Thursday, May 29, 2008

Doug Groothuis, "Understanding the New Atheism, Part II"

My new essay on TrueU has just been published. In it, I defend the New Testament against some of the criticisms of the new atheists.


Sam said...

Actually, they don't reject it because of its antiquity. They reject the New Testament because its LACK of antiquity. It was written down about 300 AD.

They show this. The gospels are incosistant with each other- each of the four have details which can't be true if the others are true.

It gets worse. There were other gospels!

None of the historians writtings about Jesus are from his lifetime. All our afterword. All are based of hearsay and observations of his followers. This is particularly egregious when you remember that he is said to have repeatedly performed miracles.

The Vedas has miracles. The Koran has miracles. Furthermore the Koran is more reliable than the New Testament- it was formed shortly after the prophets death. Buddism has miracles. Mormonism has miracles.

Atheists dismiss these because they can't all be right.

Also, God hasn't been scientifically proven. Let me see the article
All religions are based on objective facts. The reason Mormonism seems subjective is it has been tested and found false, so they claim faith.

The new atheists attacks aren't against religion- they are against faith and the belief in God. You are strawmanning them- they apply equally to all religions.

You commit double think. Everything has a cause... so the universe must have a cause... but God doesn't. See it yet?

Why must the universe have a cause? Everything IN the universe does, but as a whole it does NOT obey the rules its parts obey.

Our universe is incredibly hostile to humans.The species homo sapien sapien has only existed for 200000 years. The universe is 14 trillion years old. It isn't "made for us" as much as we managed to carve out a small niche for ourselves and we hope said niche doesn't collapse.

Arguing from the variables again? And why are the variables this way? We don't know. However, "Goddidit" is a blatant argument from ignorance- not to mention insanity. Read up on ancient mythology to see a good example of a universe created for humans. You know- small, contained, young- simply built for humans.

By contrast our universe is huge, deadly, lifeless, desolate and harsh. Humanity almost died out before it spread out of Africa- dropping to as few as one thousand.

Why does life need an explaination? To assume it needs an explaination is to assume that life is something special... which is assuming the conclusion of your argument.

You haven't read their books- they deal with your God.

However I must give you credit- you deal with religion as if it is true. For that you earn some respect- you aren't a mushy headed fool.
back to the New Testament.
There were early forms of Christianity that not only denied the resurrection, but the actual existance of Jesus! So you have that point wrong.

Here- I'll sum up your problem. You use your conclusion as a basis for proving your point. Specifically, you assume life and people are special. Why? Because the universe was designed for it. And why was the universe designed for it? Because it is special.

It is a circular argument. It presumes its conclusion as an initial premise and, as such it is not valid. Incredibly you accuse atheists of doing the same thing (anti-supernatural bias)!

PS The NT is not an area of my specialty. However, atheism and logic are. So I may have flaws in specific points on the NT. On atheism and truth though I have none. Feel free to point out what you see as flaws.

D. A. Armstrong said...


A couple of thoughts for you.

1. The New Testament could not have been written down about 300 AD, if by this you imply the whole thing was made up. There are fragments dated earlier than that. You can see the John Rylands Fragment , P52, and the Magdalen Fragment, P64. Though there is some debate on the actual dating, but both have a range that is before 300AD.

However, there are good arguments from the texts that point to an early dating of the New Testament. Luke is considered a reliable source of history. Luke does not mention the destruction of the temple in either the gospel of Luke or the book of Acts. The destruction of the temple was a major event in Judaism which took place at 70AD. Such an event would be a time marker in any writing. Therefore it is highly probable that Luke wrote Acts before 70AD and thus the gospel of Luke before Acts.

2. I don't know of a Christian that argues under the premises
1. Everything needs a cause
2. The universe is a thing
3. Therefore the universe needs cause.
4. God is a thing
5. Therefore God needs a cause

The corrected argument should be stated as follows
1. Everything that has a beginning needs cause.
2. The universe had a beginning
3. Therefore, the universe needs a cause.

This is the argument that I have read most Christians to be using.

Anyways, I don't have enough time to discuss the rest of the points now. I'm certain Groothuis will have some points to make as well.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

DA and Sam:


Sam has packed so many errors to tightly, it is hard to know where to start, sadly. I agree with DA.

I do not beg questions; I give arguments, however short in that format. Sam does not really respond to them, but asserts opposite ideas that are unsubstantiated.

I do hope that Sam might read more on the topic, such as my chapter on the reliability of the Gospels in On Jesus, or, in more depth, Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

Sam said...

Or it could simply be that when they wrote it down they knew the date the temple was destroyed.

Using well known events doesn't work so well when the people writting them were trying to make them conform to said well known events.

As for your argumnent about cause... lets take a look

Everything that has a beginning needs a cause.

The problem? "Have a beginning" implies time. The Big Bang started time!

Or, in other words the beginning of existance is NOT like any other thing.

Then there is the classic "God existing before the universe". To make that argument you have to say God didn't have a begining- that he is infinitely old. However, the universe is finitely old. This means for an infinite amount of time God didn't create the universe. And then he did. However NOTHING CHANGED. God would need a reason, a cause to create the universe- one not given in an infinite amount of previous time. NO religion has EVER given a good answer to that.

The fallacy you commit is argument from ignorance. You don't know how the universe started- therefore it was God.

D. A. Armstrong said...

Sam, the problem here is it certainly is logical possible that they knew the dates and did not record them. Because we are dealing with ancient history, the argument is not going to be certain. However, Sam you have not given a reason to doubt that they wouldn't use that date as a significant event.

I'm curious as to your underlying presupposition that the biblical authors are trying to conform their stories to these well known events. I'd be very interested in how you came to know this. I'd recommend that you check New Testament studies both Secular and Christian to see how this view compares to your own view.

You must think that it is more probable for something to come to be from nothing than from something. I'm interested in how you have come to such a view, ie quantum theory or string theory. I'm interested simply because there is strong debate in quantum theory and it's rational or irrational properties. As far as I can understand John Polkinghorne seems to present a view of quantum physics that doesn't allow for things that are contradictory to occur. His view also doesn't seem to allow for things to pop in and out of existence. Of course, there could be further debate in how much this proves something coming into existence from nothing.

As to God needing a reason to create the world at one time or another there is a seemingly problem in the argument here. You seem to assume that we must know the reason why God create when he did. The potential flaw I see is that simply because we do not know the reason does not mean it does not exist. Further if we do not know the reason now, does not mean that we may not discover the reason later.

Sam said...

I was implying that the people who wrote the NT had a smidgin of hhistorical knowledge and tried to avoid writting about things that wheren't around during Christ's life.

The fact that gospels that didn't conform where declared non-canon. The four where picked for specific reasons.

The fact that it happened. The universe does exist. It came from nothing. Even if a God existed he would have to create it all from nothing. So having something come from nothing on its own is simpler than having a God that comes from nothing on its own AND a universe that does the samething. Occum's razor.

It has been... 6 millenia? No one has come up with a reason in ANY religion. The start of the universe is always arbitrary.

The reason is because a being powerful enough to make the universe has no need of it.

Mark Mathewson, Ph.D. said...

Sorry, Sam, 'Occam's Razor' will not help you defend the logically absurd. Saying that the universe caused itself to exist or came into existence on its own IS NOT a simpler explanation or a simpler scenario. It is NO explanation, NO scenario.

Jon said...

Just a thought for Sam--God is by definition outside of time (time being a part of the universe He created). Therefore He did not exist chronologically prior to the universe (there was no such thing), but rather logically prior.

Dr. G, thanks for making these articles available. Every summer I co-lead a high-school camp, and we are always trying to teach the kids some good apologetics before they go off to college. These articles are excellent and I will definitely reference them at camp, and I might suggest that some of the older kids read them.

Jon said...

One more thought I neglected to write earlier: God by definition is causeless. I suppose this could be taken as question-begging, but the only other options are an infinite regress of causes and atheism, both of which are replete with problems worse than possible circular reasoning. Back to Occam's Razor, the best explanation seems to be God as a causeless being in this case.

Sam said...

Occum's razor states that between two explanations with equal predictive power the one with the fewest number of terms wins.

God is an extra term. Either the universe was self caused or we have something that ignores the "needs a cause to exist". BOTH work for the universe. Adding God is simply adding an extra term.

Here- I'll draw it.


Guess which is simpler?

If God is outside time...well, it IS a nonsense phrase. Honestly- if he is "outside time", how does he do anything? Time doesn't pass for him! It is just one, infinitely long present.

Saying God is causeless makes a smuch sense as saying the universe is causeless.

Mark Mathewson, Ph.D. said...

Sam, you're just having a hard time getting this (or you don't actually want to get it). "Uncaused -> universe" is nonsense, a logical absurdity, an impossibility in the strongest sense of the term (how many more ways can I put it?). Again, it is not a matter of which is simpler when you have a logical impossibility as a choice. "Uncaused -> universe" is not simpler; it is just false, and necessarily so. So given the option between something very complex and a logical impossibility that is simple, I'm all in for the complexity. One more thing, the "options" you give consitute a false dilemma. There is another option I favor: "God -> universe."

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

1. I do not hold that God is "outside of time." Physical time began at the Big Bang, but not metaphysical time (or pure duration); see Swinburne or Allan Padgett on this).

2. The universe clearly had a beginning; it is contingent.

3. If the universe had a beginning, then it had a cause outside of itself, which is not contingent. This is an explanation.

4. To believe that universe came into being without a cause, is, by definition, not an explanation. It is a nonsensical assertion. Ex nihilo nihil fit: Out of nothing, nothing comes.

Sam said...

An uncaused universe is apparently absurb because nothing can be uncaused- except God. Please explain how this is logically coherant.

No, you advocate
uncaused-> God -> Universe

I advocate
Uncaused-> Universe

Why is the universe come from nothing a none explanation or logically inconsistant? It is obvious SOMETHING came from nothing- it is either the universe or it is God. You guys claim that God is except from the rules becuse he is... super special awesome. Wait- you aren't that honest. He is exempt from the rules because that is part of his definition! Okay...

I hold the universe is exempt from said rules because such rules where formulated INSIDE said universe- it is not necesarily true they apply to the whole.

Jon said...

Dr. G,

Thanks for the comments on physical vs. metaphysical time. I will check that out.

SteveJ said...

Let me start off by saying that I believe in the reality of Christian religious experiences (some of which I've had myself). On that basis, I see validity in the faith.

However, the New Testament gives me some trouble.

One assertion of the article is that the New Testament was written by eyewitnesses. I've never heard anyone substantiate that claim convincingly. Just because Matthew, Mark, Luke and John appear in our Bibles as the titles of the gospels doesn't mean these were the real authors.

Can you address this, please?

Samuel Skinner said...

What do people mean when they say religious experiences?

Whenever I hear people say that I think of something that would... you know... actually qualify. Like the clouds parting, light descending from high, the ground shaking... basically something impressive. What I hear constantly is either a feeling or a string of good luck.

Honestly, Zeus could do this by existing! How hard could it be?

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

1. If anything exists, something is eternal.

2. The universe empirically exhibits its contingency and its beginning. It is not eternal.

3. Somthing does not come from nothing. Or, whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

4. Therefore, the universe was caused to exist by something outside of itself.

5. To avoid an (a) infinite regress or (b) things poppin into existence without causes, we infer that the universe was created by an uncaused being, whose nature it is to exist. There is nothing illogical about this. Yes, God is defined in this way, but the empirical evidence supports (1), so God is the best explanation for the existence of the universe.

SteveJ said...

"What do people mean when they say religious experiences?"

The experience that stands out the most for me was a scary encounter with evil while in the company of a pastor who was helping me. It convinced me that a world of evil forces really must exist, and that the Christian faith can confront it and prevail.

Samuel Skinner said...

Premise 1 is false. Time began with the big bang. Premise three is also false. Obviously not true. Something HAD to come from nothing. Either the universe did it itself or you have an external factor. You aren't getting this.

Nope, you haven't shown it wasn't self causing.

What is wrong with an infinite regress? Or things popping into existance without a cause? After all, your God has to do that- it is simpler for the universe to do one of the two on their own.

Seriously, try to actually deal with my point- any fantastic start applies equally well to the universe as a diety.

That is it? You obviously haven't been on the internet long. I have seen people defending rape and genocide- and that was apologists.

Got one.
It is under the articles by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith, "Answering Michael Martin's 'Atheism, Christian Theism, and Rape'"
Yes, it is what it sounds like.

Needless to say religion is not an aid in the fight against evil- it is merely a form of the great enemy.

SteveJ said...

That is it? You obviously haven't been on the internet long. I have seen people defending rape and genocide- and that was apologists.

Sorry, I don't get your point. Can you explain?

D. A. Armstrong said...


Something doesn't have to come from nothing. Either:
1. Something came from nothing.
2. Something has always existed.

You seem to claim that 2 is incoherent or meaningless. At this point I'm not saying that 2 is God, it could be the universe. I don't see any reason to believe that number 2 is incoherent and thus contradictory nor do I see any reason to believe that number 2 is meaningless. Because of that, I think it more likely that 2 is more probable than 1. Many devout atheists have held to 2 as an eternal universe so it doesn't necessarily imply God.

I may seem to detect an equivocation on the word uncaused here.


The idea that God is uncaused implies that he did not come into being and thus always existed. Yet in the terms of the universe, I don't think you imply that that the universe always existed, at least according to what you have mentioned earlier. We are still back to a dilemma that say something either came from nothing or from something else. Yet there are no examples of something coming from nothing.

One thing I might add here is a slight discussion about Ockham's Razor. We must add that the simplest explanation that explains all the facts is the correct one. If there are facts that need something more than the universe Ockham's Razor would dictate that we need a more than universe explanation. I'm not arguing that such facts do exist right now, though I think they do.

Samuel Skinner said...

You described religious experience with an encounter with evil.

Given the insanity I have seen on the net (and that is just religious apologists) I'd have to say it doesn't count as a religious experience.

Vox Day is the ur example

That is my point!
Either something came from nothing OR something has always existed.

Given the fact that the big bang theory shows that time had a definate start that would mean "existance out of nothing".

No, for my Occum's razor example, what I mean by uncaused is that it just happened. There might have been a cause, but for all we know it just pooped into existance.

Actually there are examples of something coming from nothing. The casmir effect and the ability of matter to flash in and out of existance of a vaccum means it CAN happen. It just is uncomfortable for us because we live in a nice (mostly) safe place at the bottom of a gravity well. We have no experience with such strange phenomena!

Of course, reality, as always, cares not at all for how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

SteveJ said...

Given the insanity I have seen on the net (and that is just religious apologists) I'd have to say it doesn't count as a religious experience.


So is guilt by association your favorite method of argument?

SteveJ said...

Another thing, sam. You might want to take your own advice. No, we shouldn't automatically disbelieve something (like the casmir effect) just because it seems outlandish and makes us uncomfortable. By the same token, your subjective impression that a belief in evil forces is "insanity" shouldn't stop you from honest inquiry and consideration. What's good for the goose ...