Wednesday 16 May 2012

Judas: the ultimate betrayal of Dembski and Licona

So we come to the end, the final chapter, the ultimate culmination, the concluding, cogent case for the existence of God. At least, that's what I'd expect, in a tome touted as convincing evidence for the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere-present and perfectly good deity who created the universe. Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science, edited by William Dembski and Michael Licona, begins with this introduction (copied from Google Books):

Given the intention of the book as stated by the editors in their introduction, I'm surprised to find that the final chapter (number 50) is Craig A. Evans' "What Should We Think About the Gospel of Judas?" Evans' conclusion is that the Gospel of Judas should be pretty much ignored as non-canonical and untrue, so it makes for a limp ending — almost as if the editors ran out of material to make up their 50 "arguments". The chapter itself is not uninteresting, being a narrative of the discovery and subsequent chequered history of a papyrus manuscript, but it's entirely inappropriate as a concluding chapter to a book with such lofty declared aims. I can't help wondering if its editors lost not only interest in their project but also their will to live.

The story told of Judas Iscariot in this gospel is at odds with the Judas from the canonical gospels, and therefore has a fascination of its own, but it's irrelevant to the book's stated purpose, so it seems pointless to go into it any further. Evans says the story isn't true, for a variety of reasons (which with a little thought — and honesty — could also be applied to most of the New Testament).

So what are we left with? This book was presented as good evidence for faith, for God, for Jesus, for the Bible. It's none of those. If this is the best that Christian apologetics can produce, those students in Bart Ehrman's class are destined to be atheists.
Click here for my reviews of the other 49 chapters...

Monday 14 May 2012

In our universe, nothing beyond physics

This is from last month, the final episode in the current series of BBC Radio 4's Beyond Belief, with host Ernie Rea and three studio guests: John Lennox, Usama Hasan and Mark Vernon. The subject they're discussing is the origin of the universe, apparently triggered (the discussion, not the universe) by the success of Lawrence Krauss's new book, A Universe from Nothing. It's a shame they didn't get Krauss himself on the show, as he might have pointed out the elementary error Lennox commits in his very first comments. Here's the blurb from the BBC website:
When asked to defend their belief in a Creator God, people of faith often turn to the argument that there must be a First Cause - you can't create something out of nothing they say, therefore right at the beginning, someone must have been responsible for the first element from which sprang life.

A new book, "A Universe from Nothing", by the American theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, turns this argument on its head. Not only can something arise out of nothing, but something will always arise out of nothing because physics tells us that nothingness is inherently unstable.

The book has made an enormous impact in the States, making the New York Times' best sellers list, and it prompted Richards Dawkins to observe that it was "Potentially the most important scientific book with implications for atheism since Darwin".

So does it knock the argument for God on the head? Are physics and God irreconcilable?

Joining Ernie to discuss whether modern physics leaves any room for God are Dr John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, Dr Usama Hasan, Senior Lecturer at Middlesex University and a part time Imam, and Dr Mark Vernon, Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck College, London who has degrees in physics, theology and philosophy.
And Lennox's error?
"Having looked at Lawrence Krauss's book, I think the title from the start is very misleading, because the nothing he claims that is a nothing, is not actually a nothing."
Other theists have jumped on this bandwagon, despite Krauss being very clear precisely what kind of nothing he's discussing. The problem with Lennox's objection is that the nothing he thinks Krauss should be addressing — the total absence of anything whatever — is merely a philosophical construct with no possibility of being real in any sense that makes any sense. Lennox presumably believes that God exists, and is not nothing, and is eternal. If God — or indeed anything at all — is eternal, then Lennox's "nothing" is clearly an impossibility. Such being the case, it's disingenuous of him to complain that Krauss is studying some other kind of nothing.

Streaming audio of this episode of Beyond Belief is available here:

Not for the first time Lennox comes across as a barely disguised old-earth creationist, while Mark Vernon's mild atheism is reasonable but diffident (maybe he's being careful to avoid being labelled as "gnu"). Usama Hasan claims atheists cannot say where the laws of physics come from, as if they ought be inscribed on stone tablets somewhere up a mountain. In the middle of the episode Ernie Rae plays an interview with Graham Swinerd, an agnostic astronautics engineer who found Christ as a result of the fine-tuning argument — though as he also credits attending an Alpha Course one might perhaps consider him as already on the brink.

As is usual at the end of an episode Rae asks all three of his guests one question; this time it's whether the universe has a purpose. Hasan claims it's to declare the glory of God and to produce conscious beings able to choose between good and evil. Vernon doubts that the universe has an overall purpose, except as a container for people who have their own purposes. Lennox, however, goes into eccentric preacher-mode:
"The Universe is a temporary home for human beings created in the image of God. He's conveyed on us that immense dignity, and ultimately, for me, the whole purpose of life in the universe is to enjoy the fellowship of the creator that invented the atom."

Sunday 13 May 2012

Burnee links for Sunday

From the Mailbag: A Reply to “Why Does Religion Always Get a Free Ride?” | Greta Christina's Blog
In response to her responder, Greta asks,"Why should religion be the exception?" and quotes Daniel Dennett:
“I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.”

Don't destroy research · Sense about Science
Will it work? Who knows? But destroying the experiment is one way of ensuring we won't know.

Four Dollars, Almost Five: $ye TenB - it's all about the $$$
I remember seeing $ye appear on Creation Today (or possibly some other video on Eric Hovind's site) and wondering how he could accept creationist nonsense without demur. But it seems PA advocates are also YECs (Chris Bolt, to name another example). At the time I didn't think $ye was mostly monetarily motivated. Lately, however, the evidence suggests otherwise.

We Won't Be Silent! - YouTube
Stand up for free expression.

Schools of pseudoscience pose a serious threat to education | letters | From the Observer | The Observer
Woo in schools — young minds at risk.

Biblical fan-fiction — not to be taken as gospel

In the same vein as Craig L. Blomberg in the previous chapter, Charles L. Quarles asks "What Should We Think About the Gospel of Peter?" (chapter 49 — the penultimate — of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God).

We should, apparently, think that the Gospel of Peter is a knock-off of Matthew (plus part of Revelation). Quarles summarises the Gospel, then proceeds to dismiss it as fanciful embellishment of accepted canon. He mentions a theory propounded by the Jesus Seminar's John Dominic Crossan:
John Dominic Crossan, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, which is an organization residing on the theological left, has claimed that the Gospel of Peter was the product of a complex evolution. The earliest layer of the Gospel was a hypothetical source called the “Cross Gospel.” Crossan argued that this early layer served as the only written source for the narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. After the production of the NT Gospels, a later editor inserted material from the four Gospels into the Cross Gospel. An even later editor noticed tensions between the original and newer material in this patchwork gospel and polished up the document.

Although Crossan’s theory has convinced few in the scholarly community, one scholar recently claimed “one can expect that all future research on Gos. Pet. will need to begin with a serious consideration of Crossan’s work” (Paul A. Mirecki, “Gospel of Peter,” ABD 5:278-81, esp. 280). If true, Crossan’s theory would have a devastating effect on confidence in the historical reliability of the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the four Gospels. According to Crossan’s theory, the sole source for the accounts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in the four Gospels was a document that was already so laced with legend as to be wholly unreliable even before it reached the hands of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The four Gospels would be unreliable adaptations of an unreliable tradition replete with talking floating crosses and a super-sized Jesus whose head bumped the heavens when he walked out of the tomb!
Such amazing (dare one say "miraculous"?) occurrences would surely be out of place in a "Gospel" — so therefore they didn't happen. Quarles goes on to claim that the Gospel of Peter must be something written much later, based on the original(s) but including invented and incredible extra details — a biblical version of fan-fiction. As far as it agrees with canon, it's true — where it differs, it's false. This doesn't seem to be a very rigorous examination of the evidence, such as it is; the veracity of the Gospel of Peter is assessed on the basis of whether or not it confirms what is already believed — a classic case of confirmation bias.

How much of this is of any consequence? At this stage, with only one more chapter to go, it makes no difference. I've already raised my concern at the editors' decision to place The Question of the Bible at the end of their book; these final chapters do nothing to allay that concern.