Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Reading: Case for Faith

My first reaction to Lee Strobel's Case For Faith is not particularly positive. I found the first interview he did with Charles Templeton disquieting. Templeton was a contemporary of Billy Graham, but he became an agnostic.

At the time Strobel interviewed him, he was 83 and suffering Alzheimers. Alzheimers is a degenerative illness, often associated with senile dementia.
"The usual first symptom noticed is memory loss which progresses from seemingly simple and often fluctuating forgetfulness (with which the disease should not be confused) to a more pervasive loss of short-term memory, then of familiar and well-known skills or objects or persons. Aphasia, disorientation and disinhibition often accompany the loss of memory. Alzheimer's disease may also include behavioral changes, such as outbursts of violence or excessive passivity in people who have no previous history of such behavior. In the later stages, deterioration of musculature and mobility, leading to bedfastness, inability to feed oneself, and incontinence, will be seen if death from some external cause (e.g. heart attack or pneumonia) does not intervene. Average duration of the disease is approximately 7-10 years, although cases are known where reaching the final stage occurs within 4-5 years, or up to 15 years." (wiki)

Now sufferers can have very lucid days, and with an active mind, symptoms may not be particularly pronounced, especially on much-considered subjects. But still, I wonder why, on having discovered Templeton's illness, Strobel did not choose to interview a healthy agnostic or atheist.

I also find his depiction of Templeton's emotional outburst unsettling: Alzheimers sufferers are prone to these sorts of flare-ups. Strobel seemed to suggest that Templeton was severely and negatively affected by his loss of faith on the basis of this atypical behaviour of his. But it is a behaviour fairly well characterised by Templeton's disease. How much weight can we really place upon it?

Objection 1: Since evil and suffering exists, a loving God cannot

The bear trap analogy.

"Imagine a bear in a trap and a hunter, who out of sympathy, wants to liberate him. He tries to win the bear's confidence, but he can't do it, so he has to shoot the bear full of drugs. The bear however, thinks this is an attack and the hunter is trying to kill him." (Case for Faith, Strobel, p.32)

This is what Kreeft suggests humans are like in respect to God, in his interview with Strobel. I think this analogy fails on several levels: because, presumably the hunter set the trap in the first place and the whole problem could have been avoided by not placing traps for uncomprehending bears.

  • Why would a hunter who doesn't want to catch bears, set bear-traps? It doesn't make any sense.
  • God, if omnipotent, would be able to remove the trap without pain or fear, where it is not possible for a human.
  • The hunter of the bear wouldn't expect trust, understanding or gratitude from the animal. He would know that it doesn't have the ability to understand his intentions. If humans are as uncomprehending of God, as bears are of human motives, why would God expect our trust?


Kreeft says "If there is no Creator and therefore no moment of creation, then everything is the result of evolution. If there was no beginning or first cause, then the universe must have always existed. That means the universe has been evolving for an infinite period of time - and by now, everything should already be perfect. There would have been plenty of time for evolution to have finished and evil to have been vanquished. But there still is evil and suffering and imperfection - and that proves the atheist wrong about the universe."(Strobel, p.35)

Sigh. Where to begin with this? Evolution does not have a purpose, it is a process. It isn't trying to perfect organisms, it's just a matter of what works. It doesn't have a goal to work to and then will stop happening, it's continual. Evolution isn't an answer to the universe, and isn't intended to be. It's about the origin of species on this planet. Evolution isn't an answer to moral questions, it's a process. It isn't trying to vanquish evil. It isn't trying to do good. It's impersonal, non-sentient. You don't expect gravity to solve moral issues either.

What he said also basically contends that to be an atheist, you must accept evolution, and while many atheists no doubt do (as I do), it is not a necessity for atheism. It isn't the sole reason or even necessarily a major reason for disbelief in gods. Kreeft then goes on to say that atheism is "cheap on people, because it snobbishly says 9 out of 10 people through history have been wrong about God and have had a lie at the core of their hearts"(Strobel, p.35).

Well, that's pretty insulting stuff. But let's not throw the book across the room.

  • The majority can be wrong about things. In bygone eras, the majority believed the sun moved round the earth. Not many hold to this view these days. "Most people believe" is not a reason to take it at face value; it's argumentum ad populum, a fallacious argument.
  • Let's face it, most religions are in opposition about who has the right god, (even if they were all monotheistic, which they are not: Hinduism, for example). So 9 out of 10 people throughout history have not believed in the one God Kreeft talks of, they believed in a huge variety of deities.
  • Being potentially wrong does not equal lying. To say it must either true or a big fat lie is a false dichotomy. One can make a mistake or have a misconception without it being deliberate or malicious.
  • Where does he obtain this 9 out of 10 figure from anyway?
Kreeft then goes on to equate atheism with communism. I can't even be bothered with that one.

Without God, no good?

Kreeft uses the argument that without God, we would have no overarching standard of morality, no absolute standard of goodness. But do we have such a thing anyway? A couple of examples in sexual moral codes: in Native American tradition, homosexuality was seen as a blessing and in another culture, virginity is not a desirable quality in a woman if she hopes to marry.

The golden rule, which pre-dates Christianity, can be as easily explained as a man-made concept as god-inspired. Its basis is reciprocal altruism: social creatures need their society to work within a set of rules, because otherwise the social network and co-operation would be impossible.

Anyway, these are my first thoughts on this book, so far.


Anonymous said...

I found your thoughts on the book interesting. I'm about to start it so, I searched it first. I'm just curious, did you find anything in the book that you liked?

Mephitis said...

Oh sorry not to pick up on your comment until now.

I thought it was accessibly written and would probably be a good introduction to Christian apologetics. There was nothing new as such in its arguments but it's a decent presentation of the usual suspects.