One of the more obvious things about doing television gigs is the compression of time. Everything has to be discussed in soundbytes and bumpersticker aphorisms. Five minutes is a long time, and twenty minutes stretches out in front of you like a highway in Montana.
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All the folks we dealt with were very kind, and most professional, but the system is not friendly, shall we say, to sustained argument. The same kind of thing can happen in a live setting also, where the time is limited, and your adversary is as quick and as slippery as Christopher Hitchens.
All this by way of setting up just a couple of points that I shoulda woulda coulda made somewhere in our interactions over the last three days. I am not quite sure where these points were made, the whole thing being kind of blurry, but here is a more focused response.
Christopher said somewhere that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This is quite true, but Christopher misses the point of it. He thinks the resurrection is the extraordinary claim, when actually it is the extraordinary proof. You should not listen to a man who claims to be God (the extraordinary claim) unless He does something like come back from the dead. The resurrection is God’s declaration that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4), and when we preach the resurrection, as we are charged to do, we are preaching the proof, not something that needs to be proven. God adds to the proof by anointing all such faithful preaching with His power, testifying to the testimony. It is the power of the Spirit that will convert the world by this means.
Another thing is a line of argument that has been invited a number of times by Christopher, but which I don’t remember ever pursuing with him. It is the kind of thing the military calls a target rich environment — too many choices. Christopher regularly appeals to science and reason — I have pressed him on this point when it comes to reason, but have not really done so with regard to science and its reliance on natural laws. Christopher, and the rest of the new atheists, persist in acting as though science explains everything, when it is science (and the undergirding natural laws) that need to be explained. This is a photo-negative of my point above about the resurrection. Christopher demands proofs for that which was the most glorious proof ever produced, and is puzzled if asked for the rationale beneath the natural laws which he assumes to be axiomatic and self-evident. This reveals the true nature of the disagreement, a battle of paradigms. He believes in self-suspending natural laws. I believe that we serve a God who raises the dead.
The order of the natural world is taken on faith by the new atheists, and there is no scientific accounting for a scientific approach to all things. Which natural law requires that all things be regulated according to natural law? And what experiment was it that established this?
This is not just a rhetorical flourish on my part. The more you chase theoretical physicists around, asking pointed questions, the weirder it gets. We are asked to take quite a bit on faith, and what we are asked to accept is a whole lot stranger than what an elderly Swedenborgian might have come up with after ingesting a whole lot of exotic mushrooms.
And why? This is the persistent problem of the new atheists. When we ask for a scientific explanation, all they give us are descripions, and sometimes descriptions that are way out there. But to tell us that a falling object will accelerate at a rate 9.8 meters per second squared is a precise description, and is no explanation at all. An explanation would tell us why it does that.
This can be illustrated very simply. I propose a scientific hypothesis. Every material object has a fairy assigned to it, and whenever said object is dropped, its attendant fairy will pull that object down at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. Let’s test my hypothesis. Sure enough, I have clearly proven the existence of these weight fairies.
Actually, I have only proven their existence to the extent that we have proven the “existence” of something called gravity. What is gravity? Yes, right. It is the attraction of masses, but can you do any better than describe masses attracting? Description is not explanation.
This is an elementary mistake, and the new atheists keep making it. It is as though something that was screaming out for an explanation — like Thoreau’s trout in the milk, something he thought suggestive of a need for explanation — was resolved by a careful measurement of the trout.
This is not the only one, of course, but it is representative of the case for the new atheism — wall to wall category mistakes.