Since I haven’t been writing properly for almost six months now, I really haven’t been keeping up with things. There are so many things that I feel the need to write about, and as I have said in a previous post, there are plenty of interesting things to come. Before going on to these other things though, I would like to reflect upon a fascinating weekend that I was involved in at my home church, Hesketh Bank Christian Centre, with Christian philosopher and apologist, Peter S. Williams. This happened a couple of months back on the 14th and 15th of May and I meant to review the weekend soon after it happened but unfortunately didn’t get round to it. But, it’s better late then never I suppose. Some may recall that Peter has been the subject of a previous post where I reviewed his superb book A Sceptic’s Guide To Atheism: God Is Not Dead (Paternoster, 2009). I recommend any readers to get hold of this book.
It was not that long ago when I first became acquainted with some of Peter’s work, but I cannot remember exactly how this first happened. I seem to remember stumbling upon A Sceptic’s Guide To Atheism on Amazon, and having read the reviews of it (which were all positive), I felt compelled to order a copy. After reading it, it quickly became one of my favourite books. I could not help but admire his erudition, scholarship and his clear, high-octane analytical thinking. As I discovered later, these commendable qualities can be found in all of his work and indeed he has produced a rich body of material that includes 5 books (and two co-authored ones), a peer reviewed article, a huge number of online and journal articles, debates at universities and on the radio, filming, and he travels around the country and abroad to speak on philosophy and apologetics at conferences, churches and schools. All of his recorded talks can be found on his podcast. Peter mainly writes and speaks on topics such as Intelligent Design, apologetics, philosophy of science and religion, natural theology, and the historicity of the Old and New Testament.
For a long time now, I’ve been very passionate about apologetics. I really feel that it’s something that Christians should use and get involved with more, and that it needs to be integrated more frequently and permanently into churches. There has never been a time when the Christian faith has been in such need of sound, biblical apologetics in church and public life, to counter the incessant intellectual attacks upon Christianity. It’s also needed more in light of the fact that a huge part of Christianity and western thought, has sunk into the murk of postmodern relativism. Attempts made by some Christians to portray the rational defence of the faith as being useless or not needed are, I’m afraid to say, misguided, unbiblical and even dangerous. One could only do so by blinding oneself to what is happening in our society. If a sophisticated and robust defence is not used at the right times and in the right context, then Christians will continue to be regarded by many outside of the faith, as being a snivelling, low-brow, timorous bunch of crackpots.
My frustration at the conspicuous lack of good apologetics in church, is largely what prompted me to get in contact with Peter Williams because in my own church, I found that several people were very interested in issues to do with science and Christianity. The problem is that these questions are rarely addressed within church, even though they can be huge stumbling blocks for many people. It isn’t enough to have a pastor merely touch upon these questions every once in a while. Pastors often don’t have the time to study in detail, the issues pertinent to the questions, and so it is important to get good training from people who specialise in the area. In my opinion Peter is one of the foremost apologists in the country and so I contacted him to ask and arrange for him to travel to my church, to put on several talks and workshops. This took quite a lot of organisation but I was more than happy to do it.
Altogether there were 4 different talks on the weekend, each of which was fascinating and enlightening. These were accompanied with helpful powerpoint presentations. I will briefly write about each one and provide a link to the recordings and any other material that was used. Each recording can be found by clicking on the talk titles below.
Is Christianity Unscientific?- This opening talk was attended by a healthy number of people, including some non-Christians. This was based on a paper of his that was published in Norwegian in the journal Theophilos. A copy of this paper was published in English on Bethinking.org and can be found here. Another paper that is relevant to this talk is Science and Theism: Concord, not Conflict which was written by philosopher Robert C. Koons.
In order to properly answer the question at hand, Peter carefully addresses this deceptively simple question by first defining science, being unscientific, and Christianity. He goes on to explain that Christianity is indeed unscientific just like philosophy, art, and music is, but makes a distinction between being unscientific and being anti-scientific. The former being perfectly fine whilst the latter not so. If the claim that is being made is that Christianity is inherently ‘anti-scientific’, then the claimant has the burden of proof to show that ‘…the Christian necessarily flouts a genuine epistemic obligation qua Christian.’ Peter then goes on to explain that Christianity and science do have certain overlapping interests but that the science vs Christianity conflict thesis is no more than atheistic propaganda. At the end of this talk there is a Q and A session in which people from the audience asked various questions, which Peter then expands on and responds to.
Stephen Hawking And The Grand Designer-This talk was done on Sunday morning in the regular church service. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a talk of this nature being done on a Sunday morning service which I think is unfortunate. Here Peter addresses Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinov’s recent book The Grand Design, examining and criticising its core claims. This is a really fantastic demonstration of a sophisticated yet layman friendly talk on such complex issues as cosmology, philosophy of science, and the origin of the universe. I expected it to go over most people’s heads but afterwards I was told by many that they understood what was being said and enjoyed it greatly. Peter thoroughly demolishes the claims made by Hawking and Mlodinov such as the claims that philosophy is dead, the universe created itself out of nothing, and the multiverse hypothesis explains away the fine-tuning of the physical constants in the universe. He also goes on to discuss several arguments for God’s existence such as the argument from fine-tuning, the first cause argument, and a cosmological argument. These are explained clearly and in a sophisticated, nuanced manner.
A Rough Guide to Creation-This talk was more of a workshop done for a much smaller group of people. This allowed for more discussion and questions to be asked. It is based on a paper of the same title and can be found here. Here Peter’s workshop served more as a guidance to help people think through issues pertaining to science and the Christian doctrine of creation. He explains that it is more important first of all, to make sure that we ask ourselves the correct questions before attempting to answer them and make big decisions. An elementary yet important distinction is made between Christians affirming the doctrine of creation (God created the universe), and different models of creation (evolution, young and old earth creationism etc). The differing models of creation are only of secondary importance and Christians can remain agnostic about certain models in perfectly good conscience. Peter then goes on to talk about evolution and its various meanings, and which picture of creation is probably the most plausible one. Again some very interesting questions are asked throughout.
An Introduction To Intelligent Design Theory-If you are familiar with any of Peter’s work, you will be well aware that he is an Intelligent Design advocate. Intelligent Design (ID) theory still remains a very contentious issue amongst Christians and non-Christians. Peter was originally a theistic evolutionist but came to accept ID not because of any theological leanings, but by looking at what he thinks to be empirical evidence. Here I will not say much about my own views with regard to ID, as there are several upcoming posts on the topic where I will lay my own cards on the table, and will be dialoguing with a friend of mine in writing. I’ll just say for now that it is largely because of Peter’s work that I changed my mind on the subject recently.
This workshop is based on two papers written by him, one being a peer-reviewed article The Design Inference from Specified Complexity Defended by Scholars Outside the Intelligent Design Movement published in the journal Philosophia Christi, and Atheists Against Darwinism. I recommend reading both of them as they are prime examples of meticulous, scholarly argumentation. Peter discusses things such as design detection criteria, irreducible complexity, and puts forward and defends the core claims of ID theory in detail. This talk is also intermixed with various questions and responses.
Overall the weekend was thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening, and it was a honour to meet Peter and to get to know him a little. He’ll probably be invited back to speak another time. Apart from the talks, I also had some fascinating discussions with him at home and was able to ask more questions. It isn’t every weekend you get to spend with such an outstanding, down to earth philosopher! His new book Understanding Jesus: Five Ways to Spiritual Enlightenment will be released in September and it’s sure to be brilliant so, pre-order a copy on Amazon now!
Peter’s article page-http://www.arn.org/authors/williams.html
Peter’s Damaris page-http://www.damaris.org/cm/church/peterwilliams