bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 1: Introduction

The book’s introduction divides into six parts: (i) the crucial role that beliefs about God play in worldviews; (ii) an overview of three major “religious” worldviews; (iii) a discussion of the role of faith and facts in religion; (iv) three categories of problems with Christianity; (v) the faith of an atheist; and (vi) a high-level summary of their 12-point case for Christianity.
(i) The Role of (A)theology in Worldviews: Geisler and Turek (G&T) state that the answers to life’s “five most consequential questions… depend on the existence of God” (20). I take this to be a typo. As I’m sure G&T agree, if God does not exist, it does not follow that those questions have no answers. In fact, G&T themselves summarize what they think the atheistic answers to those questions must be! So I assume that what G&T meant is that such answers “will be informed by one’s beliefs about the existence of God.” And I take it that this claim is clearly right.
(ii) Three Major “Religious” Worldviews: G&T assert that “Most of the world’s major religions fall into one of these three religious world-views: theism, pantheism, and atheism” (22), which they then define as follows:
Theist: someone who believes in a personal God who created the universe but is not part of the universe
Pantheist: someone who believes in an impersonal God that literally is the universe.
Atheist: someone who does not believe in any type of God.
Additionally, they define an “agnostic” as someone who is unsure about the question of God.
For the most part, I think these definitions are fine. The one concern I have is with G&T’s definition of agnosticism. Since theism, pantheism, and atheism are defined in terms of beliefs, I think it would have been better to define agnosticism as “the lack of beliefs about God’s existence.” Not only does this keep the symmetry going, but, more important, it keeps beliefs separate from a person’s degree of belief, i.e., how much certainty or uncertainty they attach to their beliefs.
(iii) Faith and Facts in Religion: G&T argue that religion is not “simply a matter of faith” because “religion is not only about faith.” Rather, religion also makes truth claims and so “facts” play  a central role as well. This invites the obvious question: what do G&T mean by “faith”? The answer is found in a later section, where they write:
We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge. (26)
Elsewhere, they claim that “every religious worldview requires faith” (25).
There are times where two people speak the same language, use the same words, and mean very different things by the same words. In conversations between Christians and atheists, “faith” is one such word. For many atheists, the word “faith” means, by default, belief without evidence or even belief against the evidence. Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell probably summed up the views of most atheists when he wrote this.

We may define “faith” as the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. The substitution of emotion for evidence is apt to lead to strife, since different groups, substitute different emotions.[1]

In contrast, I doubt many Christians would accept that definition. For example, Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) states, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In other words, faith is a belief that (a) is about something a person hopes is true; and (b) goes beyond the evidence.
Regarding (a), many atheists hope that God exists and that atheism is false. Indeed, for those of us who are former believers, in many cases their loss of belief in God was depressing. In the Hebrews sense of “faith,” then, such atheists do not have faith in atheism, even if they are uncertain about their atheism.
As for (b), I agree with both Christians and atheists on this point. I agree with those Christians who point out that the Biblical concept of faith doesn’t seem to support belief against the evidence. “Going beyond the evidence,” does not mean “going against the evidence.” I also think that “going beyond the evidence” doesn’t entail “there is no evidence at all.” (For example, the conclusions of logically correct inductive arguments go beyond the content of their premises, but their premises are nevertheless evidence for their conclusions.) But I also agree with Russell that, in everyday language, the word “faith” is often used just as he says it is.
In light of this difference in language, then, it’s always puzzled me why Christian apologists like G&T insist on using a word like “faith” in their exchanges with atheists and agnostics. There are other ways to make the same point; there’s no apparent “upside,” and there is a clear “downside.” Christian philosopher Victor Reppert seems to agree. He writes:

Every time you use the word “faith” in a discussion with an atheist, they are going to declare victory. They will presume that you are believing for no reason, and that you are admitting that the evidence is against you.[2]

I think Reppert is probably right. The word “faith” simply has too much baggage and is too off-putting to nontheists. The expressions “uncertain belief” or “probable belief” are two much less contentious ways to make the same point.
(iv) Three Categories of Problems with Christianity: G&T describe three types of obstacles to Christian belief: (1) intellectual (such as the argument from evil); (2) emotional (such as hypocrisy); and (3) volitional (i.e., the desire to sin).
I take it that this list of categories is clearly right, but incomplete. I would add a fourth category: (4) biological (such as mindblindness associated with severe forms of Autism Spectrum Disorders).[3]
Furthermore, as I’m sure G&T would agree, we can use these same four categories to describe Christian obstacles to becoming atheists. For example: (1) intellectual (such as the kalām cosmological argument); (2) emotional (such as the prospect of no afterlife); (3) volitional (i.e., the desire to fit into a religious community); and (4) biological (i.e., the natural tendency to form beliefs about invisible agents).[4]
But G&T do more than just list the different categories of obstacles to Christian belief. They also summarize their assessment of the evidence against Christianity and against God’s existence.

That is, once one looks at the evidence, we think it takes more faith to be a non-Christian than it does to be a Christian. (24)

In fact, they put the point this way.

Indeed, we think our conclusions are true beyond a reasonable doubt. (This type of certainty, say, 95-plus percent certain, is the best that fallible and finite human beings can attain for most questions, and it is more than sufficient for even the biggest decisions in life.) (25, italics mine)

This remarkable degree of probability is supposed to follow from their 12-point case for Christianity. In fact, as I will show in this review, their biased and incomplete summary of the evidence comes nowhere close to justifying a 95% or greater probability that Christianity is true.
(v) The Faith of an Atheist: Consistent with their definition of faith, G&T argue that since atheists are dealing “in the realm of probability rather than absolute certainty,” they have to “have a certain amount of faith to believe that God does not exist” (26). It seems to me that G&T are clearly right that atheists, like theists, can have beliefs about God that are, at best, highly probable, not absolutely certain.
(vi) High-Level Summary of Case for Christianity: In this section G&T offer a preview of their “twelve points that show Christianity is true.” The most important of these points may be summarized as follows.
(a) Arguments for theism: these include versions of the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments
(b) Evidence for Christianity: evidence that Jesus is God, such as his fulfillment of prophecy, miracles, and his resurrection from the dead.
Having outlined G&T’s case for Christian theism, I shall now analyze its logical structure. The good news for G&T is that I have only one comment. The bad news is that I think it is fatal to their project.  The comment is this: G&T’s evidence for Christianity, even if accurate, doesn’t make it probable that Christianity is true. Although G&T explicitly recognize that they are dealing with probabilities, the logical structure of their argument is defective because it fails to satisfy the rules of mathematical probability known as the axioms of the probability calculus.
This is best shown with a concrete example. Let’s suppose, but only for the sake of argument, that the following evidence favors theism over atheism, i.e., is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that atheism is true: the beginning of the universe, the design of the universe, the design of life, and the existence of the moral law. Even so, it still doesn’t follow that, all things considered, God’s existence is more likely than not. For example, it may be the case—and I think is the case—that there is other evidence which favors atheism over theism. But, if true, that entails that G&T’s case violates the Total Evidence Requirement and so G&T’s case accordingly fails to show that Christianity is probably true.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Notes
[1] Bertrand Russell, Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954, New York: Routledge, 2013), 215.
[2] Victor Reppert, “Matt McCormick on the Meaning of Faith,” Dangerous Idea (July 29, 2012), http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2012/07/matt-mccormick-on-meaning-of-faith.html.
[3] Simon Baron-Cohen, Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995).
[4] Justin Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God? (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2004).

bookmark_borderIndex: Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Review of Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004). 
Like all apologetics books, both Christian and non-Christian, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist book takes a partisan approach to the philosophy of religion. Of course, by itself, the fact that it is a partisan book isn’t a problem. The existence or non-existence of God is an important topic; it’s appropriate for people who’ve reached a conclusion to try to persuade others of their position.
The fundamental problem with this book is the particular way it takes a partisan approach: there are partisan books and then there are obnoxiously partisan books.  Like many (but not all) of those other books in the apologetics genre, the basic approach seems to be the following.

  1. Present and defend the author’s preferred view as favorably as possible.
  2. Represent opposing views as unfavorably as possible.
  3. Reach the remarkable conclusion that–surprise, surprise–the author’s view is true.
  4. Suggest that anyone who disagrees is ignorant, irrational, or has ulterior (non-rational) motives.

The problem with obnoxious apologetics, which seems to afflict as many atheist apologists as theist apologists, is that it’s a fatally flawed way to search for truth. If our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth–and it should be–then the above approach is what not to do. Rather, if our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth, then our basic approach should be to represent opposing views fairly, in the best possible light, and interact with the best arguments both for and against the different viewpoints.
The philosopher George H. Smith once wrote, “We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from the honest pursuit of truth.”[1] Along the same lines, obnoxious apologetics is in no one’s self-interest. First, it clearly is not in the best interest of the community who feels their position has been slandered by the straw men created (and then torn down) by apologists.
Second, it’s not in the self-interest of the obnoxious apologist, since in the long-run it can backfire.  Think of the last time you read or listened to something which you felt misrepresented one of your beliefs (or your arguments for your beliefs). Did you change your mind and drop the belief? Of course not! Did you start thinking of objections and rebuttals as you were reading or listening? Probably!  Indeed, if the misrepresentation was made by someone in the public eye, such as a well-known author, it runs the real risk of inviting corrective reviews (like this one) and damaging the author’s credibility.
Third, it’s not in the self-interest of undecided, sincere seekers who truly want to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Following the evidence wherever it leads requires that all of the available relevant evidence be presented and presented fairly. As we shall see later in this review, Geisler and Turek (hereafter, G&T) fail to do this—over and over again.
This failure not only has a practical cost, but a logical cost as well. As G&T admit, their goal is to show that Christianity is highly probable through the use of inductive arguments based upon empirical evidence. But inductive arguments succeed only when they satisfy the Total Evidence Requirement, viz., that their premises embody all of the available relevant evidence.  As I show below, however, G&T’s inductive arguments fail to do this–both individually and collectively. Accordingly, even if all of G&T’s evidence were accurate, which it isn’t, G&T’s case still wouldn’t succeed in showing that Christianity is probably true.
In order to support this verdict on the book’s approach, I’m going to provide a fairly detailed review of the book’s contents, divided into sections according to the table of contents.
Here is the table of contents for the book:
Foreword by David Limbaugh
Preface: How Much Faith Do You Need to Believe This Book?
Acknowledgements
Introduction: Finding the Box Top to the Puzzle of Life
1 Can We Handle the Truth?
2 Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?
3 In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE
4 Divine Design
5 The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe?
6 New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?
7 Mother Theresa vs. Hitler
8 Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility
9 Do We Have Early Testimony About Jesus? (Part 1, Part 2)
10 Do We Have Eyewitness Testimony About Jesus?
11 The Top Ten Reasons We Know the New Testament Writers Told the Truth
12 Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
13 Who is Jesus: God? Or Just a Great Moral Teacher?
14 What Did Jesus Teach about the Bible?
15 Conclusion: The Judge, The Servant, and the Box Top
Appendix 1: If God, Why Evil?
Appendix 2: Isn’t That Just Your Interpretation?
Appendix 3: Why the Jesus Seminar Doesn’t Speak for Jesus
Notes
 
[1] George H. Smith, “Atheism: The Case Against God,” speech delivered to the Society of Separationists, 1976. Transcript published as “How to Defend Atheism,” The Secular Web (1976), http://infidels.org/library/modern/george_smith/defending.html.