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Like a Girl


AdWeek remarks: “In a memorable scene from The Sandlot—which you must watch if you were somehow nowhere near VHS tapes and a VCR in the early ’90s—baseball players hurl a slew of insults back and forth. One player blurts out the unthinkable. ‘You play ball like a girl!’ What does that mean, anyway? In a social experiment led by documentarian Lauren Greenfield, the Procter & Gamble feminine products brand Always asks that question, and declares its mission to redefine the phrase ‘like a girl’ as an expression of strength.”


Roger Penrose On The Grand Design


With all the hand-wringing about whether Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design changes anything — whether “philosophy is dead” and whether M-theory promises to explain the appearance of our universe in strictly physical terms — Sir Roger Penrose speaks. Because of his stature and relationship to Hawking, he is one of the most interesting commentators, and he is none too impressed. On the September 25th broadcast of Unbelievable?, Alister McGrath is carrying on in his exceedingly unctuous way when, with wonderful British politeness, Penrose interrupts:  “I think it’s actually stronger than that. What is referred to as M-theory isn’t even a theory. It’s a collection of ideas, hopes, aspirations. … I think the book is a bit misleading in that respect. It gives you the impression that here is this new theory which is going to explain everything. It’s nothing of the sort. … I think the book suffers rather more strongly than many. It’s not an uncommon thing in popular descriptions of science to latch on to some idea, particularly things to do with string theory, which have absolutely no support from observation. They’re just nice ideas that people have tried to explore.”

A Plea for Civil Disagreement


We interrupt this broadcast for a rare excursion into contemporary politics, but only to make a broader plea. Last night, here in the U.S.A., the Democratic controlled House of Representatives passed a very controversial health care reform bill. Apropos of our last article, the debate on the floor was intense, the differences irreconcilable. For the minority, John Boehner deplored the bill, characterizing it as striking at the heart of the American Dream. For the majority, Nancy Pelosi beamed that it was a final step toward ensuring the American promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. As bitter as the debate has been, it was to be expected that the conservatives who opposed the bill would be angry and frustrated. Sure enough, this morning I overheard radio talk show host Mike Gallagher mid-tirade, calling the Democrats “filthy”, “vile”, “bastards”, “vermin”, and for good measure, “bastards” several more times. It recalled Rush Limbaugh recently calling Democrats “cockroaches”. These despicable comments do not represent the best of conservative commentary, and I am very aware that such rhetoric is as bad and worse on the other side. What is ironic is that such voices bemoan the demise of the American republic even as they undermine the civil discourse that is vital to it. It is perfectly appropriate to offer withering critique of ideas and actions, but these ad hominems are themselves worthy of severe reproach. Many of the conservatives who are angry and frustrated this morning are Christians, and to you I make a special plea. May we exemplify Jesus’ exhortation to “love our [ideological] enemies, to treat them as our friends”. May we treat them as we would wish to be treated. May we speak what we consider the truth in love. May we chasten each other when incivility speaks. May we be exemplars of civil discourse. This is our calling.

Common Sense on Ultimate Explanations


Luke, the wunderkind over at Common Sense Atheism, continues to be a tremendously salutary voice in the online conversation about God. Recently, Luke set out to kill a sacred cow, “one of atheism’s most popular and resilient retorts”, namely: “Who designed the designer?”. This, he argues, simply is not a defeater to theistic arguments. I should add, what he offers with one hand, he takes with the other. “The problem with offering ‘God did it’ as an explanation is that such an explanation has low plausibility, is not testable, has poor consistency with background knowledge, comes from a tradition (supernaturalism) with extreme explanatory failure, lacks simplicity, offers no predictive novelty, and has poor explanatory scope.” But returning to the more common objection, Luke points out 1) that we accept unexplained explanations in science, and 2) that if every explanation must be explained to count as an explanation, we end in an infinite regress and nothing is ever explained. It is the nature of the case that some explanations must be ultimate explanations. Both of Luke’s points are well taken, and echo the responses offered by William Lane Craig and other theists to this common rejoinder. However, throughout, Luke characterizes the supposed conclusions to the natural theologian’s premises as simply: “God did it”. Luke undoubtedly knows that this is an oversimplification of such arguments when they are carefully articulated, that much like postulates in physics, their conclusions are of the form: some entity x exists with property p. We’ll give it the name y. I do not mean to nitpick, and I understand the use of shorthand, but this distinction is critical in evaluating the appropriateness of a given explanation, the very subject matter of the post. My attempt at a constructive response follows.

Regarding Haiti: An Imperative


Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? … If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. » Give here or here.

Forever Separated Lovers


A while back Bradley Monton invited his friend and colleague, Nicole Hassoun, to post an incipient sketch of an argument against the existence or goodness of the Christian God. The basic thrust of her concern is as follows: "Perhaps I have the story wrong, … but it seems to me that several things are true of love. First, if I love someone, I cannot believe that that person deserves eternal suffering. … Second, when someone I love is hurt, that hurts me. I could not be perfectly happy if someone I loved was suffering for eternity. I cannot even conceive of such a thing. But then it seems there is a problem. For, I could be saved while someone I love is not saved. Then I could be perfectly happy in heaven while a person I love is burning in hell. But if I love someone, I cannot even think this is possible. So I should not, if I love, believe in this kind of Christianity. It could not be right unless my love would disappear at the gates of heaven (or some such) and why, I wonder, would that be? Wouldn´t it be better if heaven had my love in it? Wouldn’t I be happier in love?" My own cursory, and incipient, response follows…

We’re In This Together


On a recent broadcast of the Infidel Guy (Sep. 16, 2008), a caller challenged Gary Habermas, the evening’s guest, to reconcile the omniscience of God with human free will. Habermas did his best to argue that there is no necessary conflict, that God knows because we freely choose, we do not so choose because God knows. For my part, I think it’s a legitimate and difficult objection. I’m not yet persuaded by either Molinist or Openness attempts to reconcile the two, much less compatabilism or the notion that it is solved by God’s being outside of time. But what followed is what struck me. Habermas took the opportunity to ask Reggie Finley, the host, whether he, as a naturalist, believed in free will. Reggie paused, then conceded that he was still trying to figure that one out. Good luck, because while free will may be problematic for the theist, it is probably a lost cause for the naturalist. For example, in his excellent and lucid work, The Significance of Free Will, Robert Kane manages to find a place for indeterminacy in matter (in quantum theory), but not for agency, the sine qua non of free will in my judgment. My point is not to wade into the deep waters of human freedom. Rather, I’m taking exception to the widespread impression that it is only the theist who must accept mysteries, antinomies, and quandaries. The truth is, all worldviews are beset by unique difficulties and internal conceptual problems. And, we remain perplexed by many mysteries that we share in common. That is to say, we’re in this together. With our amazing, but limited human faculties, the world remains puzzling to us all. In the ongoing debate about what is and is not real, it would serve us well to be mindful of the problems with which each worldview must wrestle. To that end, here are some that occur to me for both Christian theism and for Naturalism.

Before I begin, I can already see the smart kid in the class gesticulating wildly, “Me! Me! Call on me! I know the answer.” I do not mean to imply that there have not been a multitude of proposed solutions to the issues raised below. One or the other of those solutions will be sufficient for many. And yet, I think it is fair to say that each of them remains problematic, evidenced by the fact that they continue to enjoy impassioned debate. In other words:

Reactions to Religulous


I confess, I’ve never been a fan of Bill Maher’s shtick. To me, smugness is just about the most annoying human personality trait. It’s why I have a hard time enjoying any movie featuring Kevin Spacey … unless he’s the villain, which suits me just fine. Maher has long had the temerity to insert himself into forums where serious political and cultural issues are at stake. Kudos for that. But, no matter how sincere or thoughtful the arguments put forth there, Maher seems to think they can be dismissed with a witticism and his famous smirk, dripping with self-satisfaction. Some think these retorts incisive. They’ve always struck me as evasions. Rarely does Maher bother to engage the logic of an argument, which is fine as a comedian, but it hardly merits his apparent self-appraisal as a beacon of reason. It appears from the trailers that Maher has taken a similar tack in his new film, Religulous. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, so I’ll refrain from commenting until I do (Read My Film Autopsy now that I’ve seen it). In the meantime, the reviews and responses popping up around the Web are plenty interesting. Here’s a sampling…

The Ad Hoc Multiverse


In recent years, as our deepening understanding of the delicate complexity of the universe continues unabated, Naturalists are increasingly turning to “multiverse” hypotheses to blunt or dodge the force of fine-tuning and teleological arguments for the existence of a Designer. Roughly, the idea is that, parallel to the universe we inhabit, there exists an infinite series of universes, each of which is different from our own in at least one respect. In the multiverse, every contingent possibility is instantiated in at least one universe. If it helps, the concept has been used for dramatic effect on the TV show, Sliders, and in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The multiverse is thought to undercut design arguments because while it is wildly improbable that our life-supporting universe should exist if there was only one shot at it, it is inevitable that our universe exist if every possible universe exists. (Yes, it begs the question of the necessary conditions for this meta-universe, but we’ll leave that to the side.) There are mixed feelings about the multiverse hypothesis amongst skeptics and Naturalists. While it may be a stopgap against the implications of our apparently designed universe, it is an inescapably ironic move for the Naturalist to postulate a deus ex machina that is unobserved and, in principle, unobservable.

Is God Good?


A number of recent books making the case against God have hit the best-seller list, most notably Christopher Hitchens’ God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. If you follow the argument closely, you’ll notice that the gravamen of the case against God is their judgment that God, and specifically the Christian God, as he is commonly understood, is not good after all. Whatever its status as a logical proof against theism, the argument is existentially forceful because we meet a God in their arguments that is deserving of their unmistakable disdain. The argument against the goodness of God usually advances on three fronts:

  1. God cannot be good because the world is rife with evil and suffering;
  2. The God we meet in the Bible, especially in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, is repugnant to our moral sensibilities; and,
  3. Those who claim to follow this God are responsible for epic evils like the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the “troubles” in Northern Ireland as well as for more quotidian evils like intolerance, anti-intellectualism, and being bores.

While it’s almost impossible not to relish Hitchens’ and Dawkins’ turns of phrase, it is hard to get past their exceedingly strident tones. Nonetheless, the basic thrust of their arguments should be, and is in fact, troubling to believers. has collected a number of articles wrestling with the first question. Marilyn McCord Adams’ well regarded, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God also deals honestly and poignantly with this difficult question at greater length. The second concern about the biblical God is largely a theological question. The attributes of God, including the Goodness of God, are enumerated without much in the way of soul-searching at Grace’s Online Library and at The Christian Courier. As for the third contention, Robert Royal’s, The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West and James Kennedy’s What if Jesus Had Never Been Born consider the impact of Christianity on history. Finally, Christianity Today is featuring a conversation between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson regarding Hitchens’ accusations against God and religion. It is truly a clash of the Titans.