Awhile back, I was explaining why I don’t get Christianity. A commenter suggested I read a book – “The Holiness of God” by RC Sproul . I was contemplating doing an audio book reading/commentary, but I think I’ll stick to writing.
The book was recommended as supposedly having answers to my concerns, so I got it. Does it deliver? Frankly, the first chapter went about as well as you’d expect.
Sproul starts out describing a personal experience he had, while in college. He woke up in middle of the night, and ran to a church/chapel because he was “compelled to leave his room.” He felt experiences, and became “born again”. The book does not mention any attempt to confirm that what he was experiencing was real.
He writes about how he was taking a philosophy class that he didn’t care for, and after his conversion, he learned about St. Augustine, who was questioning issues of the book of Genesis. For instance, the issues of “In the beginning” versus science’s stance that time started at the Big Bang, and that’d make having God do anything strange… so what gives? Cue special pleading (by Augustine) that God didn’t have to follow the pattern.
Sproul dives into “nothing”, and discusses what the term means. He points out that painters and sculptors create works of art by re-arranging already existing things – “something”… but St. Augustine taught that God did it out of nothing. Magicians can trick people using smoke and mirrors… but God didn’t even have that. So how did God create everything from nothing?
The only hint the Bible gives is that God called the universe into being. Augustine called that act the “divine imperative” or the “divine fiat”. We all know that an imperative is a command. So is a fiat.
He then talks about how computers work similarly, that by mere command at the keyboard, things/events can be wrought. He compares God’s actions to this, while glossing over the fact that computers operate by the re-arrangement of pre-existing matter/energy. It’s a decent analogy for what he’s trying to get at by “fiat”, but still missing the key element of how it was actually done.
How did God overcome this limitation? By stating “God’s fiats are not so limited.” He doesn’t explain how/why. “He can create by the sheer force of His divine command,” and there we go. From there, Spoul describes each stage of God speaking things into existence.
Sproul then full Straw man battle-mech mode.
Some modern theorists believe that the world was created by nothing. Note the difference between saying that the world was created from nothing and saying that the universe was created by nothing. In this modern view the rabbit comes out of the hat without a rabbit, a hat, or even a magician. The modern view is far more miraculous than the biblical view. It suggests nothing created something. More than that, it holds that nothing created everything – quite a feat indeed!
Not satisfied yet with misrepresenting the other side, he continues.
They’d undoubtedly protest that I have given a distorted caricature of their sophisticated position. Okay. True – they don’t say that the universe was created by nothing; they say that the universe was created by chance.
What was this strange swapping of one straw man for another? He explains.
But chance is no thing. It has no weight, no measurements, no power. It is merely a word we use to describe mathematical possibilities. It can do nothing. It can do nothing because it is nothing. To say that the universe was created by chance is to say that it came from nothing. That is intellectual madness. What are the chances that the universe was created by chance?
So what’s the alternative?
Sproul continues to describe the features of this solution that’s been contrived out of thin air without a lick of evidence.
Saint Augustine understood that the world could not be created by chance. He knew that it required something or something with power – the very power of creation – to get the job done.
Once he was done with that, he starts talking about “holiness”, without explaining what that means (that’s next chapter), and babbles on about how God is important to our lives.
If you couldn’t tell, I was dying to comment during the summary. Gah.
I can’t remember where I heard this analogy before, so please clue me in if you know. It is absurd to say that “everything sprang from nothing” (though absurd doesn’t mean incorrect). While it may be absurd to say that a log cabin sprang into existence out of nothing, it is no more absurd than saying that there was a lumberjack, who was just always there, who created it from no logs or materials. In fact, it’s additionally absurd, because additional absurdities are added.
My position is that I don’t know. There may be a natural mechanism we don’t know about yet, but until we have something that’s supported by evidence, “I don’t know” is the most intellectually honest, and accurate, position to take. I recognize that some scientists, like Lawrence Krauss and Victor Stenger talk about this possibility, but I’m talking about the scope of consensus.
Further, he states,
He [Augistine] understood that somewhere, somehow, something or someone had to have the power of being. If not, then nothing would now exist.
Holy neutron-star of assumptions, Batman.
First, I have no clue what “power of being” is. He didn’t clarify. Not exactly. This is what he says.
He alone can create beings, because He alone has the power of being. He is not nothing. He is not chance. He is pure Being, the One who has the power to be all by Himself.
The word “vacuous” comes to mind. I wish I could ju t make things up to make my case. Why can’t I say that Abiogenesis is an eternal force that has the “power of pure life manifestation”, and just leave it at that with no evidence or explanation, other than to assert that if that wasn’t true, we wouldn’t have life?
Secondly, how do we know that “nothing” is the default state? It may literally be impossible for something to not exist… and if that’s the case, there’s no “problem.”
Moving on, my position on his statements about the “universe from chance” was literally, “What the fuck?”
No. I do not say the universe came from nothing. No. I do not say the universe came from chance. I have no idea what that even means.
I can win the lottery “by chance”, because of how the mechanism of pulling numbered balls out of a machine works… but that’s the point. “Chance” isn’t some force of the universe that makes things happen. It’s a description of probability that depends on a mechanism driven by natural laws. If anything, I would say there might some natural mechanism that produces universes. A mechanism. Not “chance.”
That assertion of his is drunkenly unintelligible, and it does not score any credibility points with me, to be accused of such nuttery that I clearly do not hold.
He managed to start with a straw man argument, swap it out with another straw man argument, throw it into an equivocation fallacy, and then use that to pivot towards re-affirming the first straw man fallacy he originally posited.
Identified: mental pretzel.
At the end of each chapter, he has 4 questions. I’ll try to answer them.
When you think of God as holy, what comes to your mind?
I would think “good”, but there appears to be some kind of mismatch of terms.
Describe a time when you were overcome by God’s holiness.
I am drawing a blank. Nope, nothing. Sorry.
Are you attracted to God’s holiness?
No. Literally, the previous paragraph to these questions started with:
God is inescapable. There is no place we can hide from Him. Not only does He penetrate every aspect of our lives, but he penetrates it in His majestic holiness.
He sounds like a creepy Terminator.
What does it mean for you to be holy in the coming week?
I would assume by refraining from posting on an atheist blog.