Tom Gilson of Thinking Christian wrote me an open letter. In it, he thanked me for sending him a copy of my book Contra Christian Apologetics and offered a few objections. I would like to return the gesture and offer a letter in response.
I’m more than happy to read your response to my book. Yours is the first, so thank you! I do wish, however, that you’d say more. In particular, I’m interested in knowing why you think I’ve “run ahead of [myself] in reaching unsupportable conclusions.” The conclusions I draw are all counterarguments against the apologetic arguments of Rice Brooks; so, to say that my conclusions are unsupported is to say that my counterarguments are unsuccessful or fall short for some reason. I’d like to know why.
I will respond with six main points:
First, you plainly acknowledge what I argue regarding Broocks’ argument from reason: his conclusion is not rationally justified, and he’s merely made an assertion. You said,
When I looked it up in Rice Broocks’s book God’s Not Dead, however, I found that he indeed hadn’t said much at all in support of that assertion… you’re right: he made a bold assertion with little explanation, merely nodding at the idea that evolution would have difficulty producing reasoning abilities in humans.
I’m glad we agree.
You then mention that maybe Broocks didn’t intend for his argument from reason to be one of the nine proofs. This, however, is clearly false upon a reading of his book or watching any of his campus presentations. In the summary of his introductory chapter, just before his presentation of the argument from reason, he writes, “Let’s now turn to the reasons to believe in the existence of God–starting with reason itself.” (p. 18) So there’s absolutely no question that Broocks’ intention was to have his argument from reason as one of his nine proofs.
Second, you say that I’m presenting a false impression of my own: that because of the title of my book, it seems that I’m positioning my arguments as “unrestrictedly and unqualifiedly” countering the entire field of Christian apologetics, and that I speak of “responding to the arguments for God.” But is this charitable? A reading of the back cover, the intro, or the conclusion, should make my target clear. Maybe I should have chosen a more specific title, but try to extend some charity, here. The end of my introduction says, “This book can be read side by side with God’s Not Dead…” The objections I offer are meant at minimum to rebut or discredit Broocks theologically-specific conclusions, and to provide a basic “what’s what” of the philosophy of religion.
Also, notice how far I extend my conclusion at the end of the book. In the concluding chapter, after explaining how Broocks’ arguments fail because of ignorance, irrationality, wishful thinking, confirmation bias, credulity, and other errors in reasoning, I write, “it is for these reasons that the arguments in God’s Not Dead should be rejected… This is not to say that no God exists; all of Broock’ arguments could fail yet some higher power, first cause, indifferent god, or transcendent force may still exist.” There is no ambiguity here: I’m not addressing the entire field of Christian apologetics, only Broocks’ nine proofs. And I’m not even arguing that no God or gods exist. I leave that possibility open. So what are the “unsupported and unsupportable conclusions” you speak of?
You also claim:
You’ve actually presented an impression of your own: that you are answering the argument from reason by answering it in Broocks’s highly compressed formulation. The fact is, however, scientists and philosophers have dealt with this at great length.
Certainly, they have, but I’m not writing to them or about them. I’m responding to Broocks’ nine proofs, and his argument from reason. I’m also writing to his general audience (some of whom also happen to be my fellow students and friends). So your point here is irrelevant. My conclusion against Broocks is that his argument from reason fails to establish anything interesting. You agree. So, it’s true for me to say, “upon reading Broocks’ arguments… one gets the impression that scientists and philosophers haven’t given this question much consideration and that there are no noteworthy attempts at providing an answer.” Broocks writes and talks as if atheists and naturalists are running for the hills, have no answers, and that only Christians have logic and reason on their side. My conclusion here is accurate.
Maybe Broocks needs to step up his game as an apologist and philosopher, but don’t blame me for pointing that out.
Third, you claim to know that “if [Broocks] had intended to, he could have set out a much more extended version of this argument than he did.” Please show me evidence that Broocks has developed the argument further, or knows his way around epistemology or metaphysics at all. I’ve looked high and low for everything Broocks has written or spoken in preparation for my book, and he simply hasn’t develop the argument.
And I am aware of the philosophical discussions surrounding the various ontological and epistemological arguments from reason. I cite a few in the book. But again, that’s not something Broocks has cited or argued for, and so a short book responding to God’s Not Dead need not go into a lengthy side discussion. If you’re interested, I’ve written on Is Atheism Self-Defeating? and How Evolution Gave Us Brains that Track Truth.
Fourth, you claim that I’m drawing conclusions without having an adequate awareness of the conversations surrounding the questions. Regarding my response to Broocks moral argument, you cite,
“strong Christian defenses against the apparent Euthyphro problem (it’s a false dilemma).”
If you continue reading you’ll find that I don’t present the Euthyphro problem as a dichotomy; I explain how the question leads to a trilemma, or a “third option” also known as Modified Divine Command Theory. I then cite several peer reviewed articles and books critiquing the view, and explain the biggest problems facing Broocks’ stated position, including the problems with the coherency of the third option, using a double standard for justifying a theological grounding of value, misrepresenting atheistic theories of morality, the immorality in the Old Testament, and the use of circular reason when defending Christianity against the problem of evil.
Fifth, you mention my response to the cosmological argument:
If you look, you might be able to find someone who has already explained why there is no fatal equivocation on “cause” in the Kalam cosmological argument
I don’t stop at the equivocation of “cause.” I bring this up only to show where the chain of reasoning leads us. Did you catch that part? I offer a reformulation of the kalam to avoid the equivocation, and said that, “This argument avoids the first equivocation but only by introducing a second.” That second being the appeal to effects that are all immaterial and conceptual ideas, yet wanting the effect of “the universe” to remain physical. In other words, in the attempt to hold on to the causal principle yet not have to conclude that the universe had both an efficient cause and material cause, a second equivocation is introduced in the jump from immaterial and conceptual effects in the premise to a physical effect of the universe in the conclusion. However, I then explain that William Lane Craig has adjusted the argument, and that it shifts the focus to the question of whether or not all of physical reality had an absolute beginning, and if a “timeless personal agent” is the best explanation for the origins of time. I proceed to rebut both claims. What say you?
Sixth, about the fine-tuning argument and the possibility of a multiverse, you write:
…you will see that although it’s true the atheist can posit a multiverse to explain our universe’s fine-tuning for life, that’s not much help if you’re committed to finding evidence for your beliefs or to Occam’s razor in any form at all.
I agree that speculating about a multiverse isn’t very satisfying or helpful. Physicists far more intelligent than I argue that it’s testable in principle and even probable given their best theories; I, however, don’t claim to know. But also, I don’t need to provide a “God replacement” if we suddenly find ourselves doubting the existence of God–we can simply be without an explanation. Saying “I don’t know” when you really don’t is honest.
My counterargument against Broocks is that the atheist can turn his argument back around. He claims, “for an explanation to be successful we do not need an explanation for the explanation.” This is said so that the atheist cannot respond with, “Who designed the designer?” Broocks’ comeback is that God is the explanation, not the thing that needs to be explained. Ok, fine. But if that’s the rule, then it must also be true for the multiverse: the multiverse/quantum field is the explanation, it’s not the thing that needs to be explained. (Broocks never seemed to pick up on his special pleading.)
I will leave it at that. Thanks again, Tom, for taking the time to respond, and I hope we can continue this conversation soon.
Continue pushing toward the truth.