Sunday, September 23, 2007

FaithMB = (Ignorance) + (Intellectual Dishonesty)

Marvin Bittinger is a retired professor of mathematics education and author of many textbooks. From Pharyngula I learned about his new book, The Faith Equation: One Mathematician's Journey in Christianity.

The "Faith Equation", it turns out, is this: Faith = (Mind) + (Heart) + (Will).

Now, after you've stopped laughing, here is my revision of his equation:

FaithMB = (Ignorance) + (Intellectual Dishonesty)

Now I wouldn't be so arrogant as to claim that everyone's faith is based on the pillars of ignorance and intellectual dishonesty; I know a lot of skeptical, searching, intellectual Christians. Here the subscript "MB" on faith indicates that it only refers to the faith of one Marvin Bittinger.

Why do I say intellectual dishonesty? First, there's the matter of Biblical prophecies. Part of Bittinger's book deals with various prophecies in the Bible. He considers each one, evaluates its probability, and multiplies the probabilities together to get a very small number. He concludes the result shows that the fulfillment of these prophecies is a miracle. I'll point out that claims of Biblical prophecies that can be easily dispelled by reading TIm Callahan's book, Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment?, but that's not my main point. No, the main point is Bittinger's claim here that "the Bible contains hundreds if not thousands of prophecies which have come true, with none failing".

None failing? How about the prophecy in Matthew 24, where Jesus lists a number of coming events, such as "sign of the Son of man in heaven" and "angels with a great sound of a trumpet", etc., etc. and then says "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." Well, it's 2000 years later, and none of these things have happened.

The second example comes here, where Bittinger claims "Whether the earth is 10-15 billion years old (old-earth opinion) or 5-6 thousand years old (young-earth opinion) is subject to debate in scientific and theological circles". Here Bittinger shows his ignorance, because nobody claims the earth is 10-15 billion years old. The current best estimate for the age of the earth is about 4.5 billion years, and this is based on multiple lines of evidence.

The intellectual dishonesty comes in because it is not true to say that the age of the earth is "subject to debate in scientific ... circles". There is simply no debate. The evidence for the 4.5 billion year age is so strong, and the evidence against is so weak, that the question simply does not come up any more.

Another example: on page 49, Bittinger claims, "Our nation was founded on the motto 'In God We Trust'". That will certainly be news to historians, who will point out that (a) the Constitution is a secular document that doesn't mention "God" and (b) the unconstitutional motto "In God We Trust" was only approved in 1864, long after the US was founded.

The really depressing thing is that this combination of ignorance and intellectual dishonesty is the norm in Christian apologetic circles. As evangelical Mark Noll once wrote, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." Too bad Marvin Bittinger did not heed his warning.


Anonymous said...

Presumably there are theists who would make more worthy opponents in a debate? Knuth for example? Why not focus your posts on them?

Anonymous said...

I heard about this from Scott Hatfield in a comment thread at Jason's blog. Coincidentally, I thought it likely that he would play games with probability, but considering the utterly commonplace nature of the tactic that was somewhat like predicting the next sunrise.

I'll probably jump onto the pile of critics later this afternoon.

Anonymous said...


I'm unaware of any original arguments for the EoG that Knuth has put forth, though I am aware of his theism. Perhaps you can direct me to some material analogous to the subject of this post from him.

Paul said...

I think it's interesting that Bittinger's book is endorsed by someone who died two years ago. Would this be an example of one of the thousands of miracles he writes about?

Jeffrey Shallit said...


I am familiar with the works of Knuth on religion, and have discussed some aspects of them with him at a lecture and dinner at the University of Waterloo.

Knuth is a humble man and a credit to Christianity. He doesn't participate in the dishonest antics of fundamentalists and creationists, so there is very little material to debate.

Lippard said...

On Bible prophecies, in addition to Callahan's book, may I recommend Farrell Till's "Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfilfilled" and my own "Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah"?

Anonymous said...

Oh no; he'll give a bad name to mathematicians!