Snippets of True Reason, part 2

Continuing on from Part 1, these next four snippets from True Reason (eds. Tom Gilson & Carson Weitnauer) provide more “evidence that the New Atheism fails to live up to its claimed connection with reason.” Targets include Sam Harris, John Loftus, and the failure of naturalistic presuppositions.

Five: “Unreason at the Head of Project Reason” (Tom Gilson)

“On one side of the debate floor stood the cofounder and chair of Project Reason, a nonprofit organization ‘dedicated to reason’…. On the other side of the floor stood a man often (and accurately) described as a theologian: a religious man, in other words….

One debater brought forth a series of logical arguments based on precise definitions, carefully delineated lines of thought, and technically sophisticated modal and syllogistic logic. He presented one argument that he boldly described as a completely unanswerable knockdown for the other person’s position; and indeed, if his reasoning proved sound, it would demolish the other’s position.

His opponent, astonishingly, ignored most of his arguments — as if he hadn’t heard them. Or if he did, it seemed he failed to recognize how much damage they had done to his position — not just rhetorically, but by the strength of their logic. This debater offered nothing in response to the knockdown argument. He simply held forth on his own views with no seeming regard for how completely they had just been undermined…. His argument was peppered with enough identifiable fallacies and distortions to seriously undermine any claim he might have made to championing the cause of reason. He employed red herrings, equivocations, and straw man versions of his opponent’s claims….

[T]he one who focused on a reasoned approach to discourse was the theologian and philosopher, William Lane Craig. The one who appealed to emotion, whose arguments were choked with fallacies, was the man representing Project Reason, Sam Harris.” (pp.60-61)

Six: “John Loftus and the Insider-Outsider Test for Faith” (David Marshall)

“Nor has modernity halted [Christianity’s] progress. A hundred years ago, there were few Christians in sub-Saharan Africa; now there are more than four hundred million. A century ago, most Latins belonged to a syncretistic ‘Christo-paganism’. Today, tens of millions of evangelicals live in South America, and I have heard — my own field is East Asia — that many Catholics have become more orthodox. In the past twenty years, some sixty to ninety millions Chinese, and tens of millions of Indians, have taken the OTF [i.e., Outsider Test for Faith], found that Christianity passed, and converted. Most others have probably not yet really considered Christianity, or been reluctant to convert for nonrational reasons — cultural inertia, vestiges of persecution, love of money or sexual sin, unexamined atheistic propaganda, continued anger over nineteenth-century ‘Christian’ imperialism. Millions of contemporary Muslims have also prayed to Jesus, despite the dangers, and despite rivalry with the (post) ‘Christian’ West and natural attachment to their own traditions.” (p.83)

Seven: “Atheism and the Argument from Reason” (Lenny Esposito)

“When judging a belief we are really trying to determine whether it is true or false — that is, if it matches the fact of the matter. We are seeking to know whether our belief is true, which means we have to somehow find the facts regardless of how the dominoes fell. How can we do this if our reasoning ability is purely an internal product of biochemical development? Discerning the truth requires us to transcend our senses, indeed to transcend our very biology. We wish to ‘get the real story’ on the facts of the universe, but we cannot call a belief rational if it is strictly the product of an event-chain. And because naturalism holds to biological development as one long complicated event chain, there’s simply no way to show that our reasoning is reflecting ‘the real story’.” (p.104)

Eight: “The Explanatory Emptiness of Naturalism” (David Wood)

“When we investigate the world using the tools of the biologist, or the geologist, or the physicist, we find that natural effects are preceded by natural causes. Science gives us explanations without appealing to the supernatural. Since this is exactly what we would expect if naturalism were true, we say that the success of science confirms naturalism over supernaturalism.

Or so the story goes. The problem with the naturalist’s story is that it is grounded in extraordinarily superficial thinking. Contrary to the claims of several popular atheists, science offers no support for naturalism. Indeed, if naturalism were true, we could learn nothing at all through the sciences….

To see why [this] is true, we simply need to consider what is required for scientific investigation to take place. If naturalism can’t account for these necessary preconditions, then naturalism can’t account for science, and science turns out to be evidence against naturalism. Let’s examine eight conditions without which science could not take place. As we will soon see, none of them makes sense in naturalism….” (pp.109-110)

Pretty interesting stuff. It’s awfully difficult to recognize, let alone acknowledge, that your own worldview is inconsistent or even incoherent. Hopefully, though, there are some atheists/naturalists who concede some of the weaknesses in theirs. Getting them beyond that, hopefully to a recognition of moral guilt and the need for reconciliation with our Heavenly Father, generally takes a lot more, patient work. But, at least it’s a step in the right direction.

“For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” — Romans 1:20 (HCSB)


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