Embracing the Strawman

I sat through a talk today by Dr. Elmar Kremer, a theologian and philosophy emeritus from University of Toronto entitled “The Classical Christian Concept of God and the Straw man of the Atheists.”

The Scarecrow of Oz embraces straw man arguments.

Dr. Kremer used his hour long talk to attempt to argue that the True Christian God of the Bible is more of a deist being, that is something that made the universe and didn’t need to interfere in it after. Of course he doesn’t call himself a deist, and perhaps if his talk had been “on my personal faith in Jesus” we may have seen some more theism in this talk. So instead of arguing for the existence of God (not just a deist god) he replaced the supposed “straw man” God of Dawkins/Dennet/Harris with a more nebulous concept and some fuzzy theological buzzwords and left us with a (deist) god.

But he had some great words introducing the topic before he got into his semantics and wordplay. Apparently publishing books and getting a media presence constitutes “aggressive atheism,” which pales in comparison to the aggressive Christianity of the past and present:

Nevertheless, he mentioned the atheist bus campaign, which he took to have two objectives. First, to actively deny God, claiming all intelligent people are atheists and second, to insinuate belief is oppressive with the phrase "relax and enjoy your life." He didn’t really explain how the logic of this worked, but did mention that his Christian daughter would be stressed if she didn’t believe in God.

With that he began to define his vision of the "Christian" (which he emphasized repeatedly was also the view of the Jews and Muslims) view of God. This God is so great he said, that he didn’t even need to create the world. Basically he, and many theologians believed that the world need not have existed.

Of course we can take this statement to mean several things. I would agree that this exact world not only didn’t have to come about, but compared to all possible worlds, it was amazingly unlikely that it even would come about. But it did.

We could also say though, that any world need not have been created. Now that seems vanishingly unlikely. There’s been a couple good formulations of this principle from Lawrence Krauss and Victor Stenger (both physicists conveniently) which boil down to the idea that nothing is incredibly unstable. In the vacuum of empty space, there’ exists a vacuum energy due to quantum mechanics. Put simply, if you have nothing long enough, eventually something will pop out (of course the net energy is still 0 within quantum uncertainty). So I utterly reject his principle that a universe did not have to be, and life only exists because “God is Good.”

He continues on and introduces his theological buzzwords for what God’s like:

  • Simplicity
  • Fullness of being
  • Goodness
  • Immutability
  • Eternity
  • Incomprehensible

Of course these are such subjective terms that you can earn multiple degrees just defining one or two of them in a novel way, adding almost nothing to the collective human experience (this is why science turns to testable predictions). It’s very noteworthy that he traces these characteristics to the middle ages. I guess theology isn’t a fast-paced field of research.

The last one of those characteristics is especially important to our speaker, since the response to every atheist argument he presented was “God’s not like us so we can’t possibly understand Him.” For example:

  • Atheist: “If God’s all-knowing and all-powerful why wouldn’t He create the best possible world?” Kremer: “You can’t presume to know God’s will.”
  • Atheist: “Why doesn’t God prevent evil?” Kremer: “You can’t presume to know God’s will.”
  • Atheist: “Why didn’t God answer the prayers of those who died in hurricane Katrina?” Kremer: “You can’t presume to know God’s will.”

A hypothesis that explains everything explains nothing.

That last argument came from Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation to which Kremer further replied that God doesn’t have “observational knowledge” like we do, since He has no sense organs. Rather He knows by “doing” (Kremer used the example of how he knows his fingers are crossed behind his back). This begs the question: If god doesn’t listen, why do people pray? Furthermore, it also makes us ask: If God knows us by “doing” are we not free-willed individuals but rather puppets of the big guy in the sky (sorry, that’s anthropomorphizing) creator of the universe?

He ends by claiming that his depiction of this deistic god is in fact the same God that Richard Dawkins describes as “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.”

To Dr. Kremer I say: Your God is not the god believed in by the billions who think the world is 6000 years old, and you need to climb down from the ivory tower and meet some actual religious folk and consider what is actually believed.

Then you’ll see who’s created the straw man of a deity.

One thought on “Embracing the Strawman”

  1. Was this part really necessary?

    “Of course these are such subjective terms that you can earn multiple degrees just defining one or two of them in a novel way, adding almost nothing to the collective human experience (this is why science turns to testable predictions).”

    You kinda of trashed philosophy along with theology there…. (Given that “goodness” was on the list.)

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