Soul Cravings

I recently attempted to read through Soul Cravings by Erwin Raphael McManus. This was one of two books being given out freely by Campus (Crusade) for Christ at the Week of Welcome Clubs Fair on campus last semester (the other was Lee Strobel’s “Case for a Creator”). Below are my (while reading) thoughts and comments on the half that I managed to read.

I can barely get through the introduction to the section “cravings” (there are no page numbers, just “entries” so I’ll reference as such) before running into blazen inaccuracies:

It’s not coincidental that psychology is the study of the soul…

Psychology studies the mental state of people, the interactions between thoughts, emotions, and actions, or from Wikipedia:

Psychology (from Greek: ????, psych?, “soul”, “self” or “mind”; and ?????, logos, “speech” lit. “to talk about the psyche”) is an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of mental processes and behavior.

Then,

Is it possible that much of what we call psychosis and neurosis is really about us being soul sick?

No… Science has shown a strong link between chemical imbalances and these issues. There is no science behind the “soul.”

He says that he isn’t intending to provide “empirical evidence” for God, but later we’ll see many emotional arguments, which don’t count as evidence since they aren’t objectively available to everyone.

I should mention that this is not a book focused on empirical evidence for God… It is about our story; and if God exists, we should be able to find him there.

Throughout this book McManus demonstrates a misunderstanding of the consequences of biological evolution. Here we already see fallacy number two: misunderstanding and confusion about evolutionary explanations of love:

If evolution is our preferred understanding of the human story, why can’t we evolve ourselves out of this primal Achilles’ heel we know as love? And don’t give me this thing about the propagation of the species. Love isn’t necessary for reproduction-just sex is. All you need is attraction, not emotion . . . If intimacy is only about attraction, we could just keep lust and dispense with love. [Intimacy – Entry #2]

However, without a lasting commitment provided by a loving relationship, parents would feel no commitment to their offspring, who would not be defended and fed until maturity. Mammals evolved love and attachment to ensure that the young can make it to maturity. McManus’ “conspiracy theory” will be familiar to ID critics: “It’s as if we’ve been purposefully designed with a factory defect that keeps us searching … for love.” [I-2] Or the perfect result of the predictions provided by evolution.

One thing to note is that almost every page contains at least a couple pop-culture references, as though adding elements the reader can better relate to will draw them in deeper to the emotional arguments being made. Many major movies, artists, singers, and bands are mentioned. The book could have easily been written without these references, however adding them puts relevancy in the authors words, as though he’s speaking to his peers.

The most powerful evidence that our souls crave God is that within us there is a longing for love.” [I-3]

I thought he wasn’t trying to provide “empirical evidence” I guess this isn’t really that “powerful” then? However, keep this quote in mind later.

Intimacy Entry #4 wrongly equates our desire for loving relationships with a connection to the Christian God. He states “Our search for intimacy explains our need for community, relationship, friendship, and acceptance.” He provides no argument here but assumes you will agree. This book is written to give “feel-good” Christians a pat on the back by confirming their faith with emotional arguments.

Another false link:

This is where humanity has become. This is how far we’ve evolved. We strap bombs around our chests, lure innocents into our presence, and then consider ourselves heroes as we destroy everything around us. If this were not bad enough, for some it has become a proof of sprituality. [I-5]

He attempts to tie evolution to violence, as well as (rightly) deriding suicide bombers. The point of these selections, I believe, is to offer love as the saving grace from violence and desolation, and he assumes we’ve already made the tie between (his) God and love.

Intimacy Entry 10 launches into ‘my faith isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship’ type argument. “Really it’s absurd to think that any religion would somehow get you to God.” And even better he says (with appreciable wit)

You have to admit, if the premise of religion is valid – if you do this, then God will accept you – this is a more accurate description of God: He’s just some really good-looking, smug, and arrogant Divine Being who loves being the object of all our affection.

Quite similar to the infamous Dawkins description of the OT god:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. [The God Delusion]

Later we encounter the false tautology:

Love exists because God is love. [I-11]

While our brains deny it, our hearts know it: love is proof of God. [I-15]

It was no one less than Jesus who said the proof of God is found in our love for one another. Where there is no love, there is no God. At the same time, if there were no God, there would be no love. [I-16]

More powerful than any data or doctrine, love is the proof of God our souls long for. [I-20]

He again leaves out any reasoning and leaves it to the reader to accept that God is equivalently love and therefore love exists because of God. McManus fails to even provide references to passages from the Bible to back up his statements. For all the reader knows he may not actually be referring to the Christian concept of Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost when he speaks of God.

His attack on unbelievers is:

You’ve created all these intellecutal arguments to justify your unbelief, but in the end, you’ve just been burned. [I-16]

I disagree, the arguments still stand, and I’m not burned, I am happy and in love (with my girlfriend, family, and life), and all without God.

Now, remember where I said to remember that quote up above? Here comes the contradiction:

There may be no greater proof of God than the power of community. [I-17]

Again, no argument is given as to how God and community are the same, but it is again merely assumed. This directly contradicts the previous statement that love is the greatest proof of God, however, I’ll forgive Mr. McManus, as this obviously isn’t a philosophical or academic treatise, but a book of confirmational love for Jesus.

Intimacy Entry 19 begins with a form of the cosmological or fine-tuning argument:

The earth dangles in space somehow perfectly positioned to produce the only environment that would allow us to live. Any closer to the sun and we fry; any farther and we freeze. Make sense of that. Why should the liquid that covers all of the earth carry the exact composition necessary to sustain life?

What if, instead of the blue planet, we were the green planet?

Everything in creation speaks of God. God has created an entire universe to point us to Himself. Creation is thick with meaning. Everything around us demands that we explore, that we discover, that we understand. [I-19]

However, Mr. McManus seems to not have explored, discovered or attempted to understand modern cosmology and biology that accounts (in natural terms only) how we came to exist in this piece of the universe. He continues in this section with (accidental) wisdom and misunderstandings:

We’re polluting the water and the air, creating global warming. We’re pretty much making a wreck of the planet, but whoever designed it did a really great job…

Our best thinking isn’t even solving the problem, yet we think it all happened by accident [we don’t]. No intelligent design needed; it was all just an accident [not exactly]… It’s so much easier to believe that God was involved [easier than taking the effort to learn?]. It takes far less faith than it does to believe that coincidence can result in something so complex, something so amazing. [I-19]

These arguments are well refuted by the last book I read “Has Science found God?” by Dr. Victor Stenger. His newer book “God: The Failed Hypothesis” also deals with similar arguments. Basically, we have a plethora of naturalistic explanations for the origin of the cosmos, that essentially result in the universe looking exactly the way it would if it were created naturally.

The first third of his book ends the intimacy section with Entry #21: Love is Not a Four-Letter Word “All you need is love. God is Love.” In this first section, many decent things were said about love driving people crazy, and being the most enjoyable part of (if not the key reason for) life. And that the majority of suffering comes in places where love is the least found. However, he assumes, and never demonstrates (not even with bible quotes!) that God is love. Just like in the last entry he states it as though I should already know and accept it. Furthermore, the many successful, happy, loving couples and families who do not have his God in their lives are a testament to why his conclusions are downright fallacious.

Entering the second section, Destiny, we come across the falsity:

Randy explained that by all the theories of aerodynamics and physics, the bumblebee should not be able to fly, but it can. No scientific reason why it should; it just does. [Destiny – Entry #4]

This is a myth that is dispelled by a wikipedia article! Basically the myth comes from someone who did a piss-poor analysis of the aerodynamics involved, not taking into account several key factors. Basically there is a scientific reason.

We see more of the results of a poor science education system later:

According to Randy, ‘I am living proof that Darwin was wrong – or at least had a poor definition of who was the most fit to survive.’ [D-5]

In the book, Randy is a friend he met through his community (he refuses to call it a church) who is a midget (I forget the term used in the book offhand, please excuse me if that term is offencive to you, I’ll change it to something better if it’s suggested). Randy was told he’d never be able to fly (his dream), however with adaptive equipment, he was able to achieve his dreams and earned his pilots license.

It’s an uplifting story, however, the issue here is that Darwin wasn’t wrong because Randy is alive. All Randy’s existence demonstrates is that there are few natural selection pressures remaining on our species. Our intellect and ability to manipulate tools and our environment have essentially pushed us out of the realm of natural selection.

This thought can be extended to understand why the eugenics movement isn’t Darwinistic. Since eugenics involves artificial selection, it isn’t “evolution by natural selection” but a form of selective breeding that had been practised for millennia by farmers before Darwin suggested his naturalistic mechanisms.

More misunderstandings continue in this entry:

Are we nothing more than biological anomalies? Are we simply the product of chance – the result of bad luck? Is our existence just an accident, or is there a reason for our being?

In fact, every life that is pulled out from the mundane and ordinary and finds unexpected flight becomes proof of God.

Think about it for a minute. What is it that causes us to dream? How can this just be a function of evolution? Don’t get me wrong here. My goal isn’t to build an argument against evolution; I’m just saying there’s more going on than Darwin was thinking about when he was studying plants.

What do dreams have to do with the survival of the fittest? [D-5]

First, Darwin studied variation in more than just plants, and since then we’ve accumulated a wealth of evidence supporting evolution. I suspect that his “goal isn’t to build an argument against evolution” is partially due to a lack of knowledge of evolutionary science.

Here when he talks about dreams he’s referring to ambitions and goals. An evolutionary explanation for goals is fairly easy to come about; those with the drive to accomplish more are both healthier (from the increased food acquired) and produce more offspring (since mates tend to be attracted to the healthy successful members of a species).

Destiny Entry #10 contains some questions about the nature of time and our awareness of the future:

Do you really think that animals are aware of time? Imagine being a mayfly with a life-span of twenty-four hours… If flies know what’s going on, they should all be nihilists…Not even evolution has been good to them…

One of the clear distinctions between us and the rest of created life is that while insects, reptiles, birds, fish, amphibians, and even mammals are content with surviving, humans are not content to osimply survive; we are driven to thrive.

It’s not enout for us to merely exist; we are compelled to achieve. This drive would not even exist without a concept of time. We understand that each day is not a reoccurring cycle of static events. The human experience is not only that time moves, but that we do too. We have been created with not only awareness, but a need for progress.

There may be no greater proof that we are not the random results of an evolutionary process but, in fact, the unique creations of a personal God. [D-10]

Remember the contradictions above? Yet again we have another ‘greatest proof’ of God, contradicting his earlier proofs of love and community. Nevertheless, I’m not sure how he makes that jump, seeing as we don’t know that other animals don’t experience time. And furthermore, I doubt that animals are “content with surviving,” but merely have the issue of not being at the top of their foodchains and thus survival is a lot more pertinent in the animal kingdom than for us. Anyone who has a pet should know how much fun and playing the animal likes to have (at least mammalian pets), which is exactly an animal being more than just “content with surviving” (although some cats are pretty content with eating and sleeping).

Destiny entry #17 has a made-up story which puts words in Elvis (the king’s) mouth. I find this tactic a bit gross, and did not appreciate the chapter Dr. Stenger used in “Has Science found God?” in which he created a dialogue between Newton, Galileo, Lebiniz, and Bentley (a theologian). This dialogue ends (after assuming Elvis has felt insignificant during the heights of his career and dealt with it through love, not drugs like he did) with McManus saying

‘You know that moment when you felt insignificant, that moment when you wondered if you have any value at all, if your life really meant anything? That was the most honest moment you ever had, because you are insignificant. You’re just a speck of dust against the backdrop of the cosmos. You are an evolutionary tragedy, a gnat with self-awareness heading straight toward the windshield of inevitability. All your future holds for you is splat and then it’s over…

‘Oh, by the way, everything I just said is absolutely true if there is no God.’

Maybe you can’t prove God in a tube, but you can find him in your soul. When he’s missing, you can feel it in your gut. [D-17]

This is McManus’ attempt to tie atheism to nihilism. However, the majority of atheists that I’ve met (and I believe in general) are not nihilistic. Most affirm the basic value of human life and the extraordinary chance that each of us are here in exactly our own form and conscience of it. This is basically just an emotional argument to make you feel theism is better than the alternative, despite the evidence (which I think he almost admits doesn’t exist). I should also note that I do not feel God missing in my gut, sometimes I’m hungry, but I’m pretty sure those are distinct feelings.

Later he goes on to contradict himself very quickly within one entry:

If there were no God, it would be inane for us to search for significance or to be ambitious for success.

But again the question begs to be askedm If there is no God, if we’re just drifting through time and space, if we’re actually not going anywhere, if there is no progress, why should it matter and why care? If it’s the truth, isn’t it best for all of us to come to grips with it, to come face-to-face with this harsh reality? Even if we are at the far end of the continuum with God on the other side, it doesn’t change it at all…

There is a reason for our existence, a reason to live, and if we can’t find it, we’ll just make it up. [emphasis added] [D-18]

So he says if God doesn’t exist there’s no reason for us to have drive (a false statement since we have naturalistic evolutionary explanations for drive), but then says if there is no reason to live we’ll just make one up. Although it sounds a bit crude, I think we do mainly just “make up” our own purpose, goals and reasons to live, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

I quit reading after the Destiny section, leaving “Meaning” and the end for other people to get through. I doubted I was going to find much more of substance in the remainder.

The entire book essentially comes down to two things: a motivational book with reasonable messages about the value of love, ambition, dreams, and purpose in our lives, and a conflation of all these concepts with Jesus and the god of the New Testament. I made it half-way through the book and don’t really feel a purpose in going through the last half. Many of McManus’ arguments show a deep confusion with the concept of evolution, and a disdain for materialism. The same dichotomies, lack of defense, and tired excuses are found in this book as well as most apologetics. However, I shouldn’t berate McManus on this point, his book would be better served in the hands of one of his ‘community’ than with an atheist, where it would reaffirm their beliefs and ideals.

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