• Tom Gilson Replies to My Response to Chapter 12 of True Reason

    Tom Gilson has responded to my latest installment of my review of True Reason. In my response to Chapter 12, titled “God and Science Do Mix” Tom Gilson quotes Lawrence M. Krauss, who in turn quotes J.B.S. Haldane, from a 2009 Wall Street Journal article:

    My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world. (129)

    Gilson responds in his chapter: “He is right, of course, to take it that science depends on nature generally behaving itself. But he is wrong to think this is incompatible with Christianity.” He continues by making a series of arguments about how god wishes to communicate with his creations; god wants his creations to be “responsible moral agents;” and god also wants his creations to learn from experience. All of these things would not be possible if we lived in a world “of constant supernatural intervention” because “if there is to much chaos (“noise”) in a transmission, the message (signal) can’t get through to be clearly understood.” (130)

    As I said in my review of the Chapter:

    Essentially all Gilson is arguing is that his god doesn’t want to dazzle his creations with constant supernatural interventions because he wants us to be able to predict with enough regularity the workings of the cosmos so we can do science and be responsible for our actions and learn from our experiences.

    This argument fails for three reasons. First, it completely defies typical Christian experience; second, it contradicts the very foundation of Christianity; and third, this argument does not fit with what we know (or rather, don’t know) about the universe.

    I go on to elaborate on these points. Gilson argued that god wants regularity in nature for the above reasons, but I argued that Gilson’s argument contradicts the facts in a number of ways. First, it defies typical Christian experience, when Christians see miracles occurring in their lives on a daily basis; second, the very creation of “something from nothing” is another miracle claim, and third, despite Gilson’s claims to the contrary, the universe is not as logical as he makes his readers believe. While our logical minds can grasp the universe on larger scales, our logical minds have much difficulty grasping the seeming illogical nature of the quantum world, where things appear to happen randomly and spontaneously without apparent reason or cause, which puts the universe at odds with our logical minds. Gilson’s reasons contradict everything we know about the universe and about Christianity.

    Why Gilson seems to confused is beyond me. In the final paragraph he writes,

    God’s desire to have a relationship of communication with humans, to give humans moral responsiblility, and to make a world in which we can learn and grow, can all be found in pages of Scripture that predate modern science by millennia. (132)

    He also says this on page 131: “Again, chaos of the sort Krauss envisions would clearly work against God’s purposes.”

    But as I demonstrated, the Christian world is not as orderly as Gilson argues with the many violations of natural law that are claimed to happen to Christians on a near daily basis. Now, I did not address Gilson’s claim here that “And what is science but systematized learning from experience?”

    His other argument appears to revolve around the idea that because god wants his creatures to learn “from experience” this makes Christianity compatible with science. This argument was so nonsensical I did not feel it merited a response so I focused on what appeared to be Gilson’s main argument, since it took up over 90% of the chapter, describing the ways in which god wants an orderly universe for his creations.

    Science is defined as “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. In an older and closely related meaning, ‘science’ also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied.”

    Gilson’s definition is horribly simplistic, but if one properly defines science Christianity has nothing to do with it at all. Christianity is based upon faith, not testing, nor searching for answers outside of their limited belief system. In his work The Prescriptions Against the Heretics I think Tertullian summed up the typical anti-scientific views of most Christians when he said:

    After Jesus Christ we have no need of speculation, after the Gospel no need of research. When we come to believe, we have no desire to believe anything else; for we begin by believing that there is nothing else which we have to believe…

    In conclusion, I believe Gilson either did not grasp the counter-argument I was making, or this is just another example of sloppy writing on his part.

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist

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    • I invite your readers to examine your previous post, my answer yesterday, and your answer here, and to see for themselves whether my questions yesterday make sense.

      • ArizonaAtheist

        Hi Tom. I didn’t understand what most of your questions on your blog had to do with either my response or your arguments in True Reason. You didn’t elaborate on what you intended to argue in the book nor did you defend your argument from the book in your reply. I’m not sure what you’re getting at. What were you arguing in True Reason if not what I quoted you as saying?

        • resipisence

          I just love this comment so much.

        • By the way: I didn’t defend my argument from the book because what you wrote was either obviously wrong (for example, that God violated natural law when he created ex nihilo) or unrelated to my argument. There was nothing there for me to defend my argument from.

          On a first impression your blog post looked like a criticism of my chapter. On a closer look it turned out to be more or less unsuccessful criticisms of other things. That’s why I wrote a blog post wondering what it was that you were after.

          Resipisence, I’m glad you liked his question.

          AA, if you didn’t understand what the questions on my blog post had to do with your response, may I point out that most of them included quotations from that post, and the rest of them paraphrased things you had written?

          If you can’t figure out what those quotations and paraphrases had to do with your post, shall I try again? If I try again, what would you suggest I do to make the connections clear? The usual answer to that question is quotations and paraphrases. Is there a better approach that I’m not aware of?

          • ArizonaAtheist

            Hi Tom. I’m sorry, but after going through your piece in even more detail than the first time I can say unequivocally that you did not: 1) defend your argument; 2) you did not even explain what your argument entailed from the book, assuming I was in error in the first place (which I do not believe I was); and 3) comprehend the arguments I was making.

            Yes, you quoted me but you demonstrated that you were unable to comprehend the argument I made and you also ignored many of the arguments I made. Just because someone quotes another accurately or in context (and in this case you did not in a number of instances) does not mean the person successfully responded to the arguments cited.

            My fully reply will be posted soon. Thanks.

            • Feel free to say it as unequivocally as you like. I’m not feeling very defensive here.

            • ArizonaAtheist

              I don’t know what else to say. I feel like I’m playing catch by myself. I’ve passed the ball to you, but you have yet to return the ball. (See my comments here: http://www.skepticink.com/azatheist/2014/07/11/clearing-up-the-shenanigans-tom-gilson-and-true-reason/

            • You could say, “Apparently Tom is content with what he has already said; he doesn’t feel that there’s anything more to add.”

              You could say, “Even though I think I’ve mounted a devastating critique against his position, he has concluded that it’s not even relevant, much less devastating, so he’s not going to bother with it any further.”

              Or you could say, “Hey, maybe I should go look and see whether Tom left a comment on that other thread this morning, and maybe if he did I should release it from moderation, rather than complaining about how he’s not participating.”

              Any of the three would be correct.

            • Granted, that other comment that’s still in moderation is another statement of my intent to cease participation, so the first two of those responses would be more helpful, accurate, and to the point.

          • resipisence

            Tom, your argument was that god wants to communicate with humans through miracles, that he has to do so very rarely so people are surprised and recognize the miracles as unusual events.

            ArizonaAtheist says that you are contradicting lots of other people on this point within the Christian community, and you do not admit this. Christians talk about miracles occurring to them all the time (including yourself), furthermore the Bible has god doing a constant stream of miracles from beginning to end. Your argument requires that miracles do not occur as often as most Christians, the Bible, and you yourself claim.

            You claim as well that too many miracles would make it too difficult for humans to understand the laws of nature, and god wants us to understand them so he only does miracles sparingly, and yet the laws of the universe are so baffling to humans that it takes a huge amount of work to understand them and the majority of the population still doesn’t believe.

            You’re essentially saying that god does miracles rarely enough so that science still works fine. Science does work fine, but if all the miracles occur that Christians claim then science would not work fine. You would need to repudiate these millionfold miracle claims to be consistent.

    • AdamHazzard

      I don’t understand why Gilson thinks a universe of “constant supernatural intervention” would be incomprehensibly chaotic. Given a sane and benevolent god, such a universe might actually be more orderly and predictable than our own–if it were, for instance, less randomly unjust and more consistently benevolent for human beings.

      For instance, if natural laws were consistently changed or altered where they apply to human beings — if, say, falling rocks predictably changed direction when they would otherwise strike and kill an innocent child — we would have pretty convincing evidence that some benevolent agency was at work in the world. It wouldn’t be “noise,” it would be a signal.

      In fact, the observation that we fail to detect such a signal is simply another way of stating the problem of natural evil.

      • CodyGirl824


        f rocks always fall but fail to fall when a human being is inadvertently below when a particular rock falls, so as to be benevolent toward a human, then the world would be chaotic. Who could predict the benevolence or malevolence of rocks? In what way do you think that the universe is “randomly unjust” and “not benevolent to human beings”? As a Christian, I do not believe in the concept of “natural evil” because nature is incapable of formulating an intent and therefore cannot be evil or even “inconsistently benevolent” (sometimes benevolent, sometimes not). The “signal” you speak of is when God uses nature for benevolent purposes because God is benevolent in order to communicate His benevolence toward human beings. I

        • resipisence

          The bad things nature does are not evil “because nature is incapable of formulating an intent and therefore cannot be evil”. Yet “God uses nature for benevolent purposes”? How do you know this?

          If I’m driving my car well by holding on to the steering wheel, but then let go of the wheel and the car crashes, was that just nature acting neutrally or did I drive badly? If God uses nature to do good, then lets go and allows nature to do bad, what is the difference? If I did that with my car, my driving licence would be taken away.

          • CodyGirl824


            You are correct in distinguishing between nature, which has no will or volition or intent, and God who does. This is the point. God can and does use nature for His purposes, one of which is to communicate and reveal Himself to His creatures, we human beings. This is what we call miracles. Nature always acts “neutrally” so God’s “allowing” nature to act neutrally is also “neutral.” Concepts of good vs. bad acts of nature are meaningless and are merely humans making judgments about nature’s impact on our survival. Keep in mind that we Christians see nature as completely benevolent since nature is life-friendly and life-sustaining and life is a gift from God.

            • resipisence

              Cody, I notice that you didn’t actually answer my questions, you just kind of expanded on what you believe as if I didn’t understand.

              God can and does use nature for His purposes, one of which is to communicate and reveal Himself to His creatures, we human beings.

              How do you know this?

              God’s “allowing” nature to act neutrally is also “neutral.”

              You ignored my car analogy completely. If I’m in the car with my friends, and I use my control of the wheel of the car to keep them safe, that is an act of benevolence. If I take my hands off the wheel and let the car crash, that is not neutral. If god has the capacity to perform miracles to keep humans safe, but takes his hands off the wheel most of the time to allow billions of people to die in agony, how is this a neutral act?

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    • CodyGirl824


      Your car analogy is IMO not analogous with God’s relationship with nature or with human creatures. What comparison are you making between God and the driver of a car? Apparently, you are telling us that if you were the Creator (driver of the car), you would have created a different and allegedly more benevolent reality. You appear to object to death, or at least, death as a result of certain causes, including what you consider premature death, the death of the innocent or death “in agony.” Or you consider death itself to be malevolent, like an uncaring or careless driver of the car. However, if your objection is that God “causes” these objectionable (and therefore, malevolent) deaths but you have no objection to death of biological life forms as a consequence of biological life, then you simply have created your own category of objections to death as a result of the operation of natural laws, the same ones that create and sustain life. I often point out that without volcanic eruptions, there would be no Hawaii, but I do believe that the Hawaiians are very grateful for the fact that there exists a Hawaii.

      So, which deaths do you classify as not a “neutral act” of nature and which deaths do you classify as “acts of God” as the “driver of the car” of nature that are malevolent (willful acts of hostile intent against creatures) or careless (God’s hands off the wheel) and therefore “not neutral acts”? I find your analogy to be rather muddled and quite unconvincing.