Why Athiests get Christmas Wrong

Last year, Truth in the Trenches published a sermon on Luke 2 and “How Atheists get Christmas wrong.” For this article, I want to focus only on Luke 2:2 and follow up with the reason that they get Christmas wrong. Atheistic claims about Luke 2:2 are not obscure, nor are they only found in older sources. Richard Dawkins discusses this point, for example in his major work, The God Delusion. In review, Luke 2:2 is usually mistranslated. The Greek term “Protos” is better translated “before” rather than “first,” John 1:15 is usually translated this way, when it states “Because he was before me…” (http://apologiafides.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/luke-and-quirinius/)

So why don’t atheistic writers know about the problem with their translation? The answer is simply that they don’t spend the time necessary to find the answer to the question. Dawkins will remain our example. The chief criticism of the “The God Delusion” is that Dawkins has not performed the requisite reading or research to write a book of this sort; yet it has been published, regardless. Dawkins largely dismisses that charge by stating that he only needs to read the work of those theists and Christians who have taken the question of God’s existence seriously – yet he has not even performed the requisite research to fulfill this criteria. His citation of Luke 2:2 as an error in the Bible is evidence, if not proof of this point. After all, this type of information has been documented in works by Christian apologists for decades. Presumably, Dawkin’s work was peer reviewed or edited by other atheists (or if it was not, his credentials suggest that he should know about the necessity of peer review). Not only did Dawkins not find the problem with his exegesis on this point, but his reviewers also missed the point. Nor is this an isolated instance, Dawkins’ discussions of CS Lewis’ famous argument, or his assertion that the Nazi’s were Christian, etc. are similarly troubled. It is not simply a matter that a lack of serious work underlies this particular item in the atheist arsenal, but that a lack of research is a major part of the all of the atheistic arsenal. Atheists, in short, get Christmas – and much else – wrong because when they write about the Bible and about Christians, they cannot be bothered to perform the requisite work.   Atheists often claim to be smarter and more erudite than Christians and other theists, but this is mere propaganda.

If there is a flaw among Christians when it comes to answering the allegations of the ignorant, perhaps it comes down to accessibility.   I learned this fact from Nigel Turner’s work, and few atheists read Greek grammarians. Dawkins cannot be excused. In writing a book, he takes on the responsibility to be thorough in his research. But what about those who would rather read a thirteen dollar paperback book written by Dawkins rather than a library worth hundreds or thousands of dollars?   As Christians, then, let us all seek to be better prepared to defend and advance the cause of His truth.

The Atheist Popes

One of the most memorable controversies of the enlightenment period was the Galileo affair. Galileo was accused of heresy because his observations indicated that the sun was the center of the solar system. The key to understanding this controversy is very simple: Thomas Aquinas had married Christian thought with Aristotle during the thirteenth century. When Aristotle’s astronomy was brought into question, Pope Paul V and others within the Western Church chose to ignore the data in favor of Aristotle’s theories.

In the modern days, it is those who claim to favor modern philosophical thinking, however, who operate in terms of Papal decrees. In modern times, atheists will dismiss arguments about the Resurrection, the Flood or anything else involving God’s stepping into history on the grounds of Hume’s argument against miracles: either arguing that because miracles are highly improbable, they cannot happen, or they will argue that the only way a miracle can be accepted is if the evidence is so overwhelming that it would require an infinite amount of evidence to establish, or other rhetorical games.

Throughout history, Christians have recognized numerous failures with the structure of Hume’s argument. The standard answers by believers include the statement that Hume tries to prove “too much”. Pamphlets have been written arguing that, according to David Hume, Alexander the Great could not have conquered the world, or that Napoleon did not exist. Others have noted that Hume’s argument is basically an exercise in begging the question. Hume’s argument is also based on an “overstatement” of the problems with eyewitnesses. Finally, as Hume’s argument has grown, it has mutated into a number of versions, many of which reveal that Hume appears to arise from an artificial dichotomy (belief in miracles is not necessarily contrary to belief in the existence of natural law; since Protestant theologians have long accepted natural law, we only argue that natural law comes from a divine Legislator. All of these approaches are basically correct. Hume’s argument is ultimately incredibly weak and appears to be accepted more for rhetorical reasons than an acceptance based on the facts.

But these approaches fail to address the key similarity I noted above: the practical ramification of the theory is that Hume’s argument against miracles is an argument about ignoring evidence of any specific miracle, on the grounds of a general doctrine (in logical terms, Hume’s argument against miracles in practical terms is an exercise in cherry- picking). In short, to atheists, Hume’s argument is “holy writ.” To avoid the ramifications of a miracle for their system of thought, they will therefore refuse to limit their discussions to the evidence. They invent theories that contradict the data. For example, one atheist has suggested that the tomb had a back door, despite the lack of archeological evidence for tombs with back doors, and despite the fact that the Apostles would not have knowingly endured torture and execution for something they would have known to be a lie. But, those of us who point out the contradictions are labeled as “irrational”.

The more I read of atheists, the more I am convinced: they are the true errors of Pope Paul V.

Bob Jones University Vs. Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, one of the most recognizable atheists in the world, has recently stated “mild pedophilia” does not cause lasting harm (http://www.salon.com/2013/09/10/richard_dawkins_defends_mild_pedophilia_says_it_does_not_cause_lasting_harm/). This is not a new idea from Dawkins, he previously state that he felt that the Roman Catholic Church pedophilia scandals were blown out of proportion and stated it to be so, in his best-known work, The God Delusion.

As many Christians are already aware, there have been a number of issues within conservative Protestantism involving sexual abuse as well. Most recently, in the secular media, Bob Jones University is being questioned about its counseling policies involving sexual abuse, including the question of required reporting, and while the report from their ombudsman is not in, a number of allegations have been featured in the press. Sadly, there are a number of voices that have argued that this is somehow an issue that is intrinsic to Christianity, Fundamentalism or Protestant theology.

Yet, Dawkins’ statements remind me of an earlier series, which I addressed on our more technical site: a series entitled “The moral argument from atrocities” (http://apologiafides.wordpress.com/category/moral-argument-from-atrocities/), where I compared monstrous acts committed by atheists and by Christians (or alleged Christians) to as the question of were those who committed atrocities logically consistent with their beliefs. I would like to make the same comparison between atheists who commit sexual abuse and those who claim to be Christians committing similar actions. While Dawkins is not being accused of Sexual abuse at this time, his statements are analogous in a sense to the current scandals faced by some Christian counselors.

As noted before, if their professions are genuine, Christians who commit sexual assaults are inconsistent monsters. (https://truthinthetrenches.org/2014/03/04/do-sexual-assaults-by-professed-christians-invalidate-christianity/). That is, their monstrous acts are not consistent with their professions of faith (in short, they are hypocrites); the same would be true for those who fail to report sexual abuse (Romans 12). Sadly, this cannot be said for atheists who commit these kinds of atrocities, or the lack of wisdom in Dawkins words. While it would be a logical fallacy to say that atheism leads to sexual abuse (just as it is when people argue that Christianity leads to sexual abuse), it cannot be suggested that atheists are hypocrites on this point. If there is no ultimate morality, if morality is simply a system established by society to preserve the group, then no sin has been committed.

So, if we compare the questions surrounding Bob Jones University with the statements made by Richard Dawkins, then, if the allegations are ultimately proven to be true, Bob Jones, sadly, has not lived up to the beliefs, which they espouse. Richard Dawkins, however, is living up to his.

Sunderland and the Enigma

Sunderland, Luther. Darwin’s Enigma: Ebbing the Tide of Naturalism. Green Forest, AR: Masters Books, 1998. Reprint 2002.

In preparation for our last piece on the tragedy of compromise, we’re going to republish two pieces from the Quartermaster’s tent. The first piece of these is a review of Sunderland’s book the Darwin Enigma. What I appreciate in Sunderland is where he is rare – he demonstrates and analyzes the philosophical elements of the discussion. Discovering him was a joy, because of my own work in a similar vein.

Sunderland’s book is an important aging work in the Creation-Evolution debate. The work is technical, and spends much of its focus on the failings and gaps in evolutionary theory. The work, as recognized by the title, focuses on evolution in large part due to its relationship to modern atheistic philosophy. Sunderland’s work is solid and technical for its day. He spends a great deal of time explaining – not those comments made by Biblical creationism about evolution, but those outside of our camp have said on the matter – including discussions between biologists and mathematicians. Among other things, Sunderland has sought to acquaint himself with the persons involved in the various debates. For example, he notes questions about Stephen Jay Gould’s Punctuated Equilibria as being at least partially derived from Marxist dialectical materialism.

Analysis: Southerland is a highly technical work. As my training is not in the hard sciences, I will not discuss his accuracy or inaccuracy. As the theory of evolution shifts regularly, this book, due to its age, may not be the best primary source. Southerland’s work was probably in production at the same time as Behe’s better known Darwin’s Black Box, so issues of molecular biology are not discussed in the same terms as Behe presents. Sunderland’s work also does not take the same steps to note when arguments are technical. However, Darwin’s Enigma hits the note of evidence and philosophy in the debate over evolution that many sources do not discuss: the question of the quality of the evidence. He notes this not only from the standpoint of Creationists’ argumentation, but he also notes prominent scientists who have likewise noted the evidentiary problems in the evolutionary theory. For example, he spends quite a bit of time on Karl Popper, one of the major names in Philosophy of Science. Popper is no young earth Creationist, but he refers to the theory of evolution as a metaphysical experiment – praising the experiment as a valuable one, but not calling it “science”. He also notes how many theories are related to evidentiary problems; for example, Goldberg’s Hopeful monster theory, or Punctuated Equillibria are precisely formed because the fossil record does not demonstrate gradual changes, but rapid change over a very short period of time. He goes on to note other issues that are outside of my domain, but these evidences alone are powerful information that the academics don’t tell their students. Sunderland’s research is erudite, beginning with Darwin and his sources.

Conclusions: If you are looking for an easy read or an introduction to the debate over evolution versus creation, this book is not for you. This book is useful if you are looking to expand your knowledge and understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the debate.

The Tragedy of Compromise Pt 2: Torquing the Definition of Religion

Often, the world defines the controversy between Creationism and Evolution as science versus religion. I vehemently disagree. My objection, as I have noted, is that Evolution is clearly religion, not science. To begin to explain why, we need to define religion.

We all use words with varying degrees of specificity and technicality. For example, like a lot of Americans I use the term “torque” as a verb, to indicate that I have tightened a bolt as far as possible. My father, who is in the engineering field, does not typically use the term “torque” this loosely.

Similarly, we often use the term “religion” to refer to organized theistic organizations or as theistic systems of thought. This definition might work for a dinner party, but when we begin comparing systems of thought, it is wholly inadequate. The best definition of religion I can provide is the ultimate nature of reality and man’s proper response to that reality. The first clause (“religion is the ultimate nature of reality”) addresses the philosophical/theological questions of religion. The second clause (“religion is the proper response to reality”) addresses the questions of ethics and practice.

The actual problem is an error made during the “Enlightenment”: many enlightenment era thinkers thought they were replacing religion. What they were actually doing was creating a “new” religion: a religion that is often referred to in various times and sources “Scientism,” “religious naturalism,” and “philosophical naturalism”. In a less technical sense, this religious point of view has also been referred to as “Humanism,” “Atheism,” and most tragically, it has been confused with “Science.”

Religious naturalism is based on the acceptance of David Hume’s argument against miracles. I qualify this argument as an example of the logical error known as “begging the question” – but that is a subject for another day. Naturalists believe that reality is governed solely by natural law. This is something that they take on faith, though they themselves typically lack the intellectual integrity to admit that this is a matter of their faith. Instead, naturalists will play various rhetorical games that amount to dismissing, without examination, any approach to reality that disagrees with theirs. “Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools.”

This is more technical than I usually like to deal with on this particular site. But, technicalities are important to life; we can’t dismiss them because they are inconvenient. We are not finished with discussing a definition of religion, but I want to make sure you understand where we are going with this topic. When it comes to my thoughts about evolution, one thing is very clear: evolution begins with the assumption that the world came into existence through natural processes. Believers in evolution will often state that science (the empirical study of natural law) cannot accept supernatural causes. In a sense, they are correct, but that assumes that science is able to answer the question of origins. Yet, this begs the question of whether science and natural law can explain the origin of the Universe and life. Evolution requires one to begin with the assumption that the earth came into existence by natural process, or to put it another way: evolution requires us to assume religious naturalism.

Halloween Comes Early: An Emotional Objection disguised as an Intellectual One.

One of the biggest issues that Christian apologists deal with is the question of evil. In all, a reasonable understanding of Christian theology quickly answers this opposition to the faith. The real problem, however, is not that the Christian intellectual response to the problem of evil is insufficient, but that the objections to the Christian faith raised by the problem of evil in many cases is an emotional objection to the faith masquerading as an intellectual argument.

A few years ago, I was a pastor of a church and I was run out on a rail – I had not asked the right questions when I went to Wisconsin, and did not know the full history of the assembly I was pastoring. When it was over, I watched my wife, in tears, over the attacks on me by people we loved and I thought, “God, I was trying to serve you, how could you let this happen to me?” A little more than a year later, my wife and I lost our first child to an ectopic pregnancy, and we both still grieve for our Avery. In that case, I gave up hope for a while, until our pastor began preaching a series on 2 Corinthians, which he entitled “Down but not out.” Again, my questioning heart asked God “Why me?” The real challenge of evil is ultimately the problems of pain, hopelessness, and bitterness in the heart. The lost, perhaps, will not find what I am about to say compelling, but here are a few things we need to keep in mind when we face the conundrum of evil:

• Our internal objections to the trials of life are based in the assumption that we deserve better, or that we are innocent. Scripture is clear: we have inherited a sin nature; mankind is not innocent. Before salvation, we were not merely hell bound sinners; we were hell deserving ones. While the Christian has been regenerated, we still aren’t precisely innocent of wrong-doing. As believers, we have already received better than we deserve.

• God has not taken us out of the world – this universe was damaged by the curse, and creation groans. We cannot argue that every bad thing that happens to a believer or to an unbeliever is a direct result of an individual sin. However, Scripture never represents it as such: it represents the world as a broken paradise. As Ken Ham describes it, creation is like a gallery of ancient Greek statuary. Creationists admire the beauty of creation; the demonstration of God’s master artistry, while the atheist sees only that the statues have been broken over time.

• God is great enough, that He chooses to use the evil in this world for the believer’s good, and to woo the wicked to turn to Him. This reveals both His power and His love.

As a Christian, I believe that the problem of evil comes down, not to the failings of God, but to the failings of man. Any thoughts?