One god less

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Have you encountered the “one god less” rhetorical appeal before?  It goes something like this: “You don’t realize it, but you are an atheist too.  You already reject thousands of other gods.  I just believe in one god less than you do.”

Never mind that the correct grammatical form is “fewer,” not less. The slogan is clever but a poor truth claim. It treats the existence of deity as a quantitative rather than a qualitative issue. The appropriate question is not whether any number of deities exist, but is deity a quality of any part of reality?

In his debate with Alex Rosenberg last February, William Lane Craig laid bare the absurdity of metaphysical naturalism, which I identify here with materialism.  On such a view, science cannot find God.  But neither can it find persons!  Craig highlighted eight problematic implications of materialism.  Among them: first-person perspectives are illusory, individuals don’t persist through two moments of time, and no one actually thinks.  This last one follows from the premise that material cannot exhibit intentionality; it can’t inherently be “about” or “of” anything.  The conclusion contradicts our everyday experience; we think about things all the time.  The reality of mind is at odds with materialism.

Rosenberg deflected Craig’s metaphysical critique during the debate.  However, being more candid in the post-debate exchange, he did address a relevant chapter of his popular book, The Atheist’s guide to reality. The chapter is titled “The Brain Does Everything Without Thinking About Anything at All.” It recalls a book by Floyd Ferris, a fictional government scientist in Atlas Shrugged.  That work is amusingly titled, Why Do You Think You Think?

When it comes to building a worldview, the materialist is confined to a set of insufficient explanatory options. I’ve recently found that Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga, each coming from very different places, seem to be saying as much in their own respective works (Mind and Cosmos and Where the Conflict Really Lies).

Indulging the mystique of exotic sciences like quantum mechanics and brane cosmology, lay materialists illicitly attribute intelligence, awareness, and causal potency–hallmarks of personality–to their favorite model of reality.  No amount of quantitative work can make up for a lack of qualitative analysis.

Back to “one god less.”  Why should it not follow that belief in a negative number of gods is more true belief in zero gods? If the materialist seriously entertains this question on a qualitative basis, she runs the danger of believing the existence of one God more.

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D’Souza strikes (out again) on problem of evil

Dinesh D’Souza was on Michael Medved’s radio show a couple of weeks ago, promoting his new book God Forsaken.  From the unabridged (and unwieldy) title of the work, you’ll see it’s intended as something of an apologetic on the problem of evil.  Normally, I’d be positively inclined toward such a volume. But in the course of the interview, I found myself taking exception on a couple of counts.

The first foul stems from the author’s missed opportunity to affirm one of the most basic tenets of the Christian worldview.  Medved, the host, asked D’Souza and the call-in audience, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” A serious Christian theist can’t dance for long around that question before issuing the clarifying rejoinder: “Who is good?”

Indeed, Paul’s letter to the Romans makes it clear “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  It baffles me that D’Souza, a prominent defender of Christianity, could talk of how “bad things happen” without saying that God does not owe sparing us the consequence of our rebellion.

So then how does D’Souza sell his book in the course of a commercial radio hour?  On the oversubscribed basis of pop science and pop psychology.

Uninterested in traditional theodicy, that is the defense of God’s existence in light of evil, he tries to get people on board with God’s existence by a cursory dismissal of the New Atheists.  He explains away their fervor with a back-of-the-napkin psychoanalysis of the late Christopher Hitchens’ unpleasant childhood.  For all we know, psychology may play a major role in the New Atheist community, but the interviewee seems to lack the tact to avoid a borderline ad hominem attack.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Medved had previously been skeptical of D’Souza’s earlier work, The Roots of Obama’s Rage.  In one sense, that whole book was a pop psychology ad hominem writ large.

Back to the interview.  Once D’Souza establishes that God exists but people are just angry at him, he moves to science, suggesting that certain findings justify the necessity of natural evil, as distinguished from man-made evil.  That means chance calamities like earthquakes and disease, rather than suffering that results from human volition.  So as chilling as they are, mountain lion attacks must be racked up as natural evil.

With this focus on science, the author makes some nifty declarations: life on Earth couldn’t develop without plate tectonics.  If we couldn’t face the consequences of defying gravity, we wouldn’t have true free will.  But these kind of arguments don’t persuade materialistic determinists or skeptics inured to the anthropic principle.  Especially not after you’ve insulted them.

In an hour of radio, the author manages to insult atheists, avoids affirming the fallenness of man, indulges popular appeals to science and psychology, and fails to offer substance for the weighty question of evil.

Yes, he is a former fellow of the Hoover Institution, and the current president of The King’s College in New York City.  And the respectable Evangelical biographer Eric Metaxas gives glowing praise for God Forsaken, so the book may not be a wash.  But considering his previous sketch on Obama, his radio interview, and his second-place finish in last year’s Intelligence Squared debate, I have some doubts as to whether Mr. D’Souza is an effective apologist for Christians or the American Conservative movement.

Good public discourse is not built on sensational psychology or svelt scientific findings.  Whether it’s Dinesh D’Souza or Richard Dawkins answering life’s big questions, we deserve from them solid epistemology and a coherent metaphysics.  We shouldn’t expect less from our top-shelf minds.

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