• The Truth Behind the New Atheism: The Definitive Refutation, Part 1


    The following is a refutation of the book by Christian apologist David Marshall titled The Truth Behind the New Atheism:? ?Responding to the Emerging Challenges to God and Christianity,? published by ?Harvest House Publishers,? ?2007?.

    This review that you are now reading has had a long history. [1] This is the fifth (and final) edition I will write. Why so many editions? Well, I am a perfectionist and I did not feel the earlier editions were up to par with some of my more recent reviews. I felt that the writing could be improved upon, the layout needed to be cleaned up, some of the counter-arguments I felt could be improved and better written, and the review could be condensed in some places. What inspired these changes were some helpful suggestions by a Dr. Hiawatha (also known as “Dr. H”) who I met through the Customer Discussion forums of Amazon.com. He is also a critic of David Marshall, though, one that actually seems to have earned Marshall’s respect for one reason or another. After reading the previous edition of the review “Dr. H” emailed me and gave me several helpful suggestions/criticisms that I will take note of while writing this final edition of the review. Thank you “Dr. H” for your helpful input.

    As a supplement to this refutation I’d recommend you read my rebuttal to an essay by David Marshall he titled The God Delusion: 160 Errors, Gross Exaggerations, and Highly Dubious Claims. This essay of Marshall’s and my refutation cover much of the same ground as his book on the New Atheism but there are some arguments that were not used in the book if the reader has any interest. [2]

    July 19, 2011


    Chapter 1: Have Christians Lost Their Minds?

    This first chapter delves into the accusation, often brought up by the New Atheists, that Richard Dawkins calls “blind faith.” Marshall opens his chapter with the following,

    If the modern world is confused about anything, it is the idea that Christianity demands “blind faith.”

    That Christians have a soft spot (their heads) for faith unsupported by reason is a core tenet of the New Atheism. One of Daniel Dennett’s chapters is called “Belief in Belief.” “People of all faiths,” he explains, consider it “demeaning” to ask God tough questions. “The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.” Christianity in particular, he asserts, is addicted to blind faith. He says this, ironically, without offering any evidence it is true – quoting no Christian philosopher, scientist, or theologian who thinks so.

    In Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris calls faith “nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail.” The title of Harris’s previous book, The End of Faith, set the point clearly in the wood. The first two chapters, “Reason in Exile” and “The Nature of Belief,” pounded it home. Harris wrote, “It should go without saying that these rival belief systems are all equally uncontaminated by evidence.” One blinks at this. Why should the claim that there is no evidence for religion “go without saying”- in other words, be accepted with no evidence? Harris continues:

    Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.

    If opinions need to be supported by evidence, let’s begin with this one. How does Harris know Christians don’t support their beliefs with evidence? Dennett cites Pascal, Dawkins cites Harris, and everyone takes this alleged Christian doctrine for granted, but no one cites any Christians!


    But what if this claim itself is held “not only in the absence of evidence, but in the teeth of evidence”? What if the real “blind faith meme” is the unsupported and false theory that Christians believe for irresponsible reasons? (15-16)

    It’s obvious Marshall very much disagrees with this claim but does he himself have any evidence to counter this claim about “blind faith?” Let’s take a look and see…

    Marshall begins by discussing what the bible says about faith. He chooses the story of Doubting Thomas, a story that is often cited to prove that Christianity demands blind faith. However, Marshall chooses to read this passage differently. He argues,


    The story of doubting Thomas is often cited to prove Christianity demands blind faith. When the other disciples reported they had met the risen Jesus, Thomas (true to character as developed in the Gospel of John) found the story hard to swallow. “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails… and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,” Thomas famously retorted. When he met Jesus he was told, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” By contrast, Jesus blessed those who do not see, and yet believe (John 20:25,27-29). Dawkins cited the same text in The Selfish Gene: “Thomas demanded evidence.. .The other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are held up to us as worthy of imitation.”

    There are several problems with taking this passage as a general repudiation of critical thought. First, Jesus did give Thomas – and the other disciples – enough firsthand evidence of his resurrection that they were willing to die for him (Thomas, reportedly in India.) Second, Jesus often did miracles, calling them “signs,” which (even skeptical historians often admit) show strong evidence of historicity. In the very next sentence (usually omitted by those making the case for blind faith), John explains that the signs Jesus did were recorded “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31). (17-18)

    This is Marshall’s proof that the bible doesn’t demand blind faith? Miracles?! I am shocked Marshall has chosen this story as his proof that Christians demand evidence. There are two ways one can look at this argument. The first is you can take this story at face value and read what the bible says. Jesus first appeared to his disciples and they all believed without a hint of doubt. However, Thomas, who was not there during this event, remained skeptical. A week later Jesus appeared again and this time Thomas was present but he did not take a true skeptical view of the situation. He did not first eliminate other possibilities, such as a potential hoax, but believed after seeing Jesus, the same as the other disciples. A single individual having a little doubt is not a good argument against the claim that Christians do not rely on evidence. They don’t as this story illustrates.

    The second way is a true skeptical reading of the passage. There are numerous examples throughout history of people believing that dead men have risen from the grave and none of these reports have ever been confirmed. One must be highly critical of stories that defy our understanding of the laws of nature and our scientific understanding of the body. Because of this, the story should be discarded as irrelevant.

    The very fact that people were willing to die for something they believed in is in no way proof of it’s truth. People have often died throughout history for things they believed were true but turned out to be false. One obvious example of this occurring is the story of Marshall Applewhite who led his followers in a mass suicide in 1997 because they believed a space craft was trailing the Hale-Bopp comet and the only way to save themselves from an impending disaster was to kill themselves in order for their souls to board the ship. [1]

    Marshall continues,

    Is it rational to believe things on the basis of human testimony? It’d be a pity if it weren’t, because, as Samuel Johnson put it, most of our knowledge is based on “implied faith” in other people. Almost everything we know – not just about first-century Palestine, but about dwarf stars, neutrinos, state capitals, vitamins, and sports scores – we believe because we find the person telling us the information is credible. If trusting human testimony were irrational, we wouldn’t be able to know much. (18)

    Given the fact that Marshall is discussing the bible, it’s clear he is arguing that the bible is an example of “human testimony,” but is this a rational claim? No, because there is a mountain of evidence confirming the facts that the gospels are not reliable accounts, and no one knows who actually wrote the gospels. Relying on accounts that are made by anonymous persons that cannot be confirmed are not reliable methods of getting at the truth. In addition, the very fact that there are such miraculous stories told throughout the bible, such as the above story about Doubting Thomas, the nearly countless contradictions, and the addition of many unhistorical events throughout the biblical narrative, these facts alone should give anyone pause before they argue that we can trust what the bible tells us. [2]

    Neutrinos, state capitals, sports scores, etc. are all things that can be confirmed by numerous, independent sources. An individual curious about each of these subjects can investigate the claims made by vitamin companies, an individual can look up many different scientific peer-reviewed papers about stars and neutrinos. An individual can visit a state capital or even view pictures and find information about it from multiple sources.

    Each of these investigations will turn up something that someone looking into the bible will not find: corroborating evidence from multiple sources attesting to the truth of a particular claim. This is particularly true with the more incredible claims of the bible, such as the resurrection, the disciples’ alleged run-in with Jesus, and even several alleged historical accounts recounted in the bible, such as the Exodus, among others.

    Marshall continues with his discussion about how the bible refutes this “blind faith meme.”


    The other popular proof text used to support the contention of blind faith is Hebrews 11. In that chapter, the author describes faith as the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (verse 1 NKJV). He adds that through faith we know that the universe was created “by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (verse 3).

    To read this as an intellectual copout is a grave error. What does the author mean when he says faith “is” evidence? There’s nothing mystical about this. It’s clear and sensible. Evidence is a reason to believe something. Hearing about it from a credible source is the most common such reason. By faith we know not only that the physical world is made of “things unseen”-physicists now take a different path to the same conclusion-we know pretty much everything we do know. We’ll talk more later about the role of human testimony in knowledge.

    So even passages cited to defend the “blind faith meme” can easily be read to mean the opposite: that Christian belief demands evidence, though it is a broader and more social evidence than the scientific method in the strict sense allows. (18)

    I’m confused by Marshall’s interpretation of Hebrews 11. This passage says nothing of the kind. It does not in anyway say that ‘faith is evidence.’ While looking at my New International Version and New English Bible they interpret the text as follows:

    Hebrews 11:1-3: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (NIV)

    “And what is faith? Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of realities we do not see. It is for their faith that the men of old stand on record. By faith, we perceive that the universe was fashioned by the word of God, so that the visible came forth from the invisible. (NEB)

    While reading these passages is there any mention of anything that can be counted as evidence? No. They clearly are saying how faith gives them hope in what they believe to be certain. If one has evidence for something there is no need for hope. Hope is only needed if one has no evidence and is uncertain, which is why these “men of old” were so commended as they were. They had faith in their beliefs so much, even though they had no evidence for them, that their example should be a model for future believers. That’s what this passage is saying.

    Marshall continues with more examples from the bible. He writes,


    The Bible also frequently appeals to reason, empirical facts, and experiment (“Taste and see that the Lord is good!” “Come let us reason together!”). Take a slow walk through the book of Proverbs. “Simpleminded” ones and “fools” who “hate knowledge” are rebuked (1:22). The Lord “gives wisdom,” and “from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (2:6). He used wisdom to create the heavens and the earth, and knowledge to form the oceans, the atmosphere, and its canopy of water vapor (3:19-20). Wisdom enters the heart of the good son, and knowledge is “pleasant to your soul” (2:10). (18-19)

    These passages talk of wisdom and knowledge but Marshall is once again interpreting them incorrectly. The “knowledge” Proverbs 1:22 mentions is simply talking about Christian doctrine and the speaker is chastising those who refuse to accept the truth of his beliefs. The same goes for Proverbs 2:6, which is again referring to Christian doctrine and following god. None of these passages refer to any form of evidence for, or investigation into, these beliefs.

    One verse Marshall cites seems at first glance to confirm his interpretation of faith. The passage is Isaiah 1:18: “Come let us reason together!” It almost sounds as if Marshall has finally found a passage that confirms his belief about Christianity and faith, but has he really? No. If you actually read Isaiah (which can be a bit difficult since Marshall neglects to tell his readers which verse this passage is from) it clearly shows how the people have rebelled against god and he is trying to convince them to obey him. The New English Bible sheds some light on the meaning of the passage when they interpret Isaiah 1:18 as “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord.” This has nothing to do with looking at evidence for some proposition, but god trying to convince his people to obey him.

    After looking at Marshall’s examination of the bible, it’s clear he hasn’t found a single passage that confirms his belief about faith. He distorts each of them. The fact of the matter is that Christians did not engage in critical inquiry and there is actually a lot of evidence in the bible that confirms this. [3]

    Next, Marshall discusses Richard Dawkins’ discussion of Richard Swinburne in The God Delusion. In this discussion Marshall, instead of offering an argument about why Dawkins is wrong, tries to dishonestly attack Dawkins’ character.


    To defend his claim that the Christian faith doesn’t demand evidence, Dawkins quotes a “typical piece of theological reasoning” from Richard Swinburne, a colleague and one of the world’s leading Christian philosophers. Swinburne explained why, in his view, we aren’t surrounded by such an overwhelming number of miracles that we would have to believe. “There is quite a lot of evidence anyway of God’s existence, and too much might not be good for us.” Dawkins responds indignantly:

    Too much might not be good for us! Read it again. Too much evidence might not be good for us…If it’s a theologian you want, they don’t come much more distinguished. Perhaps you don’t want a theologian.

    It’s hard not to admire the pizzazz of these lines. This is the sort of touche moment that those who enjoy debate live for.

    But in the interest of a good repartee, Dawkins misses Swinburne’s point. Dawkins had just said Christian theologians don’t have any evidence. Here Swinburne says, “There’s quite a lot of it.” Dawkins doesn’t stop to look at Swinburne’s evidence (he’s written tons of books). He doesn’t even pump his brakes in the rush to broadside the man.

    In fact, Dawkins is brutal. When both men appeared on a TV show, Swinburne attempted, Dawkins says, to “justify the Holocaust.” This is an ambivalent phrase. It could mean showing why Hitler was right to kill Jews. It could also mean, (as Swinburne meant), the far different and difficult task of asking why God may have allowed the Holocaust. Dawkins leaves the two potential meanings tangled, then ends with the borrowed quip, “May you rot in hell!”

    On his Web site, Swinburne replies with remarkable generosity. “I am grateful to Richard Dawkins for having looked at some of my writings.” He suggests, however, that Dawkins join the philosophical debate over God and suffering “and not try to win by shouting.”

    As for “too much evidence,” one should earn the right to mock by thinking first. Can there be such a thing as too much evidence? From the point of view of a relationship, there can be. An honest husband may feel dejected if his wife insists on 24-hour streaming webcasts from his hotel room when he’s on business trips. Swinburne meekly admitted he should have cited his explanations, and referred his assailant to them. I hope Dawkins does not mistake courtesy for weakness. (19-20)

    At first glance, it appears that Dawkins was being very rude to Swinburne, but when you look closer it becomes clear that Marshall has severely distorted this entire situation.

    Marshall makes it appear that Dawkins was the one who said “May you rot in hell” to Swinburne on the television show but Dawkins did no such thing. In The God Delusion Dawkins writes of this debate,


    This grotesque piece of reasoning, so damningly typical of the theological mind, reminds me of an occasion when I was on a television panel with Swinburne, and also with our Oxford colleague Professor Peter Atkins. Swinburne at one point attempted to justify the Holocaust on the grounds that it gave the Jews a wonderful opportunity to be courageous and noble. Peter Atkins splendidly growled, ‘May you rot in hell.’ [4]

    It couldn’t be more clear. Peter Atkins said this to Swinburne but that is very hard to discern from Marshall’s book. It seems to me that Marshall was intentionally being dishonest since, as Marshall tells the story, Swinburne tells Dawkins on his website that he should “not try to win by shouting,” when referring to the debate, but it was not Dawkins who lost his temper with Swinburne and shouted the above comment. Maybe Dawkins did do some shouting during that debate, but he did not make that statement as Marshall makes it appear.

    Next, Marshall claims that Dawkins failed to consult the many Christians through the ages who do define faith as Marshall describes, as relying on evidence.


    McGrath is one of the world’s leading experts on the history of Christian thought. If he says, “This is what Christians believe,” he may be wrong. But it would be unwise in the extreme to simply dismiss his opinion without first doing careful research on how Christians actually see faith.

    I’ve done that research, and McGrath is right. Great Christian thinkers across the centuries, and up to the present, no more agree with Dawkins’s absurd definition of faith than do McGrath’s theological friends. Justin Martyr wrote, “Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honor and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions.” Origen pointed out that not everyone can drop everything and go on a research sabbatical: most people can and must believe on the testimony of others (the “implicit faith” Samuel Johnson referred to). But he argued that there was good evidence (in archaeology, history, miracles, and prophecy) that the Christian faith was, in fact, reasonable. Augustine argued that rationality was a prerequisite of belief. Therefore, “heaven forbid that we should believe in such a way as not to accept or seek reasons.” Much of what we know, he added, is based on facts not visible to the senses. “But they are much deceived, who think that we believe in Christ without any proofs concerning Christ.” Thomas Aquinas said Christianity was uncertain not because the evidence is poor, but because of “the weakness of the human intellect.” William Law said that “unreasonable and absurd ways of life.. .are truly an offense to God.” Johannes Kepler added that religion “cannot be but rational,” since God is “supremely rational, and the human being is also rational, being created in the image and likeness of God.” (21)

    After looking up the quotes of the above men it’s clear that Marshall has done the same wrong-headed thing he did with the bible. He took these quotes out of context or they don’t seem to have anything to do with seeking rational reasons for your beliefs, like his quote of William Law, who looks to be saying that certain ways of life are offensive to god. How in the world does this statement have anything to do with investigating to ensure your beliefs are true?

    Marshall fails to provide a direct quote for Origen so how can we truly know what Marshall is saying about about him is accurate? However, I do have a direct quote and it presents a much different view than Marshall claims. Origen said,


    We admit that we teach those men to believe without reasons. [5]

    Similarly, Marshall takes Justin Martyr out of context as well. He neglected to quote the following from the twenty-third chapter of his First Apology:


    And that this may now become evident to you – (firstly ) that whatever we assert in conformity with what has been taught us by Christ, and by the prophets who preceded Him, are alone true, and are older than all the writers who have existed; that we claim to be acknowledged, not because we say the same things as these writers said, but because we say true things: and (secondly) that Jesus Christ is the only proper Son who has been begotten by God, being His Word and first-begotten, and power; and, becoming man according to His will, He taught us these things for the conversion and restoration of the human race: and (thirdly) that before He became a man among men, some, influenced by the demons before mentioned, related beforehand, through the instrumentality of the poets, those circumstances as having really happened, which, having fictitiously devised, they narrated, in the same manner as they have caused to be fabricated the scandalous reports against us of infamous and impious actions, of which there is neither witness nor proof – we shall bring forward the following proof. [6]

    But what “proof” is he referring to? Nothing but the bible. Throughout his Apology the only “proof” he cites is scripture. Justin Martyr’s argument summed up is not one of inquiry and evidence, but one of blind faith that the scriptures are true, and that’s what he used as “evidence,” when he never checked the reliability of such writings to begin with. According to Richard Carrier,


    You can read Justin’s two apologies back to front and never once find any other methodological principle or source of his faith [other than the scriptures]. (emphasis in original) [7]

    Regarding Augustine, Marshall did not take him out of context per se, however, Augustine did believe that in some situations, if there were no rational reasons for a particular belief at that moment, faith must precede rational inquiry, and he did believe that revelation preceded reason.


    Can we then say that Augustine subordinates reason to faith? Yes, in the sense that ultimate authority rests with revelation. [8]

    This is not a view that meshes well with rational inquiry. It is the opposite.

    Along with Marshall’s failure to find any Christians to back up his claim, there are actually many Christians throughout history who have believed that one requires a ‘leap of faith’ to believe in god and other religious claims. Such examples include Søren Kierkegaard, Saint Peter Damian, St. Ignatius Loyola, Manegold of Lautenbach, and Walter of St. Victor. [9]

    Next, Marshall quotes from the well-known skeptic in Michael Shermer who, Marshall claims, has evidence that Christians don’t just believe for no good reason. Marshall writes,


    But all this is irrelevant, some may say. Whatever dead white theologians or ivory tower intellectuals think, “real” Christians believe for no good reason, as everyone knows.

    In 1998, Frank Sulloway and Michael Shermer asked 10,000 Americans, “Why do you believe in God?” and “Why do you think other people believe in God?” The two most popular answers to the first question had to do with “good design,” the “natural beauty,” “perfection,” or “complexity” of the universe, and “experience of God in everyday life.” Together, these two answers constituted just under 50 percent of the responses (and about two-thirds of the answers Shermer enumerated in his book).

    Both answers, Shermer (a leading skeptic) recognized, are essentially rational. By contrast, when asked why other people believed, most people said because faith was comforting, gave meaning to life, or those other people had been raised to believe. So they saw their own beliefs as rational, but assumed (not surprising, considering the spread of the “blind faith meme”) that others believed for irrational reasons. (23-24)

    Marshall takes Shermer out of context, and he didn’t seem to bother to read the rest of the chapter. While Shermer does admit that many of these beliefs are “powerful intellectual justification[s]” for belief in god, Shermer goes on for several pages explaining why humans seem to see themselves as believing for rational reasons, while at the same time projecting emotional reasons for belief upon others. He goes on to explain how evolution seems to have primed humans to perceive design in the world, even when it’s not present. Shermer writes,


    Perceiving the world as well designed and thus the product of a designer, and even seeing divine providence in the daily affairs of life, may be the product of a brain adapted to finding patterns in nature. We are pattern-seeking as well as pattern-finding animals. One of numerous studies that supports this supposition was an experiment conducted by Stuart Vyse and Ruth Heltzer in which subjects participated in a video game. The goal of the game was to navigate the path of a cursor through a matrix grid using directional keys. One group of subjects were awarded points when they successfully found a way through the grid’s lower right portion, while a second group of subjects were awarded points randomly. Both groups were subsequently asked to describe how they thought the points were awarded. Most of the subjects in the first group found the pattern of point scoring and accurately described it. Similarly, most of the subjects in the second group also found “patterns” of point scoring, even though no such patterns existed. […] Intelligent Design creationists are tapping into the intuitive understanding most people hold about life and the universe.

    But there is a deep-seated flaw in this [design] argument that undermines the entire endeavor. If the world is complex and looks intricately designed, and therefore the best inference is that there must be an intelligent designer, should we not then infer that an intelligent designer must have itself been designed? [10]

    At the end of the chapter Shermer sums up as follows:


    If there is a God, the avenue to Him is not through science and reason, but through faith and revelation. If there is a God, He will be so wholly Other that no science can reach Him, especially not the science that calls itself Intelligent Design. (emphasis mine) [11]

    It should be clear that Shermer is not arguing that these beliefs about design are “good reasons” for belief. He is arguing the complete opposite and cites scientific studies to back up his claim, along with giving a plausible evolutionary explanation for this pattern-seeking behavior that is so prevalent in humans, and why it’s not good evidence for belief in a god.

    Marshall continues with his discussion about faith with the following arguments,

    In the Christian sense, faith means courageous trust in an object one has good reason to see as credible. As Pascal said, we must choose. But choice is risky and requires courage. And faith must not be lightly given, for “reason is a thing of God,” as Tertullian put it.

    Faith involves a continuum of four kinds of trust. First, we trust our own minds. There’s no way to prove our minds work-this is often forgotten by people who uncritically praise the scientific method. Even to do math or logic, which are more basic than science, we have to take our brains more or less for granted. How could we prove them? Any proof for mind would depend on what it assumes: the validity of that endless electrical storm in the skull.


    The second level of faith is trust in our senses. How do you know you’re reading a book? Why do you think it’s hot or cold, that starlings are looking for seeds on the ground, or the washing machine is running? Again, there’s no way to prove your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin are giving you the real scoop about the outside world. At an extreme, you could be stuck in some “virtual reality” world with false impulses feeding untrue data to your brain through wires. Matter may be less real than it looks-ephemeral, like a cloud-but most of us find it reasonable to assume the cloud is really there.

    Third, to learn anything, we accept “testimonial evidence” from parents, teachers, books, street signs, Wikipedia, and “familiar” voices transmitted as electronic pulses over miles of wire and electromagnetic signals, then decoded into waves in the air. Almost everything we know comes from other people in one way or another.

    This is as true in science as anywhere. That’s why terms such as peer review, footnotes, mentors, and review of the literature are not words of reproach, except when neglected. (27-28)

    I would agree that we must trust our own minds, but even here faith doesn’t play as strong a role as Marshall believes. Marshall also neglects to see the other side of the coin. If we cannot trust our own senses to give us an accurate picture of the world then how in the world can a theist use his “fallible” mind and senses to see design in the world? I could just as easily accuse Marshall of the same error. In addition, through our every day experiences we can see how our senses give us reliable information about our every day world on a constant basis (assuming you’re not taking any substance that might alter your perceptions, etc.) and our senses are surely accurate enough to allow us to successfully navigate the world. This should make it obvious that they must be at least mostly right or else people might end up believing a piece of wood feels like wool or falling off cliffs on a constant basis, or any number of examples that would be proof of the unreliability of our senses. The fact that wood feels like wood and wool like wool, and people do not very often fall off cliffs, experience shows us that our senses can be trusted.

    On the other hand, it is true that our senses aren’t perfect, but we have the scientific method to help double check what we are experiencing is accurate. Science has shown us that we cannot always trust our senses with such examples as our mistaken belief that the earth is rotated by the sun and ghost sightings. However, through the scientific method we are able to check the accuracy of what we are experiencing with it’s methodology that has proven to be reliable. And as it just so happens, this is exactly Marshall’s and others theists’ issue. They tout design as a reason for belief when the evidence tells us it’s all in their heads. Science has corrected their faulty belief in seeing design in the world. Now, if only they would pay attention to these scientific findings.

    But regardless of all this philosophical nonsense, the fact is that our minds are all that we have in determining the truth of things. Having said that, the scientific method is one of the most useful forms of gathering evidence and determining, as close to reality as possible, an accurate picture of the world and how that world functions.

    This “testimonial evidence” that Marshall speaks of is deftly addressed by Victor J. Stenger. He writes,


    Yes, [this is true of science] but we don’t just take anyone’s word for it. We test against independent observations. If I went up to a colleague and told him I solved some major physics problem, do you think he would simply accept that without insisting I prove it to him?

    Of course we don’t have time to independently test everything we hear, so we take the word of credible people. But that’s because these people have already demonstrated their credibility by proving to be reliable in the past. That’s why scientists and scholars of all kinds work so hard to maintain a good reputation. No one pays any attention anymore to Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, the chemists who announced to the world in 1989 that they had discovered cold fusion.

    It also depends on what is the message. If an airline pilot flying over Yellowstone National Park reports seeing a forest fire, we have no reason to doubt her. But if she reports seeing a flying saucer whose pilot waved a green tentacle at her, I would demand more evidence.

    Besides, much testimonial evidence is highly unreliable, as demonstrated by the hundreds of death row inmates who were convicted by eye-witness testimony and later exonerated by DNA evidence in recent decades. Physical evidence is what matters the most. [12]


    In the final section of the chapter Marshall writes,


    So faith isn’t an intellectual aberration or disgrace. It is the normal functioning of a healthy mind, probing its environment in concentric circles, taking the wild world to its lips, learning to love and fear in reasonable balance, open to truth but wary of error. (32)


    To a small degree I’d agree with Marshall here. The issue, however, is how much trust do you place in someone or something? Is it reasonable or not? Of course, the fact of the matter is, in most situations there is a certain amount of evidence one can examine to determine how trustworthy something is. Science and it’s findings have a lot of evidence to back up its claims. Religion and the bible not so much as I’ve addressed already.

    I’ve looked at each of Marshall’s arguments for why he believes Christians do not rely on “blind faith” and I’ve shown how each of his arguments are flawed. Now that I’ve deconstructed his positive case it is time to make my own positive case for why Christians do have “blind faith.”

    Earlier Marshall asked the following question,


    Why should the claim that there is no evidence for religion “go without saying” — in other words, be accepted with no evidence? (16)


    I think the New Atheists and other skeptics have done a good job of showing the vacuous nature of the alleged evidence cited by Christians for their beliefs, therefore, they have nothing left but blind faith. However, the fact is that there are studies proving that people believe in god, not for intellectual reasons, but for emotional reasons, giving strong support for the blind faith claim. Several studies confirm this, but here is just one example. [13]

    A study done in 2008 demonstrated that “making people think about events they had no control over radically increased their belief in God, but only when that God was presented as a controlling God. What’s more, this happened because people who were made to feel like they had no control actually increased their belief that the Universe was not actually random.” [14]

    I’ve shown that each of Marshall’s examples were bankrupt and I provided my own scientific evidence proving that Christians do, in fact, have blind faith. This reminds me of a quote by Michael Shermer that I think sums up this chapter well:

    Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons. [15]




    1. I discuss this in several places. One example is here.

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

    Chapter 1: Have Christians Lost Their Minds?

    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Applewhite – accessed 10-7-12

    2. Several books lay out this evidence. A few are as follows:

    The Case Against the Case for Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel, by Robert M. Price, American Atheist Press, 2010

    Who Wrote the Gospels?, by Randel McGraw Helms, Millennium Press, 1997

    The End of Biblical Studies, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2007

    Jesus, Interupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them), by Bart D. Eheman, HarperOne, 2009

    The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Anceint Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, by Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman, The Free Press, 2001

    The Bible Against Itself: Why the Bible Seems to Contradict Itself, by Randel McGraw Helms, Millennium Press, 2006

    Biblical Errancy: A Reference Guide, by C. Dennis McKinsey, Prometheus Books, 2000

    3. Not the Impossible Faith: Why Christianity Didn’t Need a Miracle to Succeed, by Richard Carrier, Lulu.com, 2009; 329-351; 385-404

    4. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2006; 64

    5. Not the Impossible Faith, by Richard Carrier; 396

    6. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm – accessed 10-7-12

    7. Not the Impossible Faith, by Richard Carrier; 355

    8. God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, Edited by David C. Lindberg & Ronald L. Numbers, University of California Press, 1986; 28

    9. The Non-Existence of God, by Nicholas Everitt, Routledge, 2003; 3, 7

    10. Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, by Michael Shermer, Times Books, 2006; 38-39

    11. Ibid.; 44

    12. The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason, by Victor J. Stenger, Prometheus Books, 2009; 60

    13. http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2010/05/more-evidence-against-making-of-atheist.html

    14. http://arizonaatheist.blogspot.com/2009/06/anxiety-over-loss-of-control-can.html

    15. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, by Michael Shermer, Henry Holt & Co., 2002; 283

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist