Saturday, January 26, 2013

God and Reason Course: The Dilemma

I mentioned before that four Christian professors at my university are giving a non-credit course entitled "God and Reason". I attended the first session and wrote about it here.

In thinking about this course more, I think there is a big dilemma for the instructors. All four of them are respected and accomplished researchers and scholars. But a scholar, by definition, must explore the literature both for and against any point of view. If there are arguments with some merit against your thesis, you must address them.

On the other hand, a Christian evangelical usually feels no such obligation. Their primary goal is to convert you to their belief, not to explore themes with scholarly detachment.

So, which will it be in this course? So far I am not very optimistic that scholarship will win out over Christian apologetics. For one thing, the textbook is Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism which, at least judging from the reviews, is not an academic or scholarly text that addresses the other side fairly. Second, no opposing point of view is given as recommended reading. Third, the whole exercise is sponsored by "Power to Change Ministries". And finally, no one associated with the course is a skeptic, non-believer, or even non-Christian.

So here is a suggestion to the organizers. Live up to your obligations and reputations as scholars, and, for each session, list some suggested readings for "the other side". For example, for the next lecture, you might mention Jordan Howard Sobel's recent book, Logic and Theism: Arguments for and Against Beliefs in God, which is available here for free if you are a student or faculty member at the University of Waterloo. I could list many more.

After all, "who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?"

26 comments:

Luke Barnes said...

"If there are arguments with some merit against your thesis, you must address them. On the other hand, a Christian evangelical usually feels no such obligation."

The titles of the first seven chapters of Keller's book are:

1. There can’t be just one true religion.
2. How could a good God allow suffering?
3. Christianity is a straitjacket.
4. The Church is responsible for so much injustice.
5. How can a loving God send people to hell?
6. Science has disproved Christianity.
7. You can’t take the Bible literally.

Now, whether he addresses the other side *fairly* is another matter - I haven't read the book either. But he does spend the first half of the book addressing the arguments against his thesis. Hopefully the course will do the same.

Your point about having some suggested readings for "the other side" is a good one. I'd be interested to hear your other suggestions. God Delusion? Wallace I. Matson, The Existence of God?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

But he does spend the first half of the book addressing the arguments against his thesis.

As I said, if you read the reviews of the book, they do not inspire confidence that he treats the other side fairly.

I gave a book suggestion already in the main body of the text. It's like you didn't even bother to read that.

Luke Barnes said...

Not much point analysing a book we haven't read. Just noting the difference between "not addressing at all" and "not addressing to my satisfaction."

Also, "I'd be interested to hear your other suggestions."

... other suggestions...

... other than the one you gave in the post ...

... Just before you said "I could list many more."

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I never said anything about "not addressing at all". My words were "not an academic or scholarly text that addresses the other side fairly".

As for other books, I like Nicolas Humphrey, Leaps of Faith and Sam Harris, The End of Faith.

mregnor said...

In other words, Shallit, you recommend that they "teach the controversy".

How about the same for Darwinism and ID in biology courses?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

In other words, Shallit, you recommend that they "teach the controversy".

Oh, look at what crawled out from under its rock.

I'm all for teaching controversies when they are genuine. When philosophy and theology come to the same kind of unanimity and evidence we have for evolution, they can dispose of the other side in 5 minutes, the way we do when we teach science classes.

Just because you and your dishonest friends try to pretend that creationism (intelligent design flavored or not) is a legitimate challenge to evolutionary biology doesn't make it so.

Megnor said...

I see, Shallit. So one side of the controversy gets to decide what is a controversy and what is not.

Christians believe that God's existence is self-evident and clearly proven, just as Darwinists believe that Darwinism is proven.

Yet you criticize Christians who do teach the controversy (after all, that is what apologetics is) of not being sufficiently tolerant of dissent, and at the same time you demand lock-step instruction in Darwinism in schools, with no provision for dissent.

Christians are willing to face dissenters in any forum, and to answer them. What are you so afraid of? Why is it that Darwinism can't withstand the scrutiny of schoolchildren?

Why is censorship so much a part of your program?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Christians believe that God's existence is self-evident and clearly proven, just as Darwinists believe that Darwinism is proven.

You contradict yourself. If it is "self-evident", then it does not require proof, and certainly does not require an 8-week short course. But then, reasoning is not exactly your strong suit.

Among professional philosophers, there is certainly no agreement at all that your Christian belief is "self-evident" or "clearly proven". If anything, most philosophers believe the opposite. So there is a genuine controversy, the existence of which is apparent to anyone who looks at philosophy textbooks or journals.

What are you so afraid of? Why is it that Darwinism can't withstand the scrutiny of schoolchildren?

When did you stop beating your wife?

Scientists are not afraid of dishonest ideologues like Egnor. Usually we ignore them, or laugh at them. It is only when they try to destroy education by replacing science with religion that they become a concern.

Anyone who doubts my assertion that evolutionary biology is not controversial among practicing biologists need only look at professional journals and textbooks. Sure, there are a few crackpots who disagree, but there are also a few crackpots who deny relativity. We don't spend our valuable curriculum time talking about them in physics class, either.

Why is censorship so much a part of your program?

I see you don't know what the word "censorship" means. I'll give you a clue: it doesn't mean "your public school has to espouse my crackpot belief".

I will take you seriously when you produce a syllabus for your classes that spends half the lecture hours discussing the "controversy" about bloodletting, the four humors, Erasistratus' physiology, and so forth. This material might be of interest to historians of science, but medical schools don't waste much time on it.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Christians believe that God's existence is self-evident and clearly proven

How do you know when Egnor is lying? When his lips are moving.

For a counterpoint, here is my colleague and Catholic professor, David Seljak:

"Christians ought to remember that normal, thinking people do not automatically see the sense in their claims. Indeed believers ought to be a minority. Even Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians. "but we preach Christ crucified: ...foolishness to Gentiles". This stuff is supposed to sound crazy to you guys. After all, we Catholics believe that if we eat the flesh and blood of a Jewish zombie who died 2000 years ago, our invisible friend in the sky will save us from death. :) Faith does not come "naturally"; that is why we call it a "gift". We should hardly be surprised when a number of people say, "no thank you, that sounds ridiculous." It seems to me that Christians should be a lot more humble about our truth claims and a whole heckuva lot more charitable to people who don't take them up."

Anonymous said...

One might also note that it is the advocates of "Intelligent Design" who make a point of not even describing what "alternative" there might be to things like common descent with modification. How are we supposed to take it seriously, when its advocates refuse to? Why?

One might also note that there are plenty of people who believe in their Creator God, yet accept scientific accounts of reproduction, genetics, metabolism, evolution. Or of astronomy, geology, or whatever other things may be contrary to your personal interpretation of Scripture. Such people may find it objectionable to use the power of the state to teach their children deviant sectarianism.

TomS

RBH said...

Megnor wrote

Christians believe that God's existence is self-evident and clearly proven, just as Darwinists believe that Darwinism is proven.

In fact, what is closest to being "proven" by way of some sort of God is that there are many gods--polytheism. See my Multiple Designers Theory for an overview of the evidence.

Diogenes said...

Egnor:
Christians are willing to face dissenters in any forum, and to answer them.

What a lying sack! Does Evolution News & Views permit comments? Does Answers in Genesis?

You lying, cowardly sack!

At the FB page of the Biologic Institute, I wrote a couple hundred comments with evidence and citations disproving the DI's trash book "Science and Human Origins."

They banned me and deleted all my comments.

At the FB page of Ray "Banana man" Comfort, I debunked, with citations, his assertion that Hitler was "one of Darwin's top students."

He banned me and deleted all my comments.

The Anti-Darwinist Thought Police tolerates zero dissent.

Are you gonna run away Egnor, after dropping accusations like that? Come back, you coward.

Expected said...

"Oh, look at what crawled out from under its rock."

As a first response to a calm and fair question, that response was exactly what I expected from you.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Expected:

You can look up Egnor's extraordinarily nasty and dishonest public record with a google search. Perhaps then you will understand my response.

mregnor said...

@Diogenes:

[Are you gonna run away Egnor, after dropping accusations like that? Come back, you coward.]


Come on over to my blog (egnorance) any time. We'd love to talk with you.

Rumraket said...

Megnor wrote: "I see, Shallit. So one side of the controversy gets to decide what is a controversy and what is not. "

With respect to what constitutes a properly testable scientific idea worthy of being taught in science class as constituing established science, ID-creationism simply doesn't cut it.

Even if we are generous and pretend we don't know the history behind why ID-creationism was even invented(cdesignproponentsists anyone?), ID-creationists have made no properly testable scientific claims. The entire case for ID can be reduced to "it's so complex I can't see how it could have evolved, but a designer could have made it". That idea is untestable, it canno be shown false. Anything, litterally anything could be what the designer wanted.

With respect to your point about who or what decides what's a controversy or not, the scientific community decides. There is no controversy about whether evolution happened within the scientific community. The only opposition in existence is found outside science, in religious communities. There is no scientific controversy, it is entirely a religious and political issue. But neither politicians nor religious leaders get to decide what constitutes science.

There are no "interpretations" of methodological naturalism. Test by observation and experiment is a fundamental requirement, and as explained, ID-creationism cannot be observationally tested. There is no method of falsification possible even in principle. As I wrote, anything can be ad-hoc rationalized to be "what the designer wanted".

You want to teach about creationism? - do it in church.

Havok said...

mregnor: Come on over to my blog (egnorance) any time. We'd love to talk with you.
Why not answer back up those accusations here, where you mad them, rather than going back to your own blog?

Diogenes said...

Yes Egnor, you made your false statements here. You didn't make your false statements at your blog, you made them here.

Egnor: Christians are willing to face dissenters in any forum, and to answer them.

You said "any forum", Egnor. Why doesn't ENV permit comments where we can disprove the endless false statements of Klinghitler and his buddies?

YOU WERE LYING, EGNOR. YOU LIED.

Again I ask: Does Evolution News & Views permit comments? Does Answers in Genesis? Does CMI?

Here is a rare example of ENV briefly permitting comments. On the subject of Junk DNA, I proceeded to kick their butts, so they got in the last word, insulted me and closed comments.

Here is another example of ENV briefly permitting comments, on the topic of feathered dinosaurs. Casey Luskin got caught dead to rights (by Troy Britain) taking quotes out of context to dishonestly reverse their meaning. In the comments, I proceeded to kick their butts, so they got in the last word, insulted me and closed comments.

Since you made your false statements here, Egnor, TAKE BACK YOUR FALSE STATEMENTS RIGHT HERE.

The Anti-Darwinist Thought Police tolerates no dissent and suppresses scientific evidence!

mregnor said...

Hey Diogenes, looks like you've got a STICKY ALL CAPS BUTTON.

Come on over to Egnorance, and let's chat. We love comments, and good debate.

Havok said...

mregnor, why not back up your claims here where you made them?

That's all diogenes is asking, and since you've claimed that Christians (which presumably includes yourself) "are willing to face dissenters in any forum, and to answer them.", why try to direct conversation back to your own blog?

Diogenes said...

Yeah Egnor. You said "any forum."

This is a forum. Why not here? Oh I forgot-- you got no guts!

mregnor said...

Diogenes is sooo upset that pro-ID blogs don't accept comments.

Well, heck, I do accept comments. Goin' on over to Egnorance will allow Diogenes to work through his little emotional problem and frolic in the combox of a pro-ID blog.

Egnorance will also give Diogenes an opportunity to interact with us sane folks, instead of his asylum-mates in the godless padded room.

And it might give him an opportunity to get that ALL CAPS key workin' right.

Havok said...

mregnor, you made your accusations in this venue, not on your own blog.

Why do you refuse to back them up in this venue?

Diogenes merely pointed out that your bald assertion that Christians are willing to confront dissenters in any forum was false, since so many Christians do not allow dissent on their own forums. That you do allow comments does not prove your case.

Havok said...

Egnorance will also give Diogenes an opportunity to interact with us sane folks, instead of his asylum-mates in the godless padded room.
That seems to be another accusation that you'll no doubt refuse to back up :-)

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Don't expect Egnor to be honest or live up to his commitments. It's just not like him.

Diogenes said...

And Egnor tries to Gish-gallop us. Typical creationist.

Intelligent Design algorithm:

1. Make statement that is patently false.
2. Be corrected by scientist.
3. Change subject to yet another, different false statement.
4. Got to step 2.

Egnor: Well, heck, I do accept comments. Goin' on over to Egnorance will allow Diogenes to work through his little emotional problem and frolic in the combox of a pro-ID blog.

Do not change subject! Do not Gish-gallop!

Egnor: Christians are willing to face dissenters in any forum, and to answer them.

Still false, Egnor! You're not willing to face us in this forum, and you still can't answer us!

And the facts still remain:

1. Answers in Genesis and CMI have "statements of faith" that no conceivable evidence, even eyewitness reports of Egyptians or Chinese, could ever disprove the YEC flood or anything else Ken Ham says.

This statement of faith is binding on all Creation Museum employees, even the janitors, and on all little kiddies who participate in their "science fairs."

Scientific evidence is EXPELLED, suppressed and silenced by creationists.

2. When Bill "Freedom fighter" Dembski wrote that maybe Noah's flood wasn't global, his Christian school dean threatened to FIRE him.

Bill "Freedom fighter" Dembski immediately backed down and said hey, maybe the flood was global after all, because the Bible says so-- not geological evidence, of course!

Scientific evidence is EXPELLED, suppressed and silenced by creationists.

3. Uncommon Descent had multiple control-freak purges of evolutionist commenters over the years, under both moderators Dave Scott and later, Barry Arrington.

Suppressing evolutionary theory is a common feature of ID, not just one person's personality.

4. I personally took on Casey Luskin twice, on two threads at ENV (cited above), I was kicking his ass, then the mods got in the last word, insulted me and closed ocmments.

5. I've been banned from FB pages of preacher Ray "Banana Man" Comfort and the Discovery Institute's "Biologic Institute". Thanks, Ann Gauger, for deleting all my comments filled with citations!

6. Ken Ham recently wrote an unhinged ludicrous personal attack on Zack Kopplin, the Louisiana student who proved 300+ creationist schools and their "Meet the Flintstones" textbooks are funded by taxpayer dollars. This drove Ken Ham nuts, he freaked and attacked Zack and challenged the 19-year-old student to a debate.

I emailed Ken Ham and said mabye he might prefer to debate a grown man like me. What are the odds the Amish wolf-man will take me up on it?

After all, Egnor said that

Christians are willing to face dissenters in any forum, and to answer them.

Now if what Egnor said is true, Ken Ham will surely agree to debate me-- riiight? And if not, then what Egnor said is... ?