• David Marshall’s 144 Errors, Gross Exaggerations, Highly Dubious Claims, and Lack of Comprehension in Critiquing The God Delusion, Part 3

    #41 Can evolution make sense of holy war? “Why do humans fast, kneel, genuflect, selfflagellate, nod maniacally towards a wall, crusade, or otherwise indulge in costly practices that can consume life and, in extreme cases, terminate it?” (166)

    “Crusade” is an odd inclusion here. Offensive warfare, such as the 400 years of jihad that preceded the Crusades, is highly adaptive behavior. This is why more than 200 million people in the world speak Arabic today, many, I imagine, sharing some of the prophet’s genes. It pays to accumulate funds and wives through offensive warfare.

    Similarly, the Crusades probably saved Western Europe from the periodic Muslim invasions that began already in the 8th Century. The author of The Selfish Gene ought to appreciate the effectiveness of “holy war” without appealing to the “placebo effect” of faith. Religious violence pays off in concrete evolutionary terms.

    What I think is behind this oversight is a tendency, among critics of Christianity, to disconnect their moral outrage from the stark implications of their own worldview. We’ll encounter this tendency again.

    What Dawkins’ point was, and Marshall seems to be side-stepping here, is Dawkins’ questioning of why religion persists despite its often costly (deadly) behavior. Why would natural selection not reject such a harmful trait? Marshall’s take on history as it has to do with the Crusades is also mistaken. The Crusades do not appear to have been a result of an impending “Muslim invasion.” I cover this in my review of his book.

    Regarding Marshall’s comment about his view about the “disconnect [of atheists’] moral outrage from the stark implications of their own worldview,” it appears that Marshall is arguing, by citing The Selfish Gene, that violence is inevitable and is a good thing according to an evolutionary view of the world. This is a common misunderstanding about Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene and in my review of Marshall’s book I correct this misunderstanding. But to be brief: What the genes do is one thing and what the human animal containing the genes does is another thing entirely and that’s a point that many miss when reading the book. We as humans can be entirely moral and altruistic despite our “selfish genes.”

    #42 Do miracles violate science? “I suspect that alleged miracles provide the strongest reason many believers have for their faith; and miracles, by definition, violate the principles of science.”

    According to some definitions of miracles, an event that gives evidence of being a work of God, even fortuitous coincidence that does not violate any physical laws (like Peter catching a fish with a gold coin in its mouth, or a big haul of fish after Jesus told him where to cast his nets) can be called a “miracle.” In The Case Against Christianity, atheist philosopher Michael Martin argues that given quantum fluctuations, even the resurrection can potentially be explained (if it happened) as a natural event. So the line between “natural” and “supernatural” is blurred even in theory. Therefore, it is probably best to call an event so overwhelmingly improbable that it is hard to understand as an accident of Nature, but so fortuitous from a theistic perspective that it makes good sense as an “act of God,” can also be called a “miracle.” The word “miracle” is often applied (or misapplied, as the case may be) to the origin of life in a similar way.

    But even if define miracles only to include events that involve a suspension of the habits of Nature, talk of “violating scientific principle” is questionable. Science describes the uniformities of Nature, and has nothing to say about realms outside of Nature. If the Author of Nature throws a new event into Creation, this would no more be a “violation” of her principles than it would “violate” the Law of Gravitation to throw a ball into the air. Nature swallows such interruptions without complaint. (See C. S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study for a typically brilliant
    discussion of this topic.)

    First of all, the line between “natural” and “supernatural” is not “ blurred even in theory” because Marshall doesn’t seem to understand Martin’s argument. He was arguing that if a natural explanation was found for a resurrection it would no longer fall under the category of “supernatural.” This is not a blurring of the two ideas. Just as natural disasters were no doubt thought of as “supernatural” events at some point in history they are seen as entirely “natural” now. There is no overlap since these phenomenon are clearly known to have natural causes.

    I would also consider several of Marshall’s examples, such as catching a fish with a coin in its mouth, to be very large coincidences, not miracles – if you define a miracle as a violation of natural law. With Marshall’s argument he wishes to believe that god works within the laws, thus making it impossible to determine if god is acting in the world. But if this is the case, this cannot be used as any kind of evidence for a god since it is unfalsifiable and not science. I go into this issue in my review of Marshall’s book. Marshall is also contradicted by other theologians when it comes to his definition of miracles. Some theists, like William Lane Craig, define a miracle as an event that “neither has physical nor human causes.” David F. Strauss wrote, “We may summarily reject all miracles, prophecies, narratives of angels and demons, and the like, as simply impossible and irreconcilable with the known and universal laws which govern the course of events.” [13]

    #43 What did the philosopher Richard Swinburne mean? Dawkins discusses a study that apparently failed to show that prayer helps cure patients:

    “Another typical piece of theological reasoning occurs further along in Swinburne’s article. He rightly suggests that if God wanted to demonstrate his own existence he would find better ways to do it than slightly biasing the recovery statistics of experimental versus control groups of heart patients. If God existed and wanted to convince us of it, he could ‘fill the world with supermiracles.’But then Swinburne lets fall his gem: ‘There is quite a lot of evidence anyway of God’s existence, and too much might not be good for us.’ Too much might not be good for us! Read it again. Too much evidence might not be good for us. Richard Swinburne is the recently retired holder of one of Britain’s most prestigious professorships of theology, and is a Fellow of the British Academy. If it’s a theologian you want, they don’t come much more distinguished. Perhaps you don’t want a theologian.” (65)

    What did Swinburne mean by saying, “There’s quite a bit of evidence” for Christianity? On his web site, Swinburne courteously invites Dawkins to enter the conversation rather than “win by shouting,” pointing out that he’s explained the possible advantages of less than complete certainty of God’s existence in his book The Existence of God. Rather than find out what Swinburne means, or what evidence for God he points to elsewhere, Dawkins chooses the easy course of mocking him with a snide comment.

    Neither does Dawkins make any attempt to consider whether the concept of “too much evidence” might make. Pascal remarked, “There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.” (Pensees, 430) Ambiguity is a concept Christians (and Taoists) have been thinking about for a long time; mockery is not a sufficient response.

    First of all, I covered a part of this argument in my review of Marshall’s book about how he seems to accuse Dawkins of saying something nasty to Swinburne but no such thing seems to have happened. It was someone else, but that fact is hard to discern from Marshall’s book.

    Second, Swinburne was not discussing evidence for Christianity, but for god. On page 65 of The God Delusion Dawkins writes:

    “Another typical piece of theological reasoning occurs further along in Swinburne’s article. He rightly suggests that if God wanted to demonstrate his own existence he would find better ways to do it than slightly biasing the recovery statistics of experimental versus control groups of heart patients. If God existed and wanted to convince us of it, he could ‘fill the world with super-miracles’. But then Swinburne lets fall this gem: ‘There is quite a lot of evidence anyway of God’s existence, and too much might not be good for us.’” (emphasis mine)

    Of course, in the next sentence this seems to have been corrected since Marshall does reference Swinburne’s book The Existence of God.

    Third, just as in the last subject of miracles, god is such an unscientific hypothesis because, as Swinburne demonstrated, and Dawkins pointed out, god can be said to do whatever. Maybe god just didn’t feel like going along with the experiment, or a million other rationalizations. The fact of the matter is that no prayer has been found to work when tested and that counts as evidence against god, the countless excuses made by theologians not withstanding.

    Fourth, quoting Pascal does nothing to answer Dawkins. “Ambiguity” is not the best basis for any kind of argument or justification for beliefs about anything. Facts must be cited.

    #44 Would any apologist dismiss useful but dubious results? “Can you imagine that a single religious apologist would have dismissed (a double-blind study proving prayer healed the sick) on the grounds that scientific research has no bearing on religious matters? Of course not.” (65)

    I am a Christian apologist, and I did dismiss reports of such studies coming in positive — on precisely the grounds Dawkins points to earlier in this discussion. Dawkins borrowed the voice of Bob Newhart to make his point:

    “What’s that you say, Lord? You can’t cure me because I’m a member of the control group?”

    I have long thought (and have said) that if a study showed that prayer healed only those prayed for in some artificial experiment, that would tend to DISPROVE Christian theology. Jesus refused to do miracles “for show.” He warned NOT to “put the Lord God to the test.” This is a basic part of the Christian concept of miracles. (It doesn’t follow, though, that miracles can’t provide good evidence that God is at work.)

    First of all, this is another case of nitpicking. Second, I highly doubt Marshall would as readily dismiss positive results in a prayer study. He might say this now, but just wait if it ever did occur (of course, Marshall likely knows deep down it would never happen so he feels safe making such a declaration).

    #45 Why does Bob Barth think miracles happen? “Bob Barth, the spiritual director of the Missouri prayer ministry which supplied some of the experimental prayers, said, ‘A person of faith would say that this study is interesting, but we’ve been praying a long time and we’ve seen prayer work, we know it works, and the research on prayer and spirituality is just getting started.’ Yeah, right: we know from our faith that prayer works, so if evidence fails to show it we’ll just soldier on until finally we get the result we want.” (66)

    But that’s almost the opposite of what Barth said. He said we know from experience, not from what Dawkins calls “faith.”

    More nitpicking. However, I would agree that Bob Barth did say from experience, and not from faith, but this is a trivial point and does nothing to harm Dawkins’ overall case against prayer.

    #46 “The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated Christians today are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know it is absurd.” (157)

    No one coerced the great historian N. T. Wright (also a former colleague of Dawkins) into writing 750 compact, detailed pages arguing for the resurrection. Wright is “educated,” to put it mildly. So evidently Dawkins is wrong: it is still possible for an educated person to affirm miracles, including the resurrection, without turning red, even to survey vast tracts of research and argue with great force that the Resurrection is one of the best-attested events of ancient history.

    It was probably the 18th Century when the educated classes were most embarrassed by miracles. Since then, literacy has grown by leaps and bounds around the globe. Over the same period, devout belief in Christianity and Islam, two miracle-proclaiming religions, has grown dramatically, as has study of Buddhist sutras and the Upanishads. If Dawkins took a ten-minute walk with me on a Sunday morning, I could show him a thousand mostly well-educated Oxford residents praising God, sometimes in tongues, who are convinced that God still does miracles. (I’ve heard many accounts within a short walk of Dawkins’ office.)

    This quote was lifted out of a section of Dawkins’ text where he was trying to be lighthearted and humorous. This is simply Dawkins’ opinion and there’s obviously no way to prove or disprove such a notion. There very well could be educated theists who feel slightly embarrassed about admitting some of their beliefs and there are those who aren’t. Another case of Marshall nitpicking the text to pieces. Again, this does nothing to Dawkins’ main arguments.

    #47 Were Aquinus’ arguments “vacuous?” “The five ‘proofs’ asserted by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century don’t prove anything, and are easily — though I hesitate to say so, given his eminence — exposed as vacuous.” (77)

    Dawkins should have hesitated longer. I don’t find these traditional philosophical arguments as satisfying as some people do (I have heard of professional philosophers who converted through one or another of them). But I doubt many philosophers will agree that they are so easily exposed as “vacuous,” as that Dawkins manages the trick.

    More nitpicking. The fact is that Aquinas’ arguments are, in a word: empty. [14]

    #48 “The Unmoved Mover. Nothing moves without a prior mover. This leads us to regress, from which the only escape is God. Something had to make the first move, and that something we call God.” (77)

    Dawkins has skipped an important step, and thus misrepresented Aquinas’ argument. From Wikipedia:

    • Some things are moved. (“In the world some things are in motion.”)
    • Everything that is moved is moved by a mover.
    • An infinite regress of movers is impossible.
    • Therefore, there is an unmoved mover from whom all motion proceeds.
    • This mover is what we call God.

    There is a huge difference between “some things” being moved, and “everything” being moved.“Some things” need not include “God.”

    Instead of Wikipedia I’ve consulted a few of my philosophy books on Aquinus’ arguments. One of the books quotes Aquinus as saying that, “in the world some things are in motion,” just as Marshall’s Wikipedia source. However, according to theologian Peter Kreeft Aquinas’ argument is stated as follows: “Since no thing (or series of things) can move (change) itself, there must be a first, Unmoved Mover, source of all motion.” (emphasis mine) [15]

    #49 “The Uncaused Cause. Nothing is caused by itself. Every effect has a prior cause, and again we are pushed back into regress. This has to be terminated by a first cause, which we call God.” (77)

    Again, Dawkins grossly misstates Aquinas’ actual argument:

    Some things are caused.
    • Everything that is caused (“in the world of sensible things”) is caused by something else.
    • An infinite regress of causation is impossible.
    • Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause of all caused things.
    • This causer is what we call God.

    Once again, no. It seems the argument can be stated in different ways and therefore Marshall is essentially wrong in his criticism.

    Marshall includes next some feedback from someone on Amazon.com

    Feedback: Dr. Richard Field, professor of philosophy at Northwest Missouri State University, was kind enough to respond to my dispute with Dawkins on Aquinas:

    “I don’t take the discrepancies of the statements of the five ways as so serious. The arguments have been restated in many different ways. Unless you can suggest how the discrepancy introduces inaccuracies, I don’t see a problem. After all, Aquinas himself took considerable liberties in restating Avicenna’s argument in the form of his third way, especially in abbreviating the argument considerably. But the gist of the argument comes through in Aquinas’s version. One might also consider Aquinas’s first way, which derives directly from Aristotle’s book Lambda of the metaphysics. Aquinas lays out in a paragraph what Aristotle offered in many pages (at least in modern translation).”

    Response: There is a vital difference between “nothing is caused by itself” and “some things are caused . . . everything in the world of sensible things is caused by something else.” The first statement implies that God or other uncaused entities cannot be caused by themselves; the second does not. The second is more reasonable, because we simply don’t know how cause and effect might work outside our cosmos and the realm of things that begin.

    Once again Aquinas’ argument can be stated in different ways. Yes, there is a difference between “nothing” and “some things” being caused, but he hasn’t successfully demonstrated why his interpretation is the more accurate one.

    #50 Can God do everything? “If God is omniscient, he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can’t change his mind about his interventions, which means he is not omnipotent.” (78)

    This is much like the old canard, “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?” The answer lies in defining “omniscience” and “omnipotence” in a reasonable way. It does not mean doing acts that are self-contradictory, which are really no acts at all. Dawkins is employing a meaningless rhetorical trick, he is not making any real objection to the idea of God at all.

    This leaves aside the question of whether God might not be self-limiting in more profound ways.

    I’ve never looked favorably on purely logical proofs or disproves for god’s existence since they’re all based upon mere speculation anyway, but it does seem that Dawkins has a point. If god can truly do anything given the most common definition of omnipotence, thereby limiting god’s ability to perform actions that are illogical, then Dawkins’ argument seems decent as far as philosophical argumentation goes. Pehaps Marshall isn’t aware that “[m]ost classical theists […] understood omnipotence as involving vast powers, while nevertheless being subject to a range of limitations of ability, including the inability to do what is logically impossible, the inability to change the past or to do things incompatible with what has happened, and the inability to do things that cannot be done by a being who has other divine attributes.” [16]

    I’ve reached claim number 50 – a quarter of the way done – in this essay and thus far Marshall has only found a total of three genuine errors, all of which happened to be minor points and didn’t really harm Dawkins’ overall case at all. Thus far, I haven’t really seen much of anything that targeted Dawkins’ main points in the The God Delusion. Mostly it was Marshall nitpicking at minor points, most of which he was wrong about anyway.

    #51 Have the old arguments for God been mothballed? “The argument from design is the only one still in regular use today . . . ” (79)

    It is remarkable that an educated man would place so palpably false a claim at the center of what purports to be a persuasive book. A quick survey of apologetic literature shows Aquinas’ other arguments still in use. (See for example the debates on the Kalaam Cosmological Argument on the web site of William Lane Craig, with philosophers like Quentin Smith, Massimo Pigliucci, and Corey Washington. Richard Swinburne offers a softer, inductive, Cosmological argument.) Recent discoveries in astronomy have made this a particularly interesting time to discuss the subject. (See the works of physicist John Polkinghorne, astronomer Stephen Barr, etc.)

    Hmmm…perhaps I spoke too soon. I’d agree with Marshall here. OK, so there have been four genuine errors out of 50. Thus far that’s still not a very good record, especially after his boasting on Amazon.com about how many “errors” he’d pointed out in Dawkins’ book. I’ll continue to update the total of actual errors he points out as I go along.

    #52 Did Pascal think the odds against God are long? “The great French mathematician Blaise Pascal reckoned that, however long the odds against God’s existence might be . . . Pascal wasn’t claiming that his wager enjoyed anything but very long odds.” (103)

    I have found no such concession in Pascal. In fact, read Pensees as a whole, and it appears he thought the evidence for Christianity was good. He gives quite a bit of it himself.

    Pascal did speak cautiously about one class of arguments for God, arguments “from the works of nature.” Even here he admits that those with “living faith in their hearts” can “see at once that everything which exists is entirely the work of the God they worship.” However, in others “this light has gone out,” and they see “only obscurity and darkness.” In such cases the best course is not to argue from Nature: “This is to give them cause to think that the proofs of our religion are indeed feeble.”

    In other words, Pascal’s objection to this particular kind of argument is purely or at least mainly psychological. It is not that those without faith perceive the true nature of things better, but that they don’t – that’s what happens when “light goes out.” Pascal says, however, that the Bible portrays God as in some sense “hidden.” Furthermore, Pascal is assuming there are BETTER grounds for faith, to which believers should point their friends.

    Pascal himself brings up many forms of evidence for Christian faith: historical arguments for the resurrection of Jesus, the incredible history of the Jews, prophecies that have come true, and miracles. (“Numerous cures have been found to be genuine, even to the greatest men.”)

    One of Pascal’s most interesting arguments is the subtlety with which the Gospel describes (and then improves) human nature:

    “For a religion to be true it must have known our nature; it must have known its greatness and smallness, and the reason for both. What other religion but Christianity has known this? . . .Christianity is strange; it bids man to recognize that he is vile, and even abominable, and bids him want to be like God . . . Though I was born in it, I can’t help finding it astonishing.” “No one is so happy as a true Christian, or so reasonable, virtuous, and loveable.”

    It is not my purpose to evaluate these gnomic remarks, which Pascal maybe planned to flesh out in his complete book. What is clear is that Dawkins is badly mistaken in supposing that Pascal conceded the odds against the truth of Christianity were long.

    I’d have to agree with Marshall here, though I still see this as more nitpicking. Now we’re up to error number five.

    #53 Pascal’s Wager. “Pascal’s wager could only ever be an argument for feigning belief in God. And the God that you claim to believe in had better not be the omniscient kind or he’d see through the deception . . . Mightn’t God respect Russell for his courageous skepticism . . . far more than he would respect Pascal for his cowardly bet-hedging?”

    Dawkins misunderstands Pascal’s argument through overlooking its psychological basis. Faith follows action, Pascal points out. (As Jesus said, only those who seek to do the will of the Father will recognize my teaching.) If you suffer from the psychological disorder of doubt, act as if you know He is real. When you step out “in faith,” (the very opposite of blind faith) that faith will grow:

    “For we must make no mistake about ourselves: we are as much automaton as mind. As a result, demonstration is not the only instrument for convincing us. How few things can be demonstrated! Proofs only convince the mind; habit provides the strongest proofs and those that are most believed . . . We must resort to habit once we have seen where the truth lies, in order to steep and stain ourselves in that belief . . . for it is too much trouble to have the proofs always present before us.” (821)

    Marshall also included some feedback.

    Feedback: Dr. Field commented — As for #53, I might point out the great American psychologist and philosopher William James made the same point in “The Will to Believe.” Any argument for faith using practical reason can only work if the religious hypothesis is a “living hypothesis,” to use James’s term. This same idea comes out in his Varieties of Religious Experience, in his study of conversion. My personal experience suggests to me James is right about that–I’ve never felt the religious hypothesis to be “living” in his sense. So although Dawkins perhaps should have characterized more fully Pascal’s position and then responded (a fault of omission), I think he has a fair point.

    Respectfully, I think Pascal’s Wager doesn’t work because of its internal logic. But what you speak of are certain comments on the argument, that are not part of the argument at all. James’s point is that the argument by itself cannot create genuine religious belief unless certain psychological preconditions are met . . .

    Response: Thanks for your insights. I agree that Pascal’s argument may not be effective for everyone, but I suspect he knew that. I think Pascal has in view a reader who is considering faith, and has good reasons for faith, but finds himself in psychological confusion.

    To “gamble on Christ,” in Pascal’s view, is more than to just say, “I believe.” And human beings are more than purely intellectual creatures. Sometimes we lack belief because we have not tried God. Life then becomes an exciting experiment — “put God to the test,” the Bible tells us. Pascal is telling a person in doubt to take a chance on God – not merely “feign belief.”

    I do not have enough intimate knowledge of James or Pascal to determine who is correct so I will forgo tackling this argument.

    #54 “Pascal was probably joking when he promoted his wager.” (105)

    As C. S. Lewis said in another context, “After a man has said that, why attend to anything he says about any book in the world?” Pascal was nothing if not earnest, a fact that shouts from every eloquent page of his book.

    Another non-argument and more nitpicking.

    #55 Does God need to be complex? “As ever, the theist’s answer is deeply unsatisfying, because it leaves the existence of God unexplained. A God capable of calculating the Goldilocks values for the six numbers would have to be at least as improbable as the finely tuned combination of numbers itself.” (143)

    Why is that? The theory of evolution is nothing if not an argument that complexity can spring from simplicity. Dawkins now appears to be arguing the opposite: that complexity requires greater complexity for its origin.

    Richard Swinburne rebuts Dawkins’ argument on his Oriel College web site. Whether you accept Swinburne’s argument or not, the assumption that God “would have to be” more complex (in his parts?) than the effects he produces, is dubious.

    No explanation is complete. It would be absurd to say, “You’ve explained the improbable series of prime numbers in radio waves broadcast from that star system by positing alien intelligence. But the alien you posit is more complex than the numbers, so your explanation violates Occam’s Law.” There is no rule that when you propose an explanation, it has to explain everything; if there were, the mouths of all scientists, historians, and detectives would remain closed forever.

    It seems clear that Marshall has misread Dawkins. Dawkins is simply pointing out that theists are trading one complex problem for another. Some argue that the “fine-tuning” cannot be explained (though a new book by Victor Stenger looks to do just that) by science, and Dawkins is arguing that theists can’t explain god’s complexity and so both sides sort of end up in a stalemate. I agree no explanation is complete but Marshall misses the point. At least scientists can in most cases explain in good detail their explanations for things. Theists can’t do this with god and it seems to me that’s the point Dawkins was making.

    Furthermore, Dawkins’ argument is that nothing complex simply pops into existence. It must come from simpler things, as did all things that evolved, and he applies this evolutionary view to god.

    #56 Bertand Russell was “an exaggerately fair-minded atheist.” (82)

    Here are a few “exaggerately fair-minded” quotes from Russell’s signature defense of atheism, Why I am Not a Christian:

    “Almost every adult in a Christian community is more or less diseased nervously as a result of the taboo on sex knowledge when he or she was young.” (29)

    “My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race. I cannot, however, deny that it has made some contributions to civilizations. It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses . . . These two services I am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others.” (24)

    (Note: for any reader whose knowledge of the contributions of religion is similarly limited, see pages 135-188 of The Truth Behind the New Atheism. I also recommend a good course in Chinese art history.)

    “I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.” (21)

    (This was in 1927, a year before Joseph Stalin came to power, but ten years and millions of lives into the Bolshevik revolution.)

    The exaggeration I grant; the fair-mindedness is doubtful.

    More nitpicking…this is nothing more than one man’s opinion versus another’s. How Marshall can call this an error is beyond me. Besides that, I handily refute the three chapters referenced in his book.

    #57 “George Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq.” (88) This appears to be based on a much-disputed report about a meeting between Bush and Palestinian officials in 2003. During a meeting at a resort in Egypt, former Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath, says that President Bush told a Palestinian delegation: “God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did, and then God would tell me, George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq… and I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East. And by God I’m gonna do it.”

    Shaath himself describes the comment as simply, “a figure of speech. We felt he was saying that he had a mission, a commitment, his faith in God would inspire him … rather than a metaphysical whisper in his ear.”

    White House staff, on the other hand, find no reference to God in notes from the meeting. Dawkins uses the present simple tense, which implies continuing or repeated action — Bush says this on a regular basis. He may or may not have said it once – and then it may or may not have been meant literally – but it is at least an exaggeration to claim he “says” it.

    Update – 9-29-12: While there have been conflicting reports, a book was recently published titled 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, by Kurt Eichenwald (Touchstone, 2012) which relates this story. Eichenwald writes that while George Bush was speaking with the French president Jacques Chirac about a war with Iraq he tried to appeal to his Christian faith by saying to him, “Jacques, you and I share a common faith. You’re Roman Catholic, I’m Methodist, but we are both Christians committed to the teachings of the Bible. We share one common Lord. Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East. Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.” Bush continued, “This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase His people’s enemies before a new age begins.”

    Jacques Chirac “was bewildered,” writes Eichenwald. He did not know what Bush was referring to. Gog and Magog??? After this telephone call the French president asked his aids to contact a biblical expert to find out what Bush was talking about. This expert happened to be Thomas Römer, a theology professor at the University of Lausanne. After being told the story about what Bush said Römer typed up an explanation about Gog and Magog and sent it to the French president. (459-460)

    I checked Eichenwald’s sources. This story originated with an article in the French magazine Allez Savior, which interviewed Professor Römer about the details of this story. After reading a translated version of the French article it made me even more curious. I wanted to be doubly sure these reports were correct so I contacted Römer myself and to my surprise he replied. He confirmed the story. (Personal communication with Professor Römer via email September 29, 2012)

    The facts are these: This story is not disputed. Marshall could have looked into the matter more closely and found that this incident did take place. Finally, it’s unclear if Bush truly believed that god actually spoke to him. It doesn’t appear this is the case. However, Bush was being highly influenced by his religious beliefs and his interpretation of the bible. Dawkins did not relate the story entirely correctly (given the media confusion about this incident this is not surprising) but the overall story is true.

    #58 “Christianity was founded by Paul of Tarsus . . . “ (37)

    Most of the main teachings of Christianity appear before the conversion of Paul. In I Corinthians 15, Paul cites a poem which already encapsulated some of these key beliefs. All 1stCentury Christian documents agree on the essentials of what we recognize today as Christian (as opposed to Jewish) theology, whether or not they are associated with Paul and his close followers. Crediting, or blaming, Paul for inventing Christianity is one of those hoary old hypothesis that never goes away, despite repeated refutation, perhaps because it tickles the ears of conspiracy buffs. Here’s a detailed rebuttal by Rich Deem: www.godandscience.org/apologetics/paul_invented_christianity.html

    More nitpicking, though it does seem that Marshall may be right. To quote N.T. Wright from his article titled Who Founded Christianity: Jesus or Paul?,

    […] If we are to locate both Jesus and Paul within the world of first-century Judaism, within the turbulent theological and political movements and expectations of the time then we must face the fact that neither of them was teaching a timeless system of religion or ethics, or even a message about how human beings are saved. Both of them believed themselves to be actors within the drama staged by Israel’s God in fulfillment of his long purposes. Both, in other words, breathed the air of Jewish escatology.

    It will not do, therefore, to line up `Jesus’ key concepts’ and `Paul’s key concepts’ and play them off against one another. It will not do to point out that Jesus talked about repentance and the coming kingdom, while Paul talked about justification by faith. It misses the point even to show (though this can be done quite easily) that these two, when set in context and translated into terms of one another, belong extremely closely together. The point is that Jesus believed himself to be called to a particular role in the eschatological drama; and so did Paul. […]

    When all this is said and done, it should be comparatively easy to work through the actions and message of Jesus, and the agenda and letters of Paul, and to show that there is between them, not a one-for-one correspondence, but an integration that allows for the radically different perspective of each. Jesus was bringing Israel’s history to its climax; Paul was living in the light of that climax. Jesus was narrowly focused on the sharp-edged, single task; Paul was celebrating the success of that task, and discovering its fruits in a thousand different ways and settings. Jesus believed he had to go the incredibly risky route of acting and speaking in such a way as to imply that he was embodying the judging and saving action of YHWH himself; Paul wrote of Jesus in such a way as to claim that Jesus was indeed the embodiment of the one God of Jewish monotheism.

    Despite the popular impression, there are in fact a good many echoes of the actual sayings of Jesus in the letters of Paul, though here again Paul has not been a slavish repeater of tradition so much as faithful rethinker of the rich material he has heard, using it in fresh ways for his own very different context. What matters, far above any attempts to place Jesus and Paul one on each side of a theological see-saw and make them balance out, is to grasp the truth that grasped them both: that in their day, and through their agency-the one as focus, the other as pointer-the one living and true God had acted climactically and decisively to liberate Israel and the world, the kingdom through which the world would be brought out of the long winter of sin and death and would taste at last the fruits of the Age to Come.

    Not that a common error such as this does anything to Dawkins’ overall argument in his book but Marshall has actually managed to find six errors so far.

    #59 “The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal.” (92)

    Some claim the historical evidence for Jesus in general is minimal. I argue to the contrary in Why the Jesus Seminar can’t find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could.

    But given a willingness to admit human testimony as evidence, the New Testament offers a lot of evidence about the life and teachings of Jesus — 27 documents from about nine different 1st Century authors. All of this first-century evidence is that Jesus did indeed claim divine status of some sort. The remarkable thing about this evidence is that it not only permeates every book of the New Testament, but every layer of every Gospel, and seeps to the surface in unconscious assumptions as well as overt proclamations, in actions and reactions as well as words. Squeezing the deity of Christ out of the earliest and best evidence for the life of Jesus would be like trying to squeeze the water out of a Greenland glacier.

    Since Marshall would like to tout his “human testimony” argument I’ll just say that relying on documents that have obviously been changed is not a very rational position to take. I cover Marshall’s “human testimony” argument in more detail in my review of his book.

    #60 Might Jesus have been “honestly mistaken” about being God? Dawkins responds to C. S. Lewis’ famous “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord” argument, often called a “trillemma.” Dawkins frames the argument as follows: “Since Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, he must have been either right or else insane or a liar.” Dawkins responds:

    “A fourth possibility, almost too obvious to need mentioning, is that Jesus was honestly mistaken. Plenty of people are.” (92)

    Are plenty of people really “honestly mistaken” about being God? The point of Lewis’ argument is that while people make a lot of mistakes, sane and honest people do not usually mistake themselves for divinity. Did Dawkins read the argument, before he criticized it? If he had, he would know that far from ignoring the possibility that Jesus was “honestly mistaken,” Lewis explained with a great deal of wit and clarity why that was highly unlikely:

    ‘I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.”

    There is a fourth plausible hypothesis — that the Gospels are legend, or that these “divine” words were put into Jesus’ mouth long after the fact. Lewis originally mentioned this possibility in his draft for the broadcast talks that became Mere Christianity, but that was cut for lack of time. (C.S. Lewis at the BBC.)

    Based upon the various myths and contradictory reports about Jesus the final possibility Marshall mentions may be highly likely. But again, this is another unimportant argument and it’s debatable whether or not Jesus ever even explicitly says he is in fact god in the bible. Two passages that seems to count against the claim that Jesus believed he was god are John 17:3, which talks about god and Jesus as two different people, and John 10:36 where Jesus explains how he is god’s son.

    #61 Have theologians disproven the Gospels? “Ever since the 19th Century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world.” (93)

    Dawkins told us that theology “has not moved on” in two millennia; now he hitches a ride on its caboose.

    When someone generalizes about “what scholars have discovered,” check footnotes, and see whom he’s talking about. Dawkins’ sources on the Gospels turn out to be the radical scholars Bart Ehrman, Elaine Pagels, and Geza Vermes. Pagels’ work on early Christianity was the main target of my 2007 book, The Truth About Jesus and the ‘Lost Gospels,’ with Ehrman a secondary target. I argue that the major claims this school of scholarship makes about Christian Gospels, and Gnostic writings, are just plain wrong – and on some crucial points, it’s not even clear they believe them themselves.

    N. T. Wright, one of the world’s most eminent New Testament scholars, has now written some 2000 systematic and detailed pages of critical study on the Gospels. Far from finding the case against the historicity of the Gospels “overwhelming,” he uncovers a great deal of evidence for the general truthfulness of those books – as do other eminent scholars like Richard Hays, Luke Johnson, C Stephen Evans, Ben Witherington, and Craig Blomberg. Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels offers an excellent concise case for the Gospels.

    One of the things that shocked me when I was doing research for an earlier book responding to the Jesus Seminar, was to find that some scholars who support Dawkins’ position – including Pagels – often seem to have simply failed to read opposing arguments. Reading a few works of pop scholarship that support your view does not qualify anyone to claim an “overwhelming case”

    I find it funny, and a little sad, that Marshall so often tries to dismiss anyone who doesn’t share his views by calling them “fanatics,” (as he does on Amazon.com) or “radical” (as he does here). The fact is that these people are serious scholars and they are taking a non-biased look at the evidence, unlike the scholars Marshall cites who are known to be biased towards defending their beliefs, some more than others, like Blomberg.

    As it so happens, the New Testament scholar Robert M. Price refutes Blomberg in his book The Case Against the Case for Christ about the reliability of the gospels and whether or not they are accurate accounts of what actually happened. Since Marshall fails to make an actual argument that the gospels are accurate portraits of reality, I’ll just refer any readers to Price’s book to save on time.

    #62 “All (the Gospels) were written long after the death of Jesus . . . “

    Most scholars agree that the first Gospel, probably Mark, was written between about 55 and 75 AD, when its author may have been in his late 40s or early 50s. In the context of ancient history, that is hardly “long after.”

    This is nothing more than Marshall’s opinion and is no “error”. I’ve never understood apologists who argue that such long periods of time cannot affect the reliability of the gospel accounts, which is the larger point here. The fact is that it’s been shown that in a matter of days or weeks myths and variations of an original story can begin to spread. [17]

    13. Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2008; 201, 202

    14. Arizona Atheist: William Lane Craig’s Arguments for God Refuted.

    15. A Shorter Summa: The Essential Philosophical Passages of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica Edited and Explained, by Peter Kreeft, Ignatius Press, 1993; 56

    16. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2ed Edition, Edited by Robert Audi; Cambridge University Press, 2005; 240

    17. Jesus is Dead, by Robert M. Price, American Atheist Press, 2007; 36-37

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist