Re: [asa] D'Souza vs. Hitchens - Surrending the debate epistemologically by subjecting revealed knowledge to science

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Wed Oct 31 2007 - 11:42:08 EDT

You don't know where I get this "idolatry twist"? How about reading the rest of Romans 1 - in particular, vv.22-23: "Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images reesembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles." Terry has already pointed this out.

It's a fundamental error in interpreting scripture (or any text for that matter) to focus on a few lines & ignore the context. You do that with other texts as well. The first half of Ps.19, "The heavens declare ..." has to be read together with the second half which speaks of YHWH's revelation in torah. Besides the explicit biblical context we also need to pay attention to the broader cultural setting of a text. "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" isn't talking about metaphysical atheism - which was virtually unknown in the ancient world - but, as the rest of the psalm shows, those whose attitudes and behaviors ignore God. This is especially clear with the similar phrase "all their thoughts are, 'There is no God'" in Ps.10:4b. That parallels the 1st half of the verse, "In the pride of their countence the wicked say, 'God will not seek it out.'" I.e., "There is no God" means "God's not going to do anything." (Besides, there's no statement in Ps.14 that the fool should know anything about God from nature.) You could also point to Acts 14:17 & 17:22-28, but Paul is speaking in those situations to believe who believe there is some God (or gods) and trying to turn them from their idolatry (cf. Romans 1) to the true God.

You are also ignoring the nuances which I've tried to observe in making my argument. I did not say flatly that no argument at all for God from nature can be made but that "one can speak of 'knowledge' of God from creation only in an extremely limited sense since the result of trying to develop such a knowledge from observation of the world alone is inevitable idolatry." I.e., one can plausibly conclude from observations of nature of the type available to people in the ancient world that there is some deity, but nothing more. & as soon as you try to go beyond that on the strength of observation & reason alone you're into the realm of idolatry. That is what an attempt to develop a "natural theology" independent of God's historical revelation tries to do, & that's why I have no hesitation about labelling Groothuis' "project of natural theology" idolatry.

& again, I am not suggesting that phenomena of the natural world should be ignored in apologetics or in debates with atheists. Such phenomena should be viewed in the light of Christ in order to bring out a significance deeper than what science alone can discern.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: John Walley
  To: 'George Murphy' ;
  Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 12:01 AM
  Subject: RE: [asa] D'Souza vs. Hitchens - Surrending the debate epistemologically by subjecting revealed knowledge to science


  Sorry for the delay in the response but I wanted to get back to you on this. I remember your email on 23 October but then as now I am not sure I am in agreement with you on the interpretation of Rom 1:20. That is an interesting perspective but I don't see that as being consistent with the rest of scripture.

  There are many other scriptures that seem to imply this same "idolatry" of natural theology. For instance, "The fool has said in his heart there is no God", "The heavens declare the Glory of God" and God reveals His wrath against those "who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" etc., etc.. To me, these all make clear that God's perspective on the default conclusion of natural revelation is that it leads to Him. I don't know where you get this idolatry twist.

  This I would consider valid knowledge and truth and therefore impertinent to surrender that in any debate with atheists. I will concede that this is knowledge from a spiritual source ultimately but as the above scriptures indicate, all the evidence leads to it and the only way to avoid this conclusion is to willfully reject it and live in denial of it. But however, keep in mind that the source of truth or knowledge in no way disqualifies it from being so. For instance, a good example from the ID literature is the discovery of the benzene ring which was the result of a dream.


  -----Original Message-----
  From: [] On Behalf Of George Murphy
  Sent: Sunday, October 28, 2007 4:15 PM
  To: John Walley;
  Subject: Re: [asa] D'Souza vs. Hitchens - Surrending the debate epistemologically by subjecting revealed knowledge to science

  John -

  In a post of 23 October I pointed out some of the problems with the type of appeal to Rom.1:20 that you keep trying to make. In the real world in which all people are sinful, one can speak of "knowledge" of God from creation only in an extremely limited sense since the result of trying to develop such a knowledge from observation of the world alone is inevitable idolatry. That is Paul's whole point in that passage & it's a serious mistake to try to make it into an argument for natural revelation.

  & in fact "the project of natural theology" to which Groothuis refers is simply the project of idolatry. An attempt to base the claim that "there is a God" on observations of nature may be just barely defensible, but any attempt to say who or what God (which is what a "theology" will do) will always produce some false god.

  Again, it's a quite different matter to look at the natural world in the light of God's historical revelation which is centered on Christ & to try to develop a "natural theology" as part of explicitly Christian theology. But that doesn't seem to be what either Groothuis or you are talking about.



    ----- Original Message -----

    From: John Walley


    Sent: Sunday, October 28, 2007 3:50 AM

    Subject: [asa] D'Souza vs. Hitchens - Surrending the debate epistemologically by subjecting revealed knowledge to science

    Below is an excerpt of a blog posting of a review of a recent debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens at King's College by philosopher and professor Douglas Groothuis.

    I am curious to get any comments from the list on his observations because he charges Dinesh with selling the farm "epistemologically and apologetically" because he concedes faith beliefs are not valid knowledge and knowledge can only be what is empirically proven. This is very similar to the recent discussion on the philosophical foundation from Rom. 20 of God having revealed real knowledge (and not just faith) in his creation. And in fact from this scripture that says that those that reject this knowledge are "without excuse", it is clear God considers this revealed knowledge to be valid and binding and manifest to all and not some subjective idea that is subject to interpretation or the approval of science.

    I think Groothius may have articulated it here better than I but I think we are in agreement that as soon as we surrender this revealed "knowledge" as not being valid and instead replacing it with only "science" then we have already lost the debate. And this does appear to be the strategy of atheists and therefore the danger in siding with them too strongly in their marginalizing the arguments from ID.



    Debate: Christianity and Atheism
    Dinesh D'Souza (author of What's So Great About Christianity) and Christopher Hitchens (author of God is Not Great) recently debated at King's College. I will not give a point by point commentary, but limit myself to three comments, the first of which is the most important.

    1. At 1.26 D'Souza completely sells the farm epistemologically and apologetically--despite the many fine points he made throughout the debate. He claims that his religious belief is not knowledge. He does not know it to be true; he only believes it. In so doing, he seems to restrict knowledge to what is empirically verifiable. But there is no reason to do. We know many things apart from empirical evidence (such as basic moral claims). Moreover, we can infer the existence the supernatural from the natural (the project of natural theology; see In Defense of Natural Theology, which I co-edited and to which I contributed a chapter.) D'Souza goes on to say that while he leaps toward God, Hitchens leaps toward atheism. I groaned loudly to myself when I heard it (although my wife probably heard me). Many in the crowd applauded.

    This is tragic. We must enter the public square making knowledge claims, not mere faith claims that are allowable, just as allowable as theism or some other worldview. We need to try to out argue the opposition by marshalling the strongest possible arguments for Christianity and against atheism. In fact, D'Souza gave some strong arguments not adequately rebutted by Hitchens by the time he sold the farm. There was no need to do so; and in so doing, he sets a terrible example for Christian persuasion in the public realm (despite the virtues he exhibited in the debate).

    2. The form of the debate was poor. Neither speaker has enough time for opening comments or for rebuttal. The supposed "cross examination" devolved into haranguing at time, with the moderator (Marvin O'laski) failing to intervene to keep order. Serious debates should have strict rules.

    3. Both speakers issued cheap shots by insulting the other speaker in ways not required by their arguments. This may get applause, but makes no logical point.

    Apparently, D'Souza has come to a more mature Christian conviction recently. He is not known as a philosopher, but as a social critic and political writer. I never detected an overt Christian worldview in the several books I've read by him over the years. At that crucial time of 1:26 this weakness showed. I have not yet finished his book, however. Perhaps I'll say more then.

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Received on Wed Oct 31 11:45:35 2007

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