Review: Ch. 8 of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be an Atheist”

Originally published 12/7/2005. Links were valid at time of publication.
This chapter makes some of the most logical arguments regarding the existence of God, but also makes some of the most bizarre conclusions as well. In the scorebook we could almost call this chapter a draw, if the authors had actually made a point.

This chapter is essentially broken down into two sections: A summary of the arguments so far, and an explanation of the concept of Miracles.

Who made the cut?

The authors ask this question as a way of determining not only a means of rejecting Atheism as a legitimate source of inquiry, but also several other worldviews, leaving only Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as the only ones meriting furthering exploration.

The reasons for this involve a great deal of presumption, however. Without duplicating the content of the chapter, allow me to summarize the authors? major arguments.

They claim to have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists from the previous chapters (of course they would, this is not a surprise). To that end, they state:

  • God is infinite
  • He is unimaginably powerful
  • He is personal (e.g., an impersonal force has no ability to make choices)
  • He is Supremely Intelligent
  • He is purposeful
  • He is absolutely morally pure (e.g., the unchangeable standard of morality).

Of course, as has been shown in some of the previous commentaries, the authors’ stances on these various elements are not without contradiction and debate. Much of the support for these arguments lie not in evidence for these claims, but rather evidence against the contrary.

Even if we were to state outright that the authors proved conclusively that their arguments for these six points were unimpeachable, they begin to disassemble the arguments for pantheistic or polytheistic viewpoints with a remarkable cavalier attitude. The authors claim that because of their “natural revelation that theism is true,” it leaves that “only one of the theistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, or Islam – could be true. All other major world religions cannot be true, because they are nontheistic” (p. 198).

Even the authors admit that the claim is “grandiose” (p. 199), but that doesn’t stop them from identifying pantheistic religions as nontheistic. By paying these worldviews the backhanded compliment that even broken clocks are right twice a day, the authors admit that some of these “religions” (to use the authors’ apparent disdain for these philosophies) have got some concepts right, even if they’re for the wrong reasons.

For one thing, the authors completely remove polytheism because they make a very interesting statement:

because God is infinite… there cannot be more than one infinite Being. To distinguish one being from another, they must differ in some way. If they differ in some way, then one lacks something that the other one has. If one being lacks something that the other one has, then the lacking being is not infinite because an infinite being, by definition, lacks nothing. So there can only be one infinite Being (p. 199).

Again, this is a particularly interesting way to define infinite. Once again, the authors are stuck by their own usage of a term. To define infinite as “lacking nothing,” does not really mean that it is infinite, however. A mathematical one-dimensional line, which extends out infinitely in two directions, does not mean that the line “lacks nothing.” It means that the line never ends.

The simple truth is that we have a word that already means “lacking nothing.” That word is everything. For something to be “infinite” merely means that it continues on forever. If the word “infinite” meant what the authors mean it to be, absolutely nothing else could be “infinite,” because – according to the authors – “there can only be one infinite Being.” In fact, the word infinite would be completely synonymous with God, because there could be nothing else to mean “infinite” according to the authors.

Unfortunately for the authors, they rest their entire argument against pantheistic and polytheistic philosophies on this misuse of the term infinite.They have no other argument against pantheistic religions (like Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca, Taoism, e.g.) or polythestic (like Hinduism – yes, they mention it twice – Mormonism, Wicca, Shinto, e.g.). Once the rug of “infinite” has been pulled out from under them, they no longer have any argument – coherent or otherwise – against these religions.

In fact, the authors quite possibly shoot themselves in the collective foot by using the term infinite in this way. For instance, if God lacks nothing, does that mean that he does not lack material items? Does he therefore not lack me? You? The planet Earth? If He is all-encompassing, and part of everything, isn’t this the pantheistic argument?

By glossing over this hiccup the authors have made a major blunder with regards to being able to identify Christianity as the one true religion, even if they were able to coherently argue against atheistic points. It could be argued, however, that since the book is primarily a treatise against atheism, their dismissal of these other points of view is to be expected.

How Does God Communicate?

The authors finally manage to get onto some firm conceptual ground with the remainder of the chapter, which is essentially, “Can Miracles Exist?”

Close examination shows, however, that the remainder of the chapter is unfortunately mostly fluff. A strong chapter would have begun by how God would communicate (which the authors touch upon), whether or not such a means could exist (which the authors spend the remainder of their time), and then show evidence for this means of communication (which the authors inexplicably do not).

What does become clear, however, is some inadvertent explanation for why the authors push so hard for the acceptance of the tenuous beliefs from previous chapters. Take, for instance, this form of logic the authors take with regards to miracles as supporting all other claims:

As we have seen in chapters 3 through 7, theism does have better evidence [than a naturalistic worldview]. We know beyond a reasonable doubt that a theistic God exists. Since God exists, the universe represented by the closed box is false. The box is open and was created by God. So it is possible for God to intervene in the natural world by performing miracles. In fact, miracles are not only possible; miracles are actual, because the greatest miracle of all – the creation of the universe out of nothing – has already occurred. So with regard to the Bible, if Genesis 1:1 is true — “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” — then every other miracle in the Bible is easy to believe (pp 202-203, emphasis theirs).

Ignoring for the moment both the debatable points about ‘reasonable doubt that a theistic God exists’ and the bizarre “open box,” it’s easy to see why the authors – and the Christians who believe what they write – need for evolution to be wrong: if the Original Miracle is false, then they cannot simply find “every other miracle in the Bible [to be] easy to believe.”

The authors (and atheists alike) define miracles as “something which would never have happened had nature, as it were, been left to its own devices.” (Flew, as cited on p. 201). To their credit, the authors make extremely strict rules as to what is or is not a miracle. In short, a miracle is something that can only be done by God. They even give several examples of events or concepts that people might mistakenly attribute to God but are, in fact, not.

Religious people, particularly Christians, throw the term “miracle” around rather loosely. Quite often they identify an event as a miracle when it could be more accurately described as providential.

Providential events are those caused by God indirectly, not directly. That is, God uses natural laws to accomplish them. Answered prayer and unlikely but beneficial happenings can be examples. These may be quite remarkable and may stimulate faith, but they are not supernatural.

One of the frustrations that Atheists have with Christians in particular is precisely this criticism, that the term “miracle” is often used injudiciously. The fact that the authors take the inappropriate usage of the term to task is a good sign.

It does, however, make their own job that much harder. For if we use the term miracle in the way that the authors describe, then what we must do is determine whether events that occur can be legitimately called “miracles.”

Instead, however, the authors – particularly Geisler again, since he ‘outs’ himself – spend a great deal of time patting himself on the back reciting anecdotes about how people run away from debates about whether or not miracles can exist. He spends a great deal of time, for instance, discussing Benedict Spinoza, David Hume, and other (more contemporary) arguments as to why miracles can not exist.

As Geisler correctly points out (though he does not say this in these terms), it is a logical impossibility to argue or prove a negative existence of something. That is, for someone to argue the idea that miracles cannot exist – not even as a possibility – would require an intimate knowledge of every possible outcome for every possible event for every moment of time ever. The only way to argue that something can not possibly exist is to define the possibility out of existence.

This is precisely what Spinoza and Hume attempted to do (at least as the authors describe their arguments, I have not attempted to verify the validity of the authors’ representations of the arguments), and Geisler correctly calls them out on it. The fact that he does not see himself doing the same thing in previous chapters adds a sad element of irony here, but I digress.

The next step, then, would be to address the next logical step, to wit:

Given that we can accept the possibility of miracles, the question then is to adequately and accurately identify a miracle as such.

The chapter provides only one such example: the creation of the universe. The authors even state this very clearly as being the basis for their faith: “If Genesis 1:1 is true… then every other miracle in the Bible is easy to believe” (p. 203).

At the risk of being repetitious, we now have a good understanding of why the authors need for evolution to be wrong. It also explains why the authors need the earth to be younger than 10,000 years. It’s a package deal: if the creation of the universe can be explained in non-supernatural terms, then every other miracle is suspect and open to examination.

Endnote

The concept of miracles is not exclusive to Christianity, so we can understand how a theistic worldview (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) would need them in order to sustain for millennia.

In this way, the Origins question is once again illuminated as a pivotal tenet of religious faith, in this case with regards to miracles. But the Christian concept of Original Sin also stems from this Origins story, and that is the basis (one of them, anyway) of Christianity in particular.

I have a friend who has threatened to write – from a Christian perspective – an essay regarding the reasons why Christians in particular are so excited about the Intelligent Design/Evolution debate. Hopefully he will write it soon and we can grab a more thorough understanding of what the stakes are regarding that fundamental question of Origins.

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