What Is the Arizona Atheist After? (True Reason Criticisms)

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I’m having trouble figuring out what the Arizona Atheist is after in his critique of my Chapter 14 in True Reason: Responding to the Irrationality of the New Atheism. (You can read a version of that chapter here.)

He might be trying to show that my explanation was ad hoc. He mentioned something to that effect early on, but if that was his purpose, he didn’t carry it through. He proceeded to write as if trying to show that my explanation was incoherent, not ad hoc (made up or generated for no reason but to fill an explanatory gap).

He might be saying that miracles happen too often (according to Christian teaching) for science to work. That was the main subject matter of my chapter, so it would be a relevant complaint. He only refers to a very short list of miracles, however, so if that’s what he was after, it was a tepid attempt at best.

He might be saying that Christians’ purported prayer answers, if they were real, would indicate God interfering with the natural order too often for science to work. But that’s not likely, because the prayer answers he points to are not the sort of thing that undermine the regularity of nature.

He might be saying that Christians’ prayer answers are “mere coincidences or hallucinations” — in fact he does suggest that — but if that’s his complaint, he’s simply changing the subject. That’s an interesting question, but not one that has anything to do with my chapter in True Reason.

He might be saying that God has problems doing hard things. That seems to be what he’s after here, speakcing of providential (not miraculous) prayer answers:

If Gilson argues that an orderly universe is a necessity then these “miracles” would be a near impossibility and god [sic] wouldn’t intervene as often as he clearly seems to do in the lives of many of his believers.

I can’t imagine, though, why he would think near impossibilities pose any problem for God as Christians understand God. We

He might be saying that Christians believe God is really messing around with natural law most of the time:

Even the very basis of Christianity is premised on miracles, ie. the very violation of natural laws: creation of the world ex nihilo and Jesus being brought back to life after being dead as a door nail for three days.

There must be some confusion there, though, since it’s more than slightly difficult to see how God violated natural law by creating natural law (as creation ex nihilo indicates). And again, while Christianity is premised on miracles, he hasn’t said anything to establish that it’s premised on miracles so frequent that science won’t work.

Or he might be saying that I’ve made some mistake in proposing (as I did) that God made the universe orderly enough for humans to learn, understand, communicate, and be responsible for what we do:

Finally, the universe is much less orderly than he assumes and we have had a lot of difficulty understanding much of it. On the larger scale things appear to happen in a logical order and objects behave in an orderly manner. But once we move to the quantum level of the universe things get rather confusing and no longer behave as our rational minds would expect. This makes no sense on Gilson’s view because if god [sic] created the world in order for us to understand his creation and to “learn from experience,” then our many experiences and scientific observations would not conflict with our current understanding of the universe.

No, on the larger scale (the scale that’s relevant to my chapter in the book) things do not appear to happen “in a logical order and … in an orderly manner.” They do behave that way, except in the realm of personal freedom and choice. Quantum strangeness has no relevance to my point in that chapter. His premise here is flawed. But the biggest problem with that is that it’s a shot in the dark. He’s given no reason to suppose that his conclusion is true. If he tried he would fail, because there is no possible reason it could be true.

He might be trying to tell us that naturalism explains things supernaturalism does not. He says this quite explicitly, in fact. He doesn’t tell us what that has to do with the content of the chapter he’s supposedly critiquing, though; nor does he enlighten us on why he thinks it relevant that “The laws of nature have never been shown to change. Most acts of the supernatural have perfectly natural explanations today.”

He does go on to add, “… which leaves less and less room for the Christian god [sic] to hide,” but again, there’s no indication of how that has anything to do with a chapter refuting Krauss’s argument that if science works then there must not be a God involved in nature. It’s another topic; an interesting one, but what it’s doing here in this location, I don’t know.

Now, if I felt the freedom to wander around and touch on multiple flaws in atheism, I could do so, just like he has with theism. I could go into detail on ways the Arizona Atheist missed the mark with his ad hoc accusation, his misunderstanding of the place of miracles and providence in Christianity, his demeaning view of Christians (with our “coincidences or hallucinations,” as if we can’t muster together the brain cells to think about such possibilities), his small view of a God who can’t do hard things, his mistaken view of God’s sovereign, ongoing relation to his creation, even his view of quantum physics.

If I did that, I would at least be responding to something he had said.

But rather than going into all that, I’ll just leave it at wondering, what is the Arizona Atheist after?

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13 Responses to “ What Is the Arizona Atheist After? (True Reason Criticisms) ”

  1. … what is the Arizona Atheist after?

    The appearance of answering your criticism, so that it may be dismissed.

  2. He’s still on the whole “god” and thing. It’s a rather grating and puerile trick that makes me think that Doug Wilson was right on the money when he said of some atheists that they don’t believe in God and yet they hate him. Quite aside from all your objections, Tom, this type of continued nonsense by AA is a red flag when it comes to the possibility of honest dialogue occurring. It’s like a waiter sprinkling Parmesan on your pasta despite you telling him repeatedly that you are lactose intolerant.

  3. He has responded to this already. My answer was, “I invite your readers to examine your previous post, my answer yesterday, and your answer here, and to see for themselves whether my questions yesterday make sense.” I don’t see any reason to continue beyond that.

  4. I think AA, not being a professionally educated physicist (by his own admission – you can read all you want, but if you can’t actually do the math, you don’t really understand it in all of its depth), does not really understand what physicists actually mean by an orderly universe. We (and, AA, I’m speaking as a PhD physicist here) don’t mean that the properties and dynamics of space-time and particles-fields (that’s basically General Relativity + Quantum Field Theory, or whatever the real underlying unified theory (if there is one) is) are such that everything is neat and tidy, but that there is an underlying rationally comprehensible mathematical framework that can be used to effectively describe said properties and dynamics. It turns out that this framework exhibits a remarkable scale hierarchy, so classical physics (Newtonian mechanics and Classical Electrodynamics) works well when things are not too fast, not too big and not too small. What is even more remarkable is that the mathematical tools developed by Newton and those who came after him translate so seamlessly into Quantum Theory, for example (by replacing dynamical variables with their operator equivalents). Quantum Field Theory is one of the most successful theories of modern physics in describing reality at the quantum level. The mathematics and physics are actually straightforward and logical – they are understandable (well, at least to PhD physicists specializing in that area 🙂 ).

    Oh, and don’t forget that even at the macroscopic level, classical dynamics can exhibit complex, unpredictable behaviour – misnamed as Chaos Theory, it is the study of non-linear dynamical systems that exhibit a sensitive dependence on initial conditions. The dynamical equations are perfectly deterministic – if one understands the physics well enough, one can construct those equations and work with them – there is an entire field devoted to it.
    Even the solar system exhibits chaotic dynamics, which is what threw Newton off – he could not find a general stability proof for the N-body gravitational problem – his mistake was that his concept of God was too small – he should have realized that God would have solved that problem already; that’s why the God-of-the-Gaps type of argument is so repugnant to me as a Christian physicist – God has already solved the problems that we don’t as yet understand – we just have to figure out what His solutions are – that’s science’s job.

  5. Tom,

    I think that you have asked a very valid and pertinent question: What is the Arizona Atheist after? I am wondering these days about what atheists in general are “after” (in pursuit of). First, I observe that many seem to hold the belief that if one identifies him or herself as a Christian apologist, and most especially, if one such as you are a Christian apologist by profession or vocation, that this obligates you to respond to their arguments on their blogs. You addressed this a few blogs back with your analysis of relating to God on God’s own terms.

    I suspect, but cannot know for sure, that many atheists bloggers are suffering from a paucity of Christian interlocutors these days. And I can understand why. I was recently banned from Bob Seidensticker’s blog at patheos.com, for some unstated reason. I was never told what provoked this action or what “rule” I violated. I have never used foul language on his blog or gone off topic or engaged in any kind of conduct that i consider disrespectful that should cause a person’s comments to be blocked and her participation on the site to be terminated. I suspect, but cannot know for sure, that it was simply that I was being too logical and was, in fact, winning the argument (about whether or not “the Bible endorses slavery”).

    I admire and respect your patience with these atheist bloggers and am glad that you do dialogue with them. I also think that they tip their hats when they engage you in debates about your chapters from True Reason. But I also share and appreciate your bewilderment at their arguments, which they seem to be very impressed with themselves and I don’t find to be very strong or convincing at all. Is it perhaps that what these atheists are “after” is simply finding a straw man so that they can preen and prance for their fellow atheists and followers to mutually reinforce their own misguided sense of arrogant self-righteousness?

  6. I was recently banned from Bob Seidensticker’s blog at patheos.com, for some unstated reason.

    Likely it’s because you raised the average IQ level of his visitors beyond the limit that an uninformed echo chamber can tolerate. By keeping the average low, Bob is able to post strawman after strawman after strawman without too many people noticing that he is actually clueless about Christianity. It explains why he doesn’t visit Tom’s blog any more.

  7. “I think AA, not being a professionally educated physicist (by his own admission – you can read all you want, but if you can’t actually do the math, you don’t really understand it in all of its depth), does not really understand what physicists actually mean by an orderly universe.”

    No, you have misunderstood his point. The claim was that God desires communication with us and that an ‘orderly’ universe, one we can understand, requires some minimum of miracles. (Even though essentially all God’s communication in the Bible is through miracles, a point Tom seems not to to grasp above.)

    However, AA points out that the ‘orderly’ universe uncovered by science is anything but easy to grasp or intuitive to the vast majority of humanity. This makes perfect sense given evolution but not as a way for God to communicate. Particularly given that QM can be interpreted as fundamentally indeterminate.

    You may reply (without evidence) that since God has given us the apparent capacity to eventually work out a mathematical formalism we can expect to eventually solve even the difficult and thoroughly non-intuitive puzzles of modern physics. But you could have made the same argument for God’s miracles, since a Christian ultimately believes that they are simply an expression of the true order of the universe. Which demonstrates how ad hoc the whole spiel is: God makes the universe exactly as miraculous and/or ordered as needed to avoid Tom reconsidering his beliefs.

  8. Josh, thanks for the comment, but I don’t think you’ve caught the point yourself.

    Krauss and Haldane suppose that if theism were true, then miraculous events would muck up nature so badly that science would be impossible. God’s purposes are served where miracles happen, but rarely enough to be recognizable as such. Their theory depends on a kind of theism that no one believes in. That’s what I was explaining.

    AA’s point about orderliness is (a) completely and utterly irrelevant to that point, and (b) wrong in its assessment that this is inconsistent with theism. Have you noticed that neither he nor you have explained why you think QM would be inconsistent with theism? You won’t be able to, I’m quite confident, at least not unless you distort the meaning of Christian theism, which AA has been quite prone to do.

    You may reply (without evidence) that since God has given us the apparent capacity to eventually work out a mathematical formalism we can expect to eventually solve even the difficult and thoroughly non-intuitive puzzles of modern physics. But you could have made the same argument for God’s miracles, since a Christian ultimately believes that they are simply an expression of the true order of the universe. Which demonstrates how ad hoc the whole spiel is: God makes the universe exactly as miraculous and/or ordered as needed to avoid Tom reconsidering his beliefs.

    I can’t tell what you mean by, “you could have made the same argument for God’s miracles” in this context? First of all, I’m not sure what “argument” for mathematics and physics you’re referring to. What are the premises? What is the conclusion? Second, I have the same question regarding this “argument for God’s miracles.” Third (and maybe this would become clear automatically if you answered the first and second questions), what does this have to do with the argument I made with respect to Krauss and Haldane? I didn’t bring up QM or mathematics there. It was nothing but a red herring when AA brought it up.

    Come to think of it, maybe my third question here should have been first, since I don’t really need to know the answers to questions one and two unless you can present some reason to think that the whole topic is relevant.

    Finally, this bit about “reply (without evidence),” betrays your fundamental misunderstanding of how this argument was constructed and what it is addressing.

    Krauss (and Haldane) made an argument of the sort, “God, if God exists, would be the kind of God who is like x, and therefore science would be impossible or meaningless if God existed.”

    My answer was, “God, if the God of the Bible exists, is not like x; therefore their conclusion with respect to God and science does not follow.”

    This is not an evidence-dependent discussion. This is a discussion about Krauss’s confusion regarding what God must be like if God exists.

    In other contexts for other purposes I’d be glad to provide you evidence for God and his nature, but this is not the context and this discussion is not for that purpose.

  9. Also:

    (Even though essentially all God’s communication in the Bible is through miracles, a point Tom seems not to to grasp above.)

    I’d be fascinated to learn how you’d show that I missed something important there. If you care to try to demonstrate it, please do so, but be sure you understand my argument first, and be sure you present your case accurately with respect to the Christian doctrine of revelation. Thanks.

  10. Here’s another way of explaining what I was getting at in the first part of comment 8.

    Krauss’s position is something like this:

    1. If there were a God, then miracles would occur too often for science to operate reliably.
    2. Miracles do not happen too often for science to operate reliably.
    3. Therefore atheism is the appropriate belief-stance to hold.*

    My purpose in this chapter of True Reason was to show that:

    A. (1) is false. There is no necessary reason to believe that if there is a God, then miracles would happen too often for science to operate reliably.
    B. The Christian conception of God, in particular, is and always has been consistent with a reality in which miracles happen, but not so often that science could not operate reliably.

    Any rebuttal of my chapter must aim at either A or B. Anything else is misdirected and off topic.

    *The conclusion there does not follow directly from the premises, but that seems to be the way Krauss formed it. You could substitute “Therefore there is no God” for what’s there, and the rest of my explanation here would be unaffected by the change.

  11. No, you have misunderstood his point. The claim was that God desires communication with us and that an ‘orderly’ universe, one we can understand, requires some minimum of miracles. (Even though essentially all God’s communication in the Bible is through miracles, a point Tom seems not to to grasp above.)

    Huh??
    I think you have it backwards, friend.
    Biblical Christian Theism maintains that in order to perceive and recognize the miraculous, an orderly universe (one which is regular, self-consistent and understandable) is necessary.

  12.