Alan Roebuck and the nature of evidence

I am pleased to see that Alan Roebuck has returned to defend his position in the comments on my post of a few days ago, and seems quite eager to continue the discussion regarding the evidence. Apparently, he is disappointed that I gave his comment only a short reply, so I shall return to it for a more detailed examination.

Since the question of God’s existence has been debated since the beginning of time and has been discussed at length by all the great philosophers (as well as the not-so-great), and since entire libraries have been written to argue for God’s existence, we must ask “What do they mean by ‘No evidence’?”

I can’t speak for the atheists, since I am a theist myself (see the Patron Goddess link above). But I am both a skeptic and an ex-Christian, so I can at least address the question of what the phrase “no evidence” means. It means “no evidence.” Meaning, however, depends on context, and when skeptics say there is “no evidence” of God, we are speaking about evidence in the context of evidence that is (a) objective, (b) reliable, and (c) verifiable.

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The creationist handicap

Writing for the National Post, Prof. P. D. Brown says:

Like the evangelicals and other Christians he chastises for thinking that God might actually create something, I appreciate that Jonathan Dudley believes he is defending some variation of faith in God (The Christian duty to accept evolution, June 19). However, lurching into a naturalistic version of evolution occasionally baptized with the word “theistic” is arguably a worse mistake than the alleged immoderation of creationism.

Brown insists that it is evolution, not creationism, that has trouble explaining things.

[E]volutionary theory does not explain a lot of things – it does not explain the sudden appearance of life forms in the fossil record or the stasis that follows, it has no explanation for the coding and translation systems in life as they actually exist, it has no explanation or verifiable clues about the origin of life, it does not explain the origin of multiple layers of programming in the organism, it has no explanation for coordinating those multiple layers or how they relate to evolving function and development, it does not even explain — much less demonstrate — how a fruit fly could change to a house fly or vice versa (that would at least demonstrate that common ancestry between the two is possible), it does not explain how or why a common primate ancestor would diverge into chimps and humans, in fact it explains precious little at all. It is a one-trick pony doing a thousand versions of the claim: “Similarity implies common ancestry.”

But the real punch line here is in the credits at the bottom.

P.D. Brown is a professor of chemistry, biology and environmental studies at Trinity Western University in British Columbia

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XFiles Weekend: Apologetics is for believers

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 1: “What is apologetics?”)

Last week, Dr. Craig gave us the first reason why apologetics is important: Christians need it in order to produce a culture whose fictional portrayal of religion makes people more likely to treat false religions as reasonable. Doesn’t seem to me like that makes Christianity look too good, but Hollywood fiction is where he located the cultural impact that needs to be made, and Hare Krishnas in a Hindu culture is the exemplar he offers for Christianity to follow. Moving right along, then, we come to reason number two why apologetics is important.

2. Strengthening believers. The benefits of apologetics in your personal Christian life are huge. Let me mention three.

First of all, knowing why you believe as well as what you believe will make you more confident in sharing your faith with others…

Second, apologetics can also help you to keep the faith in times of doubt and struggle. Emotions will carry you only so far, and then you’re going to need something more substantial…

Finally, the study of apologetics is going to make you a deeper and more interesting person.

Sounds like a sales pitch to me, but then again salesmanship is what apologetics is all about, n’est-ce pas?

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Victory for human rights in New York

In a bit of all-too-rare good news, the New York legislature has voted to extend equal protection of human rights to gays too. The governor of New York signed the bill into law late Friday night.

Kudos to Gov. Cuomo and the 33 legislators for having the courage to stand up for human rights in the face of intense bullying and threats from the bigots.

The difference between “world view” and “real world”

Two news stories. The first is from May 6, 2008:

‘Expelled’ Filmmakers Claim ‘Over the Top’ Success

“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” the pro-intelligent design documentary featuring actor Ben Stein, made history this weekend as it skyrocketed into place as the 13th highest grossing documentary film of all time. Since its release on April 18, the film has earned an astounding $6.6 million while only in its 3rd week in the box office…

Even as the film continues to rake in record profits and defies expectations, however, producers of the film argue that those opposed to the film and its message continue to paint the film as a flop, unfairly comparing its performance to that of the high grossing documentaries by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore.

Source: The Christian Post

Now the second story, from June 21, 2011:

Bidding Begins for Ben Stein’s Intelligent Design Documentary

The rights to Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” a documentary that explores the academic discrimination against supporters of intelligent design, will be auctioned off in an online bidding that starts June 21…

Film producer Premise Media Distribution LP filed for a motion to sell the rights of the documentary last month. The motion comes after the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in December 2009.

Source: The Christian Post

A huge success according to their worldview, a bankrupting flop according to the real world. What more needs to be said?

Defending the Courtiers at Intellectual Conservative

Alan Roebuck, at, has what he hopes is a stinging comeback for PZ Myers’ argument commonly known as “The Courtier’s Reply.”

Atheists have a new tactic to avoid confronting the voluminous evidence for God: When your debate opponent catches you dismissing valid scholarship, cry “Courtier’ Reply!”

Predictably, he does not link to Myers’ original article, but rather presents his own hand-crafted version.

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XFiles Weekend: The Christian war on secular culture

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 1: “What is apologetics?”)

In this week’s installment, Dr. William Lane Craig addresses the topic, “Why Is Apologetics Important?” As I mentioned last time, apologetics is important because God’s failure to show up in real life leaves Christians without an objective basis for their faith, and therefore they have no alternative but to rely on the works of men like Dr. Craig. But that might be a bit blunt for a book intended to encourage Christians to keep believing, so he offers three other reasons instead.

  1. Shaping culture.
  2. Strengthening believers.
  3. Winning unbelievers.

Here’s how Dr. Craig introduces point number one:

We’ve all heard of the so-called culture war going on in American society. Some people may not like this militaristic metaphor, but the truth is that a tremendous struggle for the soul of America is raging right now… Secularists are bent on eliminating religion from the public square. The so-called New Atheists, represented by people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, are even more aggressive. They want to exterminate religious belief entirely.

He forgot to say add atheists are the reincarnation of Adolph Hitler, but I’m sure that was just an oversight.

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How to recognize a man-made God

In the play Inherit the Wind, there’s a line that goes something like this: “God created man in His own image, and man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment.” I was an evangelical Christian when I first heard this little snark, but surprisingly it did not offend me even then. Whether or not you believe in God, it’s only too easy to find other Gods who clearly have been shaped to suit the preferences and personality of their followers.

What makes these man-made gods so easy to recognize is that their creators invariably project their own prejudices, preferences, and biases onto the gods they create. Sexists imagine a God Who is male and insists on male supremacy and the subordination of women. Racists imagine a God Who treasures “racial purity,” promotes white supremacy, and looks on mixed-race marriage as immoral and sinful. Homophobes create a God Who hates gays and insists on restricting marriage to heterosexual couples only. Lustful men invent a God Who blesses His sons with multiple wives, and defines marriage as the union of one man and one or more women. And so on.

It is somewhat ironic, then, that modern day Christians preach so loudly that their own God is one of the obviously man-made Gods we just listed. In “defending” what they see as the sacred institution of marriage, they are inadvertently exposing one of the great weaknesses of their faith: that their God is merely a very human set of prejudices and superstitions, enshrined as deity in order to lend believers a false weight of authority.

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XFiles Weekend: What is apologetics?

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 1: “What is apologetics?”)

Today we begin our look at On Guard, by Dr. William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig, as we saw last week, is widely regarded as being “among the very best defenders of Christianity in this generation.” A man well-trained in the subject matter, with double doctorates (in theology and philosophy), Dr. Craig is well situated to give Christianity the very best defense it can possibly receive from mortal men. And that, in fact, is precisely the goal he intends to accomplish in On Guard.

That makes this book particularly well-suited for our discussion, because we can address Dr. Craig’s arguments with the confidence that they reflect genuine and authoritative Christian positions. But this book is much more than that. As I’ve mentioned before, God does not show up in real life, and therefore there is nothing that can be known about Him by direct observation. In His absence, it’s up to men like Dr. Craig to review and organize and update the doctrines men have written down in the past: things men have said about God and speculated about God and attributed to God. The teachings of men, in short, are the source of our knowledge about God (or at least the Christian one).

What Dr. Craig does, like other notable theologians and apologists over the years, is to take the arguments men have made in the past, and improve them by trying to make them more coherent, as well as incorporating new material (like the Big Bang theory) that earlier theologians were unaware of. In other words, in God’s absence, Dr. Craig is not only an expert witness about Christian theology, he is one of the sources of modern Christian faith. Through his great training and advanced intellect, he’s not just defending Christianity, he’s playing a significant role in creating it.

Let’s get started, shall we?

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How far we’ve fallen

For the past several years, we’ve gone without cable TV, both to help the kids focus on their schoolwork and because there’s only a few good channels, like the Learning Channel and the History Channel. But this year we decided to turn it back on again–the kids are older and more responsible, and the local cable access channel has some school activities we wanted to see. And while we’re at it, there were some good shows on the History Channel.

Ugh. Underline the past tense in that last sentence. Last night we were flipping through the channels, and there was a show on the History Channel all about the Rapture. It sounded like a very interesting show. There’s a lot of history behind the idea of the Rapture, starting with the original post-Tribulational Rapture mentioned in Matthew and Thessalonians, on through the early 1800’s and the “visions” of a Pentecostal girl named Margaret McDonald, which then got picked up and popularized by J. N. Darby and the Scofield Reference Bible. And this, in turn, led to a revival of British and American millennialism which played no small role in the establishment of Israel as a Western-backed state in Palestine. Some really cool material that could use some good, solid historical research and presentation.

Boy was I in for a let-down. Read the rest of this entry »