Friday, October 11, 2013

J.P. Moreland's Attack On "Scientific Atheism" Part 1

I did a Google Books search for William Lane Craig recently to find material from him that I can use to criticize. Craig's authored or co-authored quite a large number of books. All of them are about defending Christianity and/or attacking atheism. This guy has spent so much time trying to lay waste to atheism it's not even funny. Since one of my goals with this blog is to defend the naturalistic worldview against attacks against it, I feel obligated to respond to the best criticisms against it. So I came across a book entitled, God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and ResponsibleIt's written by a series of theologians and philosophers of religion and is designed to defend Christianity and theism against the recent wave of attacks by the New Atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris.

I was going to focus on Craig's chapter that critiques Dawkins' seminal work The God Delusion, but since I already wrote two back to back posts critiquing Craig's nauseating attempts to defend biblical genocide and his defense of the cosmological arguments, I will focus here on J.P. Moreland's chapter entitled, The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism.

J.P Moreland is another one of these contemporary apologists like Craig, who has written many books defending his Christian faith and attacking atheism/secularism. In his chapter critiquing what he calls "scientific atheism" he focuses on undermining the atheistic, or naturalistic worldview, as being inadequate to explain the "facts of reality."

Moreland starts off the chapter by explaining what a worldview is:

It is incumbent on a worldview that it explain what does and does not exist in ways that follow naturally from the core explanatory commitments of that worldview. In this sense, we can call a worldview an explanatory hypothesis. (p. 32)

I don't have any major objections to this explanation and pretty much agree. Moreland mentions though, that there are pesky things he calls "recalcitrant facts." And these dastardly disobedient facts provide "falsifying evidence for the theory and some degree of confirmation for its rivals." (p. 33) At this point the reader can expect that he's going to offer us some "recalcitrant facts" that seek to undermine atheistic worldview.

Before we get to that, Moreland first affirms his Christian belief that humans are made in god's image and selects a quote from John Calvin to emphasize his point. I accept that, as a Christian, this is what Moreland believes. I happen to disagree of course and think the evidence much more strongly shows that we are made in the image of our evolutionary origins. But that will come later. For now, Moreland states that as people made in god's image, we bear his likeness. Endowment of reason, self-determination, moral action, personality and relational formation, are some reasons he gives that are supposed to be indicative that we share ontological properties with god. And this, according to Moreland, "implies that the makeup of human beings should provide a set of recalcitrant facts for other worldviews." (p. 33) He backs this up with an argument (p. 33):

1. If Christianity is true, then certain features should characterize human beings.
2. Those features do, in fact, characterize human beings.
3. Thus, these features provide a degree of confirmation for Christianity. These features characterize God and, moreover, come from him. He made us to have them. 

This is apparently supposed to offer a challenge to scientific naturalism:

Show that you have a better explanation for these features than Christianity does (with its doctrine of the image of God), or show that these features are not actually real, even though they seem to be. (p. 34)

I bolded this because this is Moreland's central challenge to atheism. And it's supposed to make the conclusion that Christianity offers greater explanatory power as a worldview than atheism does. Well let's see about that. My first thoughts regarding Moreland's assessment and arguments thus far, is that he has gotten it all "ass backwards" so to speak, as all theists do. Instead of us being made in the image of god, rather, we made god in our image. We gave god free will (even though he's omniscient and timeless), we gave god rationality, we gave god a personality and moral sensibilities based on our own. That's why every god ever created reflects the culture of the people who created it. Sun gods are worshiped where it's hot, rain gods are worshiped where its dry, ice gods are worshiped where its cold. Yahweh reflects the cultural and neurotic impulses of the Jewish people, obsessed with pee-pee parts and bizarre dietary regulations. Allah reflects the culture and personality of Mohammad - obsessed with gender roles, corruption, polytheism, lunar cycles and so forth. Take this into account - the indisputable fact that humans have this tendency to invent gods in their own image, and it becomes obvious why our gods seem to have the same traits as we do.

Of course, it's always appealing to adopt the "God did it" hypothesis when faced with difficult questions. But when has that ever worked?

Moreland quotes Berkeley philosopher John Searle who asks, "How can we square this self-conception or ourselves as mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents with a universe that consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, unfree, nonrational, brute physical particles?" [1] Moreland's answer? "Not very well." This is what makes naturalism very difficult, Moreland says, "in accounting for these commonsense features of human beings." (p. 34) I don't deny that there are difficult questions that exploit our current levels of ignorance, but why make the cop out and conclude..."therefore God did it." That means you are giving up investigation in favor of revelation. I don't see how that's a commendable etiological conclusion, considering it's never worked in the past. After all, that's what helped end the Islamic Golden Era.

The gist of Moreland's argument will come a bit later in the chapter as he outlines "five features of human persons that provide evidence against naturalism and for biblical theism." Oh I can't hardly wait!! But before that he will outline contemporary naturalism by quoting "top atheists" so as not to be accused of a strawman, and I will cover this part of his chapter in part 2 of my review.

[1] John Searle, Freedom & Neurobiology (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), pp. 4-5


  1. "Instead of us being made in the image of god, rather, we made god in our image."

    It's like that thing with the puddle that looks around and sees that the hole it is in is designed perfectly for it

  2. Thinker - have you read "Theism and Explanation" by Gregory Dawes?

    1. I've read a bit online but it's quite pricey to buy.

    2. If you can drop me an email, I might be able to help :-)

  3. 1. If Christianity is true, then certain features should characterize human beings.
    2. Those features do, in fact, characterize human beings.
    3. Thus, these features provide a degree of confirmation for Christianity. These features characterize God and, moreover, come from him. He made us to have them.

    He's right, in that if Christianity states we have such features, and we do, then it is some measure of confirmation for Christianity. It's also some measure of confirmation for any other worldview which has an explanation for these features.

    For example:
    1. If naturalism were true we could expect a process like evolution to result in social organisms which have these features.
    2. Those features do, in fact, characterize human beings as social organisms.
    3. Thus, these features provide a degree of confirmation for Naturalism. These features characterize the evolutionary process. We evolved to have them.

    1. At least in the case of my syllogism, we have external independent corroboration of parts of it (ie. evolutionary processes, and reasonable inferences from it). I'm not sure how Moreland's would get around the issue of having been written by human beings who have those features, and thus his claims seemingly being dependant.

    2. 1. The Bible says rainbows were created by god
      2. Rainbows actually exist
      3. Therefore, the Bible is true



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