Adam Hamilton’s ‘Reasons’ For Belief

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Adam Hamilton's "Creed"
Series: Adam Hamilton's "Creed"


Why believe in God? Well, some scientists think they’ve proved there is no God, but some other scientists disagree, and we can disagree too, if we choose. That’s why! — Adam Hamilton, paraphrased.


Adam Hamilton’s book Creed opens with a chapter focused on reasons for believing in God. Unfortunately he didn’t give any. Which is odd for a book subtitled What Christians Believe and Why.

I opened my series on this book by focusing on what’s good in it, which is a lot. Now I turn my attention to some serious flaws.

I said he gave no reasons for belief. It’s not quite true, but it’s true enough. His reasons in this chapter are almost entirely subjective, based in his personal experience, or a decision not grounded in any reason at all. They’re the kind of “reasons to believe” that atheists and skeptics like to remind us have no objective validity. Without strong objective reasons to support them, it’s impossible to be sure they’re not grounded merely in psychological tricks of the mind. “Reasons” like these play right into skeptics’ hands.

And it’s that bad all the way through. I wish I were overstating the problem, but I don’t think I am.

The Atheist Scientist Who Got It Badly Wrong

Consider his answer to Lawrence Krauss, a rabid, often rude atheist who’s also a cosmologist. He’s the author of A Universe from Nothing, in which he tried to show there’s no need for a creator God, because the universe could have created itself out of nothing. Watch what he really means by that, though. Quoting from an interview he did with NPR,

Gravity allows positive energy and negative energy, and out of nothing you can create positive energy particles, and as long as a gravitational attraction produces enough negative energy, the sum of their energy can be zero. And in fact when we look out at the universe and try and measure its total energy, we come up with zero.

When Krauss says “nothing,” what he really means is gravity, the laws of physics, and the conditions allowing positive and negative energy to develop somewhere somehow. It’s a set of conditions with zero net energy, but these conditions are not nothing. Where did these laws of physics come from? How did those conditions arise? There’s no scientific reason to think they  were self-created, too — so Krauss’s answer leaves as much unexplained as he thinks it explains

But he doesn’t seem to think the questions matter. He thinks that if he can mathematically add it up to zero energy, then it’s not nothing. But obviously it isn’t. It’s still something,  right from the start: laws, initial conditions, do so on. So that means he hasn’t done any of what he set out to do. He hasn’t shown that the universe could have created itself from a true nothing. He thinks he has, but he’s obviously wrong.

In fact the error there should be obvious to everyone. He’s been taken to task for it many, many times. And yes, it’s just that elementary. Krauss is a top-notch cosmologist, but his atheism has blinded him to something as simple as the meaning of the everyday word “nothing.”

And How Hamilton Got the Scientist Badly Wrong

So what does Hamilton say in response to all this? He shares, appropriately enough, the awe and appreciation he and Krauss both feel in looking on the grandeur of the skies. Then he moves on to totally missing the point:

Reading Krauss and others helps me understand the scientific data and the current theories of cosmology and astrophysics. I am fascinated by them. But none of these leads me to Krauss’s conclusion that there is no God. Perhaps it’s because, as Krauss notes in his book, “Data rarely impress people who have decided in advance that something is wrong with the picture.” But if his contention applies to Christians and other theists, I think it also applies to atheists. The question of God is unlikely to be resolved by science. Theists and atheists can look at the same data and reach different conclusions.

In other words, Krauss thinks he’s got good reasons to deny God, but people don’t always pay attention to the data, so we don’t have to agree with him.

Notice what’s missing? Two key things

  1. All awareness that Krauss is embarrassingly wrong on his key point.
  2. Any actual reason to think there really is a God.

I’d say he’s missing a lot, wouldn’t you?

So why do Christians believe? On Hamilton’s view, it’s because even though some scientists think there’s a problem with faith, we can choose to disagree.

No One Knows Better Than Anyone Else?

This terribly thin view of science and faith pervades the chapter. Later he writes,

Ultimately these debates come down to who got the better sound bite, who came up with the quickest and best response, or who did a better job of thinking on their feet. But in the end the atheist has chosen a belief, a creed, as has the Christian. Both look at the same data and reach different conclusions.

Has either side reached a better conclusion than the other? Hamilton has no opinion to speak on that in this chapter. Later in the book he hints (lightly) at some good historical apologetics, but as far as this chapter is concerned, neither answer is better than the others.

Inexcusable!

This is inexcusable, in my opinion. First, a chapter focusing on why Christians believe should cover more than science and personal experience, for there are many, many other categories of reasons for belief. Second, in the realm of science alone there really are reasons — good ones — for belief in God. It doesn’t just come down to who got the better sound bite.

But it’s not enough to say he could have said more than he did. In my next post in this series I will outline some of the reasons he overlooked. There are a lot of them.

Yes, belief is a matter of choice, but it’s really possible to make that choice based on good reasons.

Series Navigation (Adam Hamilton's "Creed"):

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Comments

  1. Ron Bean

    Great post Adam. Agree on all points.

    One suggestion if I may, and that is that you do a better job at proof-reading your material prior to posting.

    Here are three typos from the same paragraph:

    “But  doesn’t seem to think the questions matter” – I think you meant to say “he” doesn’t.

    In the next sentence you say He thinks that if he can mathematically add it up to zero energy then it’s not toning.”. Should read “then it’s “nothing””.

    Looking forward to the next part of the series.

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  3. Pauline Fajen

    Thank you, Tom. I have read other books by Hamilton and found them helpful, insightful, and personally growing. I lead Adult Sunday School at my church and plan to make my next topic this very book. I will certainly read it with your remarks in mind and include them in questions for the class. I appreciate your critical reading and look forward to reading your follow up piece.

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