Saturday, December 30, 2006

Now Reading...

Linda and I went to Borders in Ann Arbor, which is just 30 minutes from our house, on Thursday. I was packing some Christmas gifts - Borders gift cards. I picked up three very good books on Jesus, and started reading them all today!

The first is Amy-Jill Levine's The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. I showed it to Dan and his fiance Allie today - Allie picked it up and read for a while. Levine is a professor at Vanderbilt and is friends with Ben Witherington, who gives her book very high marks.

A second book I got is Ben Witherington's What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible. This book gets high marks from a lot of great New Testament scholars, to include Craig Keener and Craig Blomberg. Witherington identifies the eyewitnesses to Jesus' life and devotes chapters to each of them.

The third book I picked up is Richard Baukham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. N. T. Wright, Martin Hengel, James Dunn, and John Dominic Crossan all provide laudatory blurbs. As I began reading it I found it very hard to put down. Among other things, it shows flaws in in the Form-Critical method and argues strongly for ancient historiography as "testimony." I have always felt that - appropriate cautions taken - persons immersed in the life of another person or immersed and engaged in a movement provide a witness, a testimony, that "detached observors" cannot. Baukham explains this, both as a historical thing and as a hermeneutical methodological thing. Really cool stuff, and helpful already!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

God Delusion #23: Dawkins as Bible Scholar: Part 2

Here are some of my thoughts on Dawkins' section "The Argument from Scripture."

1. Dawkins writes: "The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status is minimal... There is no good historical evidence that he ever thought he was divine."

But says who... Richard Dawkins? Dawkins provides not support for this. He should either engage the scholarship on this or say nothing. As H. Allen Orr says, this is "just Dawkins talking." And talking about things he knows next to nothing about. Why should we listen when he speaks on the divinity of Jesus?

For examples of scholars who argue that there is historical evidence that Jesus thought he was divine, see here. See some excellent essays by N. T. Wright on Jesus here. See especially "Jesus and the Identity of God."

2. Dawkins writes: "The fact that something is written down is persuasive to people not used to asking questions like: 'Who wrote it, and when?' 'How did they know what to write?' 'Did they, in their time, really mean what we, in our time, understand them to be saying?' Were they unbiased observers, or did they have an agenda that coloured their 'writing?'

Dawkins needs to study contemporary hermeneutical theory. There are NO "unbiased observers," anywhere, any time. There is a very big world of hermeneutical theory out there that seeks to understand the "problem of intepretation" as due to the bias, or "prejudice" (pre-judgment; see Gadamer) of the interpreter. So to want, e.g., Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to be "unbiased observers" is fundamentally misguided.

Dawkins himself is a biased observer, as we all are.

3. "Ever since the nineteenth 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."

It is true that certain nineteenth century theologians "demythologized" the Bible. But these theologians, Bultmann being one of them, were themselves under the spell of an Enlghtenment philosophical worldview. This strikes me as mostly the preconscious paradigm Dawkins dwells in.

4. Dawkins writes that biblical scholar Bart Ehrman "unfolds the huge uncertainty befogging the New Testament texts."

Please note that not all agree with Ehrman's work. For one very good example see here.

See the debate between Ehrman and William Lane Craig here.

The point is that there is a serious scholarly discussion going on, which Dawkins gives only one side of, and that very briefly.

5. "It is possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all." Dawkins goes on to say that "Jesus probably existed." Some thoughts:

Why are we listening to anything Richard Dawkins has to say on the historical existence of Jesus?

Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy have just written the forthcoming book The Jesus Legend:
A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Baker, 2007). From Greg's newsletter we read: "This massive scholarly work (its close to 500 pages) explores, and ultimately refutes, every possible academic argument that attempts to show Jesus as a legendary figure. The most groundbreaking aspect of this book is the extensive use Greg and Paul make of recent anthropological discoveries concerning the reliability of oral traditions in non-literate cultures. They use this material to
argue that the oral traditions that preceded the writings of the Gospels would have resisted legendary accretions. Look for it this coming August. It will be followed several months later by another work titled Jesus: Lord or Legend? (Baker, 2007), also published by Greg and Paul. This book will in essence be a much shorter and less academic version of The Jesus Legend."

6. Dawkins main example which, he thinks, debunks the biblical story of Jesus, is the differing gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus. My next GD post will directly address Dawkins' argument about this.

God Delusion #22: Dawkins as Bible Scholar: Part 1

In The God Delusion PP. 92 ff. is a section Dawkins calls "The Argument From Scripture." Now before I comment on this, I think it will be interesting to reveal something Dawkins-supporters say in response to the justified criticisms Dawkins is receiving from this section.

Look at these responses defending Dawkins, in response to P.Z. Myers fable-ic attempt to "defend" Dawkins.

One person writes: "The overwhelming majority of churchgoers are grossly ignorant of theology and philosophy. They will find Dawkins' simplistic arguments compelling. The same audience would be put to sleep by the sophisticated arguments these whining myriad reviewers imagine. Dawkins wrote for the majority - not for the snobby reviewers. That is to say, Dawkins' use of simplistic arguments is strategically sound. This, I think, is why the philosophically or theologically sophisticated cringe."

NOTE: A number Dawkins' arguments are not "simplistic," they are just incorrect. They set up a straw man and knock it down. They do not actually engage with the arguments themselves. Dawkins displays no knowledge of the real, "sophisticated" arguments.

Another person writes: "Dawkins makes simple arguments that are difficult if not impossible to adequately answer. The 'understanding' of professionals in this case amounts to no more than the crude understanding of the target audience. There is no point in addressing all the 'professionals' points as they have no more substance than the crude versions."

NOTE: A number of Dawkins' arguments are not "difficult," they are just incorrect. They certainly are not "impossible to adequately answer." But note this "defense" of Dawkins: Dawkins refuses to address the scholarly arguments because they have no more substance than the crude versions. Two things can be said here:

1. Dawkins incorrectly states, e.g., the Ontological Argument.
2. His version is not a "crude" version, just an incorrect version. This would be like setting up a straw version of eveolutionary theory and then knocking it down.

And: "the point is that it's always possible for theologians (or sophists of any stripe) to construct a religion that can't be disproved and that has no empirical consequences. Dawkins doesn't directly address those religious constructs because they're not very interesting. One, they're sophistry. Two, hardly anyone believes in them. Dawkins is entirely upfront about what he's trying to do. He's addressing precisely the people who believe in a non-theological, personal, creator God, yet who haven't thought about their belief as much as a theologian or indeed a committed atheist has. He directs people who want a challenge to the theologian's God elsewhere. Now you can, like Orr, complain that that's not fair, but you'll be missing the point. There are hundreds of millions if not billions of people who fall into that category - far, far more than believe in a theologian's God - and those are the people at whom he is aiming his arguments."

NOTE: What has really happened is that Dawkins claims to address "those religious constructs" but misrepresents them. Thus he is addressing the wrong things. This is like claiming to be addressing the President but actually addressing the gardener.

If Dawkins is actually aiming his "arguments" at the "billions" of people who "haven't thought about their belief as much as a theologian," then shame on him, for he is deliberately offering them his straw men to persuade them to disbelieve in God.

In his section "The Argument from Scripture" Dawkins makes many mistakes that betray his ignorance of such things. It will do no good to defend Dawkins by saying that he's really not interested in theology anyway. Of course he isn't. But he raises the issue. His defenders should not fear should some biblical scholars choose to respond.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

God Delusion #21: P.Z. Myers' Tries to Save Dawkins By Telling a Fable

P.Z. Myers joins what is sure to be one of many atheistic attempts to defend Dawkins's God Delusion. On his blog Myers creates a fable he calls "The Courtier's Reply" which begins with the sentence "I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship." {12/24/06) Dawkins, says Myers, accuses the Emperor of wearing no clothes. But Dawkins, a good deal of the time, not only engages in no serious scholarship but this failure leads to conclusions that only follow from the straw men he has set up.

GD is, much of the time if not most of the time, a poorly written book. And all this from someone who champions human reason. Dawkins has no understanding, e.g., of the proofs of God he finds faulty. So... the Emperor has no clothes? This might be interesting if Dawkins could actually identify the Emperor in the first place. Such incoherence should lead scholarly atheists to beat a path away from Dawkins as one of their own.

Myers especially dislikes the H. Allen Orr essay. (See link in my previous post.) I think Orr's essay is well-written and, while Orr states his respect for Dawkins's The Selfish Gene, he writes, e.g., re. GD: "none of Dawkins's loud pronouncements on God follows from any experiment or piece of data. It's just Dawkins talking." Or, I cannot help but think as I read GD, it's just Dawkins cutting and pasting from the internet.

The various atheistic attempts to save Dawkins, their champion, will prove interesting. Myers decides to write a fable. Why not just admit that Dawkins has failed and let it go? There are serious atheistic responses that theists must take into account and the Dawkins failure takes nothing away from them, except to make a theist like myself tremble at the thought of Dawkins'-type atheists ruling the world.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

God Delusion #20: Scot McKnight on Dawkins

New Testament theologian Scot McKnight has been commenting on Dawkins's God Delusion. See here.

God Delusion #19: H. Allen Orr Finds Dawkins's GD Horrific

Evolutionary geneticist H. Allen Orr has written a devastating critique of Dawkins's God Delusion in the new issue of New York Review of Books. Read it for yourself. I'm going to read it again. It is so complete a negative review of Dawkins that I wonder why I should add more posts of my own. (I go into more depth re. Dawkins's embarrassing attempts to debunk philosophical arguments for God's existence.)

Here's just one quote - read the rest for yourself: "Part of Dawkins's difficulty is that his worldview is thoroughly Victorian. He is, as many have noted, a kind of latter-day T.H. Huxley. The problem is that these latter days have witnessed blood-curdling experiments in institutional atheism. Dawkins tends to wave away the resulting crimes."

Friday, December 22, 2006

God Delusion #18: All Psychologists Doubt Religious Experience?

[FYI: This is the 18th entry re. my reading of Richard Dawkins's book The God Delusion. See posts 1-17 below.]

Dawkins writes (p. 88): "Many people believe in God because they believe they have seen a vision of him... with their own eyes. Or he speaks to them inside their heads. This argument from personal experience is the one that is most convincing to those who claim to have had one. But it is the least convincing to anyone else, and anyone knowledgeable about psychology."

Here's some thoughts.

1) Dawkins is literally wrong when he says the argument from personal experience is not convincing to "anyone knowledgeable about psychology." I have friends who have Ph.Ds in psychology and psychiatry who believe they personally have had God speak to them. And, I have read a number of books written by psychologists and psychiatrists who believe they have heard God speak to them. One of them is Henri Nouwen, who worked at the Menninger Clinic and taught at Yale. Another is Gerald May. May's book Addiction and Grace is excellent. Now I could begin to list personal acquaintances and other psychologists who affirm religious experiences. Thus it is not true when Dawkins uses "anyone." He exaggerates. Why?

2) Personal experience will not be necessarily convincing to "anyone else." But of course it will possibly be convincing to one's own self. Dawkins writes: "You say you have experienced God directly? Well, some people have experienced a pink elephant, but that probably doesn't impress you." Correct. Precisely because one's own personal experiences tend mostly and sometimes only to impress oneself. That's the nature of personal experience. Likewise an atheist who claims to have no experience of God will perhaps themselves be impressed by this. I would not doubt an atheist's lack of experience of anything supernatural. But I would not be personally impressed by this. That is, someone else's experiences may not and I think need not "impress" me such that I would change my personal beliefs on the basis of their experiences or lack thereof.

3. Dawkins writes: "If you've had such an experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly that it was real. But don't expect the rest of us to take your word for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain and its powerful workings." I don't expect anyone to "take the word" of someone who has had any experience. It's simply not true and an example of fundamentalist hyperbole to infer that anyone with the "slightest familiarity with the brain" will therefore not affirm the possibility of, e.g., hearing the voice of God. See again May's Addiciton and Grace, and his chapter on the brain and the biology of addiction. Then see his chapter on what he calls the grace of God as he writes of personal clinical cases where persons are freed from addiction.

4. Dawkins gives a few pages to describing what he calls "the formidable power of the brain's simulation software." But a description of what happens in the physical brain when someone claims to have had God speak to them is not logically antithetical to God actually speaking to them. OF COURSE something happens neurophysiologically. Dawkins thinks this somehow shows there is no God. But that's a metaphysical claim, and one cannot - as Hume and Kant showed - derive noumenal reality from the study of phenomenal reality. Minimally, difficult philosophical problems are raised re. phenomenal experience.

Further, if we reduce experiences to neurophysiology, then all experiences can be so reduced. Including those of Dawkins. Dawkins's outrage at religion then gets explained in terms of the odd firings happening in his brain. And one's lack of religious experiencing becomes simply a lack in one's personal simulation software.

5. Finally, for something more substantial on the issue of religious experience, begin with Syracuse University philosophy professor William P. Alston's work on the epistemology of religious experience. Read the work of Alston and then follow the rabbit trail into the real discussion re. the issues surrounding religious experience.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Corcoran on the Problem of the Soul

For a very interesting article on "the problem of the soul" see Calvin College philosophy professor Kevin Corcoran's "A New Way to Be Human" in Books and Culture.

Today there is a philosophical and scientific battle going on over the nature of humanity, or the nature of "persons." Atheists such as Steven Pinker, Owen Flanagan, and Daniel Dennett deny the existence of a "soul" and reduce all human behavior to neurophysiological determinism and/or indeterminism.

The philosophical legacy of Descartes divided the person into two metaphysically unrelated "substances," which he called res extensa (extended substance) and res cogitans (thinking substance). Thus, for Cartesians, the "soul" is ontologically unrelated to the physical body. The theological problem with Cartesian mind-body dualism is that it is non-Hebraic.

Corcoran proposes another "materialistic alternative to dualism."

Corcoran writes: "We are animals in the sense that we are wholly constituted by our bodies; every material part of me is a part of the biological body that constitutes me and I have no immaterial parts—just like the statue and the copper. We human beings are wholly physical creatures constituted by our bodies without being identical with them. To borrow words U2's Bono used for more poetic ends, "We are one, but we're not the same."

The materialist view of human persons I am proposing is compatible with every important Christian belief related to human nature, including beliefs about the afterlife and the claim that human beings have been created in the image of God. Indeed the Christian doctrines of creation and incarnation are actually more hospitable to a materialist view of human nature than they are to the more extreme versions of dualism.

For example, since dualism identifies us with immaterial souls capable of disembodied existence (or attributes to us such souls as parts), dualism is quite obviously compatible with belief in an afterlife. But for Christians it is important to recognize that the relevant Christian doctrine with respect to an afterlife is that of resurrection of the body. None of the ecumenical creeds of the Church confesses belief in a doctrine of soul survival. It is curious, then, that contemporary dualists seem to have forgotten this in a way that our Christian ancestors did not. While most, if not all, orthodox Christian theologians of the early church were anthropological dualists, they nevertheless struggled in systematic ways to make sense of the Christian doctrine of bodily resurrection."

The statement "we are wholly physical creatures constituted by our bodies without being identical with them" is, or course, the point. But this is just a statement, and must be argued for. I think it has greater biblical/theological consistency than does Cartesian dualism. Note: it's one thing, and a good thing, for Christian theologians to define personhood in relation to Christian scriptures. It's another thing to argue scientifically and philosophically for the nature of humans.

And, for me, when Pinker et. al. try to explain free will on their sheer materialism it is awkward and, to me, ultimately nonsensical. (See my thoughts on this in the archives.)

Finally, I am sure Corcoran, should he continue to develop his proposal, will be challenged by J.P.Moreland's substance and property dualism. For an excellent introduction to the "mind-body problem" see Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, chapters 11 and 12.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Anti "God Delusion" #1: Francis Collins on the Moral Law as Key to the Meaning of the Universe

I began reading Francis Collins' The Language of God. For anyone interested in Dawkins's God Delusion, Collins is must reading. Dawkins drops his jaw in wonder at the idea a brilliant biologist such as Collins who turned from atheism to theism.

In Collins's first chapter he writes of his conversion from atheism to theism as largely the result of readin C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity and being impacted by Lewis's argument for God on the basis of the innate Moral Law.

Especially interesting is when Collins writes how the Moral Law cannot be explained by evolutionary processes.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

God Delusion #17: Theism Causes Wars?

Dinesh D'Souza has this interesting article called "Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history." D'Souza debunks Dawkins's (and Harris's) facile belief that religion is what is behind most wars.

Of course there have been crimes committed in the name of, e.g., Jesus. But D'Souza is correct when he writes that "the moral teachings of Jesus provide no support for - indeed they stand as a stern rebuke to - the historical injustices perpetrated in the name of Christianity."

"Whatever the motives for atheist bloodthirstiness, the indisputable fact is that all the religions of the world put together have in 2,000 years not managed to kill as many people as have been killed in the name of atheism in the past few decades."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Atheistic Scientists Gather to Assault Religion

See today's for an example of growing evangelical atheism. Called "A Free-for-All on Science and Religion," we see Richard Dawkins et. al. calling for an assault on religion. Note divisions within the atheist movement over evangelistic tactics; viz., objections to the vitriolic fundamentalism and "simplistic and uninformed" views of Dawkins (and Sam Harris).

I agree that, as I read God Delusion, many of Dawkins' views are precisely that.

Materialistic Youth are Least Happy; Religious Youth are the Most Happy

See the recent Reuters article "Young People in Developed Countries Unhappy, Survey Says." Interesting results include:
- Only 8% in Japan say they are happy.
- Young people in India are the happiest, the Japanese are the most miserable.
- "The happier young people of the developing world are also the most religious."
Of course we have to define "happy," since the word is vague.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

God Delusion #16: Dawkins vs. Collins

For the recent Richard Dawkins - Francis Collins discussion in Time magazine go here.

An especially funny and revealing moment comes when Collins gently explains how he differs from certain Christian fundamentalists. Dawkins responds, "Why bother with these clowns?" Collins responds, "Richard, I think we don't do a service between science and faith to characterize sincere people by calling them names."

Yes, Dawkins cannot refrain from ad hominem abusives. Perhaps it's in his genes? Which makes me cringe to think of even the possibility that people might be converted to Dawkins's abusive atheism.

God Delusion #15: Religious experience and the Human Brain

Dawkins argues against an argument for God on the basis of personal religious experience. He writes, "This argument from personal experience is the one that is most convincing to those who claim to have had one. But it is the least convincing to anyone else, and anyone knowledgeable about psychology." (88)

And he concludes this section by writing, "If you've had such an experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly that it was real. But don't expect the rest of us to take your word for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain and its powerful workings." (92)

Now this section is of particular interest to me for at least two reasons: 1)I have personally had powerful "religious experiences"; and 2) James Ashbrook was on my doctoral dissertation committee. Ashbrook, a psychologist, was especially interested in neuropsychology and has written, among other things, The Human Mind and the Mind of God: Where Religion and Neuroscience Meet.

In my doctoral dissertation on metaphor theory I incorporated neurolinguistic studies on cognition and figurative language. I have been and remain quite interested in neurolinguistics and neuropsychology. While I am not a scholar in those fields, becoming familiar with the human brain does nothing to make me skeptical of my own religious experiences. Why not?

In the recent Time magazine discussion between Dawkins and Francis Collins, Collins says this: "I find that studying the natural world is an opportunity to observe the majesty, the elegance, the intricacy of God's creation." I have many personal friends who are university scientists who feel exactly as Collins does. I feel that way too. I have for a very long time felt that way. For me scientific discoveries enter me more deeply into "the majesty, the elegance, the intricacy of God's creation." Study of the human mind provides no exception to this. (And note: here is where I find the atheists' Owen Flanagan, Stephen Pinker, and Daniel Dennett incoherent as they reduce human behavior to both deterministic and indeterministic constraints and then try to explain "free will."]

Would there be any thoughts/ideas/theories/religious experiences for Dawkins that are not finally reducible to the workings of the brain? I don't think so. But to imply that such thoughts/ideas/theories/religious experiences are simply the workings of the brain undercuts Dawkins's own thoughts/ideas/theories. Which is absurd.

God Delusion #14: More Anachronistic "Logic"

Richard Dawkins is someone who likely could never believe in God because he is so thoroughly ensconced in his naturalistic paradigm. Like an extreme fundamentalist in religion who argues that the likes of Dawkins would believe in a God if only he knew the truth as they clearly see it, Dawkins turns historical figures he admires into people who would be atheists just like himself if only they knew what he knows.

So he writes (86): "I have no reason to doubt that Raphael and Michelangelo were Christians - it was pretty much the only option - but the fact is almost incidental... If history had worked out differently, and Michelangelo had been commissioned to paint a ceiling for a giant Museum of Science, mightn't he have produced something at least as inspirational as the Sistine Chapel? How sad that we shall never hear Beethoven's Mesozoic Symphony, or Mozart's opera The expanding Universe. And what a shame that we are deprived of Haydn's Evolution Oratorio."

Note Dawkins's anachronistic logic:

1. Brilliant and creative people want to know truth.
2. I know the truth; viz., that there is no God.
3. Most brilliant and creative people from the past, such as Michelangelo, believed in God.
4. Would they have known what I know, they would of course agree with me and be atheists.
5. Thus I have all past brilliant and creative people standing with me on the side of atheism.
6. And "religion is [not to be] given credit for the Sistine Chapel or Raphael's Anunciation." (86)


With this kind of psychological reasoning what will become of the status of Dawkins's current beliefs in relation to the future? A thousand years from now at least some, and maybe much, of what Dawkins' now believes in as regards "science" will only be studied in a few arcane history of science dissertations.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Elton John Wants to Ban Religion

Elton John is quoted today as saying he wishes religion was completely banned because, in his mind, it promotes hatred of gays. John says: "Organised religion doesn't seem to work. It turns people into really hateful lemmings and it's not really compassionate."

The word "lemming" is used to denote those who mindlessly follow the crowd, even if the result is destruction. So, to call religious people "lemmings" is, obviously, pejorative. I don't find this very compassionate towards "religious people" such as myself. If only Elton John would try to understand people like me instead of degrading us.

As for me and gays, here are two things: 1) I have met with many gays over a period of 25 years and counseled them and dialogued with them and, in Jesus, loved them; and 2) I have openly, face-to-face, shared with them that I do not condemn them for their homosexual orientation but do not support homosexual activity. My understanding of the Gospel of Jesus is that we are all sinners who stand in need of the grace of God. Because I am quite aware that this includes me, I can't throw stones at anybody, to include gays. But I can disagree ethically. I think the gay lifestyle is sin. I also think hatred of other people is sin. Plus a whole lot of other things are sin, to include some things I still struggle with.

Because I am a follower of Jesus I cannot support hatred towards anyone. I do not support "Christians" who speak hatefully of gays or anyone. I believe it is correct to say that there have been and are Christians who are hateful towards gays and a whole lot of other things. But I also do not need to acquiesce to the beliefs of those who support a gay lifestyle. And I feel nervous when people like Elton John says he wants to ban religion. Why would he want to force his beliefs on me and deny me my belief system?

A final thought: Elton John cites John Lennon as some kind of hero who would, were he alive today, lead us all in the way of peace. "John Lennon" is now culturally being elevated to a mythical status by atheists looking for a hero. Which makes me shudder, given what has been written about Lennon's actual life, his abandonment of Julian, etc. Lennon wrote songs about peace but could not achieve it with his own son.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

International House of Prayer

I just returned with my friend Jim Collins from three days at International House of Prayer in Kansas City. IHOP is a place where worship and prayer happens 24-7 - that's right, it never stops.

At times the room had 500+ people in it, 80% of whom were ages 18-25.

I had a phenomenal time! God spoke a number of things to me. Here are a few pictures from IHOP.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

God Delusion #13 - The Ontological Argument

Dawkins' handling of the Ontological Argument for the existence of God shows that he likely does not even understand the argument. And even his response that comes from his misunderstanding is poorly written and logically incoherent.

Here, briefly, I will show that and how Dawkins seems not to have a clue about OA. And note: to show that Dawkins' criticism of OA fails miserably should not be construed as my arguing that OA proves there is a God. To really enter into the philosophical dialogue re. OA, begin here.

Then, go here.

Then, here.

Now, some thoughts on Dawkins and what he writes about OA.

  • He calls OA an "infantile argument." But Dawkins does not understand OA (as we shall see). And note: Dawkins is a big-time emotivist who loves ad hominem abusives. Thus it is Dawkins who is philosophically "infantile" as regards OA. And the ad hominem language is appropriate to a whining infant. Please note that Dawkinsian emotivism adds nothing to his "argument" against OA.
  • Dawkins quotes Bertrand Russell as once saying, "Great Scott, the OA is sound!" What Dawkins misses is precisely why Russell would think this.
  • Dawkins quotes philosopher Norman Malcolm as critical of OA. It is true that Malcolm agreed with Kant that "existence is not a predicate." But Malcolm himself put forth a version of OA which can be attributed to Anselm. Anselm, says Malcolm, had two versions of OA, the second of which puts forth "necessary existence" as defeating Kant's objection. Dawkins "quote mines" Malcolm for his own purposes, perhaps not realizing that Malcolm actually supports Anselm's second version of OA as proving the existence of God. But all of this is simply common knowledge to philosophers, of which Dawkins is presumably ignorant.
  • Dawkins cites Anselm's contemporary Gaunilo, who offered a criticism of Anselm's OA. Dawkins then cites the supposed refutation by Douglas Gasking, which is similar, says Dawkins, to Gaunilo's objection. Gasking's idea that a most perfect being would be even more perfect if it created a universe without itself existing is a non-logical possibility, like "square circle." Gaunilo thinks Anselm believes we can just imagine a most perfect "anything" and that thereby that thing must exist. Such as, e.g., a "most perfect island." But of course "existence" is not an essential attribute of "most perfect island," but arguably it is of "a being a greater than which cannot be conceived." Both Gaunilo and Gasking miss the point of Anselm's argument. Kant understood Anselm; they do not.
  • Dawkins closes his "refutation" of OA with some "funny 'proofs'" of God's existence. Why? I have a guess, but here I am admittedly psychoanalyzing Dawkins. My guess is that Dawkins' somehow knows that he doesn't have a clue about OA. After all, he's not a philosopher, which is easy to see. So, he gets funny and weird. But no matter how humorous Dawkins is, it adds nothing to his "argument" against OA.
  • Dawkins, in arguing against OA, has merely set up a straw man, knocked it down, as his colleagues stand in awe of just how "brite" people can really be without God.
Speaking of Dawkins' colleagues, I confess to being astounded that they find him to be so bright? Steven Pinker (a man I admire, having read his The Blank Slate a few years ago), says on the back cover of GD: "Dawkins arguments... are passionately stated and poetically expressed but are rooted in reason and evidence." Huh? What? Are we reading the same book? And, note that philosophers are going to really rise up if we begin to raise the thorny issue of "poetic truth." But Dawkins does seem passionate, and I don't fault him for that. In this regard GD seems at times like it is written by "Mr. Furious" [of "Mystery Men"].

Matt Ridley says Dawkins GD is "a resounding trumpet blast for truth." I don't think so. At least the OA section reads more like a few bad notes played by a beginning guitarist on a Teisco that has a warped neck.

Phillip Pullman says "Dawkins hits... with all the power that reason can wield, demolishing... preposterous attempts to prove the existence of God." But if this really is "all the power that reason can wield" then, I tell you, we need God more than ever.

Desmond Morris says, "This is a brave and important book." I find nothing "brave" about Dawkins' OA section. Honestly, it gets a "C-" in my History of Western Philosophy class. It is positively cowardly in its refusal to actually engage all the OA scholarship readily available to anyone possessing the requisite philosophical smarts.

Penn and Teller write: "GD is smart, compasionate, and true like ice, like fire. If this book doesn't change the world, we're all screwed." "Smart?" Which serves to show that this word is vague. "Compassionate?" Now THAT is really funny. "True like ice, like fire?" Which means... what? It will leave us "cold?" Or, as "fire" and "ice" cannot coexist, so Dawkins' reasoning is filled with contradictions? And, finally, if THIS book "changes the world," because this is what "smart" means and this is what "compassion" means, then I agree: we're all screwed.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Moral Grammar as Innate

Today's has an article called "An Evolutionary Theory of Right and Wrong." Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard biologist, has built on this idea to propose that people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution. Hauser presents his argument as a hypothesis to be proved, not as an established fact. All persons, in all times and places, have an innate "moral grammar."

I find this thesis interesting. It will argue against moral relativism. And, I believe it has implications for the biblical idea found in Romans 2:15, which states that "the requirements of the law are written on [our] hearts."

Of course Hauser does not think God has written a moral grammar in our hearts. But he does think an innate, universal moral grammar is in our hearts. And he is working to show how evolution has placed it there.

Hauser's work "challenges the general belief that moral behavior is learned." Rather, it is given to us, or is in us, at birth. The moral "law" unfolds during our lifetime. In this sense it is discovered, rather than invented.

Monday, October 30, 2006

God Delusion #12 - Wired

This past weekend I picked up the latest Wired magazine, with its provocative cover on "The New Atheism." The article is mostly about the Big 3 evangelists of atheism (Dawkins, Harris, & Dennett) plus a sidebar on atheists Penn & Teller.

God Delusion #11 - Terry Eagleton rips Dawkins

See Terry Eagleton's scathing review of Dawkins' GD here. Especially relevant is the [easy] exposure of Dawkins' deep ignorance of the real theological discussion re. God.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

God Delusion #10 - Dawkins' Straw Men Exposed

For a really fun exchange in which Dawkins comes out looking pretty bad, see his radio debate with Irish journalist David Quinn. Go here.

Ladd's Gospel of the Kingdom Online

I am currently teaching, at my church, George Ladd's excellent book The Gospel of the Kingdom. You can access chapters 1-5 here.

God Delusion #9 - The NYT Book Review

In my next Dawkins' GD entry I'll look at how he butchers understanding the Ontological Argument.

But for now see today's review of GD in It's a pretty good review, pointing out a number of emotive and illogical things Dawkins does in the book.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

CT Interview with Greg Boyd

Here's a good Christianity Today article/interview with Greg Boyd on his book The Myth of a Christian Nation.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

God Delusion # 8 - Causality in Esse

Dawkins criticism of Aquinas' cosmological argument fails because he does not understand the argument, and the distinction between causality in fieri and causality in esse. This distinction is taught in any basic philosophy of religion class, but Dawkins is ignorant of it. That does not mean the argument ultimately succeeds, but it does establish that Dawkins does nothing to refute it. Dawkins sets up a straw man and succeeds in knocking it down.

Further, Dawkins needs to come to grips with the Kalam Cosmological Argument. This argument does not only argue more successfully for God than does Aquinas, it also gives reasons to consider the cause of the universe as having the attributes of God.

God Delusion # 7 - The Mind Reader

Dawkins writes: "I simply cannot believe that Gould could possibly have meant much of what he wrote in Rocks of Ages." (57)

Just before that Dawkins quotes Martin Rees and then says Rees probably didn't really mean what he wrote. (56-57)

Now I am seeing that these psychological intuitions are things Dawkins often has. If Dawkins finds a scientist who says something he does not like he can simply say "They didn't really mean that" or, "If they were alive today they would never believe that."

Dawkins appears to be so narrowly locked into his particular naturalistic paradigm that he literally cannot envision another scientist affirming religion.

God Delusion # 6 - A False Dichotomy

Dawkins sets up a false dichotomy between Stephen Jay Gould's "NOMA" and "science."

"NOMA" means "non-overlapping magisteria." Gould writes: "The magisterium of science covers the empirical realm... The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. Thes two magisteria do not overlap." (In GD, 55) Gould's view is a form of methodological naturalism.

Dawkins believes in only one "magisterium"; viz., empirical reality. The empirical realm is the only realm there is. By definition. Or, by faith, or by something. Dawkins' view is known as metaphysical naturalism.

Why accept these two choices Dawkins forces on us? NOMA states that the magisterium of science has nothing to do with religion; Dawkinsian science says religion is nothing. Of course Dawkins rejects NOMA. Therefore, religion studies nothing real.

But there is a third alternative, which is: overlapping magisteria. One current example is Francis Collins, a geneticist who directs the Human Genome Project. In his book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Collins desribes his conversion from atheism to theism and his discovery that there is "a richly satisfying harmony between the scientific and spiritual worldviews." This is neither NOMA, nor metaphysical naturalism, but rather OMA.

Scientists like Collins genuinely puzzle Dawkins, who is so ensconced in his metaphysical naturalism that such a third alternative does not even compute.

NOTE: For a critique of methodological naturalism see U. of Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga.

Friday, October 06, 2006

God Delusion #5 - The Fallacy of Suppressed Evidence

In GD ch. 2, p, 45, Dawkins argues as follows:

1) Atheists are hated and misunderstood in America.
2) It is "virtually impossible for an honest atheist to win a public election in America."
3) There are 535 elected leaders in the House and Senate.
4) Therefore, "it is statistically all but inevitable that a substantial number of them must be atheists."

Huh? Dawkins' conclusion does not follow from Premises 1-3. Dawkins "reasoning" commits the fallacy of suppressed evidence.

Atheists AND agnostics comprise 12% of the American population. The cited article says that such statistics are hard to come by.

It's precisely such evidence that is suppressed by Dawkins. And such evidence may be hard to obtain especially if, as Dawkins suggests so far in his book, there are atheists in America hiding in the closet out of fear of hatred and misunderstanding.

At most all I can ascertain from this kind of "logic" is that Dawkins himself has a psychological certainty that such must be the case. He "feels" it is "all but inevitable."

God Delusion #4 - Anachronistic Displacement

Dawkins, in ch. 2 of GD, talks about America's founding fathers. Dawkins is correct in stating that many of them were deists. But then he writes: "Certainly their writings on religion in their own time leave me in no doubt that most of them would be atheists in our own."

But this is anachronistic reasoning. Now I am thinking that this is the same thing that Dawkins did with Einstein, trying to get Einstein into his circle of believers. In this case Dawkins recruits the founding fathers as kindred thinkers just like him.

Dawkins thinks himself "rational." So, is this what he means by "rationality?"

Or perhaps [:)] ... Dawkins is afflicted with anachronistic displacement, "a psychological condition referring to an obsessive or dysfunctional belief or claim that a person "belongs" or should properly exist in another time period"?

I know that as I continue reading GD I need to be on alert for this kind of "reasoning" so as to quickly dismiss it.

God Delusion #3 - Emerson

Dawkins begins GD ch. 2 with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson says, "The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next."

Not really. (Emerson might have wished this were so...)

God Delusion #2 - Einstein was a atheist

Dawkins, in GD, co-opts Albert Einstein as an atheist. Dawkins writes: "Einstein sometimes invoked the name of God (and he is not the only atheistic scientist to do so)."

But Einstein was not an atheist. He was once asked, "Do you believe in the God of Spinoza?" Einstein responded: "I can't answer with a simple yes or no. I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist."

I believe Dawkins is correct when he says that Einstein did not believe God was a "personal" being. But it is an intellectual leap to then infer that Einstein was a "naturalist" just like Dawkins.

One must study most specifically what Einstein meant when he said he did not believe in a personal God. Part of what he means here is that he is against anthropomorphism. And, despite his protests, it seems accurate to associate his ideas about God with Spinoza's pantheism.

Einstein once said, "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings." Spinoza, strictly speaking, did not identify "God" with "Nature." Here see his distinction re. the two sides of Nature: Natura naturans and Natura naturata ("Nature naturing" and "Nature natured"). See also here.

Spinoza believed in God. And, it must be pointed out, his belief was in a nonanthropomorphic, thus in his mind radically Jewish, God. Einstein "believ[ed] in Spinoza's God." Thus Dawkins errs in conflating Einstein's views about God with his own naturalistic atheism.

But why does Dawkins even need Einstein in his atheistic camp? Why does he work so hard (but not hard enough) to call Einstein one of his own? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in its article "Pantheism," says: "With some exceptions, pantheism is non-theistic, but it is not atheistic. It is a form of non-theistic monotheism, or even non-personal theism." Since Dawkins refers to himself as an atheist, he is not a non-theistic monotheist, nor is he a non-personal theist. Einstein was.

God Delusion #1

I began reading Richard Dawkins' new book The God Delusion. I'm going to - hopefully - post my thoughts about this book as I read through it.

I can't get past page 1. Dawkins writes: "I suspect - well, I am sure - that there are lots of people out there who have been brought up in some religion or other, are unhappy in it, don't believe it, or are worried about the evils that are done in its name; people who feel vague yearnings to leave their parents' religion and wish they could, but just don't realize that leaving is an option."

But how can Dawkins "be sure" of this? Does he have empirical evidence to support this? He gives none, so why should we accept his "sureness" of this?

He shares his "delight" when a British television advertisment showed the World Trade Center with the caption "Imagine a world without religion." Then, Dawkins writes: "Imagine, with John Lennon, a world with no religion." Does he mean a John Lennon-ish world? I hope not. Lennon's son Julian writes this of his father: "I didn't hate him but I was scared of him. I didn't know this man at all, and trying to rebuild a relationship that was never there made him as frighened of me as I was of him." Julian adds, "He wasn't a great father." Julian's step-father became his real father. Julian writes: "A lot of people don't like to hear that but on my behalf it's true." Julian saw his dad only 10 times before he was murdered.

As I skimmed through GD I saw a lot of the Dawkins' anger coming out in ad hominem abusives. Dawkins is a humorous, degrading guy. If this is atheism I know I don't want a world where Dawkins and John Lennon are the models.

For what the lives of some famous atheists were really about, see Paul Johnson's Intellectuals. Read, for example, of the perverted behavior of the great atheist Bertrand Russell.

For the record: I don't want to live in a world modeled by myself either. But I do believe this. I am a far, far better person because of my following of Jesus than I was before. And I know many, many Christians who exemplify things I value. Like parenting, for example (contra John Lennon).

Have evils been done in the name of religion? Sadly, of course. Have atheists done "evil" things? Uh-huh. And because the overwhelming majority of persons who now live and have ever lived are religious, and only a tiny group atheist, one would expect to find proportionately more evils perpetrated in the name of religion than in the name of atheism.

Dawkins refers to Lennon's "Imagine" as a "magnificent song." I, on the other hand, think it is filled with hypocrisy.

"Imagine all the people living life in peace.
...I hope some day you'll join us and the world will be as one."

Unfortunately for Lennon's own son Julian that "world" did not include him.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Now Reading...

I just picked up Richard Dawkins' new book The God Delusion. For a video interview with Dawkins about this book see here.

For the recent Newsweek article called "The New Naysayers: In the Midst of Religious Revival, Three Scholars Argue that Atheism is Smarter," see here. It's mostly about the current "big 3" of atheism: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett.

My intent is to make various comments on my take on the Dawkins book and post them here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Science and Logic of Personhood

There is a very good article on the logic of personhood as beginning at conception at nationalreviewonline. It's written by Patrick Lee of Franciscan University of Steubenville and Robert P. George of Princeton.

Consider this excerpt: "In defending embryonic human life, we have pointed out that every human adult was once an embryo, just as he or she was once an adolescent, and befofre that a child, and before that an infant, and before that a fetus. This is not a religious claim or a piece of metaphysical speculation. It is a human fact. The complete human organism - the whole living member of the species Homo sapiens - that is, for example, you the reader, is the same human individual that at an earlier point in his or her life was an adolescent, a child, an infant, a fetus, am embryo."

"Human embryos do not differ in kind from (other) human beings; rather, they differ from other human beings merely in respect of their stage of development."

Thus, there is no "point in time" (such as the moment of "viability") where suddenly the fetus "becomes a person."

The argument against abortion then runs logically like this:

1. The fetilized egg is a person.
2. Every person has a right to life.
3. Therefore the fertilized egg has a right to life.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Thank You to My Church

September 21, 2006

Dear Redeemer Family:

Last Sunday afternoon Linda reminded me that there was a baby shower at the church that we needed to go to. I had been taking a nap and, a bit groggy, got dressed and proceeded to the church.

When we pulled in the parking lot there were a lot of cars there. I said, “Wow, this is going to be a big shower!” Linda said, “There’s a big family here today.” Entering the church building, I went to the Fellowship Hall and saw tables and chairs set up and ready to go. But no people. Linda said, “Probably they are in the sanctuary doing some spiritual things.” OK.

Nobody in the lobby, either. Linda and I walked to the double doors. Wayne Harmon and Larry Poore thrust them open, and YOU were there standing and clapping… and looking… at me. I asked Linda, “What is this?” She took me down the center aisle, sat me in a chair right in front, next to her, her dad Del, my sons Josh and Dan, and Dan’s fiancĂ© Allie. I was a deer in the headlights. I had entered Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” I was Jim Carrey, stunned to find myself not in real life but on “The Truman Show.” Instead of being at a baby shower, I sat while ALL OF YOU watched slides of me as a baby, which is definitely NOT the kind of thing Scandinavian men like me flock to.

Now, 5 days later, I am feeling a bit emotional as I write this. How can I express my gratefulness FOR YOU? With all of my heart… THANK YOU for the entire evening, for the gifts, and for your presence there. I am a blessed man to have YOU as family. I thank God that He has given you to me. I thank God for His grace and mercy. It is now mediated, from Him, through you, to me.

Linda, Dan, Josh, Del, even our dog So-Fee, feel so blessed. So now I want to bless YOU.

I bless YOU to be a people who greatly advance the Kingdom of God
I bless YOU to be a righteous army that pushes back the kingdom of darkness
I bless YOU as healers to the sick
I bless YOU as deliverers of the oppressed
I bless YOU as raisers of the dead
I bless YOU as witnesses and proclaimers of the Real Jesus


Pastor John Piippo

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ben Witherington Against the "Prosperity Gospel"

Ben Witherington is one of our great New Testament scholars. Here is his response to the Time Magazine article on the "prosperity gospel."

This post includes Witherington's TOP TEN REASONS WHY GOD DOESN'T WANT YOU WEALTHY. I would qualify this a bit. I think God could give a Real Follower of Jesus ten cars, for example, if those ten cars were needed to advance the Kingdom of God, heal the sick, deliver the sppressed, raise the dead, and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. But then one would simply be a steward of the resources God entrusts you with.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Time Magazine on the "Prosperity Gospel"

The Time magazine that arrived today has the cover story "Does God Want You To be Rich?" The correct answer is: Wrong question. God wants "you" to advance His Kingdom on the earth, push back the kingdom of darkness, heal the sick, deliver the oppressed, raise the dead, and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom to others. If more money will allow you to do that, then God will provide. But for the Real Jesus it's all about the Kingdom; nothing more, nothing less.

The Time story begins with George Adams, who attends Joel Osteen's church. Adams believes that with God's assistance he will buy his "dream house." The article reads: ""Twenty-five acres," he says. "And three bedrooms. We're going to have a schoolhouse (his children are home schooled). We want horses and ponies for the boys, so a horse barn. And a pond. And maybe some cattle." "I'm dreaming big--because all of heaven is dreaming big," Adams continues. "Jesus died for our sins. That was the best gift God could give us," he says. "But we have something else. Because I want to follow Jesus and do what he ordained, God wants to support us. It's Joel Osteen's ministry that told me. Why would an awesome and mighty God want anything less for his children?""

How sad. What a tiny vision this is. And, it is unbiblical. God wants to advance His Kingdom, not the kingdom of George Adams or any of us.

We read that, "In a TIME poll, 17% of Christians surveyed said they considered themselves part of such a movement, while a full 61% believed that God wants people to be prosperous. And 31%--a far higher percentage than there are Pentecostals in America--agreed that if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money." Again, how sad. And, for followers of jesus, how disturbing. American Christians have lost touch with the Real Jesus. I agree that there are phenomenal blessings that come from being a Real Follower of Jesus. There's also possible martyrdom, which is said to be a great blessing as well ("Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake"). And if material blessing was so cool in God's eyes, then why did the Son of Man have no roof over his head while foxes at least have holes to live in?Just read Matthew, Mark, Luke and john. Read the actual words of Jesus about money. And, as you do, realize He is speaking to people who only have one-room homes and only have one cloak to wear, maybe two. The thought that Jesus would say such things to we in America is then stunning.

"The [Prosperity Gospel] movement's renaissance has infuriated a number of prominent pastors, theologians and commentators. Fellow megapastor Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life has outsold Osteen's by a ratio of 7 to 1, finds the very basis of Prosperity laughable. "This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?", he snorts. "There is a word for that: baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?""

I agree with Ben Witherington, who says that "we need to renounce the false gospel of wealth and health--it is a disease of our American culture; it is not a solution or answer to life's problems."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dallas Willard & the Real Jesus

Dallas Willard is one of today’s great communicators of the Real Jesus and Real Christianity. Willard has for some time been a Prof. of Philosophy at USC. Years ago, after reading Richard Foster’s A Celebration of Discipline, I read Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines – a great, deep book on spiritual transformation. today has two feature articles on Willard. One is a very interesting bio, and the other, by Cornelius Plantinga, is about spiritual transformation.

Here, e.g., is a juicy Willard quote from the bio article: "There is knowledge of God and the spiritual nature of man, as well as other types of reality (e.g. moral obligations) that are not reducible to the world dealt with by the so-called 'natural sciences.' The idea that knowledge—and, of course, reality—is limited to that world is the single most destructive idea on the stage of life today." Willard is a great scholar of German phenomenologist Edmund Husserl. Like Husserl, "Willard believes that we can have direct experiences with the world that transcend cultural and linguistic barriers." Willard’s work, among other things, escorts us into the presence of God which transcednds such barriers and who is able to renovate our hearts.

Dallas Willard is an extremely valuable resource for all who are interested in the Real Jesus.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fasting as Spiritual Warfare: Part 2 - Some Practical Suggestions

The first time I ever fasted was after reading Richard Foster’s book A Celebration of Discipline. Were I to list the top 10 books outside of the Bible that have influenced me, Foster’s book would be on that list. After reading his chapter on “Fasting,” I felt motivated to begin to practice it.

Here are some more practical thoughts I have about fasting.

Accompany a fast where you have no food with water and fruit juices.

If you have not practiced fasting before, then try a one-day fast. Go without food for 24 hours.
Drink only water, and perhaps add fruit juices.

Allow God to lead you in regard to the spiritual focus of your fast. For example, you may choose to fast and pray for a specific person in your life. During your fast, when you feel hungry, let that sensation of hunger be your reminder to pray for that person. In praying for that person, pray the 6 “Prayer Hooks” of the Lord’s Prayer.

For example:

1) “I pray that ______ would hallow Your name, Lord.”
2) “I pray that the Kingdom would come in _____’s life.”
3) “I pray that Your will would be done in _____’s life.”
4) “I pray that ______ would receive daily bread.”
5) “I pray that ______ would understand how Your Cross brings forgiveness for _____’s debts, and that ______ would extend that forgiveness to any who have sinned against _______.”
6) I pray, God, that You would protect _______ from the evil one, and not let _______ fall into the evil one’s traps.”

You may choose to fast for breakthrough and victory in some area of your life that is not pleasing to God. This will likely include prayers of brokenness before God. And prayers of breakthrough by the power of God.

NOTE: If you have a medical condition that does not allow you to fast from food, then read this article by Richard Foster called “Fasting: Twentieth Century Style” to see other areas to fast from.

If you want to study more about fasting, in addition to Foster’s book, I recommend:
- Bill Bright, The Transforming Power of Prayer and Fasting: Personal Account of Spiritual Renewal
- Bill Bright, 7 Basic Steps to Successful Prayer and Fasting
- Bill Bright, The Coming Revival: America's Call to Fast, Pray, and Seek God's Face (I read this several years ago, and was blessed by Bright's own fasting experiences and God-encounters. Bright was the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.)
- Elmer Towns, Fasting for Spiritual Breakthrough (I read this book years ago. A very good resource, describing 10 biblical fasts. Get it used for $1.99 at!)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dallas Willard on Fasting

Here's some thoughts from Dallas Willard on biblical fasting. I have slightly edited them. For the full essay see here. (For my essay on "Fasting & Spiritual Warfare: Part 1," see below.

Fasting is another long proven way of finding our way into Sabbath, where we live and do our work from the hand of God. In fasting we abstain from our ordinary food to some significant degree and for some significant length of time. Like solitude and silence, it is not done to impress God or merit favor, nor because there is anything wrong with food. Rather, it is done that we may consciously experience the direct sustenance of God to our body and our whole person. We are using the keys to access the kingdom.

This understanding of fasting is clearly indicated by Jesus in Matt. 4:4 (with its back reference to Deut. 8:2-6) and in John 4:32-34. Fasting is, indeed, feasting. When we have learned well to fast, we will not suffer from it. It will bring strength and joy. We will not be miserable, and so Jesus tells us not to look miserable. (Matt 6:16) Was he suggesting that we fake a condition of joy and sufficiency when we fast? Surely not. He knew that we would "have meat to eat" that others "know not of." I and many others can report that we have repeatedly verified this in experience.

Fasting is one way of seeking and finding the actual kingdom of God present and active in our lives. And because we are then more immersed in the reality of the kingdom, practically utilizing the "keys," our lives take on the character and power of Jesus. This will assure us that our work is his work and that he is working. Though we act, and work hard, it is after all not our battle and the outcome is in his hands.

One pastor had this to say about his experience with fasting: "Surprisingly, after the fast is when I began to realize something from the fast. I came back from the fast with a clearer sense of purpose and a renewed sense of power in my ministry. The anger which I unleashed at my wife and children was less frequent and the materialism that was squeezing the life out of my spirituality had loosened its grip."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fasting as Spiritual Warfare: Part 1

In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says these words: "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

With these words we see that Jesus expects his real followers to fast. For Jesus it was a matter of when believers would fast, not if they would do it. He spoke in these terms: "When you give to the needy...when you pray...when you fast." (Matthew 6:2,5,16) These three things should be done, not rarely, but as a lifestyle.

All this will really mess up your personal kingdom-building. This is because the only Kingdom Jesus wants to build is the Kingdom of God.

In Matthew 9:15 Jesus says, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” There is no way to escape the force of Jesus’ words here. He makes it clear that he expected his disciples to fast after he was gone. In other words, until the Kingdom comes in its fullness Jesus’ followers will fast.

And fasting is not a horrible thing to do, something to be dreaded. The Jewish religious leaders put on their sad-masks when they fasted to draw attention to themselves. Thus “fasting” gets a label of “bad experience.” But I think that when fasting is really understood, it becomes a spiritual adventure. When you see what it is for and why Jesus expects it you will see fasting a powerful spiritual weapon to advance the Kingdom of God and push back the powers of darkness.
Richard Foster defines “fasting” as the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity. Fasting is: going without food for spiritual purposes.
More specifically:

  • Fasting is…

  • going without food…

  • for the purpose of seeking God…

  • So as to…

  • Advance His Kingdom

  • Push back the powers of darkness

  • Heal the sick

  • Deliver the oppressed

  • Raise the dead…

  • And proclaim the Good News about what God has done in Jesus the Christ.

Did anyone fast in the Bible? Moses did, on Mt. Sinai, for forty days and forty night (Ex. 34). In fact, Moses did two 40-day fasts. (Deut. 9:9, 18-19) Hannah fasted when she was praying for a child. She was barren and deeply distressed, and God freed her. Then God gave her a baby boy, Samuel, who grew into a mighty man of God. (1 Samuel 1:7-8) David fasted many times. For example, once David fasted and prayed to God for the life of his child. (2 Samuel 12.) Elijah fasted after his victory over Jezebel.

Ezra, in Ezra 8:21, 23, writes: There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions… So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. Ezra faced a problem. He was leading a large group of defenseless people across the wilderness to return to the Promised Land. The “wilderness” was a “badlands” area inhabited by thieves who attacked caravans of people. The Israelites were not only returning home, they were bringing all their household goods and treasures with them. Faced with this problem… Ezra called a fast.

Nehemiah fasted and prayed when he was preparing for the trip back to Israel. In Neh. 1: 3-4 we read: “They said to me, "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire." When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

Esther fasted when God's people were threatened with extermination. In Esther 4:15-16 we read: “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."

Daniel fasted many times. In Daniel 1 he fasts from the king’s food and drink. In Daniel 9 he fasts. In Daniel 10, faced with the destruction of Jerusalem, he fasts and has a phenomenal visitation from God.

“ At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not se it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.
In Joel 1 the prophet Joel declares a holy fast for corporate repentance. In Jonah 3:5-9 the people of Nineveh, after hearing what Jonah had to say, “believed God.” Then “They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.”

John the Baptist and his disciples fasted often. (Matthew 9:14-15) The Christians at Antioch fasted when they sent off Paul and Barnabas on their mission trip. And Paul and others fasted when they appointed all of the elders.

And on and on it goes. Fasting, accompanying prayer, is a biblical, intense God-seeking.

In history Martin Luther and John Calvin, John Knox and John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney , Billy Graham. and many, many others prayed AND fasted. Wesley himself wrote in his journal, "Is not the neglect of this plain duty (I mean fasting, ranked by our Lord with almsgiving and prayer) one general occasion of deadness among Christians?"

What does true fasting look like? Isaiah 58:3-12 is an especially relevant text on biblical fasting, since in it God tells us the elements of his “chosen fast.” The context was that the people of Israel had been fasting, but no spiritual transformation (changed lives) was happening.

'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?' "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD ? "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?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "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.

Here God, functioning as Great Physician, PRESCRIBES and DESCRIBES.


- Live to free people, not to burden them.

  • Verse 6.

  • Feed the hungry.

  • House the homeless.

  • Clothe the naked.

  • Move towards other people (no "cocooning" allowed)

  • Get rid of the pointy finger and trash-talk (stop the oppression!)

  • Spend yourself on other people

That's God the Doctor's prescription. God says… this is what I mean by fasting. This is my “chosen fast.”

Description (Promised Results)

  • If we fast like this the darkness in our life will become light.

  • If we follow this fasting there will be physical strengthening.

  • Verse 11: "He will strength your frame – lit., your bones. Your skeletal structure.

  • Who knows how much weakness is in us because we are not fasting in the way God wants us to?

  • If we follow this fasting God will be in front of us and behind us and in the midst of us with righteousness and glory.

  • If we follow this fasting, God promises to guide us continually.

  • John Piper says, “It seems the Lord gives his most intimate guidance to those whom have a heart for giving themselves to the needs of others—especially the poor.”

  • If we follow this fasting, He will satisfy your soul.

  • Pouring ourselves out for the poor is the path of deepest satisfaction.

  • If we follow this fasting, God will make you a watered garden with springs that do not fail.

  • It is a paradoxical spiritual principle in Scripture: as you pour yourself out you become full.

  • As you give away you get more.

  • When you are watered with God's grace you do not merely become a wet, moist, living garden; you also become a spring.

  • Finally, if we follow this fasting, that is, if we give ourselves to the poor, God will restore the ruins of his city—and his people.
There’s much about God’s “chosen fast” in Isaiah 58 that is close to the heart of Jesus the Son. When we hear Jesus’ words we see that God’s heart has never changed about these things. You can hear the beating heart of God in Luke 4:18.

  • "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."
You can hear it in Matthew 25:35-36 - when Jesus says…

  • "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to visit me."
And you can hear it in John 7:38 - "He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'streams of living water shall flow from within him.’” In other words, align your heart with Jesus’ heart and you become a well-watered garden, a “spring whose waters never fail.”

For me what is really the point of it all this is that in a true fast the Kingdom of Darkness is getting assaulted and losing!

And… Jesus fasted. When he began his public ministry, After Jesus is baptized he fasts for forty days. Then comes the testing of Satan in the desert. I think the significance of this, namely, that “fasting” was God’s chosen spiritual weapon, is that fasting clarifies things so much that we see the Kingdom of God squaring off against the Kingdom of Darkness. Fasting can enter us into deep spiritual warfare.

Note that immediately after this time of fasting and temptation John the Baptist comes and announces to everyone that “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."

And then comes Jesus: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."”

For those who truly fast, there’s a reward. For the hypocrites the “reward” is the applause of other people (woo-hoo!). For true followers the reward is nothing less than the approval of God.

Richard Foster writes, in his excellent, revolutionary book A Celebration of Discipline: "Superficiality is the curse of our age…. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people." I agree.

Self-denial is cool; self-indulgence is trite and boring. Spending your life on others is deep; building your own little earthly kingdom is superficial. Advancing God’s Kingdom is as meaningful as this life gets; living out of the kingdom of darkness is absurdity.

Real Followers of Jesus listen: the upside-down Kingdom is beautiful. It is advanced through giving to the poor and needy, prayer, and fasting, with all thee becoming a lifestyle.

(I'll soon make a post on how to do a fast, emphasizing practical things.)