Tone-policing and the need for rhetoric


As some of you have noticed, I’ve adopted a policy of dealing harshly with some commenters both here and on social media. Understandably, this makes some of you who are less experienced in debating uncomfortable: I’ve had a few readers interpret my responses as “reflexive” and “defensive,” and suggest I take a more gentle approach. This is what we refer to in the biz as “tone-policing,” and I’ll explain to you why it’s misguided at best.

As I recently pointed out to a reader who was uncomfortable with my rhetorical approach, it’s neither reflexive nor defensive, it’s a deliberate policy of using harsh appeals to emotion to deal with people who can only be reached this way. Christians who have never done any practical ministry of their own tend to hold the naïve opinion that atheists are honest truth-seekers who just haven’t yet found the truth because of bad luck. If that were the case, then my responses would indeed be needlessly harsh, and gentle reason would be the right approach. However, the assumption of honest truth-seeking is often wrong. Yes, there are honest truth-seeking atheists, and I’ll willingly engage them in civil dialogue; however, experience has sadly shown that such people are in the minority in blog comments and on social media. I’ve engaged in countless debates on serious topics for the last fifteen years, and in that time have become skilled at recognizing when people are not arguing in good faith, but rather are using deceptive techniques to lead people astray, to delude themselves, or to just stir the pot for their own amusement. Others are simply unable to argue on the facts and evidence, because they are driven almost entirely by emotion. It’s a waste of time to attempt to engage any of these people using gentle reason; they will only respond to appeals to emotions, which often necessitates being harsh and caustic.

It’s unfortunate, because I don’t particularly like rhetoric or being harsh. I would much prefer to engage in civil dialectic, but as Aristotle pointed out thousands of years ago, there is a certain type of person who is immune to anything but appeals to emotion. Trying to use gentle reason with such a person is about as effective as trying to explain something in Korean to someone who only understands French.

Now, as to the discomfort some of you feel when you see me responding to critics with harsh rhetoric, it would be instructive to go back to scripture and examine the way in which Jesus and Paul responded to deceivers and manipulators. As some of my friends are fond of pointing out, Jesus was not above overturning tables when it was called for. Western Christians in particular seem to have forgotten this, and have instead become fixated on niceness at all costs. For those of you who insist that niceness is the only way to persuade people of the truth, consider that if this were true, mainline churches in the West wouldn’t be hemorrhaging members. I encourage you to study Paul’s commentaries in the original Greek—he uses language that is far harsher and saltier than anything you will ever likely see from me. And it’s worth considering that Church growth was explosive during times when Christians were far more likely to be harsh defenders of the truth than Ned Flandersesque disciples of niceness.

Defending truth is uncomfortable business. If my responses to certain people make you uncomfortable and you notice a lot of flak flying around, that’s a good indicator that I’m right over the target. Rejoice, because this is an opportunity for the truth–even just a little bit–to find its way in.

“There is no God” is a positive statement

You’ve probably encountered atheists who say, “There is no God” and then insist that the burden of proof is on you, the believer, to prove it wrong since you’re the one claiming that God exists.

That’s not how it works.

Atheists frequently confuse “positive” (philosophy) with “affirmative” (grammar), which is why they think “There is no God” isn’t a positive statement. That’s how they try to push the burden of proof to the God-believer after they make their claim.

“There is no God” is a negative statement in the grammatical sense, but the opposite of this — grammatically — is not a positive statement, but rather an affirmative statement. An affirmative statement in grammar is a statement that asserts the truth of something. Its opposite is a negative statement, which asserts falsity. For instance, “George Washington was the first President of the United States” is an affirmative statement, while “Benjamin Franklin was not a President of the United States” is a negative one. They are, however, both positive statements in the philosophical sense.

A positive statement in philosophy is a statement that is (at least ostensibly) based in fact and is subject to empirical testing. Some examples of positive statements:

“The average donut contains 500 calories.”

“There is no eighth continent.”

“Dinosaurs once existed on Earth.”

“The Earth is flat.”

Note that the statement doesn’t have to be affirmative or even true to be a positive statement, it just has to be based in fact and subject to testing. For instance, “There is no eighth continent” is a positive statement, because it makes a factual claim that is subject to testing. If a person were to make such a claim, he would then be obligated to show evidence of its truth. Satellite images of the Earth’s surface clearly showing only seven continents would suffice. “The Earth is flat” is a positive statement — it’s ostensibly based on fact and it’s subject to testing — even though it’s demonstrably false.

Positive statements that assert the non-existence of something are notoriously difficult to prove, which is why people don’t often make them, at least not seriously. While few people would contest the statement, “There are no rainbow-farting unicorns,” it’s actually difficult to prove, since you would have to have knowledge of everything everywhere on Earth to do so. This is why savvier atheists don’t fall into the trap of stating that there is no God. They will instead say that God’s existence is doubtful, laughable, risible, etc., which they know are much more supportable statements than God doesn’t exist.

“There is no God” is a positive statement. Whoever makes such a claim therefore has the burden of proof. If anyone denies this, he doesn’t understand the difference between positive and affirmative statements — or he thinks you don’t know the difference. If you find yourself with an argumentative atheist making this statement, point out his error and give him the opportunity to either retract it or to supply the proof.

How (not) to argue with atheists

As a scientist who is Christian, I often get requests to help other Christians in their arguments with atheist friends and relatives. These requests are usually borne of desperation, because Christians often don’t know how to respond to scientific objections to Christian belief. However, enlisting the help of someone like me is almost always doomed to failure in these cases, and I’ll explain why.

Years ago, when I was a freshly-converted Christian, I got into a protracted argument with a militant atheist who was a retired engineer. For months, we went back and forth about the scientific validity of Genesis, about the reasonableness of miracles, about the historical evidence for Jesus. To my frustration, it went absolutely nowhere. I finally realized he wasn’t merely devoid of belief, as he claimed, but was deeply invested in the idea of the Bible being false. He’d read countless books purporting to debunk Christianity, which struck me as a bit odd for someone who insisted he simply lacked belief. He also got noticeably angry when talking about God, which, as I would gradually realize over many arguments, was a big tell. After months of arguing, I discovered the reason for his anger. His father and grandfather were bad men who had treated him very harshly when he was a young boy, and both died when he was still young. He recalled asking his Christian mother if his father and grandfather were going to heaven or hell. When she told him they were going to heaven and closed off all further discussion, he became angry and resentful. He never forgave God for failing to administer justice to his bad father and grandfather, and an atheist was born.

Many atheists have had similarly bad childhood experiences with religion, and became atheists when they were young. This is because children have a highly tuned sense of justice, and without a wise adult to help them put pain and disappointment into perspective, it can turn into anger and resentment toward God. Anything that is perceived as an injustice on the part of God — a failure to act on their behalf in a time of distress, a failure to punish someone for wrongdoing, or the failure to prevent a parent from abandoning them — is paid back with anger and denial. The scientific arguments against God are just cover for the anger, to give it an air of intellectualism.

The reason logical arguments don’t work against militant atheists is that you can’t logic someone out of an emotional belief.

My engineer acquaintance expressed his anger with God by actively rejecting anything to do with God and trying to convince others to do the same. That was the reason for the books debunking the Bible, the scientific arguments against God, and so on, in spite of his professed “mere lack of belief.” And that was the reason my rational arguments in favor of God and the Bible were ineffective with this man.

However, this is not true of all atheists. I was an atheist for many years, and my lack of belief wasn’t rooted in pain and anger, but in arrogance that was founded on childhood experiences. Growing up in a secular country with atheist parents, what little I observed of Christianity was from a great distance, it was extremely limited, and it was filtered through an adolescent mind. It left me thinking Christianity was silly and for the weak-minded. It took some maturing to humble my attitude, but mostly I came to believe in God by being exposed to evidence that Christianity was intellectually deep and consistent with what I observed in the world around me.

To be effective in an argument with an atheist, you have to first discern what forms the basis of his disbelief. Is it a casual sort of atheism that’s based on lack of convincing evidence? If so, present him with evidence. Is it an arrogant atheism based on preconceived but false ideas? If so, knock down the false ideas. If it’s an angry atheism based on a deep-rooted emotional experience, then you will not be able to convince him through even the most rational arguments and powerful evidence. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do with an angry atheist.

One of my colleagues is a converted Christian who says that in his angry atheist days, his favorite thing to do when arguing with Christians was to knock them off balance. He knew he couldn’t dissuade them from their beliefs with his arguments, so instead he’d try to get them to doubt just a little, knowing it would be a growing source of consternation to them. Christians can take a page from his book and likewise knock atheists off balance.

Most angry atheists like to assume a stance of intellectual superiority over Christians, so you can use that to knock them off balance. Present them with this list of Christians who are in science and tech and note how many of them are also Nobel laureates. Present them with this collection of quotes about God and religion by great scientific minds (not all of them Christian). The reaction will be to wave their hands and say that it just goes to show it’s possible to be smart and believe stupid things, but that’s okay. You will have planted the seed of doubt, and it will grow.

There are other ways to knock atheists off balance, but it requires some skill in rhetoric. Rhetoric is an argument that appeals to the emotions rather than to the intellect, and with most people it has far greater power to convince than rational arguments. This is why so much of politics and advertising is based on rhetoric. So, don’t bother with rational arguments when dealing with an angry atheist — rhetoric is what you should use. If you want to master it, start with Aristotle.

Remember, always respond to atheists in a way that addresses the real problem:

  • respond to lack of evidence with evidence
  • respond to false notions with truth
  • respond to anger and superiority by knocking off balance and with rhetoric, and let God take care of the rest.


The uniqueness of Genesis — short version

The following is a handy distillation of yesterday’s post, which refuted the claim that Genesis is just borrowed mythology from earlier traditions. I know some of you don’t have the time to read through articles like that in all their glorious wordage, so this is for you. It’s also intended for those of you who did read the article and need help remembering the key points.

The Claim

  • Atheists claim that Genesis is not unique, but merely borrowed pagan mythology.
  • This is based on the opinions of theological liberals who find parallels between the Genesis creation story and pagan creation myths like the Babylonian Enuma Elish.
  • The Enuma Elish was discovered in the 19th century as part of an archeological dig in the ancient city of Nineveh, where it was found recorded on clay tablets.
  • This written account of the Enuma Elish predates the earliest written account of Genesis*.
  • Together, the timing and the parallels lead some theologically liberal scholars to conclude that Genesis is not unique, but a plagiarism of pagan myth.

The Parallels

  • Themes of darkness and chaos preceding order
  • Appearance of light before the Sun, the Moon, and the stars
  • Development of the world progressing in stages that culminates in the appearance of humankind
  • God/gods resting once the work is complete.

The Differences

Genesis claims:

  • The universe was created from absolute nothing
  • Only God existed prior to the creation of the universe
  • There is only one God
  • God is greater than and transcends the universe
  • Humans are deliberate creations made in the image of their Creator.

Babylonian claims:

  • The universe is eternal; the world was made from pre-existing matter
  • Personified natural forces (gods) existed prior to the making of the world
  • There are many gods
  • The gods inhabit the universe; the main god (Marduk) is located in the city of Babylon
  • Humans are incidental creations, made from the blood of the slain monster Kingu.

Genesis narrative style:

  • God-centered
  • Not interested in human personalities
  • Generally flat in tone
  • Austere in prose
  • Thirty-one verses in length.

Babylonian narrative style:

  • Decidedly not God-centered
  • Focused on the passions of the warring gods
  • Animated in tone
  • Extravagant in prose
  • Nine hundred lines in length.

The Conclusion

There are parallels between Genesis and pagan creation myths such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish, but the differences are far greater. The key difference, which cannot be overstated, is the Genesis claim that God is the sovereign creator of the universe, from which all other things are made. No pagan myth makes this claim. Furthermore, the Genesis claim of a universe created from nothing is alone among all creation stories as being consistent with modern science. Genesis is therefore unique.

Genesis is unique, not borrowed mythology

Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink

In a previous post, I countered some claims of an atheist critic who tried to dismiss my testimony. Two of these claims — criticisms of Schroeder’s model and the uniqueness of Genesis — I wanted to address separately, since they are important. In this post, I counter the claim that Genesis is borrowed from earlier mythology. The following includes excerpts from a book I’m currently writing on how Christians can defend themselves against atheist attacks.

[Update: a brief summary of this article is here.]

How many times have you heard the claim that Genesis is just borrowed from different ancient mythologies and isn’t the unique record of God’s creation of the universe you were taught as a Christian? I’ve heard it so many times I’ve lost count. To me, it’s such a silly claim that I didn’t see any need to counter it. However, the sad fact is, I know people who say they began to lose their faith after hearing this from their professors. It turns out to be not only a fable, but a dangerous one. As I said in my previous post, it needs to die a horrible death.

Here is what my critic claims:

The book of Genesis was composed by unknown authors.  It’s a mash-up of numerous sources from a number of different traditions.

This is a typical way to ridicule belief that the Bible is the word of God. Atheists claim the Bible starts off with a myth the authors of Genesis were too incompetent to come up with on their own, so the ancient Hebrews had to borrow much of it from the myths of earlier civilizations. In other words, Genesis is not a unique and true expression of God’s work, it is an act of common plagiarism.

The claim of plagiarism dates back to the 19th century archeological discovery of clay tablets in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nineveh. Some of these tablets detailed the Babylonian creation story, now referred to as the Enuma Elish. When scholars studied this story, they discovered it had some similarities to Genesis, including the theme of darkness and chaos preceding order, the appearance of light before the Sun, Moon, and stars are made, and a progression of the development of the world that culminates in the appearance of humankind and God/gods resting.

The composition of the Enuma Elish dates back to around the 13th century B.C., predating the earliest written account of Genesis. Taken at face value, the timing and the similarities give the impression that Genesis borrows from the Babylonian myth. However, this ignores significant differences between the creation accounts as well as historical and cultural context. The similarities arise from what biblical scholar Peter Enns calls “a common, ancient, way of speaking about the cosmos.” He reminds us that, though Genesis is scripture, it’s still “an ancient story that reflects ancient ways of thinking” that would have been shared amongst all Mesopotamian people of that time.

As interesting as the similarities are, the differences between Genesis and the Enuma Elish are far more striking and informative. I’ll go over those in detail below.

It is important to refute this athiest fable, because Christians will encounter it over and over, particularly young Christians who go to university. Barbara Sproul is a good example of what young people face when they enter the academic world. She’s a professor of religion at Hunter College of the City University of New York, and she wrote a book about creation myths from around the world. In her book, Primal Myths, she describes the similarities between the Genesis account of creation and earlier myths this way:

The parallels between the first creation account in Genesis and the Mesopotamian epic are not confined to their naming process. Not only are there marked similarities in specific details but also the order of creation events is the same, leading many to presume a dependence of the Old Testament account of that of the Enuma Elish or similar Babylonian documents.

Atheists also vigorously promote the argument that the Genesis account of creation is completely at odds with modern science, which I have refuted here and here.

Christians can defeat such assaults on their belief, because, as Enns points out, the evidence shows that Genesis 1 is unique among the thousands of creation stories that have been told through the ages.

Sproul describes the Genesis 1 account as:

  • God-centered
  • with little interest in human personalities
  • having a general flatness of tone
  • and austerity of prose.

She is correct in these observations. Genesis is completely different from all other creation stories in its style of writing.

Genesis is also completely different from every other creation account in its content. Compare this passage from Genesis 1 with the passage from the Enuma Elish that follows.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (2) The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. (3) And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (4) And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. (5) God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

The truth of Professor Sproul’s assessment of the way Genesis 1 was written is obvious at once. The above passage and the rest of Genesis 1 are God-centered, matter-of-fact in tone, austere in the words that are used, and completely devoid of any description of personalities. If you read Sproul’s account of the creation myths of the world it is equally obvious that the biblical account of creation is not written in the same way that pagan creation myths were. Pagan myths are written in a completely different way, which should be obvious to you as soon as you read the passage below.

You can easily understand how weak the atheist claim of a plagiarized Genesis is by comparing the style and content of the Genesis 1 account of creation with the following passage from the Babylonian Enuma Elish that Sproul wants you to believe is so similar to the biblical account.

Discord broke out among the gods although they were brothers, warring and jarring in the belly of Tiamat, heaven shook, it reeled with the surge of the dance; Apsu could not silence the clamor, their behavior was bad, overbearing and proud.

But still Tiamat lay inert till Apsu, the father of gods, bellowed for that servant who clouds his judgment, his Mummu.

“Dear counsellor, come with me to Tiamat.”

They have gone, and in front of Tiamat they sit down and talk together about the young gods, their first-born children; Apsu said,

“Their manners revolt me, day and night without remission we suffer. My will is to destroy them, all of their kind, we shall have peace at last and we will sleep again.”

When Tiamat heard, she was stung, she writhed in lonely desolation, her heart worked in secret passion, Tiamat said,

“Why must we destroy the children that we made? If their ways are troublesome, let us wait a little while”

Then Mummu advised Apsu, and he spoke in malice.

“Father, destroy them in full rebellion, you will have quiet in the daytime and at night you will sleep.”

When Apsu heard the die was cast against his children, his face flamed with the pleasure of evil…

It is immediately obvious that the Babylonian account is the furthest thing from God-centered. The main character is Apsu who is described as the ‘father of gods.’ There is obviously more than one god. In later passages it turns out that the other major character in the story, Tiamat, is the personification of natural forces in whose ‘belly’ much turmoil is taking place.

The Enuma Elish is certainly not flat in tone with all of the ‘warring,’ ‘jarring,’ anger, malice, and individuals flaming ‘with the pleasure of evil.’ Nor is the Babylonian account in any way austere in prose when it uses words like clamor, bellowed, writhed, and secret passion.

The Babylonian passage, unlike the Genesis 1 account of creation, is all about the personalities involved in a titanic heavenly struggle. In this short passage, we are introduced to three important characters and given enough information to begin to understand their complex personalities and motivations. We are also told that there will be many more personalities involved in the Babylonian creation myth as it unfolds.

By Sproul’s own observations about Genesis 1, there are few significant similarities in the way the biblical account of creation and the Babylonian myth are presented. If you take the time to read the rest of Sproul’s book, it is evident that every other creation myth provided in Primal Myths sounds similar to the Enuma Elish and nothing like the true account of creation provided by Genesis 1. Just the brief, straight-forward, unemotional, and rational way the Genesis account was written makes it different from every other account of creation.

The differences between the divine Genesis account of creation and the thousands of other pagan myths about creation are even greater in regard to the events described and the order given for natural events. Once again the evidence provided in Primal Myths is conclusive. Contrary to Sproul’s assertion, there are no meaningful similarities between the details of the Genesis and Babylonian accounts of creation.

Here are a few of the more important differences found in Sproul’s book:

  1. Genesis tells us that God is prior to everything else. The Enuma Elish says that personified natural forces and the ‘father of the gods’ existed before the Mesopotamian/Babylonian gods.
  1. The Bible tells us that our universe came about as an orderly act of creation by a rational Deity. The Enuma Elish says that humankind and the world in which they exist came about as the result of a chaotic war between ill-behaved and overbearing gods, personified natural forces, and monsters made to destroy the gods.
  1. Genesis maintains that there is only one God. The Enuma Elish numbers the gods in the hundreds.
  1. Genesis locates God outside of and superior to the universe. The Enuma Elish locates the main god, Marduk, in the city of Babylon.
  1. Genesis says that humankind was made in the spiritual image of God and for a divine purpose. The Enuma Elish says that human beings were made unintentionally from the blood of the slain monster Kingu.

Considering these vast differences and the historical/cultural context, no reasonable and fair-minded reader could conclude that the similarities between Genesis 1 and the Enuma Elish, or any of the other creations myths described in Sproul’s book, mean that Genesis 1 is a mash-up of other traditions. On top of this, archeological studies are increasingly supporting the Pentateuch as factual, historical record, contradicting the notion that it is borrowed mythology. The argument that the biblical account of creation is a plagiarized myth is dishonest, based on ignorance, and unsupported by the evidence.

Sproul and her fellow atheists simply find only what they desperately want to believe. This false conclusion is then passed on to other atheists who don’t bother to investigate the claim for themselves, but simply repeat it. Worse, this groundless anti-Christian prejudice is passed on by academics like Sproul to unsuspecting and defenseless students in the guise of serious scholarly work. Christians must be able to confidently counter this atheist lie with the truth that Genesis 1 is a reliable account of the creation of the universe and life on Earth.

At this point, I want to offer you the perspective of a friend of mine, who is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and also a believer in Jesus as the Messiah. I asked him to comment on this article, originally intending to work his perspective into the main flow of what I’d written, but I think it’s best to let his words stand on their own.

The idea that the Genesis account is unique is critical and there is also something very fundamental and important to highlight as well, something which I think exposes a fundamental flaw in all of the other so called “accounts” of creation.

Creation ex nihilo is critical.  Creation through G-d’s Word is critical.  The Hebrew word b’reishit, translated ‘in the beginning’, proclaims that nothing existed prior to G-d’s act of creation.  The heavens and the earth were created only through G-d’s WORD … no other worldview, none, ever makes that claim.  Only through the Word of G-d.  This is mind blowing.  The Scripture teaches that the world came into existence from nonexistence.  Again, no other world view has taught or teaches this. If the claim is original and unique it wasn’t plagiarized. The Biblical claim is astoundingly so.  It is far more likely, that these Babylonian and other myths borrowed from the Torah’s account, not the other way around.

The cornerstone of all pagan belief up until this very day is the belief in the eternity of the physical world which we inhabit.  This Babylonian myth is clearly no exception and posits such a belief, which is false.  This belief is a metaphysical falsehood.  It is a gross misrepresentation of the origin of the universe, and worse yet this belief undermines and denies all morality.  This belief, the cornerstone of paganism, also negates freedom in both G-d and man.

The false belief is based upon the assumption that matter antedated creation.  If that were true, then the Creator of the universe would have only been able to fashion from the material already available and given to Him, and not a world that was absolutely good, as the Genesis account testifies and the other so-called myths do not; He would only have been able to fashion the best possible world within the limitations of the material provided Him.  Again, the Biblical account is unique and original in this regard and paganism’s account is never based on these claims, no matter which myth is cited.

Again, if the pagan world view were true, then G-d would not be the master over the material of the world, and man would not be master over his own body.  Freedom would disappear and the entire world, including its G-d and the men who live in it would be animated, constrained, and propelled by a blind, immutable fate.  This pagan conception as evidenced in the Babylonian myth and others like it, is dispelled by the Torah with its very first words: b’reishit barah Elohim!  In the beginning G-d created ….!  Absolutely everything that follows hinges on these words.  Everything – the matter and form of all that exists – was created by the free Almighty Creator.  And He still rules freely over all matter.  Paganism never made such a claim nor could they even have invented such a claim.  Such a claim is understood from the revelation given to us by G-d, Who of course is the Creator and originator of the claim.  He rules over every existing thing, over the laws by which those forces operate, as well as the resulting forms.  And men hate being ruled, so they developed their own myths and pagan beliefs to circumvent these uncomfortable truths (cf. Romans 1).  His will set the laws by which forms are fashioned.

Therefore, the world that was created is not the best possible one that can be fashioned with the given material – but according to a careful and thoughtful reading of the Genesis account, is the only good world.  Paganism makes no such claim.  Not even close.  So, it follows that this world corresponds with the wise plan of the Creator and He most certainly could have created a different world, has such a world corresponded with His will.  Remember, everything was created according to His Word … G-d spoke, G-d said, Let there be .. and there was.

The world was created wholly by G-d’s Word,and this cannot be emphasized enough.  Our sages relate that b’reishit is the very foundation of our awareness of G-d, world, and man.  When man forfeited this awareness, it had to be reestablished.  According to our sages, this was the purpose of the revealed miracles: to demonstrate G-d’s free and unbounded mastery over the world with all its elements, forces and laws.

Barah, created.  This Hebrew word denotes aspiration to emerge, emergence from potentiality into actuality, or release from bondage.  Barah also denotes bringing to light, actualizing and bringing something out into external reality.  Even in Aramaic (the language of Babylon) it means “outside”, “that which is outside”.  Barah then means to carry out and actualize  thought, which is hidden in the inner recesses of the mind.  Barah denotes creation, preceded only by thought and will, which clearly couldn’t be further from a pagan conception of things as evidenced in the so-called myths.  This is precisely the concept of creation.  Accordingly, beresheit, in the beginning, is applied only to G-d’s creation.  In other words, before the world existed, this world had existed only as a thought in the mind of the Creator.  It is the act of creation, therefore, that actualized this thought and brought it out into reality, thereby giving it an external, concrete existence.  The entire world, as a whole and in all of its parts, therefore, is nothing more than the materialized thought of G-d.  Again, this conception is unique to Biblical account recorded in Genesis.  The pagan accounts brook no such conception.  Not even close. Imitation indeed.  They look like blind handicapped children crawling around in the nursery by comparison.  This same idea that we have just elaborated in relation to barah is also presented in the root hayah, the Jewish term for being (cf. verse 2).

(Interestingly, this meaning of barah, to become external, concrete, tangible – is related to another meaning of barah: being healthy and stout.  And from this meaning is derived the term for the first meal of the day in the morning after a fast.  It is the meal which refreshes the person physically and makes him feel strong again.)

Let’s briefly consider paganism, of which the Babylonian and other myths represent.  Paganism fragments the whole world into many groups and spheres.  At the head of each sphere stands a ruler who has concentrated into his respected hands special powers.  This pagan conception, this pagan idea, this pagan notion is a direct consequence of the basic error we have been alluding to.  If matter had existed before creation, then the god who shaped this matter was bound and limited to it.  Consequently, the concept of god is lowered,and god is transformed into a natural power who is unfree in the act of creating.  Such a god is unable to create true contrasts and fundamentally different phenomena; accordingly it must have been established  by many gods (as the creations myths of the Babylonians and others often posit) – as many gods as there are groups of opposing phenomena.

Not so the Biblical account.  The Bible, in point of fact, denies the existence of these numerous gods, and ascribes the power that is attributed to them to the one and only G-d.  He alone is called Elohim.  The Bible then unites all the attributes of power that were separated by paganism.  The unification of these attributes in the one G-d raises the one G-d of Israel above any notion and limitations of a mere natural power.  For, our sages are clear, only the free and omnipotent will of a single being can create a world of contrasts; and only He can unite these contrasts into one great purpose.  Elohim refers to a single individual Who unites in Himself all the power and authority that give one control over a person or object.  Consequently, the person or object is under the exclusive authority of this individual in every respect.  Which helps explain why men are so keen to deny this authority and the Biblical account of creation.

Less than half of all scientists are atheist


The first rule of dealing with argumentative atheists is to fact-check everything they say, because if it isn’t an outright lie, it’s a half-truth or a manipulation.

Take, for instance, the oft-repeated statistic that “93% of scientists are atheist.” This is a half-truth — more accurately a tenth-of-a-percent truth. The 93% number applies to the membership of the National Academy of Sciences, which represents only 0.1% of scientists in the U.S. It’s a very elite group of 2,200 members out of millions of scientists employed in the U.S., and is far from representative of the entire scientific community.

So, what’s the real number? According to a Pew survey of scientists in the U.S., the number is about 41% non-believers vs. 51% who believe in God or some other higher power (7% didn’t respond on the survey).

If you look at these survey results in detail, you notice some interesting things. For instance, younger scientists are more likely to be believers than older scientists. That’s why I laugh when atheists tell me the remaining 7% of NAS scientists will eventually become 0% as people become more enlightened by science. It’s nothing more than wishful thinking. The most unbelieving age group of scientists is 65 and older, and this is reflected in the NAS statistic. The NAS is comprised of very distinguished scientists, most of whom tend to be “old” for obvious reasons — it takes a long time to carry out the sort of work that gets you noticed by and elected to the Academy. If the nomination and election process is even somewhat fair, then we expect the % of NAS scientists who are atheist to go down, not up, as these more spiritual younger scientists mature and distinguish themselves in their careers.

Now that we know the truth, that fewer than half of all scientists in the U.S. are non-believers, we can ask questions. Forty-one percent non-believing is still rather high given that only 4% of the general U.S. population identifies that way, so what’s going on? Given the atheist propaganda that religion and science are at war with each other, you might be tempted to think it’s because of science. However, once you dig into the reasons for non-belief, it turns out to have less to do with science than you might think. Elaine Howard Ecklund, a professor of sociology at Rice University, interviewed several scientists at elite research universities to determine why they lacked belief in God. She details her findings in her book, Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think:

For some, not believing has everything to do with learning more about science. For others, science itself had little influence on their decision not to believe. In fact, for the majority of scientists I interviewed, it is not the engagement with science itself that leads them away from religion. Rather their reasons for unbelief mirror the circumstances in which other Americans find themselves: they were not raised in a religious home; they have had bad experiences with religion; they disapprove of God or see God as too changeable. For others, religion is simply irrelevant to their life’s passion of science.

She goes on to explore each of these reasons in more depth and provides anecdotes from her interviews with individual scientists. I found it particularly interesting that those who were raised in religious homes found that their parents and church mentors were unable to answer their questions about religion. This response leads me to believe that many of them are open to believing in God, but these naturally very curious people are not getting satisfactory answers to big questions. (Fellow Christians, do you see an opportunity here?)

Here’s what you should take away from all this. Never, ever, ever take anything an argumentative atheist tells you at face value. That goes doubly for atheists on social media; they are bored, frustrated, socially-atypical people who live to stir things up with Christians. They are almost always lying, bending, twisting, or otherwise manipulating the facts. Always check for yourself, and let the truth set you free.

They really are that weird

It won’t come as a surprise to a lot of you that, by their own admission, atheists tend to be neurologically atypical. This is based not only on their behavior, but on diagnostics like Asperger’s tests and other tests that demonstrate a lack of empathy. But if you need more evidence, here it is.

During an exchange on Twitter, someone questioned whether God is moral, because there is terrible suffering in the world for no obvious reason. I asked this guy to explain to those who suffer that they are going to be annihilated by Nature after this one crappy life. Because, that’s the reality if there is no God. This is how he responded:

“Sorry if you have a crappy life, but not everyone does.” And meanwhile Richard Dawkins and James Watson will enjoy their good lunch.

That’s their response to horrible suffering in the world, and it’s supposedly better than telling someone God allows suffering for reasons we don’t quite understand, but if you accept Jesus, you will have eternal joy with Him.

Why Rationalia is doomed to failure

Earlier this week, science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson proposed a virtual nation that sounds like a science-fetishists dream-come-true:

It provoked some mocking responses on Twitter, like this one

The idea is ripe for mockery, because, of all people, a scientist should understand what a subjective basis for policy this is.

As a scientist, I’m very much in favor of evidence and reason; but to base an entire nation’s policy on the weight of evidence is ludicrous, for one simple reason. Has our knowledge of the world stayed the same in the last 500 years? the last 100 years? the last 5 years? the last six months? The last six minutes? The answer, of course, is no. The weight of evidence is constantly changing. There have been so many major revolutions in science and philosophy based on the current weight of evidence that our view of the world has been upended more times than you can probably count. Ironically, to base your policy only on the weight of evidence means that your policy is completely subjective, not objective.

Also, who decides how to interpret the evidence? Interpretation is subject to limitations, like current technology, limited human perception, and human emotions. This is why bad theories persist for so long in spite of evidence to the contrary, and why there are alternate theories for just about everything. And even when there’s consensus, that’s hardly a guarantee that the evidence won’t support an entirely different view in the future. Remember, there was a time when most people thought the Sun went around the Earth and that there were no such things as germs.

But for the sake of argument, let’s accept the premise of Rationalia and apply its sole law of the land to judge whether Rationalia would be a place in which anyone would want to live. We don’t need to imagine it, because there have already been at least two major historical movements based on reason and evidence — the French Revolution and communism. The first devolved into an orgy of violence and produced the exact opposite of what it intended, and the second led to misery and genocide on a scale never before seen on earth before it ultimately collapsed under the sheer weight of its opposition to reality. The weight of evidence says that any nation whose policy is based solely on the weight of evidence will be an unmitigated disaster.

Don’t misunderstand me. The point here is not to reject evidence and reason — evidence and reason are important and have their place in any decision-making process — but they cannot be the sole arbiters of policy.

[This isn’t the post I alluded to yesterday. That one probably won’t be posted until next week. -Ed.]

A response to a critic

A friend recently sent me a critique of my testimony by someone named James of “Reasonably Faithless.” After I read James’ response to my testimony about how I made the journey from hostile atheism to a belief in Jesus, I was at first inclined to ignore it. Christians should generally resist the temptation to allow themselves to be sucked into the black hole of atheist discourse by feeling the need to respond directly to every attack on Christian belief. However, I think readers of this blog can benefit from what follows.

As I read James’ critique of my testimony, I marveled at how much misrepresentation, hypocrisy, nit-picking, taking things out of context, incoherent philosophy, and false science he packed into a few paragraphs. If you’re ever faced with such a response, you may feel the temptation to respond to each and every point, but I’m here to tell you that’s a waste of time. Instead, focus your efforts on helping other Christians withstand such assaults on reasonable belief.

To that end, there are two criticisms of my testimony, one logical and the other scientific, that can serve as useful exercises in how to refute atheist nonsense masquerading as legitimate criticism, logical thinking, and genuine science.

First, the logical argument James raises in his concern about the pain of human existence:

She also reveals some extremely offensive views about suffering:  essentially, people are “made to suffer for the bad things [they’ve] done”, and there is always “a reason for suffering”.  This seems especially insensitive to the people who have lived a life of terrible suffering merely because of the place and/or time of their birth, and who never experience a silver lining of any kind.

The basic atheist argument about the human condition is that all the pain people experience in this world is proof that there cannot be a God, because a loving God would not allow people to experience so much suffering. In the secular humanist protests against the unfairness of pain you can hear the voices of children furious at their parents for imposing consequences for bad behavior. C. S. Lewis answers this as well as anyone can in The Problem of Pain. James demonstrates his foolishness when he says that it is “extremely offensive” to point out the obvious truth Lewis demonstrated in his book about human suffering, which is that most of the pain people experience in life is the result of the bad choices they freely make.

James, however, makes one claim that deserves serious consideration — some people experience terrible suffering simply because of the place or time of their birth. There is some truth to this; a significant amount of pain that some people experience cannot be easily explained as the consequence of their actions. But, even when atheists manage to raise a valid point like this, they immediate veer off into incoherence.

As dedicated secular humanists, atheists are essentially children in their understanding of human existence. Most of them don’t so much disbelieve in God, but resent or feel anger towards God for being ‘mean.’ Those of you who are parents will recognize in the atheist mindset the child-like determination to avoid all discomfort and unpleasant consequences. The reason for this is that atheists need to believe in the possibility of ‘paradise’ on earth. As a result, they also need to believe that no one should ever have to feel bad and there should never be negative consequences for anything people do.

As long as we exist in this world, people will never fully understand their place in the grand scheme of things. But if you give some thought to James’s claim of my insensitivity about the mystery of human pain and suffering, you realize his logic is not only backwards, but leads to a conclusion that is fundamentally quite vile. It reminds me of something Richard Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion. He quotes the famous geneticist, James Watson, who said in response to a question about the purpose of life:

“Well, I don’t think we’re for anything. We’re just products of evolution. You can say, ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose.’ But I’m anticipating having a good lunch.” 

To which Dawkins adds, “We did have a good lunch, too.”

When I read that I thought, “What a couple of jerks.” What kind of people can look at life as meaningless and bleak and then distract and comfort themselves with food? A ‘good’ meal or any other kind of material pleasure is small comfort to those who live a life of terrible suffering merely because of the place or time of their birth, and who never experience a silver lining of any kind. Atheists take away all hope for those who suffer. So, who is being insensitive?

Every time I hear nonsense like this, I wonder whether humanists ever bother to work through to the logical conclusions of their beliefs. If they did, they would realize it is vastly more insensitive to tell people who suffer terribly through no apparent fault of their own that there is no reason for it. It is cruel to tell people that this one life of misery is all they get until they are annihilated by a cold and indifferent universe.

Then there is the scientific criticism of my testimony:

After reading Gerald Schroeder’s book, The Science of God, Sarah became convinced that the book of “Genesis is literally true”.  (The word “literally” is used in a pretty non-literal sense here, since Schroeder’s theory is that the first “day” of creation was 8 billion years long, the second day was 4 billion years long, etc – the thesis of Schroeder’s book is really that Genesis can be squared with our modern scientific understanding of the universe, apart from a few teeny little details like evolution.)

If I was the type of person inclined to dictatorship (which I am not), the first thing I would do is make it a state crime to comment knowingly on a book you have not actually read. I mean, I’m assuming he hasn’t read Schroeder’s book, because he’s made two very basic blunders about Schroeder’s model that could’ve been rectified by reading the chapters on the age of the universe and evolution. It’s possible James has actually read the book, in which case he is either deliberately misrepresenting Schroeder’s argument or has failed to comprehend it.

In any case, I used “literal” in a very literal sense in my testimony. Schroeder makes a compelling case for reconciling actual 24-hour Genesis days with a billions year-old universe. It works because, as every good physicist knows, you have to specify from whose frame of reference those 24 hours elapse. You can read Schroeder’s book to see how this works or go through my slide show presentation for an explanation.

James goes on to demonstrate that he is unaware of the science behind Schroeder’s explanation:

So, does Schroeder’s book constitute a good reason to think that “Genesis is literally true”? Most definitely not.  Here are several scholarly reviews of the book…

Whereupon he cites a few critical “scholarly” reviews of Schroeder’s book, including one by historian, Richard Carrier, a man who is best described as the court jester of the New Atheist movement and an utter embarrassment to intellectuals everywhere.

When I first read Schroeder’s book, I spent a lot of time verifying its claims. Contrary to James’ assumption, that meant investigating criticisms of Schroeder’s model — the very ones James cites — which I found to be not only wrong, but surprisingly inept. For ostensibly smart people (most of them, anyway), these critics failed to understand the basics of Schroeder’s argument. I was especially taken aback that someone with credentials like those of the late mathematician, Mark Perakh, could fail to understand the straightforward physical argument laid out by Schroeder. I will write a separate post about this, because it deserves serious attention.

But James’s criticism of my testimony gets worse from there:

… Sarah came to believe (for whatever reason) in the truth of Genesis, and then deduced that the gospels were true.  Think again about her words: “I knew the Bible was reliable because of Genesis.

This is a lie. He conveniently omits the statement in my testimony just before this one — “I knew of the historical evidence for [the Gospels’] truth” — which clearly implies I investigated the truth of the Gospels independent of Genesis.

However, Christians do have reason to believe in the general reliability of the Bible based on Genesis. It was chosen as the first book of the Bible for a reason. Among other things, it immediately establishes the reliability of the Bible in general because Genesis 1 performs a miracle right in front of our eyes – it gives a scientifically accurate account of the creation of the universe and life on earth over 2500 years ago when no person could have possibly known how the universe formed and life came to be. At the very least, this miracle of information that anticipated so many modern scientific discoveries should lead one to consider the truth of the other parts of the Bible.

James concludes with a common bit of atheist dogma about the Bible:

The book of Genesis was composed by unknown authors.  It’s a mash-up of numerous sources from a number of different traditions.

Having once been an atheist, myself, and now observing them from a Christian vantage point for a number of years, I’ve noticed patterns in their behavior. James presents us with a perfect example. What happens is this: one atheist will come up with an idea — say, that Genesis is just a mash-up of numerous sources from a number of different traditions — and then others pick it up, repeat it (often verbatim), and the idea gets passed around and around, and meanwhile nobody bothers to investigate whether the claim is actually true. They just repeat it mindlessly and accept its truth blindly, because they are emotionally invested in it being true.

If any of them bothered to check, they would discover that the idea that Genesis is just a mish-mash of other faith traditions is provably false. One of my colleagues, who is deeply informed on the topic, refers to this claim as “traditional [theologically] liberal blather” dating back to the 1800s and based on little more than pure imagination. All you have to do is compare Genesis with one of these alleged sources, the Babylonian Enuma Elish, to see that they could hardly differ more. This is another topic I will address in more depth in a separate post, because it’s an intensely stupid notion that needs to die a horrible death. [Update: Uniqueness of Genesis is discussed here.]

To my Christian readers, here is what you should take away from all this. Do not waste time trying to convince atheists of the foolishness of their arguments. They make these arguments for highly emotional reasons and will not part with them on account of either reason or science. Atheist emotions are in turn rooted in a deep desire for self-indulgence, which is in eternal conflict with God’s intention that we overcome earthly desires. Instead, spend time becoming totally familiar with atheist assaults on Christian beliefs and faith so that you can help shield yourselves and others, especially children, from the deceit and temptations of atheism.

Bill Nye the ignorant guy

A philosophy student asks Bill Nye what he thinks about other science popularizers, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking, dismissing philosophy as unimportant:

While Nye claims in his response that philosophy raises “cool questions,” he essentially dismisses it, and in a manner that betrays an ignorance of essential Western philosophy. A writer at Quark describes his statements as “ludicrously wrong” and explains why philosophy is, in fact, relevant not only to science but to our everyday lives.

What stood out to me in Nye’s dismissal of philosophy was his skepticism of the idea that “reality isn’t real or that what you sense and feel is not authentic.” Most of us do indeed go about our daily lives on the assumption that what we sense and feel is authentic, but that doesn’t mean we can dismiss the idea that it’s all an illusion. So, why does Nye dismiss it? Because he can drop a hammer on his foot and feel the sensation of pain.

I’m a little astonished that a Science Guy would use such an example to address one of the most fundamental questions in philosophy, given that it’s not only a logical fallacy, but demonstrably, scientifically flawed. Amputees experience a sensation known as phantom pain in limbs that no longer exist, and neurological experiments have been able to create the sensation of touch by directly stimulating the brain. The sensations exist in both cases, but are those experiences authentic? Not by Nye’s definition.

I’m also a little astonished that a Science Guy would ignore one of the most fundamental scientific arguments against the authenticity of experience, which is the Boltzmann Brain idea. The Boltzmann Brain idea is a version of the brain-in-a-vat argument that has been popularized by the Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, who makes frequent use of it in debates with atheists. The idea is that in the absence of a personal entity creating the universe, it’s statistically much more likely that atoms in the universe would spontaneously arrange themselves into brains that hallucinate having experiences than that these same atoms would spontaneously arrange themselves into the vast, complex, and ordered structure we observe in the universe. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, if we are merely Boltzmann Brains, then the sensations we think we’re experiencing are nothing more than the atoms in our brains, for physical or chemical reasons, arranging themselves in a certain way that give us as a by-product these sensations. The question of whether this is the case goes beyond a simple inability to disprove it; it’s much more likely to be true if the material universe is all that there is.

The only way you can be reasonably certain that you’re not just a brain in a vat is to assume that a personal entity — God — created the universe, an assumption I’m reasonably certain Nye, the avowed agnostic, rejects. Nye is therefore entirely unjustified in dismissing the idea that reality might not be real or that experiences may not be authentic. This is why philosophers have been discussing the nature of reality and experience for thousands of years. It’s also why science could only have arisen from the Christian worldview.

Now, here’s the punchline for the agnostic Science Guy who dismisses the importance of philosophy in favor of the “realism” of science. When you understand the big questions of philosophy sufficiently well, you understand why belief in God is necessary for science to even exist.