. The essential goal of modern science is knowledge in order to have prediction, planning, and control. Magic thus has again triumphed, and modern science is popular precisely because man today, wedded again to the world of myth, demands magic to overcome history, to eliminate the ethical struggle and to place man beyond good and evil and beyond judgment. On the whole, modern science has taken readily to this new role, and it is enjoying its status as magicians to modern man. Science thus has become magic and is governed by myth.
- Rousas John Rushdoony, The Mythology of Science (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1967), pp.1-2.↵back
“To a mathematician infinity is simply a number without limit. To a physicist it’s a monstrosity. … It means the collapse of everything we know about the physical universe. In the real world there is no such thing as infinity. … Total nonsense … This is a nightmare beyond comprehension.” —Prof. Michio Kaku
Richard Dawkins was once asked to provide a single sentence that he thought could cause a creationist to doubt their view on creation.
His answer was to look at the similarity in the genes and see the resemblances. These, he said, formed a perfect hierarchy. However, For Prof. Dawkins, the perfect hierarchy are evidence of evolution, not design. He gives no reason for this conclusion, but makes it anyway. In fact, if it was designed, then the designer deliberately created in such a way to confuse everyone, according to Prof. Dawkins.
There is no infinity in the finite order of existence, argue the physicists.”
Then he goes on to allege that a creationist said, “even if all the evidence in the universe pointed towards an old earth, I would be the first to admit it. But I would still be a young earth creationist, because that is what holy scripture teaches me.”
“You cannot argue with a mind like that,” alleges Dr. Dawkins. For such a mind is “a disgrace to the human species.”
The Fracture of the Biblical Worldview
A survey of the history of Europe and its offshoots such as USA or Australia, reveals a worldview that transformed the culture. The transformation included limited government—federalism—and economic prosperity previously unknown.
But the impetus for the transformation—Christianity—came to a sudden halt. Was it the Reformation that brought the transformation to a halt, or something else? Limited government has become unlimited government; economic prosperity has become a debacle as politicians and central bankers attempt to use monetary expansion to turn stones into bread.
A survey of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism reveals many common issues. A commitment to Athanasian Trinitarianism, acceptance of the Chalcedonian formulation of the two natures of Christ, acceptance of the minimum 66 books as the canon of Scripture, and a universal belief in the ultimate moral standards, the Ten Commandments.
But one event shattered both Catholicism and Protestantism in a single blow. It was the Copernican revolution in astronomy, the shift from an earth-centered universe to a sun-centered universe.
At this point we must pause to clarify the logic both of this particular situation and of experimental verification in general. A simple argument of verification proceeds as follows: the given hypothesis implies certain definite results; the experiment actually gives these results; therefore the hypothesis is verified and can be called a law. Obviously, this argument is the fallacy of asserting the consequent; and since all verification must commit this fallacy, it follows that no law or hypothesis can ever be logically demonstrated.
It seems, however, that hypotheses can be logically proven false. The argument would go: the given hypothesis implies certain definite results; the experiment actually gives a contradictory result; therefore the hypothesis is false. Obviously, this is the perfectly valid argument of denying the consequent. So it would seem that although laws can be proven false, they can never be proven true.
- Gordon H. Clark, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press,  1977), p. 73.↵back
Professor John Lennox was recently in Australia — again. He’s a popular visitor to the land ‘down under’ because of his debates with atheist Richard Dawkins. It’s an interesting clash of professorial titans, since both of them held or still hold professorships at Oxford University. But while he was in Australia, Prof. Lennox was interviewed on the question of the age of the earth and the days of Genesis by Simon Short, a Director of the Centre for Public Christianity. That interview can be seen here: The 7 Days That Divide the World.
What is remarkable in this interview, however, is John Lennox’s defense of his view of Genesis chapter one as being longer than 6-days, i.e., six twenty-four periods of time. It’s remarkable because of what Prof. Lennox did say, and sometimes what he did not say. For example, he attempted to justify a metaphorical reading of the ‘days’ of Genesis because the Bible uses metaphor, and the example he uses is the reference to Jesus as a door. This is no doubt a metaphorical expression. But Prof. Lennox is surely begging the question to then suggest that the ‘days’ of Genesis are also metaphorical. This is what he is supposed to prove in his argument. But all he’s done is assume metaphor in one place allows him to read metaphor in another place. But what rule of biblical hermeneutics requires that? What has happened to the notion of context? If you follow Prof. Lennox’s ‘logic’, then it is possible to read metaphorically any time you don’t particularly like the non-metaphorical implications of a particular passage.
One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 1-2.” —R.C. Sproul
And then, of course, there are the uses of the word ‘day’ in Genesis, which Prof. Lennox highlights. It means one thing here, perhaps 12 hours, another thing there, say 24 hours. And so it does. And in each case he uses context as the mechanism to understand how the word ‘day’ ought to be understood. But nowhere does he show contextually that the ‘days’ of Genesis are long periods of indeterminate time. He refers to ‘Hebrew scholars’ who apparently affirm that the ‘days’ of Genesis are not literal 24-hour periods. The trouble with this argument, however, is that there are Hebrew scholars who say otherwise. James Barr, wrote to David C.C. Watson in 1984,
‘… probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:
a. creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
b. the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
c. Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.’
Barr was a neo-orthodox scholar who did not necessarily accept what the Scriptures taught, but he seems certain that what they taught was a literal 6-day creation. So already we have a problem. I wonder which Hebrew scholars Prof. Lennox can be referring to? Dr. R.C. Sproul, in his commentary on the Westminster of Faith, admits that he used to hold to the frame-work hypothesis, but no longer holds that view.
R.C. Sproul and the Age of the Earth
Some books are good. Some are bad. And others are disappointing. In this last category, I put a new book, A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture, by Keith Mathison..
Dr. Sproul (Snr)’s Dust to Glory DVD presentations (57 lectures in all) are a unique and important survey of the Bible, highlighting particular issues from the section under discussion. In the Consequence of Ideas lectures (and book by the same name), Dr. Sproul provides a broad survey of Western thought, from Thales through to modern times. This is a difficult and thorny subject area, but Dr. Sproul breaks it down into bite-size chunks to make the points very clear. Although limited in its scope, it is a very important summary of Western thought that explains our world.
One must do a great deal of hermeneutical gymnastics to escape the plain meaning of Genesis 1-2.” —R.C.Sproul
Dr. Sproul’s venture into apologetics is highlighted by his presentation of the Cosmological Argument in his book, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology. This is a superior presentation and explanation of how to make use of the Cosmological Argument, and there is a very favorable review of this book to be found here.
Now I am a fan of Dr. Sproul, which is why I find the book by Dr. Mathison somewhat ‘out of character.’
In this book the author presents the views of R.C. Sproul on science and Scripture, and in particular, the age of the earth. The origin of the book stems from a question about the age of the earth asked at the 2012 Ligonier conference and R.C. Sproul’s answer to that question. Apparently Dr. Mathison, or someone at Ligonier Ministries, felt Dr. Sproul’s opinion needed defending.
Here’s Dr. Sproul’s short answer to the question: “I don’t know.”