Monday, 23 August 2010
This series is an atheist's review of an important anthology critical of Christian beliefs called, "The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails" (TCD), that is likely to be popularly discussed across the web. I'll be reviewing the book in light of just about every other response to TCD on the web (pros and cons) and responding to new Christian objections as I find them. I think this will be the best that I personally can contribute to improving the online dialogue between Christians and non-believers on popular battleground issues.
Chapter 5, "The Cosmology of the Bible" by Ed Babinski (part 4 of 5):
Christian reviewer, Randal Rauser generated 7 posts in response to Ed Babinski's chapter and eventually linked us to 9 other posts supporting where he was coming from. To summarize this tour requires only noting that Rauser doesn't care about the actual case demonstrating the Bible's false cosmology because Rauser has God feelings and vague existential experiences that he associates with Biblical Christianity which (in his mind at least) outweigh anything like this. God can appropriate fiction that people are intended to take as authoritative. Who cares? No, don't call God a liar! Etc. I catalog the fallacious and inappropriate reasoning Rauser uses to avoid Babinski's basic conclusion and challenge Rauser on his "truth optional" view of divine inspiration. Enjoy!
Table of Contents:I respond to Christian reviewer, Randal Rauser's 1st post, The Bible Babinski thinks God should have written: On “The Christian Delusion” (Part 9): Does God need to establish consistent credibility?Outro: So who won?
I respond to Rauser's 2nd post, What would we expect God's Word to look like?: Is a divinely inspired Bible that looks just like a product of humanity just as likely as a book that looks divine?
I respond to Rauser's 3rd post, Van Gogh and God, or How to redeem Babinski: Does it make sense for God to inspire error?
I respond to Rauser's 4th post, Is the Bible "merely" a product of its times?: Is the Bible only partially divinely inspired?
I respond to Rauser's 5th post, On Babinski's Evidential Burden: Lessons from the Tentative Atheist: Should the Bible bother to get all the subjects it touches on correct?
I respond to Rauser's 6th post, The burden of the critic: Did Babinski not even establish a case in the longest chapter of TCD?
I respond to Rauser's 7th post, The Tentative Apologist Reader on Faith and Reason: Does Babinski need to get more philosophically nuanced?
I address agnostic contributor, Ed Babinski's response to Rauser's seven posts, Ed Babinski Responds to Randal Rauser on "Biblical Cosmology": What's Babinski got to say for himself?Rauser ultimately argues unconvincingly from other much less credible "God perception" evidence.
Christian reviewer, Randal Rauser, in his first post, concedes:The scriptures were written with the assumptions of an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) worldview, a worldview which we now recognize to be false. The firmament, the three storied universe, the movement of the celestial bodies across the heavens, are all obsolete descriptions of the natural world. When Babinski surveys that material he is reproducing information that is par for the course in biblical hermeneutics and biblical survey courses (except perhaps at The Masters Seminary and other fundamentalist/conservative strongholds).Rauser continues:But then here's the puzzle. While Babinski appreciates the work of scholars like Kenton Sparks (an acquaintance of mine) and Denis Lamoureux (a good friend), those scholars don't see the material Babinski surveys as a threat to the authority and inspiration of scripture at all. Instead, they invoke nuanced concepts like accommodation to argue for the full humanity of scripture whilst retaining confession of its full divinity. (Galileo's 17th century quip remains apposite: The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.)Rauser chastises Babinski for his anti-apologetic criticism not even getting into first gear and that there's a critical piece of the puzzle missing in Babinski's argument and yet clearly the issue here isn't a deficiency of Babinski's chapter. "Accommodation" is a nice way of smoothing over the idea that God is inspiring fiction or human error. Rauser needs to explain why he has different standards for God establishing credibility and trustworthiness that we probably wouldn't apply in any other situation. This is especially pertinent since there are competing naturalistic theories of explanation for the same evidence that do not require the same ad hoc assumptions to support. Credibility is being imposed on scripture (which is, in essence, really no different than how fundamentalists treat it) rather than letting it earn it the old fashioned way.
But Rauser persists, in his second post, against AnAtheist.net's line of reasoning:The central claim of Babinski's essay and the others in part 2 of The Christian Delusion is to show that we can know the Bible is not the word of God, not (as you do) to claim that we cannot know whether it is or not. In that regard, the essay is a failure.But Rauser pretends both options (that the Bible could look like an entirely human work and not be and that God could make a work that looks beyond human abilities) are created equal. Why should Babinski get docked credit for Rauser's fairness fail again? Who should forfeit the letter grade in a just world? Rauser pretended like there was absolutely nothing to it, that it had no weight, and that Babinski was basically a fool for even bringing it up. Four posts into his series on Babinski's chapter he's still saying things like this:I have not seen a single argument thus far that would be of much interest to a Christian.
Clearly this level of obliviousness might be necessary to establish firm footing in Christian confidence, but that's not Babinski's problem.
Similar to Jason Engwer, Rauser claims there are other evidential approaches that could outweigh even a preponderant case here:[There is...] the evidentialist approach, the proper basicality approach, et cetera. I offered a case for a prima facie commitment to the inspiration and authority of scripture last fall here in the blog.Is this anything like supposing that a genius gets full credit on a test for only getting a few answers correct? [note: Rauser takes seven posts to get us some links and his links are just a defense of his magic God feelings that already came up earlier. I'm not sure what that accomplished.]
Rauser quotes Aces Lucky and responds afterwards:...the first test of divinity is that it should first be true."
There it is. The first test of divinity is that it should be true. I am at least sympathetic with the intuition...
Whew... Maybe Rauser's not totally crazy. But then he goes on to split some hairs, Bill Clinton style, with a bad example (aka, yet another corner turned into nonsense land, that atheist intellectuals will get blamed for ultimately):
But true how? An ironic passage could say a number of things which are literally false but which are true if understood ironically. And this mode of communication could be very powerful and transformative for the reader, indeed much more so than if "straight" language had been used. So is God permitted to appropriate into his text statements which are literally false but which are ironically true? I cannot see why not.
If God is telling a joke... Is the Bible a joke? Clearly in context, occasional irony is meant to be understood at the time as irony. The analogy breaks down since there is no baseline of truth and no indication that the false cosmology from cover to cover in the Bible isn't just being endorsed at face value. We know a comedian is likely making something up with a punchline if the premises are accurate and the end is something crazy and absurd. There is still some "psychological truth" there, but we aren't being misled. I don't think the same can be said about God and the case Babinski presents in his chapter. That's a few thousand year joke (longest prank ever?) and so many Christians have gotten the wrong idea as Babinski documents in his chapter (in the notes).
Also, I don't think the implied accusation of being "ultra literal" with the text can sweep an entire false cosmology under the rug especially since it isn't necessary to be literal with all of it to make a good case. If Rauser wants to just come out and say that God lies, endorses lies, and that you can't necessarily trust anything you read in his inspired documents (as I have successfully argued in the past), then just straightforwardly say that. "I have a truth-optional view of divine inspiration and I recognize the many epistemic and moral issues this raises." Then Rauser would need to proceed to take ownership of those implications rather than pretending like that's ever going to be a mainstream Christian view or blaming Babinski for not addressing it.
Atheist, Silver Bullet makes an attempt to get Rauser to listen to reason with a Van Gogh analogy and Rauser responds in his third post:
But the claim of the Christian is NOT that either God produced the Bible or human beings did. It is rather that both God and human beings did. In that respect, for Silver Bullet to have his analogy really hit home, he needs to come up with an analogy that invokes a concept of double agency.But then Rauser is kind enough to tweak the analogy to suit his own claim (so few people do that! Props to Rauser!):How about this: our choice is between believing that Toulouse-Lautrec painted these works on his own or believing that he painted them under the meticulous direction of Van Gogh. That is much closer to what Christians believe about the Bible. While it is the work of human hands it was somehow composed with the divine imprimatur.But isn't that like Van Gogh telling Toulouse-Lautrec to paint like Toulouse-Lautrec? What's the point of that? Or like a math teacher instructing a student to get something wrong on their homework? Um...
But Rauser shamelessly continues to defend himself:Here I'm just going to draw attention to the relatively high level of skepticism of the atheist that any putative text could be believed to be inspired and contrast that with the lower level of skepticism that characterizes the theist.Key word being "relatively." Where should we set our baseline here? Because we can readjust the sentence to read a lot more reasonably:Here I'm just going to draw attention to the relatively high level of credulity of the theist that an errant human text could be believed to be inspired...*sigh* Humans are expected to go out on some faith limb for God in their lives, but God isn't expected to make his religion look like anything other than an arbitrarily successful human contrivance.
In Rauser's fourth post, he appear to throw a red herring at Aces Lucky about not every evil thing a human does in the Bible being endorsed as moral as though God himself never endorsed a single controversial moral atrocity elsewhere (see Avalos' chapter 8). Rauser then quotes Silver Bullet for his second point of the post:Silver Bullet directs a statement to MGT2:From a narrow logical standpoint at this point, it seems Rauser is neglecting the fact this would make the Bible a book that might only contain some divine authority (note, he hasn't contested the specific things God gets wrong about cosmology that Babinski has pointed out), but not a whole book that is authoritative. Surely Babinski has only shown one aspect of the Bible's errancy, and it is technically a genetic fallacy or a fallacy by association to say there couldn't possibly be any divine truthful elements in the rest of it. A liar can tell the truth, after all. A broken clock is correct twice a day, etc. But is this Rauser's position? Or does he have some explaining to do? Because that's like a secular historian happening to overhear the conversation between God and Moses around the corner and jotting some of it down on his own tablets along with his grocery list. Or perhaps some confused religious people of the ancient past happened to record something real in addition to a lot of misrepresentation? How do we sort fact from fiction and how can there be an authority in that garbage pile that doesn't really just amount to our own authority?Babinski has produced loads of evidence to support his claim that the bible is merely the product of its times; his essay is a tour de force. What is your evidence that the bible is something more?The one problem with this first sentence is the gratuitous "merely". Babinski has shown no such thing. He showed that the Bible is a product of its times. Of course. But where does the merely come from?
In Rauser's 5th post on Babinski's chapter, he tries to reverse roles and show that if Babinski (or Rapidski) were in the Christian's shoes, he would not take his own arguments seriously as an outsider. To justify that claim that it doesn't pass an outsider test, Rauser again alludes to some other evidence and some other case not even linked to that apparently has nothing to do with the specific topic and closes with this instead:There are also claims that any inspired text must include descriptions of the natural world that are accepted by early twenty first century science. For instance, we should expect to find an equation like E=mc 2 in the Psalms or Isaiah. Like most Christians, I find no reason to accept those arguments. That is, I find it implausible, even silly, to claim that any inspired text must include these properties.
I can see why God might not want to put human history on the road to atomic bombs so soon (though why he would ever let it go there might be a different story), but the actual claim (if not misrepresented as Rauser has done) is that whatever topic a divinely authoritative work does happen to touch on (for whatever reasons that may not have to do directly with it) that it shouldn't get that aspect wrong. In any fair epistemic world that hurts the overall credibility of the unverifiable things it wants to primarily endorse. I don't think this is rocket science or without incredibly strong warrant.
In Rauser's 6th post on Babinski's chapter, he breaks out the philosophy talk (like solving the infinite regress problem [/eyeroll]) to show skeptics who is boss. However, he's just elaborating on the idea that he is coming from a different perspective. Other convincing evidence weighs more for him and so he is giving the issue in focus (that he doesn't have anything compelling to say about) a pass. However, I remember Rauser's Mustang II analogy and would like him to quit bragging about it and "show us the beef". Even Rauser agrees:So do it! Geez, but then he complains:
I need to provide positive evdience for p.But Babinski has already established his naturalistic case that says, "Gee, where we would expect a mark of divine knowledge, instead we get human error. Why should we trust the rest of this that we can't verify?" It's not Babinski's fault Rauser is comfortably standing in absolutely plastic expectations based on his magic feelings. The problem is that all of the sudden if there's a real issue with the Bible, Rauser's entire philosophy starts unraveling (I guess) and he apparently expects that to be a symmetrical situation for a skeptic presenting the positive case of Babinski's chapter 5 (as though metaphysical naturalism or agnosticism is hinged on the Bible teaching a false cosmology). Can't there be just one more fake religion out there without having to solve every problem in philosophy? C'mon, Randal. Get serious.
Many of the interlocutors responding to this blog have been erroneously focusing on my burden, i.e. asking what evidences I have for rejecting not-p and thus accepting p. But as I have already explained, my present concern is not with getting anybody to believe p who presently believes not-p, but rather with pointing out how Babinski has not shown that "The Bible is God's word" is either irrational or false.Further Rauser suspiciously brings up intuitions and private evidence instead of talking about something worthwhile to all readers which always leads me to believe that if he had a great case, he'd be getting into that instead. What kind of private evidence is this, Rauser? Why does he believe in it if he can't make it believable to others? Is he keeping the divinely revealed winning lotto numbers to himself? Did he take a secret trip to Narnia or perhaps had a time traveling experience of the greatest adventure? Just what exactly is the nature of this private evidence and why exactly should anyone living in a world that includes plenty of earnest Mormons, Muslims, and Pentecostals take it seriously?
John Connor had a great personal case, but he made his terminator from the future show some underlying cyborg before expecting anyone to devote their life to the cause. What would Miles Bennett Dyson do? That's what I ask myself. Let's have some public evidence and then not pretend like the private evidence Christians often describe should be taken seriously. I don't even think they should be taking it seriously, since what they try to describe appears too vague and open to interpretation. It doesn't matter if you are the one experiencing it or not like that matters if it is not something definitive in and of itself. You have the responsibility to know what the human brain is capable of in the world of modern knowledge and debate and what appears indistinguishable from subjective brain farts should not be granted such power to overturn a lot of other good evidence and reasoning to the contrary.
In Rauser's 7th post on Babinski's chapter, Rauser FINALLY gives us some links (sort of), but still tries to save some face and maintain some intellectual high ground with this:I think it would also do the contributors to The Christian Delusion much good to work out what their epistemology is so that they could fine-tune the object of their critique. Is it merely the rationality and justification of Christian belief? Or more strongly the very truth of such belief? And what is the underlying epistemology which supports those claims, whatever they may be?All of the above?
Anyway, here are his links as actual links that make it okay for the Bible to get cosmology way wrong (and my summary and comments):
Why all reason is faithful (even if not all faith is reasonable)So it appears Rauser just wants to hold the fort of his unjustifiable belief in God by making sport of the difficulties people have in formulating a well rounded view of properly basic beliefs in general. That's not impressive at all.
Rauser seems to allow for different levels of faith, but then doesn't seem to coherently apply it to his position as we go along in his posting series.
Two ways to try to know what can be known
An intuition that God exists could turn out to be a blind hit, but Rauser argues as though we don't (or shouldn't) hold any of our other properly basic beliefs to any standards of corroboration.
Why is it so hard to deconvert a "faith-head"?
Rauser convinces us of the underwhelming conclusion that it takes a great deal to convert die hard theists and atheists. So what?
Why "Religious people are just nuts" is easier said than defendedApparently you aren't allowed to object to anyone's definition of properly basic beliefs even if everyone has a vastly different definition of what a properly basic belief is...What does it mean to say religious beliefs are properly basic?
Notices that even properly basic beliefs can be defeated, but apparently doesn't think "God perception" takes a hit as a result.
How to show that "God loves me" is falseProvides some rather vague avenues of attack that are already well-worn. If atheists are arguing God as a properly basic belief is unfalsifiable, they might be in trouble. If atheists are arguing that God has been falsified whereas other properly basic beliefs have been holistically validated in every possible way...they're probably doing alright.
On Nailing Jelly to WallsComplains about one atheist's ad hominem venting. Not sure why this post is included in the line up.
"God loves me" and other things I know
Rauser picks on the "sense perception only" crowd, but the main point for properly basic beliefs is that each of them is cross-checkable with the others and the ones that are least able to comply with the others we naturally give less credence. [see also my response here]
How to crack a nut: arguments against rationality in religionRauser rails against the criterion of falsifiability as though there should not be diminishing epistemic returns to random uncorroborated perception of whatever kind. If Rauser accepts any old mental sensory fart, so be it, but in all likelihood, he doesn't. His character "Albert" should probably be skeptical that there is any being out there we should call God if his only evidence is a naked feeling in response to his mental meanderings.
And after all this, Babinski responds to Rauser. Babinski seems to take the angle that if there's something wrong with the Bible it is too arbitrary to try to sort the divine truth out for yourself with your own thinking. Maybe that's the case, maybe it's not. Babinski doesn't show that (but maybe he could point to John Loftus' chapter on divine miscommunication).
Babinski also shows that there are many more options between atheism and Rauser's inspired Bible position that have not been accounted for. Presumably Rauser might have more to say though on the topic.
Babinski chastises Rauser for not being up on how most epistemologists humbly advocate fallibilistic beliefs in reference to the infinite regress problem. Okay... I suppose Rauser just shouldn't have gone there in the first place. Note, Rauser attempts to chastise Valerie Tarico for not advocating fallibilism in chapter 2 of TCD. Perhaps there is a conversation there to be had.
On the one hand we have liberal Christians like Randal Rauser being implausible and irresponsible with the frame of the debate. On the other hand we have Calvinist fundamentalist Triabloggers like Steve Hays being implausible and irresponsible with every little detail of the debate. Both are imposing credibility on a set of texts that is not earning it. In an epistemic meritocracy, Babinski's chapter wins hands down. It works with the preponderance of evidence as opposed to apart from it or against it and lands on the most natural conclusion: The credibility of the divine inspiration of the Bible takes a significant hit by embracing a false cosmology. Both Rauser and Hays on either extreme seem to be propping themselves up on significantly weaker grounds. As has been pointed out in this post, Rauser presumably has vague theistic mental experiences and Hays thinks everyone knows that God exists at some kind of intuitive inferential level. Neither of these is a particularly good reason to override Babinski's chapter. The only wisp of hope remaining goes to Triablogger, Jason Engwer's position that seeks to outweigh Babinski's chapter with really good cases from historical miracles (prophecy and the resurrection of Jesus). Paul Tobin's chapter will cover some of the prophecy and Richard Carrier's chapter will cover the resurrection of Jesus. Unfortunately the prior probability of historical miracles has to be set with good evidence for modern day miracles or we are left arguing in a vacuum of metaphysical madness where anything goes. Robert Price's chapter will cover that. I've already covered some of that with Engwer and Paul Manata in previous posts. We will get to those topics when we get to them and see what everyone has to say. Obviously in the meantime it can be noted that the Christian worldview from just about any perspective faces an uphill battle it probably can't hope to win.