This is a continuation of my thoughts on Christianity in the Light of Science, the latest (atheist?) anthology from John Loftus. My other posts in this ‘series’ can be found here.
Having now read the foreword and introduction to Christianity in the Light of Science, I’m not sure what to think. In the first instance, Frank Zindler gives the impression that Christianity in the Light of Science is a collection of essays written for the purpose of refuting arguments offered by William Lane Craig. He refers to Craig 11 times over the course of his three page foreword, writing, ‘it is sobering to realise how many different experts have been needed to refute his multifarious and nefarious claims’1. Accordingly, Christianity in the Light of Science is a ‘full-service manual of counter-apologetics’2. In the other instance, John Loftus tells us that the purpose of Christianity in the Light of Science is to critically examine ‘Christianity and her many sects’ in light of, or by the results of science.3 In contrast with Zindler, Loftus mentions Craig only once, and unlike the foreword we’re given the impression that Christianity in general is in view, rather than William Lane Craig particularly. Either Zindler is intensely focused on Craig, or Loftus’ description is more general than the essays themselves are – we’ll find out. This confusion aside, what else do we learn from the foreword and introduction?
Zindler’s emphasis on Craig isn’t without reason. There are a further 85 references to Craig, in addition to the 11 in the foreword, over the book’s 399 pages. The overall impression of the foreword is that each of the book’s 15 chapters will refute a particular claim made by Craig, each in the process showing Craig’s God to be a ‘god of the gaps’4. Zindler pulls from chapter 5 (‘Before the Big Bang’), and uses the Kalam Cosmological Argument5 as an example of one such claim. He provides two reasons why we should think that the Kalam is a god of the gaps argument: (1) the Kalam relies on claims that are impossible to test, such as God existing before the big bang, and therefore scientifically meaningless; (2) the Kalam relies on are claims ‘that may someday prove possible to test but can’t yet be answered by science one way or the other’.6 He further argues that ‘only beyond the frontiers of Science can Craig’s deity find a place to hide’7, but this isn’t the impression I got from skimming chapter 5. Rather, the Kalam is argued to be suspect on the grounds that we do not know if the universe had a beginning, which is a refutation of the Kalam’s second premiss. It’s implied that since Craig relies heavily on modern cosmology, his formulation of the Kalam is too susceptible to advances in the relevant sciences. Zindler’s rhetoric is perhaps getting in the way here, as I see no reason to conclude on the back of this that Craig’s God is a god of the gaps, nor does this seem to be the intended aim of chapter 5.
Zindler claims that if any of the arguments in Christianity in the Light of Science is true, then ‘Craig’s war is lost… due to the ad hoc way in which all of his arguments must be cobbled together’8. There’s a brief mention of chapter 12 (‘Pious Fraud at Nazareth’) here, but no reason is given to think why this might be the case. Instead, Zindler asserts that science is mostly immune to such strategies, and that apologists like Craig commit a medieval logical fallacy known as ignotum per ignotius: to explain the unknown by means of the even more unknown. I suspect, however, that Zindler means the ignotum per aeque ignotum fallacy, which is to explain the unknown by the equally unknown. In the first case, a difficult to understand answer has been provided, but the answer is true. In the second case, an answer that is unknown to be true has been provided. Does this include the supernatural, and count as a god of the gaps argument? I don’t see why it would.
Zindler closes his foreword with an anti-Craig polemic by way of a bizarre comparison with King Canute: ‘Stop, cosmology! Halt, physics! Stay back, evolution! Cease, critical studies of the Bible! Back off, brain physiology!’9 Craig is known to embrace these areas (otherwise, why would so many specialists be needed to refute his claims?), and it cannot reasonably be said that he is working against their progress, or, for that matter, that these areas are necessarily theistic or a-theistic.
The foreword, then, most certainly leaves us with the impression that many of Craig’s arguments are about to be defeated, but I’m not sure that Zindler’s rhetoric forwards the cause. The reader will certainly have been hooked regardless.
The introduction begins with a word of praise and remembrance for Victor Stenger (29 January, 1935 – 25 August, 2014), whose last (known) essay, ‘Christianity and Cosmology’, comprises chapter 4. Loftus then recounts the role of science in his previous books, before launching into his attack on Christian faith.10 We’re given a list of ‘faith-based claims’ that lack any scientific evidence, and therefore don’t require refutation. Rudolf Bultmann is cited in support of the suggestion that many Christian claims have become unbelievable in a ‘scientifically literate world’, and even Christians themselves have started to disbelieve in them.11 There’s the usual bit about theologians putting on a ‘dog and pony show’12. Uta Ranke-Heinemann makes another appearance (cf. Why I Became an Atheist, 2008) as an example for Christians who aren’t consistent, and don’t go far enough in their rejection of Christian claims. Loftus anticipates that Christian apologists will declare faith victorious over science by arguing against the scientism espoused earlier, or by arguing that Loftus’ et al. conclusions are predetermined by a commitment to methodological naturalism. An outline of each of the book’s five sections follows, concluding with an appeal to not to be closed minded about Science. Loftus is sure to mention his ‘Outsider test for faith’, the NOMA principle is taken to task, and an explanation is provided for how people reject science instead of following the evidence. The introduction, then, is typical Loftus, but there are a few things worth further consideration.
In anticipating that ‘Christian apologists will futilely try to scare their progeny with the boogeyman of scientism, declaring their faith victorious because they claim its critics think science can test everything, which is a self-refuting claim’13, Loftus argues that this criticism is only valid if scientism claims with certainty that science can test everything; as long as room is left for reasonable doubt, then there is no issue. But the problem with scientism isn’t that it’s too certain, but that it makes claims that aren’t themselves scientific (or scientifically verifiable). Further, there are questions that are outside scientific inquiry, for example, questions of value, morality, and so on. A possible straw-man is lurking here as well, as I’m not aware of anyone, particularly of Craig’s calibre, who would declare faith victorious over science, or as an alternative to science.
Loftus challenges the Christian reader to find evidence in Christianity in the Light of Science of conclusions that were predetermined by a commitment to naturalism, but it’s worth considering whether that challenge includes, for example, Loftus’ earlier call for Christians to drop their belief in supernatural claims because the bible is prescientific. Is the issue here that the conclusions are predetermined by a commitment to naturalism, or that the process of examining the evidence and subsequent argumentation is filtered through the lens of naturalism? I suspect the claim, if made, would be the latter. Would a version of the ‘Outsider test for faith’ be applicable here?
It’s claimed that believers aren’t ‘open-minded to science’14, but it’s not obvious that this is at all the case. Unless we’re talking about a very specific group, this claim is mostly irrelevant.
Loftus takes Stephen Jay Gould to task over his NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria) principle, but seems only to assert that Christianity ‘is not factually based’15, and on that basis the NOMA principle can’t save it. This is significant because the NOMA principle underlines the fundamental problem with pitting science against Christianity. If we granted for the sake of argument that science could provide an exhaustive description of the physical universe, one could still posit the existence of God, and metaphysics, theology, philosophy, etc., would proceed as normal. Loftus et al. could defeat all the world’s religions, and the question of God’s existence would remain wide open. The NOMA principle stands intact.
From Zindler we learn that William Lane Craig will be a major figure throughout Christianity in the Light of Science, and from Loftus we receive a number of arguments against Christian faith, some better presented than others. It will be interesting to see what the essays that follow have to offer, and whether they can overcome the difficulties inherent in scientism, or methodological naturalism. We start with Guy P. Harrison’s ‘How to think like a scientist: why everyone Christian can and should embrace good thinking’.