Monday, April 14, 2014

 

Palm Sunday Sermon - Matthew 21:1-11


Matthew 21:1-11 (Holman Christian Standard Bible): The Triumphal Entry

An audio pod-cast of this sermon is available here.

When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, Jesus then sent two disciples, telling them, “Go into the village ahead of you. At once you will find a donkey tied there, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you should say that the Lord needs them, and immediately he will send them.”

This took place so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:

Tell Daughter Zion,

“Look, your King is coming to you,
gentle, and mounted on a donkey,
even on a colt,
the foal of a beast of burden.”

The disciples went and did just as Jesus directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt; then they laid their robes on them, and He sat on them. A very large crowd spread their robes on the road; others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them on the road. Then the crowds who went ahead of Him and those who followed kept shouting:

Hosanna to the Son of David!
He who comes in the name
of the Lord is the blessed One!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds kept saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee!”

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The events of Palm Sunday remind me of the chorus to that famous Rolling Stone’s song ‘You can’t always get what you want’:

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

Now, we know God doesn’t give us everything we want. Sometimes we’re prepared to admit it’s a good thing God doesn’t give us everything we want. What we want isn’t always very noble.

We know God gives us everything we really need. Yet, if we’re honest, we realise we find it all too easy to confuse getting what we need and getting what we want. We find ourselves behaving like little children crying ‘But I neeeed it’ when they want a second helping of cake.

By riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus sends a message, not just about his being the messiah, but about the kind of messiah he is, about the kind of messiah we really need. The crowd that greet’s Jesus are so full of the messiah they want, they don’t recognise Jesus as the messiah they need.

Around 500 BC the priest and prophet Zechariah had said the messiah would enter Jerusalem ‘riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ Mark and Luke note that the animal Jesus rode was a donkey ‘on which no one has ever sat’ (Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30). Matthew, an eyewitness, informs us that two animals, a donkey and the foal of a donkey, were present. Having mum walk ahead of it would have been a calming influence on junior, so the inclusion of two animals makes sense. Matthew isn’t contradicting Mark and Luke. After all, Matthew know Mark’s gospel. Rather, he’s adding information Mark don’t bother mentioning.

But what of Matthew’s remark that after the disciples laid their outer cloaks upon both animals, Jesus ‘sat on them’? Images spring to mind of Jesus trying to straddle two donkeys as they make their way up the road to Jerusalem! Of course not! In picking up on the ‘synonymous parallelism’ of Zechariah’s prophecy - ‘Look, your King is coming to you, gentle, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’ - Matthew is making a joke with a serious point: By choosing to enter Jerusalem this way, Jesus is symbolically declaring he is the messiah, but the humble servant-king riding a beast of burden kind of messiah, rather than the riding a stead of war ready to kick Roman butt kind of messiah.

And the crowd doesn’t really get it. Yes, throwing garments in Jesus’ path symbolised submission to Jesus as king, but spreading palm fronds indicates the reception of Jesus as a national liberator. Some shout out verses from the Passover season Psalm 118:25-26: ‘Hosanna (meaning ‘O save’). He who comes in the name of the Lord is blessed.’ However, in the context of Roman occupation their focus was on the first half of Psalm 118, which is about God’s past delivery of Israel from military oppressors. That’s what they wanted, and when Jesus failed to give it to them, the crowd would soon switch from shouting ‘Hosanna’ to shouting ‘Crucify him!’ (Matthew 27:22-23). When we confuse what we need from God with what we want, there’s a sense in which we find ourselves amongst that Jerusalem crowd. So, in closing, let us meditate upon Psalm 118, praying that, unlike the Jerusalem crowd, we‘ll listen as our servant king tells us the difference between getting what we want and getting what we need this Easter:


Open the gates of righteousness for me;
I will enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous will enter through it.
I will give thanks to You
because You have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This came from the Lord;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
(Psalm 118:19-24)


Amen.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

 

G.K. Chesterton & C.S. Lewis: A Comparative Appreciation


Here are my prepared remarks for an evening's discussion with Dale Ahlquist, president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society, on the relationship between G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Our discussion (which was followed by a time of Q&A) was hosted by the Aquinas Centre in the Waldegrave Drawing Room in St. Mary's University, Twickenham, 1st April 2014. An audio recording of the event is available here.


G.K. Chesterton held that ‘Talking about serious questions is a pleasure’[1], so let me to begin by thanking everyone who has made this pleasurable, serious discussion possible.

I love the writings of C.S. Lewis, and, like Lewis, I love the writings of G.K. Chesterton. With Lewis, I especially love The Everlasting Man. Neo-atheist Lawrence Krauss could have saved himself from writing A Universe from Nothing if only he’d paid attention to Chesterton’s observation that: ‘Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. Nobody can get an inch nearer to it by explaining how something would turn into something else.’[2]

Researching my book C.S. Lewis vs. the New Atheists (Paternoster, 2013), it struck me that Lewis had been the kind of atheist who takes philosophy seriously. As an atheist, Lewis rejected the positivism and scientism that characterised ‘modernity’. One might even say that the atheism of Lucretius saved Lewis from the non-theism of A.J. Ayer!

Lewis believed language puts us in touch with reality, and he argued, against the positivists, that there’s more than one way of being in touch with reality. Lewis’ paper on ‘The Language of Religion’ is a significant rejoinder to positivism.

Lewis didn’t lurch from the strictures of modernism into the louchness of post-modernity. His love of philosophy produced neither a narrow rationalism nor a romantic anti-rationalism, but a pre-modern wisdom that recognised the value of empirical data without rejecting the transcendent facts of truth, goodness and beauty.

Lewis holes scientism below the waterline by observing that acts of reason, upon which science depends, don’t depend upon science but upon rational intuition: ‘You cannot produce rational intuition by argument, because argument depends upon rational intuition. Proof rests upon the unprovable which just has to be “seen”.’[3]

Likewise, in ‘A Plea for Popular Philosophy’ Chesterton points out that:

‘all argument begins with assumption; that is, with something that you do not doubt… let us clearly realize this fact, that we do believe in a number of things which are part of our existence, but which cannot be demonstrated…  Every sane man believes that the world around him and the people in it are real, and not his own delusion or dream.’[4]

One might almost say that by embracing medieval ideas about philosophy Chesterton and Lewis anticipated the ‘reformed epistemology’ of the 1960’s. This goes to show the great sense Chesterton showed in noting that ‘What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century.’[5] In the same vein, Lewis warned against ‘the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate of our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited.’[6]

There is no epistemological good news needed more by people today than the news that there’s more to knowledge than science. The failure of scientism means it makes sense to say that murder is objectively evil and that rainbows are objectively beautiful. Lewis’ influential lectures on The Abolition of Man remain a powerful statement of such axiological realism.

Lewis was as much a poet as a philosopher; not as a centaur is half man and half horse, but as Jesus is fully man yet fully divine. Lewis was a philosophical poet and a poetical philosopher.  When Lewis was memorialised in Westminster Abbey last year, he was celebrated as much for being the Christian apologist who gave us Mere Christianity and Miracles as he was for being the Christian novelist who gave us The Screwtape Letters and The Chronicles of Narnia.

One can’t separate Lewis’ philosophy from his fiction. On the one hand, his philosophy uses story to elicit rational insight. Consider ‘Meditation in a Toolshed’, with its distinction between ‘looking at’ and ‘looking along’ a beam of light. On the other hand, Lewis’ fiction fleshes out a philosophical skeleton, allowing us to imbibe the atmosphere of a philosophy. I particularly enjoy imbibing The Abolition of Man through That Hideous Strength. I was thrilled by Michael Ward’s recent discovery of how the medieval cosmology Lewis describes in The Discarded Image shapes Narnia.

Chesterton said ‘it is only too easy to forget that there is a thrill in theism.’[7] I find reading Lewis is thrilling, not because he has anything original to say, but because he puts his mastery of language wholly at the service of truth. As Lewis advised:

‘no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.’[8]

Unlike the neo-atheists, Lewis attended carefully to arguments for the falsehood of naturalism and the truth of theism. The arguments Lewis gives us are popularisations or developments of arguments others had already made and which had convinced him. For example, in Mere Christianity he succinctly popularised the sort of meta-ethical moral argument for God developed in W.R. Sorley’s Gifford lectures on Moral Values and the Idea of God. Likewise, Lewis clearly owes Chesterton an apologetic debt.

In general terms, in addition to the use of multiple literary genres, we should note that Lewis’ desire to advocate Mere Christianity follows Chesterton’s emphasis in Orthodoxy upon ‘the central Christian theology (sufficiently summarised in the Apostle’s Creed)’[9] at the expense of ‘the fascinating but quite different question of what is the present seat of authority for the proclamation of that creed.’[10]

In specific terms, one sees ancestors to many of Lewis’ arguments in Chesterton’s work. In The Everlasting Man he pre-cedes Lewis in debunking the mythical Jesus myth[11], lays the foundation for Lewis’ argument from desire[12] and gives Lewis the ‘mad, bad or God’ trilemma.[13] In Orthodoxy Chesterton touches upon the argument from desire[14] and spends several pages planting seeds that may have contributed to Lewis’ anti-naturalism arguments. Chesterton writes:

‘Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself. Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, it is an attack upon thought itself.’[15]

His arguments for this conclusion are best described as ‘suggestive’. Indeed, Chesterton describes his own style as attempting ‘in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe.’[16]

When Lewis takes over from Chesterton in the wrestling match with naturalism, he comes into the ring equipped with clear definitions, lean distinctions and a range of heavy-hitting deductions that continue to spark debate in the professional literature.

In fact, all of these arguments live on in contemporary debates. For example, the ‘argument from desire’ has been developed and defended by John Cottingham, John Haldane, Robert Hoyler, Peter Kreeft and Alister McGrath, among others. The ‘trilemma’ has been developed and defended by the likes of Stephen T. Davis, Douglas Groothuis and David A. Horner.

However, of all the arguments Lewis defended, it’s the anti-naturalism arguments of Miracles and of essays such as ‘De Futilitate’ that resonate most insistently today. Alvin Plantinga acknowledges his debt to Lewis for his ‘anti-naturalism argument from evolution’. Moreover, it’s not only in reading contemporary Christian philosophers such as Plantinga, Victor Reppert, R. Scott Smith or Angus L. Menuge that one recalls Lewis’ anti-naturalism arguments; it’s also in reading contemporary non-Christian thinkers such as John Gray, Thomas Nagel, Alex Rosenberg, John Searle and Raymond Tallis.

Through the many friendships that constituted ‘The Inklings’, Lewis teaches us the importance of being nourished by a community of scholarship jointly dedicated to following the argument wherever it leads. Through reading what Lewis called ‘old books’, we have the privilege of transcending the chronological snobbery of our own age and communing in just such a fellowship with C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton.

Peter S. Williams – March 2014.




[1] G.K. Chesterton, ‘No Such Thing’ in Prophet of Orthodoxy: The Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton (Fount, 1997), p. 127.
[2] G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (Hodder & Stoughton, 1927), p. 25.
[3] C.S. Lewis, ‘Why I am not a Pacifist’
[4] G.K. Chesterton, ‘A Plea for Popular Philosophy’ in Prophet of Orthodoxy: The Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton (Fount, 1997), p. 127.
[5] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (House of Stratus, 2011), p. 53.
[6] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Fount).
[7] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 103.
[8] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Fount).
[9] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (House of Stratus, 2011), p. 4.
[10] Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 4
[11] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 132 & 199.
[12] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 106-107.
[13] Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 215 & 229.
[14] Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 57.
[15] Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 21.
[16] Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 1.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

 

Percentage of American Scientists who Believe in God

According to a survey reported in the journal Nature in 1997, c. 40% of American biologists, physicists and mathematicians said they believed in a God to whom one may pray 'in expectation of receiving an answer.' The survey, by Edward J. Larson of the University of Georgia, was intended to replicate one conducted in 1916, and the results were virtually unchanged: 'In 1916, 1,000 leading American scientists were randomly chosen from American Men of Science and 41.8% believed God existed, 41.5% disbelieved, and 16.7% had doubts/did not know; however when the study was replicated 80 years later using American Men and Women of Science in 1996, results were very much the same with 39.3% believing God exists, 45.3% disbelieved, and 14.5% had doubts/did not know.' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientists%27_belief_in_God#Studies_on_scientists.27_beliefs)
As a 2006 New York Times article reported: 'surveys show that roughly 40 percent of scientists believe in a God who actively communicates with humankind and to whom one may pray in expectation of answers...' (www.nytimes.com/2006/02/28/science/28essa.html?scp=2&sq=scientists%20believe%20in%20god%20atheists&st=nyt)

According to a 2009 survey of members of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science, conducted by the Pew Research Center, majority of scientists (51%) said they believe in 'God or a higher power', while 41% say they do not believe in God or a higher power (the other 8% are presumably agnostic). More specifically: '33% of those polled believe in God, 18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power, and 41% did not believe in either God or a higher power... 17% were atheists, 11% were agnostics, 20% were nothing in particular, 8% were Jewish, 10% were Catholic, 16% were Protestant, 4% were Evangelical, 10% were other religion.'
(cf. http://articles.latimes.com/2009/nov/24/opinion/la-oe-masci24-2009nov24; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientists%27_belief_in_God#Studies_on_scientists.27_beliefs)


Also in 2009, the religious beliefs of US professors were examined using a nationally representative sample: 'in the social sciences: 23.4% did not believe in God, 16% did not know if God existed, 42.5% believed God existed, and 16% believed in a higher power. Out of the natural sciences: 19.5% did not believe in God, 32.9% did not know if God existed, 43.9% believed God existed, and 3.7% believed in a higher power.' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientists%27_belief_in_God#Studies_on_scientists.27_beliefs)

The most recent survey, on religious beliefs among the general population and among 'rank and file' American scientists (in fields such as computing, engineering, health-care and life sciences), showed that only 24.4% of scientists self-describe as atheist/agnostic/no-religion, which is about the same percentage of scientists who self-describe as 'Mainline Protestant' (24.9%). Moreover, 19.1% of scientists self-described as Catholic and 17.1% of scientists self-described as Evangelical Christian (hence '2 million out of nearly 12 million scientists are evangelical Christians. If you were to bring all the evangelical scientists together, they could populate the city of Houston, Texas'):

Religion
% All Respondents
% Scientists
Evangelical Protestants
22.9
17.1
Mainline Protestants
26.9
24.9
Catholics
23.8
19.1
Jews
1.9
3.9
Mormons
1.8
1.7
Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains
2.6
7.2
Atheists/Agnostics/No Religion
15.5
24.4
Something Else
4.7
1.7
(www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/february-web-only/study-2-million-scientists-identify-as-evangelical.html?start=1)

According to these statistics, 61.1% of American scientists self-describe as Christian and c. 65% self-describe as theist.

It's also worth noting that 'the Pew poll found that...  younger scientists (ages 18 to 34) are more likely than older ones to believe in God or a higher power.' (http://articles.latimes.com/2009/nov/24/opinion/la-oe-masci24-2009nov24)

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

 

Luke 2:25-35: Simeon in the Temple - a sermon for Candlemas


Luke 2:25-35 (English Standard Version, Anglicised)

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

 

Simeon was living in expectation of seeing ‘the Lord’s Christ’, the Messiah, the ‘consolation of Israel’. In contrast to the politically focused hopes of so many Jews under the Roman occupation, the consolation Simeon desired: ‘was not the fulfillment of Jewish political hopes involving deliverance from their enemies and restoration of David’s throne but rather to the salvation Jesus brought.’ (New American Commentary, p. 115.) Simeon looked for to the sort of consolation Jesus pronounces in Luke 19:10: ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.’ As the apostle Paul emphasised in his letter to the Christians in Rome, true salvation is a relationship with God embraced by faith and not earned by works. Moreover, this salvation surpasses the ethnic boundaries of descent from Abraham: ‘That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring - not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…’ (Romans 4:16) This salvation is ‘prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’ (Luke 2:31-32)

The Holy Spirit told Simeon that he wouldn’t die before seeing the Lord’s anointed, and moved by the Spirit he went to the Temple court just as Mary and Joseph arrived with the baby Jesus. Taking Jesus into his arms, Simeon praises God, blesses Joseph and Mary and gives Mary a word of knowledge.

Simeon can be understood to contrast one group of people, ‘that falls (humbles itself) and rises (is lifted up by God)’ (New American Commentary, p. 117.) with another group of people, who ‘speak against’ God’s signpost to salvation. Thus Simeon echoes Mary’s own hymn of praise earlier in Luke’s gospel, which speaks of how God ‘has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts… but has lifted up the humble.’ (Luke 1:51-52)

Simeon says that by their response to Jesus the ‘thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’ The Greek word translated here as ‘thoughts’ (dialogismoi) means antagonistic or evil thoughts. The use of this term continues Simeon’s presentation of Jesus as a sign that will be rejected. Again, the Greek word translated as ‘hearts’ (kardia) encompasses a person’s intellect as well as their emotions. In other words, as some people come to understand Jesus as God’s revelation so Jesus reveals their inner antagonism to God’s light. Some of these people may allow themselves to be brought low by the encounter, joining those humble souls who hunger for the good things of God’s kingdom (Luke 1:53). As Mary says, God’s mercy ‘extends to those who fear him’ (Luke 1:50)

Paul likewise holds out hope that although Jesus was a ‘stumbling stone’ to the Jews, Israel did not ‘stumble so as to fall beyond recovery’ (Romans 11:11):

‘Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring! … For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.’ (Romans 11:11-12 & 32)


In this light, what are we to make of Simeon’s parenthetical comment to Mary that ‘a sword will pierce through your own soul also’? Of course, ‘The most common interpretation is that it refers to the sorrow Mary would experience in seeing her son rejected and crucified.’ (New American Commentary, p. 117.) However, this comment likely alludes to ‘the fact that Mary would also stumble and experience difficulty in her son’s mission’ (New American Commentary, p. 117.), as recorded later in Luke’s gospel. Thus William C. Nicholas Jr. explains that ‘Family ties will not render [Mary] exempt from making a conscious choice to follow or reject Jesus’ teaching.’ (‘The Oracles of Simeon: Luke 2:28-35’) As Jesus says in Matthew 10:34: ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’

As would appear from the Marian perspective of the early chapters of Luke, and John’s record of the crucifixion, Mary chose to follow Jesus. Each of us faces the same choice on a daily basis, for as C.S. Lewis said: ‘The one thing Christianity can’t be is moderately important: either it’s untrue, in which case it’s of no importance at all, or it’s true, in which case it demands your whole life.’


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Wednesday, November 06, 2013

 

First 'Faithful Guide to Philosophy' companion video



This is the first of a series of vids - one per chapter - made by Peter Byrom to accompany my latest book, A Faithful Guide to Philosophy: A Christian Introduction to the Love of Wisdom (Paternoster, 2013).

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Monday, August 05, 2013

 

A New Book & New Website!

My new official website http://www.peterswilliams.com/ has now launched!

It hosts info about my books, a selection of my papers, podcasts and videos, as well as links to my various presences on the web (e.g. podcast, YouTube channel, Blog, Twitter Account, etc).

In the near future I hope to add more papers and a series of videos/podcasts on my latest book:
A Faithful Guide to Philosophy (Paternoster, 2013)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

 

'The God Argument' - Peter S. Williams vs. A.C. Grayling


I recently debated the existence of God with the well-known neo-atheist Oxford philosopher A.C. Grayling on Justin Brierley's Unbelievable (Premier Christian Radio).
To hear the full debate visit: http://t.co/mCwGozxTAG

Here's a YouTube video of our discussion of the design argument from cosmic fine-tuning:



(I didn't know they'd be video recording our discussion. If I'd know, I would have dressed smarter!)

This section of our debate has generated some on-line discussion (e.g. here & here) and was picked up by some blogs:

Jonathan Mclatchie, 'British Atheist Philosopher A.C. Grayling Is Confused About Intelligent Design' http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/04/ac_graylings_co071041.html

Mike Keas, 'Confusion about how Fine-Tuning Implicates Intelligent Design: British Atheist Philosopher A.C. Grayling' http://blogs.christianpost.com/science-and-faith/confusion-about-how-fine-tuning-implicates-intelligent-design-british-atheist-philosopher-a-c-grayling-15612/

Concerning Grayling's observation that his parents and grandparent's etc. had to have meet in order for him to be born, he admits on page 80 of The God Argument that this is 'a retrospective observation', which amounts to admitting that his grandparent example isn't analogous to the independently specified complexity of cosmic fine-tuning.


Here's a YouTube video of our discussion of the Cosmological Argument:




Peter Byrom kindly gave me permission to reproduce here an e-mail he sent in to Justin Brierly's Unbelievable following the broadcast:


Dear Justin,

Very glad you were able to get A.C. Grayling onto your show, though it is odd that he appears to have suddenly re-discovered an interest in theistic arguments: When you invited him to debate William Lane Craig in 2011, he dismissed the whole discussion of arguments for God as "an empty prospect", but now apparently they're worthy of a whole new book called "The God Argument"!

But onto the discussion itself: it was astonishing to hear a Professor, who charges £18,000 tuition a year, exhibiting such fallacious and sloppy reasoning. I counted at least six invocations of the genetic fallacy: where Grayling tried to undermine inferences to God, agent causation (and even the principle of causation itself) by repeatedly claiming that humans are psychologically and historically pre-disposed towards them. So what? This does nothing to address the argument.

In fact, when invited to respond to Peter S William's critique for why you do not need an explanation of an explanation, Grayling had nothing else to offer other than the genetic fallacy! I encourage listeners therefore to do an experiment: listen to the show again, but omit every instance where Grayling says something like "it's very natural for us humans to infer this, because..." or "that's a very egocentric way of seeing things", and see what you're left with!

As for the specific arguments:

Teleological: Grayling admitted he would draw a design inference from Peter S William's analogy of the cash machine... so why not the fine-tuning of the universe? The most Grayling could do was fixate upon the alternative analogy of the contingent events which led up to his birth, but this was simply not an example of specified complexity: the existence of AC Grayling as opposed to some different human life, does not conform to an independently given pattern in the way that the existence of human life as opposed to a lifeless universe doesThis blog post by Jonathan Mclatchie goes into brilliant detail on why Grayling is confused here, and I recommend it to all listeners: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/04/ac_graylings_co071041.html

Furthermore, Grayling was content to say "we exist, that's a fact, and that's just the way it is"! Apart from this being a disturbingly incurious statement, Grayling then made a completely illogical leap: claiming that "we exist, that's just a fact, therefore it's due to chance". But how does that follow? The same would be true of our existence if the explanation were physical necessity or design. So Grayling was simply plucking his preferred explanation out of thin air.

Grayling also doesn't appear to be up to speed on the problems with multiverse models (lookup the criticisms by Roger Penrose especially). But even if there were an infinity of all possible outcomes in a multiverse, Grayling would have to face the problem that there would be an infinity of universes where somebody enters the correct PIN code for his bank account by sheer chance, and an infinity of universes where the words in Grayling's books arise out of no intelligent cause! ;-)

Cosmological: Grayling persistently side-stepped the inference to a necessary being in the most school-boyish manner: he seemed to think he could undermine the idea of a necessary first cause of the universe by calling it "Fred", but that is mere semantics! What matters is not what you call something, but the properties of what that being actually is. An englishman will say "dog", a frenchman will say "chien", but they're still referring to the same thing (it's called "ontology", Professor)!

Grayling then contradicted himself on multiple counts: he said it was meaningless to invoke an uncaused first cause, then offered naturalistic versions of "uncaused first causes" (even going further to offer logically contradictory "self-caustion"); He said reality may be different to what we can comprehend, then complained God was incomprehensible; he said we humans cannot get our heads round things not being caused, then complained that God would need to be caused! He demanded an explanation for God, but not for the universe; he even went so far as to describe the question "why is there something rather than nothing" as a meaningless question, and compared it to asking "why is 3 greater than 2"... but the irony is that there IS a meaningful answer to that question: NECESSARILY EXISTENT mathematical axioms!

Moral: This one was simplest (and most simplistic) of all. Grayling said that facts about human flourishing serve as a basis for objective moral values, but this is nonsense: those descriptive facts do nothing to prescribe the obligation that humans ought to flourish! It was also telling that he had no response to the "horn-splitting" Euthyphro Dilemma resolution... as if he'd never even heard of it.

In all, Grayling's arguments were horrendous, yet he has an unnerving rhetorical talent for dressing up sheer lack of curiosity as some kind of sophisticated, academic virtue. Do not be fooled!

In short, if you're AC Grayling:

- the existence of life "is just a fact",
- the existence of the universe "just is, with no explanation",
- and human flourishing "just is good".

...And yet Grayling is renowned for quoting Socrates' saying "the unexamined life is not worth living"?


Noted Christian philosopher Keith Ward reviews A.C. Grayling's The God Argument here.


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