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How Could an Atheist Convert to Christianity?

Last time I made the claim that atheists, once they are well-informed about the arguments pro and con Christianity, are stuck there. Intellectual arguments can’t budge them. This is more than just a curious observation; I see it as an argument that atheism is the best intellectual conclusion.

Let’s test this argument with the examples of several high-profile ex-atheists. We can start with prominent atheist philosopher Antony Flew, who converted to deism in 2004 at age 81. The story caused a stir, with atheists fearing that apologists had blindsided a vulnerable old man with unfamiliar new arguments.

Flew wrote the argument supporting his conversion in There is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind in 2007. I say that Flew wrote it, but there’s little evidence to that it was actually him. In the first place, Roy Varghese’s name is on the cover as the coauthor. In the second, the book summarizes Flew’s position in a clumsy first-person account, written not as he would have written it, but as any of us might have done as a research paper, quoting passages from Flew’s own writings to summarize his previous position. An example:

In my new introduction to the 2005 edition of God and Philosophy, I said, “I am myself delighted to be assured …”

(from p. 123 of the 2007 HarperOne edition).

Why would Flew quote himself instead of just saying it? Looks like the work of a ghost writer.

The book summarizes the scientific arguments that Flew says were convincing—the same old arguments popular with lots of apologists today—but there’s little reason to imagine that he was competent to evaluate them. In one interview (video) he claims no scientific expertise in a vague appeal to the Argument from Complexity. Flew has made important contributions to philosophical atheism, but I see no reason to imagine that he was ever well informed about apologetic arguments.

(An aside: it is noteworthy that he found deist arguments compelling and so became a deist. Too often, Christians make a case built solely on deist arguments—the Design Argument, the Moral Argument, and so on—without acknowledging that they are making a case for deism, not Christianity.)

I understand the buzz about Flew’s conversion. An ex-atheist saying, “atheism is false” is much more compelling than a Christian doing so. A recent New York Times article argues that the intuitive approach to changing beliefs by providing clear and compelling information from the other side only hardens the existing belief. The problem is “biased assimilation,” where we presume incoming information is valid only when it supports our existing opinions.

If an outsider won’t be trusted, the solution is to supply correct information from an unimpeachable source. That is, find someone trusted in the target community who, unlike the rest of that community, is giving the new information. This person would be a defector, like the three ex-atheists we’ll consider here. That’s why these stories are so newsworthy.

Richard Morgan is case study #2. A prolific contributor to the Richard Dawkins discussion forum, he made waves when he became a Christian in 2008 (find interviews at Apologetics 315 and Unbelievable).

He followed the LDS church early in life but later rejected it. He was delighted to discover Dawkins’ writings and hung out at the Richard Dawkins site. The anti-Christian vitriol shocked him, but, eager for acceptance by the community, he tried to fit in. That slowly changed after David Robertson, the Christian author of The Dawkins Letters, showed up on the site to defend his attack on Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Robertson was polite and dogged, despite the insults, and Morgan was impressed. When the character assassination by fellow atheists became too much, he defended Robertson, was attacked himself, and finally left.

(An aside: this is a lesson worth dwelling on. In a society where battle-scarred or traumatized atheists find respite from Christian culture in a forum, it’s understandable that they might vent. But when the forum is public, politeness counts. Your cutting remark may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and becomes the anecdote that someone always returns to when thinking about your community.)

Free from his old community but still an atheist, Morgan contacted author David Robertson. Robertson challenged him by asking what would make him believe, and the answer came to mind immediately: “Certainly not reason and science.” That is, he realized that he had no use for the intellectual arguments he had spent years honing.

In that instant, he says the words “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) popped into his mind. It was an epiphany, and he remembers not only the date but the minute of that day in 2008. He had returned to Christianity.

(I mused earlier about satori being only for Buddhists. Looks like I was hasty.)

Morgan makes clear that his conversion wasn’t based on reason or intellectual arguments.

I still understand the same philosophical arguments against the existence of God. I’m still aware of what’s supposed to be the scientific proofs against God, but it’s as if there’s an added perception being put into my mind to see beyond that and to see how limited and inadequate all these explanations are.

And to an imagined atheist, he says:

This wonderful argument you’ve just written about explaining how God can’t exist, I know it so well I’ve used it a dozen times myself. But it’s not true. There’s more to it than that.

Morgan claims to have been a well-informed atheist, and I’m convinced. But he gives absolutely no reason to follow him on this path. Epiphanies don’t happen on demand, and I couldn’t follow him if I wanted to.

Let me clarify that I’m not concerned about a mass exodus from atheism. I care about the truth, not atheism, and would happily abandon atheism if I found it to be false. I’m simply underscoring that this is not an argument for Christianity.

With Richard Morgan, we have an example of a well-informed atheist who became a Christian. That’s interesting, but it’s nothing more than that.

Our final case study will be Leah Libresco, a fellow Patheos blogger (at Unequally Yoked). Immersed in a Catholic environment, she seemed to find the center of gravity of her moral philosophy gradually move from atheism to Catholicism. It was as if the vocabulary available within atheism was inadequate, with Catholicism much better able to express reality.

In an interview, Hemant Mehta (the Friendly Atheist) pointed out that Leah’s conversion hasn’t led to a flood of other conversions (or perhaps any). Like Richard Morgan’s conversion four years earlier, there are no new insights or arguments to which an atheist might say, “Oh, that’s interesting; I need to think about that” as the first step toward Christianity.

These are three bona fide conversions away from atheism. From different atheist communities, they show that smart atheists can reject the non-faith. This may help tone down atheist smugness, but none of these conversions provides new reasons that atheists can use to challenge their nonbelief.

This (admittedly limited) survey was meant to test the hypothesis that well-informed atheists never change because of intellectual reasons. I think the hypothesis stands.

If I knew that a man was coming to my house
with the conscious design of doing me good,
I should run for my life.
— Henry David Thoreau

About Bob Seidensticker
  • smrnda

    A comparison I once made was, imagine a college leftist graduating and getting a job in HR in a factory. The person wants to succeed and enjoy a high standard of living. The workers try to unionize and their job is to prevent this from happening – a slow process of rationalization might build up because of social pressure there, and the person might resolve this by starting to become ‘convinced’ of economic libertarianism. It isn’t outright hypocrisy, but this happens all the time.

    Sometimes it’s actually people in the person’s life, where the pressure is more subtle. They don’t want to be an ass to some religious friend, so they gradually soften – even Christians often talk about how you should ‘love people’ and not try to win debates as a more effective conversion strategy. It’s a soft-sell approach, and I’ve seen it work by getting people emotionally committed to a group of people and then getting them to say the same things. You have to take into account the social context of conversions or de-conversions. I mean, it’s likely for an atheist to be around lots of religious people, but many religious people who leave have been around mostly other religious people, except maybe through online forums and such.

    Another comparison might be acquiring an appreciation for music, movies or tv shows a friend likes that you first think are garbage, but you decide to ‘give it a chance.’ People’s tastes are usually backed up by some kind of reasons (think ‘i hate music that’s too overproduced’ or ‘i can’t get into sci fi or fantasy’ ) maybe the person does change their preferences but it’s a matter of both social context and internal beliefs that are responding to it.

    My take is that many people don’t take their own beliefs that seriously, and aren’t even that committed to what they believe whether Christian, atheist or anything. It’s like a hobby that they get burned out on, and want to try something new. I’m perhaps more opinionated, and it makes me kind of unable to sustain friendships with people who I have too big of disagreements with. I ended several friendships over people who openly condemn homosexuality, since it’s calling the loving relationships of other people I know an ‘abomination’ and I gotta choose sides on that one.

    Another is traditions can seem beautiful since they’ve had lots of time to practice. I find more atheists convert (it seems) to catholicism that become independent baptists.

    • Michael

      I’ve read some research that backs up exactly what you say, smrnda, but I can’t find it now I want it. The study I can find is one about mature evangelicals leaving the church but not always the faith.

    • John Connor

      Libertarianism is all about free association and antithetical to the initiation of force, so the enlightened believer in government initiation of force and coercion, in your example, begins to ‘rationalize’ what was supposed as the correct mode of action, somehow willfully conditioning himself to downgrade from what you suppose is the correct way to a way that is less correct (libertarianism). Unionism doesn’t conflict with libertarianism or individualism unless they are forced to comply. Instead, workers should be free agents and work for themselves, unionizing freely and not forcing others to pay for the existence of the union.

      What I’m saying is that if you don’t understand the very concepts that you are using for your analogy, how can you correctly say what is happening with the author of the article?

      “A comparison I once made was, imagine a college leftist graduating and getting a job in HR in a factory. The person wants to succeed and enjoy a high standard of living. The workers try to unionize and their job is to prevent this from happening – a slow process of rationalization might build up because of social pressure there, and the person might resolve this by starting to become ‘convinced’ of economic libertarianism. It isn’t outright hypocrisy, but this happens all the time.”

      • smrnda

        Sorry if you feel I misrepresent your beliefs, but no 2 libertarians seem to agree. To clarify, let’s imagine that the person in the example converts to some faux-libertarianism that is invalidly against unionism.

        I disbelieve in libertarianism since I do not think there exists any such thing as ‘free association’ outside of a theoretical context, but I don’t want to derail a thread. Plus, all property, land especially, is all initially acquired through force and occupation.

  • Caroline Reid

    Bob, interesting case studies. And I’m inclined to agree with your hypothesis – speaking as a devout Christian! Would you see other reasons for such conversion (spiritual, experiential, emotional, etc.) as being “invalid”? I’m just trying to learn more about the atheist world view. Thanks.

    • Baal

      I’m not the OP but am an atheist and care about truth first (or at least getting reality as right as possible). There isn’t really a valid / invalid distinction for being part of one group or another. The question on a personal level is more a matter of you are as you are. The point of this piece is that all the christian apologetic out there are incapable of successfully arguing an atheist into a christian. I agree with that statement. Why you’re a christian (reason vs emotion) isn’t a big difference.

      The reason I’m also an anti-theist is that pretty much every church does more harm than good. You guys don’t pay taxes for your club to support police, fire and other social services (unlike my prior sporting leagues). Churches are constantly under cutting science, education generally, preventing condom distribution (which do work to limit teen pregnancy and STIs). I could go on for a while but that’s enough.

      So while feeling better personally may be an understandable reason to join a christian church, I still think it’s more moral to seek your need for community in other ways.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Baal: I’m getting the strange sense that I should worship you …

        OK–I’m better now. On the tax question, I’ve written quite a bit about this, starting at What do Churches Have to Hide? FYI.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Caroline: A conversion is a conversion. If the new Christian says that he’s a Christian and happy to be so, OK, that’s great.

      I’m just pointing out the fact (maybe only important to me) that this doesn’t blaze a new trail for the rest of us. In other words, this defection gives me no reason to doubt my stance.

      • Ted Seeber

        Hmm- when is a conversion truly over?

        • Spambot3049

          “Hmm- when is a conversion truly over?”

          Right, and when does a conversion truly start? That’s why this statement comes across so poorly: “In an interview, Hemant Mehta (the Friendly Atheist) pointed out that Leah’s conversion hasn’t led to a flood of other conversions (or perhaps any). ” How the heck does Mr. Mehta know what people are thinking or to what extent Leah has moved people toward Christ? And so what, anyway?
          Whatever. I’m just happy to celebrate conversions and displays of piety.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Spambot: I don’t see the problem.

          An atheist who had an intellectual epiphany and realized that he’d been seeing the arguments all wrong would (1) convert to Christianity and (2) let everyone else know of his insights. And then we’d see a flood of other atheists doing the same thing.

          And yet this doesn’t happen. Doesn’t this tell us something important about the specifics of the conversion?

        • Ted Seeber

          I don’t even know what piety is, really- that’s one of the human emotions my mental illness keeps from me. But my point was more why I think most Group 3 atheists are really Group 1 atheists in disguise- because when you are talking about Catholicism, there is no such thing as a person who has a physically living body and who is fully converted. Not Leah, not the Pope, not myself.

  • Arkenaten

    There is no genuine intellectual arguement for joining a religion.
    If gods were real there would be absolutely no need to have a system to worship them.
    Religion is the system invented to do just this.
    It”s like being told some bloke called Mozart is the greatest composer ever to have lived and you’ve never heard any of his music or seen any sheet music, yet being drawn into the Mozart Appreciation Society by people who also have never heard him yet try to convince you he is real and then, if you don’t join, consider you are damned and condemn you to a life of listerning to an imaginary Justin Bieber.
    Mind you, with this threat, I might just join….shudders!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      If gods were real, there would be no need for faith! That it’s mandatory is religion’s Achilles heel, IMO.

      • Ted Seeber

        Since when has religion been “mandatory”? That smacks of post-Protestant myth rationalization to me.

        • MountainTiger

          I think you picked the wrong antecedent for “it.”

      • Vksun

        Thats a misunderstanding of the way the word ‘faith’ is used. Lets say God has made His existence clear to you ( if there is God, He can get you that assurance, like say, in the way God has to people of Israel in OT or how Jesus promised in NT ), you then have relationship with God and know of Gods faithfulness as part of character of God. The usage of the word faith is in that sense of counting on the faithfulness of God which the person knows. It is not some blind leap into darkness.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Vksun:

          So faith is never, ever used by any Christian to mean “belief despite insufficient evidence”?

        • Vksun

          Many people use it that way (wrongly). One should believe only if really convinced of existence and work of God in ones life. It will be an insult to God in fact, if one believes without knowing why/what. The people who believed in Jesus in NT are the ones who were convinced of his Messiahship or saw the wisdom/greatness in the life/teachings/signs that they saw the unmistakable mark of one who is of God, or like in case of Paul, had the Demascus road encounter etc. God accepted their belief which is on justified grounds. If someone comes to Jesus and says, “I dont know anything about you, I dont think you are the promised Messiah and I dont care, but I want to believe”, I dont think God/Jesus would have accepted such “belief”. God wants a belief which is in full understanding/recognition of who God is and His faithfulness. The word belief is to be used in the similar sense, where we say, “I have full faith in my spouse or so and so person on her/his trustworthiness which I know and experience the trustworthiness/faithfulness everyday”. The words belief/faith are used, but in a justified sense. In the same way, if God has made Himself known to a person (in a manner that one is justified in the belief), then she/he can talk about the faith that God is in control, that one is in the will of God etc.

        • Mogg

          Vksun, that is a complete contradiction of what the New Testament itself described faith as being. Or have you never read the book of Hebrews? “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see.” It absolutely means belief without proof.

  • joeclark77

    Sounds like two out of three of your case studies (the first and third) thwart your hypothesis, and you’re making excuses to believe that it’s not so. Do you dispute that Flew was convinced of deism by intellectual arguments? No, instead, you accuse him of being an old fuddy-duddy who couldn’t understand the arguments… an accusation you certainly wouldn’t make if he was still writing in support of atheism (there’s a double standard). Libresco’s own writings clearly show that she followed an intellectual path rather than a miraculous ephiphany. You just don’t find her intellectual reasons persuasive (obviously, or you’d agree with them and convert). If that’s the standard you’re applying (“no well-informed atheist has ever converted to Christianity by intellectual arguments that I, a confirmed atheist, also understand and am convinced by”) then the experiment is rigged.

    • Revid

      Joe, can you summarize Flew and Leah’s intellectual arguments?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Joe:

      Do you dispute that Flew was convinced of deism by intellectual arguments?

      No, I dispute that Flew was an atheist just like me. He can convert to deism by any means he wants. He can flip a coin or pick the petals off a daisy. I’m just saying that his route doesn’t inform my position at all.

      an accusation you certainly wouldn’t make if he was still writing in support of atheism

      I haven’t read his writings, but I understand that he was a well-respected philosopher. Philosophical writings (which I tend to avoid, but that’s another story) are one thing; scientific arguments for deism are another. By all accounts, he understood the former but not the latter.

      Libresco’s own writings clearly show that she followed an intellectual path rather than a miraculous ephiphany.

      I’ve addressed this in the prior post.

      • Ted Seeber

        “Philosophical writings (which I tend to avoid, but that’s another story) are one thing; scientific arguments for deism are another.”

        Looking forward to the post where you argue that science isn’t a philosophy.

      • joeclark77

        Exactly what I said. In the case of Flew, you say he’s not like you, but only “a posteriori”. In other words it’s a no true Scotsman fallacy. If he were still an atheist philosopher you would not be denying his intellectual seriousness or insinuating that he were senile. That’s the double standard.

        In the case of Libresco, as I said, you acknowledge that her path was intellectual, and you simply ignore the defeat of your hypothesis by inventing a brand new standard that the arguments she has discovered must be “new”. (Now whose blog was I reading recently that had an article about not moving the goalposts?)

        Your incuriousness about philosophy might be something you should take a look at.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          Exactly what I said.

          Ah—it’s great to see that we’re on the same page then. Flew was never an atheist just like me. Ever. I know the scientific arguments in favor of Christianity and their flaws; Flew never did.

          If he were still an atheist philosopher you would not be denying his intellectual seriousness or insinuating that he were senile.

          In his domain of expertise (philosophy), you’re right. In the domain of science, I would laugh at his ineptitude.

          No, he was never an atheist just like me.

          you acknowledge that her path was intellectual

          Do you ever read my stuff? Go back and search for “secret atheist lair.” That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I’m not seeing in these atheists-turned-Christians.

  • Jireh

    I would recommend to y’all a book by Ray Comfort entitled ; ” You can lead an Atheist to Evidence but you can’t make him THINK “. It’s a great book for angry skeptics who don’t want to be morally responsible to God and who call evil good and good evil.According to some testimonies from former atheists who have read this book , they presumed to know more than God, and who were inexcusably ignorant and sinfully arrogant, they realized that they really were woefully, spiritually blind and realized that :” atheism
    is the epitome of stupidity! “. Isa 55:9. The ” god ” of this world had blinded them and now they can see the marvelous light of His glory !!

    • Revid

      “they presumed to know more than God, and who were inexcusably ignorant and sinfully arrogant”

      How can you presume to know more than something that you don’t believe exists? If they presumed to know more than God then they were not atheists.

      How dare you presume to know more than Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony, the audacity!

    • Arkenaten

      Christians just will not get it.
      Let me spell it out.
      Atheists do not believe in gods -PLURAL- we regard your god as no more important and no less imaginary than any other.

      • Ted Seeber

        Fair enough. Then you should never have to quote the Bible in your arguments against God, because, as you say, Jehovah is no more important and no less imaginary than any other God.

        • J-Rex

          Every god is equally imaginary to us. However, some religions do pose more of a danger to society. Current religions are naturally more of a threat than extinct ones. Christianity is very dangerous because it is the biggest one in our country and most of our politicians are Christians and they forget that they’re not allowed to make laws specific to Christianity that the rest of us would rather not follow. I can guarantee you that if we were in the middle east, we would be focusing all our efforts on Islam and using quotes from the Koran in our arguments.

        • Ted Seeber

          “. However, some religions do pose more of a danger to society. ”

          In your subjective opinion maybe, but once you make that judgement, you’ve left Group 3 atheism behind and become a Group 1 atheist.

        • Arkenaten

          @Ted.
          I don’t believe in Mickey Mouse either, but if a movement starts up declaring he is real and not just a cartoon character and also produces a book filled with Mickey Mouse Doctrine, then I will use the book to show how daft it is and the movement. Come to think about it, much of the bible is Mickey Mouse doctrine!

        • Ted Seeber

          But if Jehovah is no more important than any other Mickey Mouse you don’t believe in, then there is no reason to show how daft it is to begin with.

      • joeclark77

        So what? Christians are forbidden from mentioning the objectively-true God because you don’t believe in Him? Why should we play pretend just to preserve your feelings?

        • Kodie

          You can’t claim an objectively-true god; that’s your opinion, and therefore subjective. You are not forbidden from mentioning god as if he’s a person you know, but it’s not censorship or about preserving our feelings to advise you religious folks that it’s really weird of you to mention god as if he’s a person I know.

        • Ted Seeber

          We can and do, but it takes special willpower to ignore the objective evidence.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ted: Objective evidence for what? For God’s existence? I’d like to see such evidence.

        • Kodie

          So in addition to inventing your own definition of ‘evidence’, you’re freestyling the word ‘objective.’ And you wonder why nobody takes you seriously. You’re an insult to the concept of a grown-up conversation.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joe:

          Christians are forbidden from mentioning the objectively-true God because you don’t believe in Him?

          Last time I checked, this was allowed in the US and every prominent atheist was more in support of your right to talk about God than you are. Where’s the problem?

          Ordinary citizens have free speech rights that would’ve been inconceivable during Old Testament times. I don’t think there’s a problem here.

    • smrnda

      I’d take you up on your offer but I’m not an angry skeptic. I view religion the way I view tarot cards and astrology and I’m really not angry about it at all. It’s just something that I’ve encountered and it didn’t seem to have much going for it.

      If we’re talking about confusing good and evil, the Christian god does this all the time. Child sacrifice is bad (and is cited as a region he judged certain nations) yet he commands Abraham to engage in child sacrifice. The Bible’s advice for slaves is to work hard to be better slaves, no matter how much they are beaten. The notion of ‘turn the other cheek’ sounds nice, but this seems to be assigning moral duties only to the person being beaten. It’s clearly a vision of morality that ignores notions of social systems or incentive structures as being relevant to right and wrong – you can’t find a moral way to administer slavery or a monarchy, but the Bible was written at a time when people hadn’t thought up adequate alternatives.

      Ray Comfort seems to be the type to use the unfalsifiable ‘those folks with their book learning are just rejecting the plain truth out of pride!’ He’s good for giving pep talks to the home team but he certainly doesn’t offer any persuasive reasons for me to change my mind.

      Not to sound rude either, but Comfort strikes me as someone who is too uneducated and ignorant to really make assessments of what educated people think. Apologists like WLCraig might get some things wrong, but they at least have some of the knowledge base necessary for understanding the reasons for people’s unbelief. In fact, a lot of contemporary Christianity just seems like a celebration of irrationality, mostly by people who just don’t like to think too hard. I don’t accuse all believers of this, but there’s a real strain of anti-intellectualism going on with people like Comfort.

      I get that also in the way these people condemn liberal educated people as amoral hedonists. They clearly don’t get out of the Bible Belt much.

      • Ted Seeber

        Never actually been to the Bible Belt, and I suspect I wouldn’t like it.

        But libertine people, by definition, ARE amoral hedonists in that they don’t have a system of morality. Perhaps you meant “conservative atheists”, such as George Orwell, who had a well thought out system of morality?

      • Bob Seidensticker

        smrnda:

        I don’t know what winds Comfort’s clock, but what drives me crazy is that he’s been corrected on his ridiculous thinking by some of the best minds in the business. But he doesn’t change his story. I presume that’s because he has a (wrong) story that works in baffling people into joining his nutty religion. But for him to continue using arguments that he knows are flawed drives my opinion about his ethics down to zero.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Jireh:

      ” You can lead an Atheist to Evidence but you can’t make him THINK “.

      A truly abysmal book. Not only poorly constructed (this is just a collection of his online discussions repurposed as a book) but unoriginal. Useless.

      angry skeptics who don’t want to be morally responsible to God

      Oh, is that why atheists are atheists? They actually know that God exists (and so aren’t atheists) but are just moral jerks.

      And I thought it was because there was no evidence! Silly me.

      (Do you get a cut of the profits?)

      • Ted Seeber

        I think you have a different meaning of the word “evidence” than I do.

        • Kodie

          Now I want to know what your definition is, because this isn’t a matter of opinion.

        • Ted Seeber

          It’s very much a matter of opinion. You’re definitely using the word differently than I do. And I asked first. :-)

        • Kodie

          No, it’s not a matter of opinion. If you think there are different definitions of evidence, then your definition is probably wrong. It’s a form of cheating – whatever is evident to you counts for you and it’s not fair if the rest of us don’t count it because our definition is too strict. Of course what you believe isn’t evident if it has to pass a strict definition, so you wiggle out of it by inventing a more lenient and arbitrary definition. But that’s not really what evidence means.

        • Arkenaten

          @ Ted.
          Oh, yes please , Ted. Tell us YOUR definitin of evidence, then we can all compare dictionary notes.
          Silly Person.

        • Ted Seeber

          I asked first, and your response tells me that your definition is completely subjective.

    • ZenDruid

      Ray ‘Banana Boy’ Comfort? Seriously?

  • Quintin

    I’ve long thought that if any atheist were to convert because of argument, they’d know exactly what argument convinced them and they could convince another atheist with that very argument. Anyone who converts for some other reason will know that no argument they can make will convince anyone. These three examples of course confirm that thought because only Flew argued for his deism, and even then it’s debatable whether he actually did.

    • joeclark77

      At the risk of echoing another comment, the proverb that you can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink is really appropriate here. Atheism is a result of pride, not reason. Many atheists are afraid to even read the arguments put forth by the good apologists (I’m talking about *books* here, not your fundamentalist cousin on Facebook) and those few atheists who are brave enough to read the other side’s ideas tend to scoff and brush them off with excuses. It’s always excuses with atheists. However, if you like, feel free to prove me wrong. The argument that was my “tipping point” was the one articulated in a book called “Privileged Planet” which I’m sure is available from your local library or online bookstore. It was not the only argument that led to my conversion, but a significant one. See if you have an answer to it.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Joe:

        Atheism is a result of pride, not reason.

        So atheists actually know that God exists (that is, they’re actually Christians), but they just want to pretend he’s not to get in a few more hedonistic years? Maybe it’s “God, please cure me of my desires, but just not quite yet”?

        Many atheists are afraid to even read the arguments put forth by the good apologists

        Ah—sounds like you’re quite familiar with these good arguments. Show us some.

        However, if you like, feel free to prove me wrong.

        You’ve thrown down the gauntlet—you tell us. Summarize (or point us to summaries of) these good arguments.

        The argument that was my “tipping point” was the one articulated in a book called “Privileged Planet” … See if you have an answer to it.

        Right—Creationism. I got no answer. You win.

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

    This (admittedly limited) survey was meant to test the hypothesis that well-informed atheists never change because of intellectual reasons. I think the hypothesis stands.

    I don’t see it as much of a test. I could say well-informed Catholics never change for intellectual reasons. It would be impossible for you to find a counter example. You might claim to find a counter example but I can always escape by denying they are well-informed or denying their reasons were intellectual. I think it would only be convincing to Catholics.

    How many atheist to Christian stories have you read? Devon Rose? Jennifer Fulwiler? John Wright? Tim Staples? Ed Feser? I am just wondering because I would say the opposite. There are a ton of atheist to Catholic converts that I would call mainly intellectual and zero Catholic to atheist conversions.

    • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

      In case anyone wants to read some stories there is a book

      http://www.amazon.com/Atheist-Catholic-11-Stories-Conversion/dp/0867169575

    • MountainTiger

      Those of us who left Catholicism don’t feel the need to trumpet the change the way that Catholics seem to.

      • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

        I know there are many people who left Catholicism. The question is how many were well informed Catholics? Give the way they characterize the Catholic faith after they left it seems obvious to me very few were. Not blaming. That is the church’s fault. But people who get Catholicism don’t leave it for intellectual reason. For moral reasons, sure. That is different. Nobody leaves atheism because the rules are too strict. I’ll give you that.

        • MountainTiger

          See, you say that, but you are at least as wrong as Bob. The problem with Catholicism has little to do with morality and everything to do with making implausible claims about the nature of reality.

        • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doemch

          Graduate of St Xavier High School Class of 1987. I must not be a True Scotsman then. That will shock the Jesuits who taught me evolution and physics.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Quintin:

      All valid concerns, and all addressed in the prior post (“I Used to be an Atheist, Just Like You”). Yes, atheists convert to Catholicism. I make a distinction between different kinds of atheists.

      • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

        Bob,
        I assume you are talking to me. I did read the prior post. I do agree you have the No True Scotsman problem. I just wonder if you have read the stories I have read because I would not put all those guys in the category you did.

        • Kodie

          The concept of not believing in god does not assert any arguments in itself. It is certainly possible to distinguish between people who are familiar or not familiar with rational explanations or logic based on how they’ve expressed themselves. There is no “one kind” of atheist, which is your issue, not ours. There is no “no true Scotsman” fallacy occurring here. I would not count you as an informed anything, based on how you express yourself and the shallow lines of reasoning you think are you being an intellectual, so I’m not interested in what categories you think are correct.

          I, however, am not saying an informed atheist would never convert. Even without examples, I can imagine it happens. Nobody knows everything, that doesn’t mean there’s a god, but I can imagine there has to be some experience a person can’t explain to themselves no matter how much they know. I’d still contend there is a natural reason, and like I said, we don’t know everything, but everything so far has a natural explanation. Furthermore, no theist I’m aware of has ever described any experience of conversion or belief that doesn’t have a natural explanation, or they’re embellishing or misremembering or relaying a message that came from another person at some other time or place, subject to these criticisms as well. If there’s a god, he’s pretty unimpressive with the communications and appearances. That doesn’t preclude an informed atheist from being taken in by a lack of explanation for something otherwise.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

          Actually Bob admitted a “No True Scotsman” problem. I would have said that but he beat me to it. You are right, all conversion stories are different but there are some similar intellectual threads running though many of them. One is this notion of what evidence would convince me. Would any?

        • Kodie

          I would say that being evident to oneself is not enough evidence for this project. Even what you hear from others is not always the best, especially if they are trying to sell you something or make a story more dramatic.

          You could take something else besides god that we could both agree exists, like that vacuum cleaner they sell on tv late at night. One person could see the demonstration and decide that they don’t need to know more, plus there is a money-back guarantee. Another person could say their mom bought that vacuum and it is a piece of crap, don’t buy it. I would not know who to believe, but the cautious me would err on not trying it. It obviously works like a dream in the ads, they’re trying to sell you a vacuum cleaner. Maybe it’s not a piece of crap, though, and my friend’s mom didn’t put the bag in correctly. The only way to know would be to spend my money and try it out myself, but that’s a high cost to me even without the guarantee. I don’t have enough evidence to decide, and I can’t do both, so I decide not. Another person might go ahead, and maybe the vacuum isn’t terrific, but it’s good enough not to send bother sending back.

          I’ve not been given enough of the more convincing types of evidence to believe in god. I think the world works the way it does and I don’t know everything about it, but I understand enough to discern what the sources are claiming and whether they have the logic to convince me and they don’t. They use persuasive language a lot, but they are selling a vacuum they can’t even demonstrate, they just say it’s really good and if I would just try it too, it would change my whole life. It’s way too vague and if that’s good enough for you, if you think you feel it, if something showed itself to you that I don’t see, that’s really not even fair of god to expect me to believe he runs the planet, since I already know how it works. Resurrection, impossible. Died for my sins? Knows me? Is here looking right at me right now? Can he clean my apartment then?

          That would be evidence, but I don’t know if it’s intellectual. If I woke up tomorrow or even Monday, since I know he’s off tomorrow, right, and my whole apartment was clean and I know I didn’t do it, that would be amazing; that would sell me, and I couldn’t explain it to anyone else because a clean apartment would seem ordinary. I couldn’t say it wasn’t brownies or elves, or the devil trying to trick me, or whatever. Unless it leaves a note telling me explicitly what to do next with my new-found belief, I would not necessarily be able to revert to any specific religion or sect. Even if I were witness to an absolute miracle, it would not tell me which god is going to be the right one to stake my life on. I don’t even know how I would go figuring that out. They’re not all the same, and I haven’t got a clear message which one to do.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Randy: I need more than “you made an error,” sorry. This doesn’t help me identify the error.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

          I didn’t say you made an error. I just said that putting conversion stories into categories like you did requires some judgement. I would need to know precisely which stories you are labeling non-intellectual before I can say I disagree. Even then it would just be a difference of opinion rather than an error.

  • Pingback: You Shall Know Them By Their Fruits

  • Ted Seeber

    A question from a Zen Catholic- if you are settled in your non-belief, why would you WANT to challenge that non-belief?

    I ask the question because I actually understand *CURRENT* church teaching on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory- and understand enough to know that the current definition of Hell seems to be what vocal new atheists are continually asking for in democracy: Freedom from God and all of his minions.

    Given that definition of Hell, what smart atheist would NOT want to go to Hell?

    • smrnda

      Well, given how well secular societies work out and how poorly religious ones do, and the way that God seems to be pretty capricious at times, it sounds exactly like earth.

      The best attempts Christians can make to define heaven seems to be a place where God erases your brain and turns you into a mindless praisebot.

      To me, this just makes me think the notion of an all powerful and loving God who also wants complete control of you just doesn’t hold weight. The usual retort I get is that “well, without God everybody would be a moral monster” but I really don’t see it.

      • Ted Seeber

        “Well, given how well secular societies work out and how poorly religious ones do”

        That is an extraordinary statement for which there is almost no proof- given what happened to secular societies like the USSR in the 20th century.

        I know, you’ll pull out the no-true-scotsman fallacy and claim that the USSR was actually religious, right?

        But now to the meat of the argument, on which we actually agree: “The best attempts Christians can make to define heaven seems to be a place where God erases your brain and turns you into a mindless praisebot.”

        I wouldn’t have used that language, but yes, that is essentially correct. And no, I’m not going to pull the “but everybody would be a moral monster” on you either. I’m saying that under that definition of Heaven, combined with that definition of Hell, New Atheists of the “Freedom From Religion” variety should WANT TO GO TO HELL, and thus, SHOULD BE MORAL MONSTERS- because that is the optimal behavior for making sure no religionist will ever bother you again for all of eternity.

        • Brian Westley

          “That is an extraordinary statement for which there is almost no proof- given what happened to secular societies like the USSR in the 20th century.

          I know, you’ll pull out the no-true-scotsman fallacy and claim that the USSR was actually religious, right?”

          I’ll just claim that the USSR wasn’t “secular” (which means the state and religions are separate). The USSR controlled religions rather severely.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ted:

          given what happened to secular societies like the USSR in the 20th century.

          I think you mean dictatorships like the USSR. Religion was suppressed because it was a competitive force.

          Atheism wasn’t behind the problem. It was a dictatorship–that was the problem.

        • Arkenaten

          This is always thrown up when figures are bandied about which caused more deaths’- Religion or atheism and th two favourites,Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao are always first in the mix.
          Yet Christians who consider the Bible the Breathed Word of God wont allow you to lay dpon the two Aces, Noah and the Global Flood, and Joshua’s liquidation of Canaan.
          Does this mean the Bible’s veracity might be suspect or are they just meanies?

        • Ted Seeber

          Given what the Freedom From Religion folks have been doing lately, I completely agree that DICTATORSHIP is the problem.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ted: What has the FFRF been doing that bothers you?

          And keep in mind that an out-of-control FFRF (which I don’t see) isn’t the same thing as a dictatorship in power.

        • smrnda

          The current case of Scandinavia, Japan or Western Europe as opposed the the US seems to be a pretty good example for me of secular societies doing better.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        smrnda: On the topic of praisebots:

        “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’” (Rev. 4:8)

        Sounds like nonstop laughs ‘n fun!

        • Ted Seeber

          Yep, exactly my point. Where I can see the attraction to such an afterlife for myself, why would any libertine, liberal, or freedom worshiping intellectual atheist want conversion, if it meant that?

        • ZenDruid

          Do you want to spend a mythical eternal afterlife in church?

        • joeclark77

          I know I do! I only wish the Methodists were right. They have donuts.

        • Kodie

          I know you’re just making a little joke, but would you mind telling me why you think the Methodists aren’t right?

        • joeclark77

          Don’t get me wrong, I love our Protestant friends. But Protestantism itself is laughably self contradictory. Luther declared that the teaching authority given by Jesus to the early Church was forfeited and that no one had the authority to teach what Christians must believe … then proceeded to teach what Christians must believe as if he had authority. He invented the doctrine of “sola scriptura” which holds that the Bible is the one and only infallible source of truth… except for the 7 books he personally cut out of the Bible because they didn’t click with what he wanted to teach… I could go on. Suffice it to say that there are true Christians and saints in the pews of the Methodist churches, but “Methodism” itself is not true.

        • Ted Seeber

          Yes, I do want to spend an eternal afterlife in Church. But I can’t imagine why any atheist would.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ted: The afterlife that atheists object to is the burning kind that many Christians imagine for them (but then assure them that it’s their fault, not God’s, ’cause he loves everyone).

  • DrewL

    “This (admittedly limited) survey was meant to test the hypothesis that well-informed atheists never change because of intellectual reasons. “

    By intellectual reasons you mean rational reasons. By rational reasons you probably mean something that meets the criteria of rationalism or empiricism. (see wikipedia). Both of these exclude all metaphysical possibilities from the get-go (not to mention they are also self-refuting belief systems that rest upon presuppositions that violate their own standards of truth, but who needs logic when you have a faith movement to sustain).

    In other words, you’re doing circular logic: no one chooses faith beliefs because of intellectual reasons. And any reasons that recognize faith beliefs are not intellectual. I totally agree with what you’re saying–I don’t put stock into “rational” conversions–but you should realize you aren’t saying much.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Both of these exclude all metaphysical possibilities from the get-go

      Bad idea? Show me that there are metaphysical possibilities worth considering.

      not to mention they are also self-refuting belief systems that rest upon presuppositions that violate their own standards of truth, but who needs logic when you have a faith movement to sustain

      There you have it! That’s all that I need to reject rationalizty.

      I don’t put stock into “rational” conversions–but you should realize you aren’t saying much.

      Seems like quite a lot to me. If God exists, he gave me this big brain to use. No evidence? No conversion.

      I guess it’s how God made me.

      • DrewL

        Still in love with universally-rejected epistemologies I see. Let me know if your hours of daily research ever lead to reassess your commitment to dead theories of knowledge. There are many profound atheist thinkers who could help pull you into some more contemporary ways of thinking about knowledge, truth, and “evidence.” But I realize there are plenty of people who just like to keep their faith system uncontaminated from challenges…to each his own.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Still in love with universally-rejected epistemologies I see.

          Yep, I still cling to reason and evidence even though everyone knows that that’s no path to knowledge. But, as an atheist, I have to tip the playing field in my favor. If I don’t cheat, I can’t win, right?

          Let me know if your hours of daily research ever lead to reassess your commitment to dead theories of knowledge.

          The Dark Lord wouldn’t allow me to do that. Dang!

          there are plenty of people who just like to keep their faith system uncontaminated from challenges

          Wow—if I had to have my claims critiqued fairly and honestly … I shudder to think. If you’ll just keep to yourself how flimsy my arguments are, I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

        • DrewL

          Your “energetic but civil critique of Christianity” really comes through with this response. I get the sense you’d prefer these comments be an echo chamber of mindless tribal platitudes alongside the occasional stray bible-beating Christian that makes all of us feel intellectually superior. Great way to pass the hours eh?

          However, many atheists and people who value reason would take time to address logical fallacies in their thinking; that you avoided that in this thread suggests the real drive of this blog is not the objective truth-seeking you profess, but something else. Something that keeps you away from relevant wikipedia articles or the many atheist thinkers who are either disgusted or embarrassed by new atheism and its tribe of loyal internet commenters. I’d be interested in knowing more about why you avoid respected scholarly or intellectual voices (or even WIKIPEDIA!) that challenge your beliefs, particularly on a blog that supposedly engages these things. But I think I see my answer when you’re surrounded by like-minded people quite comfortable doing the same thing: it’s fun to be a tribe, particularly a tribe that holds itself to be more intellectually advanced than 90% of the American population.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Your “energetic but civil critique of Christianity” really comes through with this response.

          Life’s a mirror, pal. You act like a jerk and you get treated like one.

          Give me a well-reasoned and polite critique and I’ll will do my best to give you a response in kind ASAP. If you have little to offer but vomit, surely you’re not surprised when you get the same in return.

  • Matthew

    About Leah Libresco, when was she an atheist?

    I remember when the story broke of a “prominent” atheist converting. I came to patheos for the first time and scanned through her blog, curious as to what convinced this person. I went back about as far as I could into the archives of Unequally Yoked and found…posts on prayer, attending mass, taking communion, meeting deacons…wha..? This is a prominent atheist?

    I realize this is a bit of No Trues Scotsman, but I find it hard to take her seriously as an atheist when her earliest posts confirm an apparently ardent religious practice. Frankly, her atheism comes across as a cover. In the same way that Bill O’Reilly claims to be a political independent in order to lend a veneer of objectivity to a partisan rant.

    This really comes through in her discussion of PZ Myers desecration of the host. Even before her public conversion she seemed to be involved in Catholic apologetics; criticising his action while ignoring the context, stating that she found the Mohammed drawings acceptable but the host desecration not, etc, etc.

    So, really, when was this prominent atheist actually an atheist?

    • Ted Seeber

      Actually, her entire blog is about her conversion. Before her conversion began, she wasn’t blogging.

      Ok, so it took until February 2012 for her to admit it to herself, and until June for her to come out and tell everybody- but she readily admitted from the start that she was attempting to crowdsource her arguments on conversion because to put them all on her boyfriend wouldn’t be fair or scientific enough for her.

      • Ted Seeber

        I would also point out that her conversion isn’t over. No Catholic’s conversion is over until they are a member of the Church Triumphant (or, to use the language of atheists above, turned into a mindless praisebot).

      • Matthew

        Ouch,

        Then I’d consider it even less honest to describe her story as a “Prominent Atheist” converting rather than what it was; a person in the midst of a religious conversion working themselves up to a declaration of belief. However, I acknowledge that this framing could have been the news reporting surrounding her conversion rather than her own self promotion.

        As for crowd sourcing her arguments, that frankly seems bizarre given the literal gallons of ink spilled on apologetics and counter arguments, freely available on the net. It also seems curious that she couldn’t bring herself to discuss her conversion very much after the fact. If I recall correctly, both JT and Fincke approached her with requests for discussion which she agreed to, and then somehow never got around to fulfilling.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

          That is not fair. She was raised an atheist. She was in a process that became a conversion process. She didn’t plan for it go go that way.

          She responded to JT. Fincke had more philosophical objections. Not sure if she is a trained philosopher. Ed Feser responded to Fincke.
          http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2012/07/atheistic-teleology.html

        • matthew

          I’m not sure what you consider unfair in my assessment.

          It’s disingenious to state Libresco was “in a process which became a religious process”. What process includes mass, communion, prayer, and meetings with church authorities which is not a religious process?

          I rechecked both JT’s and Fincke’s blogs. I stand by my earlier statement; both JT and Fincke contacted her for details of her conversion. After initially agreeing to discuss her conversion, she then went silent.

        • jose

          Fincke’s “listen atheists, if you’re not a moral realist, you are a fool who can’t possibly justify your values” approach wasn’t that good anyway imho.

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    You say that no well-informed atheist just like you would convert to Christianity, and the implication seems to be that if an atheist knows what you know (ie is well-informed) then there is no intellectual pathway from atheism to theism.

    Have you considered the possibility that there is something that you do not know or understand, that if you were understood it, would be compelling evidence for you to change your position?

    • ZenDruid

      Have you considered the possibility that there is something that you do not know or understand, that if you were understood it, would be compelling evidence for you to change your position?

      This has always been the case for honest rational people. Please note that the rationalists’ continuing request for compelling evidence for god has been left unanswered for centuries. That leads rational people to reject religious postulates in light of the lack of good evidence, and to pursue understanding where evidence actually exists.

    • Kodie

      I’ve considered the possibility that there is something I don’t know or understand that nobody knows or understands. Everyone talking about their god is a fraud. If there is a god, nobody knows what they’re talking about, at least everyone who has talked about god sounds like they don’t. If there is some claim that the path to god is intellectual, I would say it’s philosophical – if that counts as intellectual, I guess. Some people find it difficult to live without wrapping their heads around something like a vine does to a tree. Does the vine know it’s a tree and not a house? Propping up one’s personal concerns on an available framework may very well teach a person how best to live, but the danger is that not letting go of the framework, some dangerous ideas may enter as well as the religious person is convinced it’s all so real that they must do whatever it wants. It can actually warp someone’s humanity as it takes rights from some people or forces itself on the populace at large. For our own good, they say. Who says? They can’t point to what it is or describe it very well, they just know. They’ve coursed their life around submitting their own intellect, and sure, some of them read a lot and quote some literature, but that’s still conjecture. None of it sounds credible to me, and plenty of it is full of mile-wide holes.

      I mean, I have a framework, I think everyone might. To not have a self and a way about oneself would be chaotic. It’s the people who say atheists are loose cannons because we don’t have god. No, that’s not true at all. What I can’t believe is a god who needs people to be so rigid when there is a world of experience, and that’s not rebellion; I could not believe a god would put all of us in that much danger of going to hell if he loved us and if life is supposedly precious. The rigid biblical fundamentalist god is really a tool and pretty stupid about his creation, but the farther away one gets from that and enters the real world of facts and accepting people, the more excuses people are forced to make in order to reconcile what they believe with the bible still being true at all. On the order to find a god that could be truer than the others, I’m really just looking for something I like. That’s confirmation bias and no closer to knowing an actual deity. I just cut out the middleman, stop searching for it, and live what I think is the right way, not because I’m my own god, but because that’s how religion works anyway.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Karl:

      Have you considered the possibility that there is something that you do not know or understand

      Of course. And that’s the glaring omission from the conversions of the well-informed atheists that I’ve heard of to date. They don’t blaze a new trail that anyone else can follow. They don’t open a flood of new conversions.

  • Vksun

    “well-informed atheists never change because of intellectual reasons”

    It can be a case of attitudinal shift, for example. In one of the comments on a different post, you mentioned that knowing God to you is just a good to know thing like knowing about Julius Ceaser. Else where, you claimed that God is the one who is desperate. As per the Bible, such attitude is an obstacle for God to reveal. Jesus said knowing God is eternal life. Jeremiah 29:13 says ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’. An attitude adjustment to begin seeing God as important and really want to know as it has implications for eternal life, and that one should seek with all heart/mind/soul – which may then result in God revealing fully to a person. It often does not need a new argument, but an attitude adjustment.

    • ZenDruid

      I find it very very very suspicious that an entity [who] is capable of creating everything from nothing is reduced to demanding rivers of blood from nomadic goatherders from the armpit of the Levant. Are you sure this god-the-father isn’t just a bloodlusting demon impostor that Moses extracted from his [...]?

    • Kodie

      A change of attitude is needed not to hear from god but to decide to believe what cannot otherwise be believed. I might say, I’ll give tennis a chance. I hate running after the ball and it’s embarrassing how clumsy I am, but it’s very popular with my neighbors, and there’s a court right on the block, so they get together without me sometimes and I want to make friends. I can decide to like it anyway, and spending time with my new friends, and starting off poorly, I decide to fit in so want to excel at it; I go freaky for tennis, it gives me joy now, it’s taken up room in my life. I need someone to play against this Saturday, so I’ll invite you to play. You haven’t picked up a racket since you were 10, but you’ll hit the ball with me, sure. But you’re not serious and I’m a good player now. You knew I liked tennis, but you didn’t know how competitive I am. Of course this annoys you and you annoy me. I need you to like tennis and try harder. I had my attitude adjustment, where’s yours? Your response is to either like tennis enough to take lessons so we can play a satisfactory game or you will block my calls.

      I really don’t think there is anything more to this god thing, as far as attitude adjustment, than wanting to take up a new hobby you once thought was kind of boring and had too many rules, but once you got into it, you had a fever. It’s like someone urging you to see this great movie or read a book they liked, or go lo-carb, or try this awesome vitamin juice. It’s a matter of perspective and personal taste – you’re not necessarily going to find any of those things personally rewarding and it’s not because they are and that you’re just lacking sophistication for all those things, or that just because your friend is your friend that they know what they’re talking about. You’re allowed to choose.

      • Vksun

        Equating importance of God and that of tennis? Well, thats the whole point/issue. Thats the obstacle in knowing God that I am talking about. Needs attitude adjustment/change.

        • Kodie

          I haven’t heard any description of belief that sounds any different than the enthusiasm for a hobby. No, you really really like it and you think it’s the way. Why? A bunch of stuff that sounds made up like everlasting glory and that just doesn’t match reality. Or I’ll beg the lord to forgive me the day I die but it will be too late. If it’s that urgent, god wouldn’t need you people explaining it so poorly.

    • joeclark77

      I have also commented on Bob’s blog elsewhere that my conversion was preceded by an attitude shift. Basically I looked around and noticed that virtually all of the smart people and people I agreed with in the present and past were Christian, while most of the stupid people and those I disagreed with (e.g. in politics) were atheists. I was willing to let my armor down a bit and consider the Christian arguments fairly.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Joe: I’m willing to consider the Christian arguments fairly … but I suppose I don’t have to make that claim to you. You wouldn’t believe me.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

          What does fairly mean? Nobody thinks they are biased. We can see it in others and not in ourselves.

  • David

    Hey Bob,

    I just read about another atheist-turned-Christian. He sort of resembles case #2. Here’s a good interview: http://www.statepress.com/2012/09/27/from-atheism-to-catechism/ .

    • Bob Seidensticker

      David: I saw this one, but thanks. Here again, this atheist isn’t saying, “Y’know–all those solid arguments against Christianity aren’t so solid anymore. Here’s how they are flawed …”

      This is another new Christian who converted for non-intellectual reasons.

      • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

        Non-intellectual? He says he had an experience. His senses told him God was real. Is that non-intellectual. For example, St Paul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus. Was his conversion non-intellectual? Just wondering about the definitions because every conversion has some element of personal experience.

        • ZenDruid

          If you can describe transient impressions as intellectual, then the definition of intellectual breaks down. Intellect implies that the individual will investigate how that particular impression came about in the first place.

          “Oh wow, praise Jesus” is not a product of the intellect.

        • Kodie

          Your senses fool you all the time. Have you ever been on a train next to another train and the other train starts moving but you get the sense that it’s your train that’s moving? That one’ll figure itself out after you realize your train hasn’t moved and the other train is gone. I think most religions are based on not knowing how things work, like the brain or statistics, among other things, like what planet you live on and its natural properties.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Randy:

          Non-intellectual? He says he had an experience.

          Oh? What was the experience? Is this a route that anyone can take?

          If I were an atheist because of Argument X and then I realized that X was flawed, I might convert to Christianity. Then (and here’s the important part) I’d be eager to tell everyone about the flaw I found in X. That doesn’t mean that there would be a flood of atheist conversions–maybe the atheists are atheists for other reasons; maybe they’re too proud to publicly change; etc.–but there would surely be some. That there aren’t with these conversions highlights the asymmetry.

  • jose

    Science works, and science presupposes strict materialism.

    When we look at the results of an experiment, we are justified in believing explanation 1 is more likely than explanation 2 because we presuppose miracles can’t happen. We presuppose the laws of nature can’t be bent whimsically. If a miracle can affect the outcome, then everything is equally possible and we suddenly are deprived from the ability to reject bad answers, or to distinguish good from bad answers at all, because we have no way to know if a miracle has actually taken place or not. In other words, once you accept possible supernatural influences in the universe, experiments just cease to be useful as a method to figure out stuff.

    I don’t know how to get around that.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Jose: If a supernatural explanation were the only plausible explanation (to explain the success of prayer, for example), that’d be hard to ignore. It just never happens that way, so naturalists are never confronted with this problem. Science is never shown to be inadequate to the task.

      • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

        It never happens that way because you don’t look at the evidence rationally. You can’t. Too many miracles have too much evidence. So you statement is one of faith. It does not fit the data and you just don’t care.

        • ZenDruid

          You’re blowing smoke now. Singing songs of evidence is not equivalent to having evidence in hand. And you don’t have evidence. How do I know this? Because when we ask for evidence, your apologists say they have plenty, but they never deliver.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Randy:

          Too many miracles have too much evidence.

          Tell me more. Where are these miracles documented? Is there one that is so personally compelling that, if it were overturned, you’d deconvert?

          And why is “miracles do happen” not the scientific consensus? Where is science in this discussion?

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

      In other words, once you accept possible supernatural influences in the universe, experiments just cease to be useful as a method to figure out stuff.

      This is nonsense. Miracles are the exception. We still need to know the rule. In fact, without the rule we would not know the miracle. We know the virgin birth is a miracle precisely because we know how normal human reproduction works. Believing in that does not negate the science of obstetrics.

      • Kodie

        It would be a miracle if it actually happened. What you read is a story.

      • jose

        You have no way to know when a miracle has happened. This makes every experiment suspect. Is this result product of the laws of nature or was it God? The philosophical base for their validity (that is, the belief that the laws of nature are not going to change whimsically) is no longer there.

        What happens if you make an experiment and the results are completely contradictory to everything we know so far? What if you get the same results after repeating the experiment and checking for errors? How can you tell if you have made a great scientific discovery or if God is intervening for some mysterious reason? My favorite example for this is the ultraviolet catastrophe.

        In order for science to remain solid and confident, the only God we can accept is a God that cannot influence the universe in any way (not one that doesn’t want to do that, like the Deist one; there’s the possibility that he still may do it). In other words, a God that doesn’t exist at all in our universe.

  • avalon

    How Could an Atheist Convert to Christianity? Look to science for the answer. We all have a left brain and a right brain. The left uses logic, the right uses emotion. In the skeptic the left brain dominates. But this can change. If the right brain starts to dominate a conversion to theism will be likely.
    I took this left/right brain test:
    http://www.wherecreativitygoestoschool.com/vancouver/left_right/rb_test.htm
    And found the results explained my skepticism. I’d be curious to see the results from a theist. My guess is they’d be right-brained.
    Bottom line: there’s a natural explanation for everything, even atheists converting to theism/deism.

    avalon

    • leahlibresco

      I don’t know how rigorous this test is, but I got:

      Left Brain: 56%
      Right Brain: 44%

      Your Left Brain Percentages

      58% Linear (Your most dominant characteristic)
      38% Logical
      34% Symbolic
      27% Sequential
      27% Reality-based
      14% Verbal (Your least dominant characteristic)

      Your Right Brain Percentages

      44% Nonverbal (Your most dominant characteristic)
      37% Concrete
      29% Intuitive
      24% Holistic
      23% Random
      16% Fantasy-oriented (Your least dominant characteristic)

      • avalon

        Hi Leah,
        Here’s my results:
        Left Brain 67%
        Right Brain 33%

        Your Left Brain Percentages
        53% Sequential (Your most dominant characteristic)
        47% Reality-based
        42% Logical
        34% Symbolic
        32% Linear
        20% Verbal (Your least dominant characteristic)

        Your Right Brain Percentages
        46% Concrete (Your most dominant characteristic)
        24% Intuitive
        19% Nonverbal
        18% Holistic
        17% Random
        8% Fantasy-oriented (Your least dominant characteristic)

        What I found interesting was the comments on the percentages (note the use of the terms “critical thinker, logical, systematic, and reality”:
        Your left brain controls the right side of your body. In addition to being known as left-brained, you are also known as a critical thinker who uses logic and sense to collect information.
        You usually only see parts of the “whole” picture, but this is what guides you step-by-step in a logical manner to your conclusion.
        You scored highly in sequential processing. When you process information you have received, you are able to order it in a systematic, logical order from first to last.
        You process information with a basis in reality, but are not limited to it. You can complete projects to whice you are emotionally attached as well as random tasks.
        You tend to not process data randomly, preferring instead to follow a systematic, logical order from first to last.
        You have a low ability to process information in a fantasy-oriented way.

        Leah,
        You didn’t say if you were a theist, but I’d guess you were based on a comparison of the results.

        avalon

    • Kodie

      Hang on, wait a second. Debunked already, isn’t it? http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-myths/201206/why-the-left-brain-right-brain-myth-will-probably-never-die

      Also, the results of a non-scientific survey about how creative you are to get into art school would probably tell you you’re creative enough.

  • Joshua

    Ever heard of Lee Strobel? He’s the quintessential intellectual convert to Christianity of recent times. And from what I’ve read, the author of Ben-Hur had a similar conversion story, though I’m not as familiar with the details.

    • matthew

      It’s telling that the quintessential convert of recent times is a creationist associated with the Discovery Institute. That’s the second shout out to the DI in this thread.

      • Joshua

        Actually, I wasn’t even aware of that. I know of him because of his books, not his affiliations. Besides, in what sense is that “telling?” If he converted for intellectual reasons, it refutes the point.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Joshua: Lee Strobel annoys me because he portrays himself initially as a hard-nosed journalist determined to get to the bottom of this story … but when you read his book, it’s nothing but interviews with Christians! He’s entitled to write a book about Christian thought, but don’t pretend that this has anything to do with objective journalism!

      I see no evidence that he was a thoughtful atheist, aware of the apologetics on both sides.

      • DrewL

        I see no evidence that he was a thoughtful atheist, aware of the apologetics on both sides.
        Strobel annoys me too. But your defense here sounds like it could be boiled down to “No TRULY thoughtful atheist…” Bob, you’re on shaky ground here, I think your blog could do better than these types of claims.

      • Joshua

        @ Bob Seidensticker:
        So? The fact that his book is full of interviews with Christians says nothing about what I wrote, nor did I claim his book was about objective journalism. Indeed, he was anything but objective: let’s face it, he did start out as an atheist who wanted to disprove Christianity. He had an agenda, and came to the opposite conclusion. Could it be that all the “well-informed,” “thoughtful” atheists don’t change their mind simply because of pride or mental inertia? I’m not even being one-sided here; I’ll admit a lot of Christians stick with their beliefs for the same reason. But you have to admit that the more “well-informed” you are the less likely you are to change your mind regardless of your beliefs, because if you’re well informed, it hurts more to admit you were wrong, and even aside from that if you’re already well-informed but still hold belief X, it shows that the information you have doesn’t change your mind. So in that sense your argument is almost tautological.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joshua:

          The fact that his book is full of interviews with Christians says nothing about what I wrote

          Uh, yeah. Obviously.

          But you have to admit that the more “well-informed” you are the less likely you are to change your mind regardless of your beliefs, because if you’re well informed, it hurts more to admit you were wrong, and even aside from that if you’re already well-informed but still hold belief X, it shows that the information you have doesn’t change your mind. So in that sense your argument is almost tautological.

          My hypothesis is anything but a tautology. I’m saying that we have lots of Christians who have deconverted. Some were poorly educated; some were at the highest levels and desperately did not want to deconvert. They knew the apologetic arguments from both sides backwards and forwards. Indeed, this great knowledge was the reason that they deconverted.

          And now, the asymmetry. Look at the other side. Obviously, you’ve got atheists who become Christians. We agree here. But at the highest level, where atheists understand both sides fully, you never have defectors for intellectual reasons.

          The asymmetry is the point.

        • Joshua

          Bob:

          Uh, yeah. Obviously.

          Indeed. So obvious that I’m mystified as to why you would bring in such an obvious red herring.

          My hypothesis is anything but a tautology. I’m saying that we have lots of Christians who have deconverted. Some were poorly educated; some were at the highest levels and desperately did not want to deconvert.

          Name me some of those Christians, and you’ll have named some that were ill-informed or deconverted for illogical reasons. I can play this game too.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joshua:

          I’m mystified as to why you would bring in such an obvious red herring.

          You bring up Strobel, and I say, “Strobel? Yeah, that reminds me. Here’s what really bugs me about that guy.”

          I call it “small talk.” No, not a red herring. If this tangent bugs you, well, I guess that’s the cross you must bear.

          I can play this game too.

          I doubt it. I already named them in the original post:

          Lots of Christians have deconverted: Rich Lyons from the Living After Faith podcast. Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Community of Austin. Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Bob Price, the Bible Geek. Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus. The hundreds of pastors in the Clergy Project.

          Lots of these people have doctorates in theology. “Ill informed”? I don’t think so.

        • Joshua

          @Bob:

          I call it “small talk.” No, not a red herring. If this tangent bugs you, well, I guess that’s the cross you must bear.

          Given the way you finished the thought (i.e. “don’t call it objective journalism”), it seemed like you were responding to my point rather than making small talk. Put it down to the limitations of written language I guess.

          Lots of these people have doctorates in theology. “Ill informed”? I don’t think so.

          Having a doctorate in theology doesn’t make you well informed regarding the topics we’re discussing (e.g. apologetics and such). It also doesn’t tell me anything about what they knew as far as arguments for atheism. And I know off-hand from personal experience that Bart Ehrman is a joke. I’ve listened to some lectures he recorded for the Teaching Company, and saying that most of his arguments on this topic were weak would be extremely charitable. Given that he’s the type of guy you’re hanging your position on, I don’t see the point in researching the others in much detail, unless you can point me to a place where any of them actually give the reasons for their deconversion.

          Also, C.S. Lewis? Do you have an opinion as to whether he is a good counterexample or not? I’m going to keep bringing him up until you at least acknowledge that I have.

    • Joshua

      Oh, and I forgot to mention: C.S. Lewis, a self-described “reluctant convert.”

  • http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/ Robert Oerter

    While I’m pretty much in sympathy with your point, I think it’s going too far to say there are NO converts from atheism who followed an intellectual path. You should take a close look at Ed Feser, who has written about his conversion on his blog. And he has laid out the arguments in his book, The Final Superstition. Not that I find the arguments convincing, mind you, but he’s a clear counterexample to your thesis.

    The counterexamples do seem to be pretty thin on the ground….

    (Nice blog, by the way, and some good discussion. I came here via a link from Leah, who used to be one of my favorite atheists bloggers and is now one of my favorite Christian bloggers.)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Robert O: I found Ed Feser’s conversion story here. Pretty long–do you have any highlights?

      Obviously, my survey will always be limited. But here’s my point: if I were to convert to Christianity by intellectual reasons, I would (apparently) have discovered that a preponderance of my intellectual arguments both against Christianity and for atheism were false. As a new Christian, I would take delight in pointing out to the world these flaws. It would be the first thing I’d do.

      And yet I’ve never seen this from anyone. Doesn’t mean that it never happened (maybe it’s just poorly known? maybe that new Christian had better things to do than bring more atheists to Christianity?) but it’s a strong clue. That’s all I’m saying.

      And thanks for the compliment. I hope you continue to hang around.

  • Jake

    The “well informed” atheist could never convert? That actually borders on an ad hominem attack, and begging the question.

    In my opinion, of course. And your hypothesis also has a “non falsifiable component”, because, obviously, the atheist who converted was not “well informed.”

    • Joshua

      I think the term you’re looking for is the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, but you’re basically correct in your critique, I think.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Jake: Have you read the post that describes this?

      I’m pretty clear in what I propose we’d see (but don’t) if a well-informed atheist converted to Christianity. I see no fallacy.

      • Joshua

        @Bob Seidensticker:
        You give away the game when you say you put yourself in the “well-informed” category. No matter what examples any of us give (and here’s another: Spike Psarris, who was an engineer in the U.S. military space program), you can always say that the person wasn’t “well-informed” because they don’t know what YOU know. In short, for your claim to be meaningful, you’ve got to give a comprehensive definition so you don’t fall in the No True Scotsman fallacy. I might as well say that no well-informed, honest person is an atheist. You can’t possibly prove me wrong, because I can always cite a lack of information or mere dishonesty as a reason why your counter-example isn’t really a counter-example.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joshua:

          No matter what examples any of us give (and here’s another: Spike Psarris, who was an engineer in the U.S. military space program), you can always say that the person wasn’t “well-informed” because they don’t know what YOU know.

          Can I? If Bob Price becomes a Christian, can I say that he didn’t know what I know? He has doctorates in NT Studies and in Theology and has forgotten more than I’ll know about the early church. Bart Ehrman? PZ Myers? Greta Christina? I can say with a straight face that none of these are as well-informed as me?

          I’m flattered, but I don’t think that claim will work with anyone, least of all me.

          for your claim to be meaningful, you’ve got to give a comprehensive definition so you don’t fall in the No True Scotsman fallacy.

          My original post acknowledged the problem, but is this a serious problem?

          Find some actual examples where it’s clear that I am actually No-True-Scotsman-ing, and then we can worry about it. Until then, this sounds like busy work.

        • DrewL

          My summary of these 142 comments:

          Bob: All Scotsmen enjoy haggis.
          Person1: My uncle is a Scotsman, and he doesn’t like haggis!
          Bob: Well, all true Scotsmen like haggis.
          Person2: My brother-in-law is a Scotsman, he doesn’t care for haggis at all…
          Bob: We already know no true Scotsmen like haggis.
          Person3: Actually my neighbor is a Scotsman who started an anti-haggis movement–
          Bob: Sorry, not a true Scotsman.
          Person4: Here’s an extensive 10-page account of a guy who is clearly a Scotsman, decrying haggis.
          Bob: Eh…sorry. Not a true Scotsman.
          Person5: What about—
          Bob: Not a true Scotsman.
          Person 6: Have you read–
          Bob: I’m seeing he decries haggis, no question: not a true Scotsman.

          Example borrowed from Wikipedia:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman#Examples

          There’s a kernel of truth to your argument Bob. If you refined it, I would totally agree with you and argue against many of the people challenging you. As is, this is just foolishness.

        • Joshua

          Bob:
          I note that none of the examples you list have converted to Christianity. Hmm…. Of course, if Bart Ehrman converted tomorrow, you could turn around and say he didn’t do it for intellectual reasons. You always have that escape route, because you can claim they’re being dishonest (not saying you would, but I would love to see what would happen if Bart DID convert tomorrow). I can do the same with all the Christians who have become atheists.

          Also, no comment regarding C.S. Lewis?

          My original post acknowledged the problem, but is this a serious problem?

          Of course it’s a serious problem; until you actually define the amount of knowledge an atheist must have to be “well-informed,” all counter-examples are potentially “not well-informed.” So why would I waste my time researching them? I can come up with some off the top of my head (again, Lewis), but I have no incentive to do real work to disprove your unfounded assertion (you have to admit, it’s incredibly weak even on an inductive level) until you give me a real criterion by which I could prove you wrong.

          And of course I can’t give you an example of where you’re committing the fallacy; that’s the nature of the fallacy! You have to define your terms before I can show where you’ve committed a real error. But again, Lewis.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joshua:

          I note that none of the examples you list have converted to Christianity.

          Right. That’s the point of the argument.

          Of course, if Bart Ehrman converted tomorrow, you could turn around and say he didn’t do it for intellectual reasons.

          Richard Morgan makes clear that he didn’t convert for intellectual reasons, and Antony Flew’s story is that he did.

          If Bart Ehrman converted tomorrow, we could probably just ask him, and I’m sure he’d tell us why. If he said that he converted for intellectual reasons, the I guess he’d know best, right?

          I would love to see what would happen if Bart DID convert tomorrow

          Then my hypothesis is overturned. I’d be wrong; c’est la vie.I can do the same with all the Christians who have become atheists.

          The asymmetry is pretty clear in the posts, isn’t it?

          Also, no comment regarding C.S. Lewis?

          I don’t know enough about his story. Why–is he a counterexample?

          So why would I waste my time researching them?

          Look–it’s all there in the original posts. What I’m not seeing is an atheist who’s (1) as knowledgeable as me who (2) converts for intellectual reasons. That is: he realizes that the preponderance of my (our!) arguments for atheism and against Christianity are wrong.

          Does this person exist? Possible, I guess, but wouldn’t he delight in showing his former allies the many errors in their intellectual arguments? That we don’t see this is strong evidence that this guy doesn’t exist.

          you have to admit, it’s incredibly weak even on an inductive level

          The asymmetry is pretty clear.

          until you give me a real criterion by which I could prove you wrong.

          Show me the person that I hypothesized doesn’t exist, above (or show me his evidence).

        • Joshua

          @Bob:

          I don’t know enough about his story. Why–is he a counterexample?

          First, I should apologize for stating in my other response above that you hadn’t replied; I didn’t catch this the first time through, so I’m sorry for that. But as to whether he’s a counterexample, yes, very much so. He was raised Anglican, if I remember correctly, but went atheist in either his teenage or early adult years. His degree was in Anglo-Saxon or some related language, but he knew quite a bit about the arguments for both sides. It took Tolkien and others quite a long time to argue him into Christianity. I daresay a lot of what he wrote in Miracles and other of his apologetic works are arguments that were used to convince him.

          Does this person exist? Possible, I guess, but wouldn’t he delight in showing his former allies the many errors in their intellectual arguments? That we don’t see this is strong evidence that this guy doesn’t exist.

          Not really. It’s mostly atheists who like to flaunt the fact that they’re atheists. Most converts to Christianity are just pretty quiet about the whole thing. But Wikipedia has a list of converts from atheism to Christianity here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_converts_to_Christianity_from_atheism. Among them is Peter Hitchens (Christopher Hitchens’ brother), Lewis, and others. I don’t have time to read through all of them, obviously, but I daresay at least a few of them converted for intellectual reasons and were well informed. For example, Francis Collins: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Collins_%28geneticist%29. Spike Psarris, who is not on the list but whom I mentioned earlier, was in the military space program and has done graduate work in physics, and is now actively putting out material for why atheism doesn’t square with astronomy: http://www.creationastronomy.com/about/. I have a feeling that he converted on those grounds, though the website doesn’t say so specifically.

          Show me the person that I hypothesized doesn’t exist, above (or show me his evidence).

          To do that, I’d have to know what it is you know, now wouldn’t I?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joshua:

          [CS Lewis] knew quite a bit about the arguments for both sides.

          You could be right, but I’m afraid I need much more evidence than this. Antony Flew looks like the perfect counterexample to my hypothesis, but some study shows that he’s not. I don’t know how similar/different Lewis is.

          It took Tolkien and others quite a long time to argue him into Christianity.

          That doesn’t mean that he understood the apologetics and counter-apologetics. That his Mere Christianity (and others) are not convincing in the least to atheists is a strike against your claim.

          It’s mostly atheists who like to flaunt the fact that they’re atheists. Most converts to Christianity are just pretty quiet about the whole thing.

          I simply can’t conceive of what you’re suggesting. Someone is a well-informed atheist like me, and then he converts for intellectual reasons. This isn’t just some epiphany that is valid and useful only to him–he’s see that his old intellectual arguments are invalid. If he is in the least moved by the Great Commission, he will be eager to show his old compatriots the error of (at least) his ways, if not all their ways.

          But Wikipedia has a list of converts from atheism to Christianity here:

          You realize that converts isn’t at all the point, right? I’m talking about a special kind of convert.

          I daresay at least a few of them converted for intellectual reasons and were well informed.

          And, because this enormous sign of such an atheist conversion isn’t apparent, I doubt it.

          For example, Francis Collins

          Oh, please. Have you not read his conversion story? Of how he was hiking in winter and came across a frozen waterfall in three separate pieces and was convinced that this Trinitarian sign came from God? This is precisely not what we’re looking for.

        • DrewL

          Let’s see what we know about the conversion Bob is looking for:
          A “well-informed” atheist (no specification for a certain level of education, that’d be too easy)
          …who is as “knowledgable” as Bob (so he/she has an MIT degree? in computer science?)
          …who Bob has personal evidence is as knowledgable as Bob (he only trusts his own discernment here)
          ….who converted for “intellectual reasons” (no definition given here, but generally intellectual=atheist, so this alone can rule out all counter-examples if so needed)
          …who now devotes time to publicly debunking atheist arguments (in other words, conversions only count if you start a blog afterwards)
          …AND has invalidated these arguments to such a degree that Bob, drawing on the full capacities of his level-headed, unbiased, emotionless, completely neutral, non-subjective, immune-from-human-evolutionary-deficiencies rational thinking, can do nothing but declare all atheist arguments hereby discredited by said converts’ irrefutable logical proofs and argumentation.

          I agree with Bob’s hypothesis now: we won’t find a case like that.

        • Joshua

          @Bob:

          You could be right, but I’m afraid I need much more evidence than this. Antony Flew looks like the perfect counterexample to my hypothesis, but some study shows that he’s not. I don’t know how similar/different Lewis is.

          Precisely why your blanket statement regarding the examples you listed is also of no avail. I have no reason to believe in asymmetry based on your flimsy “evidence” that some of them had doctorates in theology. I notice you didn’t respond to that point.

          That his Mere Christianity (and others) are not convincing in the least to atheists is a strike against your claim.

          Then the fact that The God Delusion hasn’t changed a bunch of Christian minds is a strike against yours.

          If he is in the least moved by the Great Commission, he will be eager to show his old compatriots the error of (at least) his ways, if not all their ways.

          And this can only be done in a public way that makes it clear to the world that he’s changed his mind? You assume that just because he would do this, he would instantly be easy to find and add to our list of converts, but that doesn’t follow at all.

          You realize that converts isn’t at all the point, right? I’m talking about a special kind of convert.

          Which you have yet to define.

          And, because this enormous sign of such an atheist conversion isn’t apparent, I doubt it.

          Again, invalidly assuming that you’re going to know about this stuff just because it happened.

          Oh, please. Have you not read his conversion story? Of how he was hiking in winter and came across a frozen waterfall in three separate pieces and was convinced that this Trinitarian sign came from God? This is precisely not what we’re looking for.

          I haven’t, actually, so I’ll take your word for it and drop him from the list.

          But going back to your comment regarding Mere Christianity, you’ve essentially proven what DrewL said just above me: it’s impossible to prove you wrong. Because no matter what we come up with, you’ll end up saying the “intellectual reasons” were not intellectual at all, just as I would say that Bart Ehrman, pseudo-intellectual that I know him to be, obviously didn’t deconvert for intellectual reasons. Because if Miracles doesn’t convince you that atheism is an epistemologically bankrupt worldview, nothing will. What this really gets down to is that one of us is dead wrong about what constitutes valid intellectual reasons to change one’s mind on this topic, and I doubt either of us will ever convince the other.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joshua:

          I notice you didn’t respond to that point.

          What’s to respond to? You’ve made clear that you aren’t convinced. OK, I get it.

          Then the fact that The God Delusion hasn’t changed a bunch of Christian minds is a strike against yours.

          There’s an asymmetry that you’re not getting.

          this can only be done in a public way that makes it clear to the world that he’s changed his mind?

          Why is this hard? Are you just making small talk?

          Yes, I happily accept the possibility that a fellow atheist soldier in our fight to ruin the world would defect because (here’s the important bit) he newly understands that the preponderance of arguments that he had used are all wrong. And he knows why. So now this former atheist evangelist (and new Christian) simply keeps to himself what apologists would kill for–intellectual arguments that converted this former atheist, as told by that former atheist.

          Sure, that’s possible. What’s your point? That there could be dozens–nay, hundreds–of atheists-turned-Christians who could blow the lid off the filthy business that is atheism but unaccountably don’t?

          Which you have yet to define.

          It’s pretty clear in the posts, I think. If you can’t make heads or tails of it, then I concede that I’ve communicated the argument poorly to you. Next topic.

          it’s impossible to prove you wrong

          I’ve explained the asymmetry as many ways as I can. Not much point in wasting the time of either of us by belaboring it. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. Probably my fault for not being clear.

          just as I would say that Bart Ehrman, pseudo-intellectual that I know him to be, obviously didn’t deconvert for intellectual reasons.

          And if Bart Ehrman converted for intellectual reasons and made plain those reasons, I would consider my hypothesis disproved. (Kind of obvious, right?)

          Because if Miracles doesn’t convince you that atheism is an epistemologically bankrupt worldview, nothing will.

          Probably so. Show me that miracles occur. I’ve never seen any good evidence.

        • Joshua

          @Bob:

          Yes, I happily accept the possibility that a fellow atheist soldier in our fight to ruin the world would defect because (here’s the important bit) he newly understands that the preponderance of arguments that he had used are all wrong. And he knows why. So now this former atheist evangelist (and new Christian) simply keeps to himself what apologists would kill for–intellectual arguments that converted this former atheist, as told by that former atheist.

          Now you’re just putting words in my mouth. I never said a convert would keep his reasons for converting to himself and you know it. I have no time to endlessly combat straw man arguments.

          It’s pretty clear in the posts, I think. If you can’t make heads or tails of it, then I concede that I’ve communicated the argument poorly to you. Next topic.

          Now that’s laughable. First you admit in your earlier post (and in the comments here) that your definition is vague enough that it could turn into a No True Scotsman fallacy, and now you say it’s clear, but you haven’t communicated it properly, but refuse to communicate it more clearly! Now there’s an atheist who’s all about being intellectual.

          Probably so. Show me that miracles occur. I’ve never seen any good evidence.

          I meant Miracles by C.S. Lewis, which I referenced earlier, not the occurrence of miracles. In case you haven’t read it, his fundamental argument is that to get beyond the Cartesian “cogito, ergo sum,” you have to believe in a benevolent creator. Otherwise you just have arbitrary blind faith beliefs in your very ability to know. But as for evidence of the occurrence of miracles, how about the apostles that died for their beliefs, which beliefs were founded on the occurrence of miracles performed by Jesus? Or the people who saw the apostles work miracles and then died for the same beliefs? Which, by the way, is the primary reason Lee Strobel converted. Hard to explain how that many people would get themselves killed over something that wasn’t true.

        • Kodie

          What to you is intellectual about dying for something you believe? It is well possible and plausible for people to die for something that is not true, even if they believe it is true. Other people believing something is not proof that it’s true, even if they choose to believe it is important to stand up for it.

          That’s what’s so hard to talk to you people about this. You don’t understand why that’s not convincing or logical. It could be true, but that is not a convincing argument. That is not enough to get me on board, lest I be convinced to lose my life over something that is probably not true. Other people’s emotional problems should not be taken on by me without… you know, what we’ve been talking about – EVIDENCE.

          No atheist has ever begun to believe except for these horsefeather arguments. No atheist has really come up with the “magic bullet” that so many Christians who use arguments like the apostles dying or Joe’s book, “Privileged Planet.” I would not even go so far as categorize atheists – there are a lot of gullible people and some of them identify now as an atheist, and some of them only come to “realize” after conversion that they had been what they might now call an atheist. No, these people like to claim they were an atheist “like me.” Not if they buy these arguments. Not if they know why these arguments are wrong and suddenly decide they are right.

          If apostles dying is powerfully emotional enough to sway someone, that is not for logic, that is for emotion. If one has already seen these arguments torn down, if one already understands what’s wrong with taking that leap, it is going to be very hard to understand why they leapt anyway. They would have to give a different and logical basis for their decision. For a bunch of people who think emotional sensations are magical indicators that your deity is radioing you, it might be convincing, but other people know how their brains work and to watch out when their emotions are trying to lead them to thing and say wrong things and act wrong ways.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joshua:

          I have no time to endlessly combat straw man arguments.

          You and me both.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Kodie:

          What to you is intellectual about dying for something you believe?

          The tired “why would they die for a lie?” argument is dismantled here.

        • Joshua

          @Bob:
          Considering I never used a straw man, your retort is irrelevant at best, implicit ad hominem at worst. Regarding your “dismantling” of the argument from martyrdom, are you seriously going to deny that Christians were persecuted and even killed for their beliefs in the first century? Also, your example of Mormonism isn’t really as good an analogy as you think. If Joseph Smith really wasn’t crazy (which is a lot easier to explain in the case of one man as opposed to, say, hundreds), then he was either telling the truth or a charlatan. If he was a charlatan, we can pretty well assume he was far more interested in power and having a following than the average person. But it’s a lot harder to use that explanation of first century Christianity, because there were more of them. Again, the fact that it’s just one man makes it easier to explain. But what are the odds all those people who really were witnesses to history were either ALL crazy or ALL egotistical charlatans? Your other examples are at least as bad, because you have the same problem, plus the fact that in most cases no one was making claims that could be refuted by other witnesses. The story of Jesus could easily have been refuted if anyone cared to do so, assuming, that is, that it wasn’t true. To make it clear that you’re giving short shrift to this argument, consider that Antony Flew once debated Gary Habermas on the historical question of whether the resurrection occurred. Habermas won, using this argument. A book was made using the transcript of the debate.

          @Kodie:

          What to you is intellectual about dying for something you believe? It is well possible and plausible for people to die for something that is not true, even if they believe it is true. Other people believing something is not proof that it’s true, even if they choose to believe it is important to stand up for it.

          First, it could be very intellectual to die for your beliefs, if said beliefs entailed that dying for them is the right thing to do and will lead you to inherit eternal bliss. Second, you’re missing the point; I’m not talking about Christians who came decades later and died, I’m talking about the ones who should have known whether this was a giant hoax or not. If those people died for it, it’s not a matter of dying for something you believe but don’t know; these people KNEW the truth.

          If apostles dying is powerfully emotional enough to sway someone, that is not for logic, that is for emotion.

          Further evidence you don’t get the point I’m making. I’m not talking about the emotional appeal of someone dying for their beliefs; I’m talking about the fact that dying for something you know isn’t true requires that you’re insane or ridiculously egotistical, and that’s very hard to explain with a group this large. If anyone knew this wasn’t true, it was the first century Christians, but we know, contrary to Bob’s argument, that at least some of them died martyr’s deaths.

        • Kodie

          We don’t know any such thing. Dying for eternal bliss in the hereafter, if known makes a lot of sense. Dying for the prospect of eternal bliss in the hereafter because some other schmuck believed that to be the case, and you thought their voluntary death made it more credible makes no sense. It doesn’t matter how many people believe that, or why they all found that to be a most convincing argument. You think they were there, you think they should have known whether it was a hoax or not, but were they really? How plausible is that? There are a lot of holes in the story and a lot of credulity in the story going around anyway. No, it’s not intellectual or rational, it’s emotional. You may be telling me a story and I don’t believe you, then you trot out these apostles and claim to me they died because they believed it, and furthermore, they were there and knew that it was true. Otherwise, why would they do such a foolish thing? Because they’re stupid? Resurrection is impossible. The eternal bliss in the hereafter is an empty promise. You’re swayed by your want to believe in an eternal bliss in the hereafter and you think I’m stupid enough to fall for that too. Yeah, I said it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joshua:

          are you seriously going to deny that Christians were persecuted and even killed for their beliefs in the first century?

          I’m seriously denying that we have plausible evidence that the disciples of Jesus were threatened with execution but chose to stick by their belief that Jesus was God, and were martyred. That’s the “why would they die for a lie?” argument.

          But it’s a lot harder to use that explanation of first century Christianity, because there were more of them

          I agree that the problem with Joseph Smith (he was a charlatan or something similar) and with early Christianity (the gospels were just a legend) are different.

          no one was making claims that could be refuted by other witnesses

          If I understand correctly what you’re referring to–the early eyewitnesses would’ve corrected any false story of Jesus–I reject the naysayer hypothesis here.

          Antony Flew once debated Gary Habermas on the historical question of whether the resurrection occurred

          You can’t say, “OK, let’s assume that the gospel story was accurate up to the burial. Now, smart guy, how do you explain that the tomb was empty??”

          I’m not talking about Christians who came decades later and died, I’m talking about the ones who should have known whether this was a giant hoax or not

          And what do we know about these “eyewitnesses”? How do we know that the story we’ve inherited about them isn’t just a legend? (Sorry to be a broken record, but seeing the gospel story as legendary does dismiss a lot.)

        • Joshua

          @Kodie:
          Despite the fact that the end of your latest response makes it abundantly clear that talking to you is a waste of time, I will point out that you are still missing my point. You said:

          Dying for the prospect of eternal bliss in the hereafter because some other schmuck believed that to be the case, and you thought their voluntary death made it more credible makes no sense.

          I wasn’t talking about dying for eternal bliss; I was talking about dying for their belief in a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who they knew rose from the dead or didn’t. Why get persecuted if the knew the whole thing was a hoax? Or if they were fooled, how do you explain that? THAT is what I’m saying they knew; whether Jesus lived after death or not.

          @Bob:

          I’m seriously denying that we have plausible evidence that the disciples of Jesus were threatened with execution but chose to stick by their belief that Jesus was God, and were martyred. That’s the “why would they die for a lie?” argument.

          You realize that even secular scholars think that the New Testament writings are, by and large, relatively accurate to the extent that they tell us of non-miraculous events? Based on that alone, you’ve got Stephen being martyred in Acts, Paul almost being killed numerous times, and James being killed by Herod.

          I agree that the problem with Joseph Smith (he was a charlatan or something similar) and with early Christianity (the gospels were just a legend) are different.

          You’re really good at avoiding the issue and saying nothing that really responds to my argument. You have no reason to believe the Gospels were legend apart from your atheism, do you? Or have you come up with evidence that no one else has yet found? But my original point was, of course, that Joseph Smith, as a single individual, could be either incredibly egotistical or insane. Arguing that’s the case with a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors and others, of whom there were a large number, is another thing entirely.

          If I understand correctly what you’re referring to–the early eyewitnesses would’ve corrected any false story of Jesus–I reject the naysayer hypothesis here.

          I don’t have time to address all the arguments you make there, but in brief, it’s rather telling that there were allegedly thousands who witnessed certain miracles, there was still an empty grave after Jesus’ death, the disciples began their preaching in Jerusalem (the one place full of the people who could dispute them), and let’s not forget the Pharisees and others were ALWAYS on the lookout for their preaching. Oh, and your notion that the Gospels weren’t written until nearly 40 years later is not well supported, either. But it’s not just naysayers of Jesus’ miracles; the Acts accounts are full of other miracles that could also have been disputed.

          You can’t say, “OK, let’s assume that the gospel story was accurate up to the burial. Now, smart guy, how do you explain that the tomb was empty??”

          Sure I can. The secular scholars agree with me. It’s pretty much universally accepted that Jesus was a rabbi who was executed sometime around 30 AD, and it’s also widely accepted that the tomb was empty. That’s all I need. If you’re going to reject that, you’re swimming upstream against other atheists, and I don’t need to bother trying to prove whether someone converted for intellectual reasons or not.

          And what do we know about these “eyewitnesses”? How do we know that the story we’ve inherited about them isn’t just a legend? (Sorry to be a broken record, but seeing the gospel story as legendary does dismiss a lot.)

          Again, the majority of even secular scholars accept the basic facts about most of these men. The historical evidence we have about them is better than what we have for Alexander, Julius Caesar, and other such figures. But since turnabout is fair play, how do we know the stories aren’t true? You think you’re clever, but you’re only playing a child’s game with that question. Your question is really asking me to disprove a negative, which is about the most unfair tactic there is aside from outright falsification of data.

  • ZenDruid

    This nonbeliever observes that Christianity’s hooks are all emotional, with fear leading the list. It is my opinion that the conversions under discussion were driven by some deep-seated angst, cleverly dressed up with sophistry to save face. Social pressure, familial pressure and spousal pressure, none of which are of any intellectual or philosophical significance, contribute to the mix of motivators.

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    I think your premise is flawed. My experience is that simply because one person converts from one perspective to another (even for intellectual reasons), that does not mean that there will be a flood of conversions which follow. Can you substantiate your claim?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      IT: Suppose you and I believe something for reason X and then you discover that reason X is flawed. You’re obviously going to drop your belief, since it’s grounded on reason X. If you tell me, wouldn’t I drop my belief as well?

      That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what I’m not seeing.

      • DrewL

        Bob I shared this before you but you sound a lot like a naive realist.
        http://www.civilpolitics.org/content/if-you-dont-agree-me-there-something-wrong-you-introduction-naive-realism
        Would love to see a post on whether new atheism is committed to this idea. You won’t have many friends among sociologists or psychologists (read: intellectuals) if you are.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, I read it the first time, but thanks for the reminder.

          A good cautionary tale. I’m not sure what your question is. If you’re saying that it makes sense for people to actually hang out together in a venue besides just one intellectual topic or that it helps to know someone in that foreign category (a homosexual, an atheist, a Christian, etc.), I agree.

        • DrewL

          I’m suggesting more than that, and I think the article is too: people are not cold-calculated rationalists who abandon reason X because it is flawed. We seem to do everything we can to hold onto X even when it’s badly damaged and taking on water. We are particularly susceptible to holding onto X when it is part of our core identity, whether atheism or religion.

          I’ve seen new atheists respond to these evolutionary theories of reasoning by saying “well that’s true of the other guy, that idiot…but not me!” and somehow declare themselves immune to the effects of thousands of years of human development. Hopefully you don’t go down that path.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          people are not cold-calculated rationalists who abandon reason X because it is flawed.

          And the example of Richard Morgan validates your point in spades.

          We seem to do everything we can to hold onto X even when it’s badly damaged and taking on water. We are particularly susceptible to holding onto X when it is part of our core identity, whether atheism or religion.

          Strong agreement here.

        • DrewL

          If you adhere to the belief you stated earlier…

          You’re obviously going to drop your belief, since it’s grounded on reason X. If you tell me, wouldn’t I drop my belief as well?

          …I get the sense you’re preserving “cold-calculated rationalizing being” as a descriptor for yourself, but not for anyone who believes things different than you. Evolutionary theory would suggest the exact opposite of what you’re saying here: you would do everything possible to preserve your belief when reason X is debunked. Particularly when abandoning a belief comes at great personal and psychological cost, and perhaps shame and disruption of one’s social circles, as atheism-religion switches tend to do.

          I could link to academic journal findings, but cracked.com probably wrote the best article on this, particularly #5 and #1.
          http://www.cracked.com/article_19468_5-logical-fallacies-that-make-you-wrong-more-than-you-think.html

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        To be frank: this is spoken like someone who has never made a concerted effort to convert his former compatriots.

        The answer to your question is, “not necessarily.” There could be any number of biases (remember: belief that a man is capable of completely dispassionate, logical thought, is even more profoundly incorrect than an erroneous believe in the non-existence (or existence) in the supernatural.) which might be effecting your view, or you might believe that I am mistaken about my interpretation of this new X factor and argue that it only furthers your point instead of supporting my own conclusion.

        As someone who has changed from one ideology to another, the fact that all atheists don’t convert is no more surprising than the fact that all Christian’s don’t convert. That, by the way, is what the author’s argument suggests should happen to all rational Christians (one person leaves for a rational reason, and every other rational individual should follow).

        I cannot help but be reminded, at least in a small way, of some of the parables of Christ. Specifically, the parable of the sower, applied backwards. I suppose your “group 1″ would be those who have “heard the word of Dawkins and rejected it.” Group 2 seems similar to those who spring up quickly, but die because they have no root. To make the analogy complete, I could add a group 2-a which is comprised of those who are atheists who still cling to some form of supernaturalism. And finally, there is your group 3, which has a substantial “yield.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          As someone who has changed from one ideology to another, the fact that all atheists don’t convert is no more surprising than the fact that all Christian’s don’t convert.

          Both the atheist and the Christian have biases, but the conversion processes are typically quite different. It’s not likely that the atheist will describe, misty-eyed, some supernatural experience that he had that convinced him that there is no supernatural.

          That, by the way, is what the author’s argument suggests should happen to all rational Christians (one person leaves for a rational reason, and every other rational individual should follow).

          ?? There’s more than rational processes at work here. I don’t pretend that a rational argument will deconvert Christians.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Both the atheist and the Christian have biases, but the conversion processes are typically quite different. It’s not likely that the atheist will describe, misty-eyed, some supernatural experience that he had that convinced him that there is no supernatural.

          Simply because there are a number of persons who have mystical/supernatural experiences and converted because of them, there have been (and are) people who have been converted to a belief in that-which-is-not-considered-natural through logical processes. Ms. Libresco counts herself as one of them. Nina Monsen is another. (Your only proof that she did not convert because of logic, by the by, is that it does not fit your thesis. Anyone who defines all “cats are grey, except for this black one in front of me” should be questioned. Don’t you think?)

          I also think that there is confusion between effect and cause. While the conversion to atheism is often linked to a profound loss of emotional connection, the conversion to Christianity is associated with the opposite. “Wow, there is a God that loves me” is something profoundly different from, “wow, the idea of God is bunk.” When I decided to convert to Catholicism (a religion towards which I held not a small amount of animosity) the experience held quite a bit of profound emotion, even though the reasoning was entirely logical.

          There’s more than rational processes at work here. I don’t pretend that a rational argument will deconvert Christians.

          But rational arguments *do* convert Christians. So, either all Christians who do not convert are completely immune to rationality (a dubious claim) or we should suspect that rationality is not the core of conversion, in either condition.

          But regardless, once again the structure of the argument is not sound: given a person who believes in X that is presented with evidence Y that contradicts X, it is not reasonable to assume that the person who believes X will always convert to believing not-X. Either that will always work in all cases or there is a flaw in the thesis. If you will not accept a religious example, then secular examples can be demonstrated as well: Einstein refused to believe in quantum theory despite ever-mounting evidences to the contrary. A man believes in X, he is given reason to disbelieve X and yet he continues to believe in X. Then there is the rejection of Mendel, who was ignored for thirty-five years despite the fact that he had conclusive experimental evidence to substantiate his claim. Or, if you like, we can go into theories of linguistics and discuss a large number of scientists who adhered to behaviorist theories well after they had been disproven. I could go on, but I think the point is demonstrated: rational individuals do not change their mode of thinking simply because of contradictory evidences.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          there have been (and are) people who have been converted to a belief in that-which-is-not-considered-natural through logical processes.

          Yes, some atheists convert to Christianity through logical reasoning. I’ve never said otherwise.

          But rational arguments *do* convert Christians.

          Yes, sometimes. But it’s not a silver bullet.

          or there is a flaw in the thesis.

          I’m saying that atheists like me don’t convert.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I’m saying that atheists like me don’t convert.

          I wonder about this. The original thesis is that rationalist atheists do not convert and the evidence for this is that the purported rational converts would then convert their fellow compatriots. I believe that, as a thesis, has been demonstrated as weak: through direct (though a listing of atheists who cannot be demonstrated to have not been in the group of “rational atheists”), analogical (why don’t Christians change their mind), and psychological means (people hold on to their opinions as long as they possibly can).

          My guess is that you are not defining, “atheists like me” as “people who don’t convert.” If you are, then you are using a tautology (people who don’t convert, don’t convert). I believe this discussion alone would suggest that the original thesis is not tautological. But I then need to ask “who are you talking about?”

          The original definition is as follows:

          These are the well-informed atheists. They understand both sides of the ontological, teleological, cosmological, transcendental, fine-tuning, and moral arguments and more. They are at least well-educated amateurs on evolution, evolution denial, and the Big Bang. They can make positive arguments for atheism, not just rebut Christian apologetics. And so on. I put myself into this group.

          At first it would seem that you are talking about people who are well-educated in atheism, but that argument does not seem to hold when we apply it to other circumstances (assuming that the structure of the argument is sound, a change in circumstances really should result in the same result) or when we analyze it psychologically (as above). So it seems that there must be something more to the argument than simply “If two people believe in X and one comes to believe in not-X through a logical process, the second person will also be converted.”

          What is it? Is atheism special that no logical arguments can convince its practitioners? I somehow doubt you will agree to that. I suppose one might argue that atheism is the true way, but that is clearly a religious thought. You might try to argue that atheism is the rational individual’s inevitable conclusion, but then you are declaring all non-atheists irrational, a rather sweeping judgment.

          So, what is special about people like you that none of you convert?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          I believe that, as a thesis, has been demonstrated as weak

          I disagree. An atheist like me who converted for intellectual reasons (that is: discovered that the preponderance of reasons for being an atheist were wrong) would as his first act as a new Christian publicize this new thinking. This new thinking wouldn’t convert all atheists in a moment–atheists have fragile egos that have a hard time admitting an error just like anyone else–but this would be a seismic event within intellectual atheism. That we don’t see this is strong evidence that my thesis is correct.

          My guess is that you are not defining, “atheists like me” as “people who don’t convert.”

          I think the posts make clear (better than I can repeat here) that I disagree with this, and why.

          At first it would seem that you are talking about people who are well-educated in atheism

          and about Christianity.

          there must be something more to the argument than simply “If two people believe in X and one comes to believe in not-X through a logical process, the second person will also be converted.”

          No, not necessarily converted. But it wouldn’t be a ho-hum event as atheist conversions seem to be. Antony Flew’s conversion to deism was a big news story, but it was ho-hum from the standpoint of converting atheists. Atheists like me were already well-versed in the arguments (and rebuttals) that Flew seemed to find so convincing.

          I suppose one might argue that atheism is the true way, but that is clearly a religious thought.

          I argue that if we dismiss the emotional arguments and focus only on logical ones, atheism is the proper conclusion.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I disagree. An atheist… who converted… would as his first act as a new Christian publicize this new thinking.

          I highly disagree with this. This is a statement which can only have been made by someone who has never converted against the collective will of his friends and loved ones. While it may lead to some attempts at prosthelytizing, often converts will be snubbed (or ignored) by their former peers and find themselves splendidly isolated from their new peer group by lack of a common culture (Ms. Libresco should count herself fortunate in this regard — it seems that she has friends who are able to help her with the transition). In addition to being isolated, it is far more common for a convert to be written off as, in your case, “merely a type 2 atheist” than it is for a convert to be taken seriously in their conversion. The very fact that someone converted is often seen as an argument as to why that person should be ignored.

          but this would be a seismic event within intellectual atheism.

          I see little evidence suggesting that a “seismic” event would be caused by such a conversion. As stated earlier, conversions of this form happen *all the time*, but we don’t see “seismic events” elsewhere. I feel I then must repeat, “Why is atheism so special that seismic events happen when people leave, while other fields where ‘conversion’ presents itself are not?”

          That we don’t see this is strong evidence that my thesis is correct.

          Given that the very existence of the seismic events are in doubt, I would say that this statement holds no more water than a sieve. Actually, I would guess that there might not even be the slightest ripple effect if the most eloquent of atheists became Christian. If Grayling (not saying he’s the most eloquent, but he came to mind first) became a Christian tomorrow, his arguments might sway some. It might even make news, for a day. But then, you can say the same thing about if James Dobson decided to become an atheist. Again it comes down to the question of “What makes atheism special?”

          I think the posts make clear (better than I can repeat here) that I disagree with this, and why.

          That’s why I said that I guessed that you weren’t making a tautology.

          and about Christianity.

          If you think the core of my argument is really about Christianity vs. atheism, then I’m afraid that you’re mistaken. Any atheist who converted to anything (including a cargo-cult), other than agnosticism, for intellectual reasons would be a sufficient disproof of the thesis. Here’s a list we can start examining if you’re really interested.

          But it wouldn’t be a ho-hum event as atheist conversions seem to be.

          Why not? It is easy to dismiss someone we view as heretical. It is even easier when the difference between accepting an argument and rejecting it can often be a very subtle matter. It isn’t like this is something which we have to deal with in our daily lives: we can just dismiss him once and then we never have to think about him again.

          I argue that if we dismiss the emotional arguments and focus only on logical ones, atheism is the proper conclusion.

          Do you think you can hold this opinion without being unnecessarily prejudicial against those who are not atheists?

        • Kodie

          If they have a good argument, they would share it. If they know no one would believe them because what they believe is too ethereal to describe, then no one is going to believe them. If they had been an atheist before in a community discussing amongst theists all the debates and arguments and all the fallacies of why theism cannot be true, if they had the singular argument that could sway others and they knew it, because it convinced them, they would share it – they would at least hold it up for scrutiny, and it would be scrutinized.

          We’re not atheists because we dismiss true things. We’re skeptical of claims and we test them and theist arguments don’t pass the test. If they can’t appeal to someone purely emotionally, they try to resemble science, they try to resemble reason and appeal to someone’s personal sense of reason, who rely on their personal sense of skepticism, and that tends to work sometimes, I’m not going to say it doesn’t. But they can dress it up in all the academic language they want, the holes are still there. Give us an argument that doesn’t have these gaps or doesn’t intentionally or unintentionally skip over some important steps of logic, and see what we do next. It’s been thousands of years. If you don’t think we can call it in yet, let us know what that reason is.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          @Kodie

          If they know no one would believe them because what they believe is too ethereal to describe, then no one is going to believe them.

          Not sure that “ethereal” is the right word here, but “difficult” might be. I remember trying to debate someone less than four months after a major conversion and I was simply schooled (so bad I was shaking). I knew that my points were valid, but I was not equipped to express them properly. I like to think that at this point I would be able to better hold my own, but I was debating someone who had *years* of experience in such debates, and until that aforementioned conversion I had largely agreed with her analysis.

          It took Ken Daniels something like 10 years before he wrote a book on his non-faith. I’d wager that if you approached him in the interim you’d find his arguments a good deal less well thought-out and he would not nearly be as persuasive.

          Assuming that you reject all of the persons proposed on this thread: is it not conceivable that there are new Christians out there who simply have faded from view?

          If they had been an atheist before in a community discussing amongst theists all the debates and arguments and all the fallacies of why theism cannot be true, if they had the singular argument that could sway others and they knew it, because it convinced them, they would share it – they would at least hold it up for scrutiny, and it would be scrutinized.

          Have you ever known someone in one such group to convert? What did they say? What happened? Why didn’t you ask them? If you haven’t seen such an event, then how do you know how any such person would act? Why do you feel qualified to project the outcome?

          But let us assume you are correct (as it does more to advance the conversation). What is to say that the evidence that converted the one will be viewed as acceptable to the rest of the group? What is to say that this person is sufficiently eloquent to persuade other members? Truth, after all, is not something which is fully self-evident but it is often subject to the winds of chance. Or, at least it is from the human perspective. Unlike mathematics where truth can be boiled down to necessary conclusions from given axioms, philosophy is something where an individual’s truth is often beholden to the most well-spoken player.

          If they can’t appeal to someone purely emotionally, they try to resemble science, they try to resemble reason and appeal to someone’s personal sense of reason, who rely on their personal sense of skepticism…

          And, of course, philosophy and the study argumentation have nothing to do with it… I’m not going to try to argue these points. You’re making a generalization as a shortcut to prove a point. Fair enough. But I will warn that this is a prejudicial generalization if ever there was one. At a minimum, you are grouping all theists with a particular (and vocal) group of anti-intellectuals in the USA.

          We’re not all like that. Trust me, I cringe when I hear them too (and I do my best to steer them in the right direction when I can).

          It’s been thousands of years. If you don’t think we can call it in yet, let us know what that reason is.

          Hate to break it to you, but most of the arguments against Christianity are at least 1500 years old (Augustine of Hippo encountered them when he was young). I’ll cede that atheism and theism are two opposing camps (gratuitous Dr. Seuss link)), but I don’t think either side is likely to budge at any point in my life. I certainly don’t think that you are any more capable of “calling it” for your side than I am capable of “calling it” for theism. That is, unless you have some new and revolutionary thought which has not already been presented in some form by people older than your great-great… + great*10… grandfather.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          This is a statement which can only have been made by someone who has never converted against the collective will of his friends and loved ones.

          No, this statement could only have been made by someone who is immersed in the intellectual arguments pro and con and cares very much about the truth. To simply understand the truth and sit on it is inconceivable to me.

          If you’re saying that it’s not absolutely guaranteed that someone like me would take pains to make clear the intellectual reasons for his conversion, sure. Nevertheless, my hypothesis stands: it’s significant evidence that we’ve seen no one make these arguments.

          often converts will be snubbed (or ignored) by their former peers and find themselves splendidly isolated from their new peer group by lack of a common culture

          And that won’t impede in the least someone who wants to get the word out through a blog or article. The internet makes it easy to have a voice, as I’m sure you’ll agree. As for people being mean to them, they presumably have a large number of intellectual Christians cheering them on–as happened with the three ex-atheists that I mentioned. No problem finding an outlet for their story.

          I see little evidence suggesting that a “seismic” event would be caused by such a conversion. As stated earlier, conversions of this form happen *all the time*

          And the very core of my argument is that they never happen. Clearly, one of us is very confused about reality or we’re talking about different things.

          Actually, I would guess that there might not even be the slightest ripple effect if the most eloquent of atheists became Christian.

          Then you have neither been paying attention nor understood my posts. You don’t remember the “slightest ripple” when Antony Flew became a deist? In the Christian podcasts that I listened to (a tiny subset of Christian conversation, admittedly), this was big news. It was also discussed among prominent atheists.

          Here’s a list

          You’re saying that atheists convert to Christianity? Yeah, I get it. I made it clear in my post that I get it. I’m talking about a special subset of atheists.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          No, this statement could only have been made by someone who is immersed in the intellectual arguments pro and con and cares very much about the truth.

          How many converts do you know?

          And that won’t impede in the least someone who wants to get the word out through a blog or article.

          My instinct is to shout a male cow coupled with a four-letter word (That’s right, I was talking about Paul Bunyon’s blue bull). I’ve seen that type of crusader worn down and exhausted extraordinarily quickly. My experience is that fewer than 1 in 100,000 will be able to sustain to even make a mark akin to Flew’s (let alone a bigger one). The fact that about 80,000 people a year join the Catholic Church and there are *maybe* 10 major apologists from the past 20 years speaks to this rarity.

          Then you have neither been paying attention nor understood my posts. You don’t remember the “slightest ripple” when Antony Flew became a deist? In the Christian podcasts that I listened to (a tiny subset of Christian conversation, admittedly), this was big news. It was also discussed among prominent atheists.

          OR I was using hyperbole. My point was that enduring long-term effects are rare, and seismic events are rarer still. I actually think that it might be a good idea for you to demonstrate a similar seismic event happening historically.

          And that won’t impede in the least someone who wants to get the word out through a blog or article. The internet makes it easy to have a voice, as I’m sure you’ll agree. As for people being mean to them, they presumably have a large number of intellectual Christians cheering them on–as happened with the three ex-atheists that I mentioned. No problem finding an outlet for their story.

          OR what could happen (read: happened to several people I know), is that he goes to try to talk to his mom about it and it turns into an argument where she threatens to cut off his college money. He talks about it with his girlfriend and she breaks up with him. She talks to her parents and they disown her. She talks to her friends about it and they won’t talk to her anymore. I’m sorry, but I don’t care how supportive your online chums are, faced with those circumstances it becomes nigh impossibly hard to keep up the fight.

          And the very core of my argument is that they never happen. Clearly, one of us is very confused about reality or we’re talking about different things.

          Yes, we are. I am talking about “2 persons believe X, one is convinced of not, he then tries to convert the person who believes in X that X is false”. It you take the argument as an archetype, then it does not work, which leaves me once again with the question: why do you expect seismic events in atheism, but not for any other “ism”? What makes atheism special?

          My guess is that there is nothing substantially different between atheism and any other strongly held belief system in this regard. Since seismic events rarely (read: never) happen *anywhere*, you must have some reason that you view atheism as special enough to warrant special attention. What is it?

          You’re saying that atheists convert to Christianity? Yeah, I get it. I made it clear in my post that I get it. I’m talking about a special subset of atheists.

          I’m saying that we should see other seismic events and we don’t. This tactic strikes me as about on par with how bad apologists try to use non-evidence to make a point.

        • Kodie

          IT: I’m not just talking about a few ex-atheists or how you say, new Christians who may have faded from view. Whatever arguments ALL YOU CHRISTIANS HAVE, all the time, all put together, the most substantial and convincing logical arguments would not have been lost. Most of Christianity would not be putting the foot forward that lies. Most of Christianity would not be concocting new fallacious arguments in the salad spinner. Sure, these arguments work on a lot of people, but still the logical leaps are many and wide. Most of Christianity would not exist as a state of knowing what god wants, how he behaves, what makes him upset and so on, and be in disagreement with other sects. Interpretation of the bible is not knowledge, it’s speculation on a phantom. Prove the phantom exists, what do you have? Well the mountains are pretty, or the planet is the right temperature and that cannot be an accident. That’s not a valid argument, that is not evidence in the same way that fossils prove evolution.

          When my grandfather, a staunch atheist, was dying of a long drawn-out illness, I was in my early 20s and although I considered myself an atheist my whole life, I was about at the end of the first part, and because I didn’t know a whole lot about religions or science, and was not raised specifically an atheist, ok, I believed unbelievable things without proof – or without all the proof necessary. My mother went to care for him and help my grandmother, so I had asked her one time if he had said he saw anything like a god or something. To me, it seemed like it could be important information that I would need to consider and really the only way I had at the time to test an atheist. There are a lot of holes in this line of reasoning, and it helps me to understand what kinds of convincing people accept to become believers.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Whether Christianity is verifiable by empirical evidence is so far off point that I have difficulty coming up with sufficiently apt analogy.

          My argument has nothing to do with the validity of a religion. We could be talking about cargo cults and my points would still hold: there is no substantial evidence that his premise of a “seismic event” would happen. There is no evidence that it would happen for people who become atheists, and there is no evidence that it would happen for people who become Christians. There is no evidence that it would happen for people who become Democrats, and there is no evidence that it would happen for people who become Republicans. (At this point I’m one rhyme short of Dr. Seuss).

          So, given a premise where there is no substantiated, parallel evidence, and it is trivially simple to give examples about how the premise is incorrect, would you find it reasonable to agree with such a premise? I hope not. At a minimum, doing so would be tantamount to acknowledging that you don’t believe in the rationalism that you claim.

          For that matter, I might as well start preaching how all of the early preachers in evolution believed in a great spaghetti monster in the sky. I have no empirical evidence to back it up, but you can’t show me that it didn’t exist by counter-example. Oh wait, that’s what you accuse us of. Well, welcome aboard O religious one! Do you like your brand of flavor-aid?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          I’ve seen that type of crusader worn down and exhausted extraordinarily quickly.

          Who cares? I’m talking about one blog post or newspaper article. Just one. If he gets deluged or lynched or whatever, that doesn’t matter. His manifesto is out there and making waves.

          Or is it? Since I’ve not seen this remarkable post, my hypothesis that it doesn’t exist is, so far, confirmed.

          there are *maybe* 10 major apologists from the past 20 years speaks to this rarity.

          So you’re agreeing with me now?

          seismic events are rarer still

          Uh, yeah. That’s my point.

          I don’t care how supportive your online chums are, faced with those circumstances it becomes nigh impossibly hard to keep up the fight.

          What?? This guy hasn’t even begun the fight.

          I’m not even sure what we’re arguing about here. You’ve got an atheist-turned-Christian who is in the very rare position of having the addresses of all the atheist safe houses. And you say he’s just going to sit on this?

          OK–his former compatriots are mean to him. He now has many new Christian friends who embrace him and encourage him in the strongest possible way that his story must get out.

          You say this scenario is inconceivable? OK–I get it. I can’t make my position any clearer and will stop now.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          @Bob

          You say this scenario is inconceivable? OK–I get it. I can’t make my position any clearer and will stop now.

          I think that the points that I am trying to make can be summarized:
          If seismic events were to happen, it seems that we should expect that they would happen in multiple fields. If they are expected of atheist-turned-Christian, then it seems that it is inconsistent to say that they would not happen of, say, atheist-turned-Zoroastrian, or Zoroastrian-turned-Hindu (as examples)
          There are no known examples of any seismic event of any kind related to rationality. (there are several related to irrationality, but I wonder if that is on topic)
          It is reasonable to believe that seismic events would not happen because of social pressure
          It is reasonable to believe that seismic events would not happen because confirmation bias as well as other psychological factors.

          So, barring a reason why there are no seismic events in any other field, and since there is more evidence that seismic events should not occur than there is that seismic events should occur, I think that the conclusion does not fit the available evidence. As such, the argument itself looks flawed.

          If you are willing to provide counter examples or an explanation as to why these points are inaccurate, I would like to discuss those. In the meanwhile, I think that, until these issues are resolved, this task could do with a better definition.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          If they are expected of atheist-turned-Christian

          They are not expected of atheists-turned-Christian. That’s the point. Zillions of atheists become Christian. Not a big deal.

          I’m talking about a particular kind of atheist who converts for intellectual reasons alone.

          There are no known examples of any seismic event of any kind related to rationality.

          Here, again, it sounds like you’re agreeing with me.

          And, to summarize your point, you’re saying that this new Christian would feel uncomfortable sharing his story, even when he knows that his story is very, very unusual and would hit home for many of his fellow atheists?

        • Kodie

          IT: I don’t even understand your whole response except for hand-waving.

          You don’t believe an atheist would be converted by a “seismic” event. Does this concede they would be convinced by the same fallacious arguments that all theists use now? Why would they, if they knew why those arguments were fallacious, suddenly change their mind? What process did they go through then? Nothing to show the rest of us why those arguments, though unbelievable, finally make sound logic – that would be a seismic event, a brilliant realization. And they would be scrutinized still. We have been through this before and I’m supposing they would understand that they can’t just make a claim without people examining the support they have come up with.

          You’re saying that wouldn’t happen, and of course that wouldn’t happen. You don’t seem to understand why it won’t happen nor care whether Christianity is true because you can’t prove it (or at least have no interest pursuing that very important avenue), so you pursue some error you think Bob made. Make Bob produce this seismic event – we don’t know what it is or we could tell you why you should believe Christianity. No one has come forth with this information.

          IF an atheist who KNEW all the arguments why Christianity could NOT BE TRUE, THEN they would not convert UNLESS they learned something else, which would be a HUGE DEAL. OR, they would convert for the same arguments they already know are missing important information, or they don’t know how they can be fooled because they’re not as learned as they thought they were.

          The former has never happened and can’t happen. If it happened, it would make the news, skeptics would be skeptical of course not just believing it on the “evidence” of a strong atheist converting. They would have to give the new reason that makes all the unbelievable things true and all the illogical arguments logical.
          The latter has happened, and as you agree, no seismic events. Ordinary flaws in reasoning still matter to everyone else but not to the person in question.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          @Kodie

          OR, and I find this far more likely, the idea of a seismic event is faulty. His definition is akin to, “If an atheist were to convert, then all atheists in the entire planet would find life as they know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in their bodies exploding at the speed of light.” This means his definition is that “atheists don’t convert for logical reasons because logical atheists don’t convert.” His definition is part of the assertion. It is meaningless, a tautology at best.

          so you pursue some error you think Bob made.

          Bob has made a truth claim. His truth claim is not backed up by evidence. Until his truth claim is backed up by evidence, or at least sound logic, his truth claim must fall under scrutiny. You do believe in the benefits of being skeptical, do you not?

          You don’t seem to understand why it won’t happen nor care whether Christianity is true because you can’t prove it (or at least have no interest pursuing that very important avenue)

          I am interested in following one argument until it is verified or refuted. Once we have proof that his standard is not merely hot air, then, and only then, should we try to meet the criteria of an evidential refutation. Otherwise, we cannot come to an agreed upon standard as to who would meet the definition. Any other course of action seems foolish.

          Why would they, if they knew why those arguments were fallacious, suddenly change their mind? What process did they go through then?… IF an atheist who KNEW all the arguments why Christianity could NOT BE TRUE, THEN they would not convert UNLESS they learned something else, which would be a HUGE DEAL.

          You have never looked at something three times and noticed that something was different the third, fourth, or eighth time? I know I have. I misplace many things and there are times when I will swear that I never left something in a given room. I have known it with absolute certainty. That does not mean I’ve never found it there.

          New evidence is not needed. New arguments are not needed. Your demand for something novelty is, frankly, amusing. New evidence is not nearly as important as proper understanding of the evidences at hand. But, I suppose an example might work well here.

          This is a famous image. Some people who see it say they see a young woman, some say an old woman. Maybe we’ll say that the old woman is Evangelicalism, and the young woman is atheism (or not, whatever). Both are given the same information, and both “know” that their interpretation is correct. I believe that a rationalist’s conversion is either like someone who goes from seeing one to the other, or it is like the person who sees both images as a simultaneity. (Personally, I am disposed to see intellectual Christianity as this hybridization.) However it works out, no new information is given to the people who switch perspectives, they merely look at the information presented to them with a new perspective.

          We have been through this before and I’m supposing they would understand that they can’t just make a claim without people examining the support they have come up with.

          But this is irrelevant to the topic at hand. The question we are now dealing with has to do with whether Bob’s thesis is correct, not whether Christianity is correct. Bob’s thesis actually does not serve to measure whether Christianity is true or false at all. It only describes the behavior of atheists and the projected behavior of future atheists. If Christianity is true (as I expect it is), that would have nothing to do with an atheist’s behavior given the circumstances he describes.

          The former has never happened and can’t happen.

          Exactly, because it is ill-defined.

          If it happened, it would make the news, skeptics would be skeptical of course not just believing it on the “evidence” of a strong atheist converting.

          Why? Why is this *necessarily* so? That has not been proven. If anything more evidence has been offered against its plausibility than for it. So, please, explain why is this a necessary condition instead of a possible condition? (or, and I think this truer, an implausible condition?)

          Ordinary flaws in reasoning still matter to everyone else but not to the person in question.

          I would wager that the people who convert might disagree with that point. Have you ever asked one of them?

          I do find it amusing that I am playing the part of the skeptic in all of this. My only cry has been, “You believe that X is rational, prove it.” But neither you nor Bob has shown my counter-assertion to even hint at being incorrect. As I have understood your attempts at refutation, you have said that “It would happen, it would surely happen, it is logical that it should happen,” but you have never shown historical parallel, nor have you shown that the atheist would necessarily be strong enough to overcome the opposition. You have simply asserted that this magical human of yours would be impervious to attacks and would be able to proclaim Christianity from the rooftops and get thousands, if not millions, to convert. Based on common knowledge of psychology, philosophy, and argumentation, I think I can fairly safely say that your belief has no backing.

        • Kodie

          I’d say you’re in denial. Theists use arguments all the time that they believe to be logical and fulfill the requirement for evidence. I don’t have to ask anyone, they voluntarily come to these blogs and forums and the arguments they resort to are usually the weakest and most obviously flawed. We get some who pretend that ID is science, for example, or try to win the argument philosophically by bringing up irrelevant questions and don’t try to answer them – the questions themselves are “proof” of something “more,” but how does that work in the first place, and secondly, how does that lead to Jesus Christ. I can see where some of these people would place themselves higher than other theists intellectually because they used scholarly language and quote a lot from books. And some of them claim they used to be atheists because it didn’t make sense to them before but now it does. How?

          Let’s say “intellectual former atheist” has 2 somewhat analogous arguments for faith to assess:
          1). 1+5=1,000,000.
          I think we can both sensibly reject this?
          2). “Irreducible complexity.”
          I think we both need more information what that means, and conveniently this book describes some things. Not only does it contradict what is scientifically known, it makes a lot of noise about how and why scientific methodology is flawed and why you should believe this instead.

          Someone may be convinced of #2, while no one should be convinced of #1. But believing #2 also tends to lead to belief in #1, to forgive it for seeming nonsensical but bearing on #2, it just makes more sense that #1 has to also be true. #1 being crazy does not mean it’s not true.

          This is what every single argument from a theist sounds like to me. Ignore facts, believe what you want, and use these arguments over and over and over again without any sincere understanding what’s missing. As long as #2 seems plausible and logical to them, #1 just has to be the case. #2 is not plausible or logical since it invents evidence to reach the conclusion it intends, rather than arriving at the conclusion that’s true using the evidence that’s there. #1 isn’t even related to #2, #1 has no way of switching to “possible” just based on #2 provisionally. Instead, what you want to do is forget #1, but why would you do that? #2 doesn’t serve a purpose without #1. #2 is based on premises that #1 would become true and that scientific language could obscure incompetence for the casual reader who might not know a lot about science.

          Yeah, we’re still waiting for an argument that really nails it and not just fakes it to sell Christianity. I’m aware of how convincing arguments could be and how flawed people are in their own capacity for reason and self-assessment therein.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I’d say you’re in denial.

          If I’m in denial, then it should be trivially simple to counter my arguments with logic and evidence.

          Theists use arguments… blah blah blah… This is what every single argument from a theist sounds like to me.

          This is completely irrelevant. We know that there are bad apologists on both sides.

          This is what every single argument from a theist sounds like to me.

          My general experience is that reading atheist apologetics leads me to want to defend Christianity, reading Christian apologetics leads me to want to defend the skeptic’s position. Apologetics are, with relatively few exceptions, anti-intellectual, especially if the person thinks he is being intellectual.

          how does that lead to Jesus Christ.
          Any decent apologist should realize that “Jesus Christ’s supremacy” is a separate question from whether or not there is a God. You cannot answer the question, “Was Jesus God” if you cannot prove that there is a God.

          This is actually the thing I find the most annoying about discussions with atheists. Recently I outlined a variant of First Cause as a probability of divinity and I was answered with, “You don’t know that” (of course I don’t, I’ve presented it as one of two alternatives for a reason, I simply find it simpler and more probably correct), followed by, “That does not prove Christianity” (am I hallucinating? experiencing lost time? Because I only said that this was a probability of divinity). Perhaps this is why the average atheists convince me of Christianity and the average Christians help me doubt.

          Yeah, we’re still waiting for an argument that really nails it and not just fakes it to sell Christianity.

          I could say the same for atheism.

        • Kodie

          Lack of credible evidence to support claims of the existence of a deity “nails” it as far as it’s going to be nailed. Are you saying there is credible evidence to support claims of the existence of a deity? What is this new information?

          Do you get it yet? You are faulting atheists “like Bob” or me for not believing these unbelievable arguments. It is an extraordinary claim. There is no credible evidence. There are plenty of credulous people and you seem to agree that their credulity has little to do with veracity or am I mistaken? What are we supposed to do – look the other way and agree something implausible or incomplete is plausible or complete if you look at it from an angle where you don’t care so much or know why it’s wrong?

          Yeah, that could be true too, but that’s cheating the premise. What is the issue you can’t seem to grasp here?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Lack of credible evidence to support claims of the existence of a deity “nails” it as far as it’s going to be nailed.

          Just out of curiosity, what evidence would you accept as “credible” here?

          What is this new information? Do you get it yet?

          I think it best to simply mention that it would be best for you first to address the paragraphs on novelty of information.

          You are faulting atheists “like Bob” or me

          As a rule, I have never faulted what you have or have not disbelieved. My entire point has simply been that one of Bob’s theses is incorrect and, even if that fault were not present, it is not sufficiently defined and there are no sufficient parallel examples for it to hold any truth value whatsoever.

          for not believing these unbelievable arguments.

          Which arguments? Those related to religion? I can understand why you might disbelieve many of the arguments. Many of them are simply unsustainable. On the other hand these are arguments about the nature of thought (and the thesis in question has to do with the nature of thought), not the truth claims of religion.

          There are plenty of credulous people and you seem to agree that their credulity has little to do with veracity or am I mistaken?

          Most people in Western society, including most Christians and most atheists, are luke-warm in their beliefs. They are vaguely aware of what they believe, but only enough for them to classify themselves into their religious groups. Frequently they are wrong in even this.

          They are also brilliant pattern-matching machines, but they are flawed in that once they admit to one significant pattern, they quickly reject all others. The more one is convinced of his opinions, the less likely it is that he will ever convert.

          The only way to refute these built-in maps is a set of evidences which overwhelms the individual. This generally can only happen on a small scale, often a case-by-case basis. This is why I believe the most eloquent atheist will only create ripples by changing to some other religion: bias towards the familiar rules us with an iron fist.

          What are we supposed to do – look the other way and agree something implausible or incomplete is plausible or complete if you look at it from an angle where you don’t care so much or know why it’s wrong?

          It has to do with standards of evidences. My guess is that you believe that physical evidence is the only evidence and that you do not make philosophy a significant player. On the other hand, I believe that philosophical evidence is king and argumentation is philosophy’s scepter. Transition from standard one to another, or re-contextualizing beliefs in new life experiences will often cause people to move from one point to another without the introduction of evidence.

          What is the issue you can’t seem to grasp here?

          You spend so much time arguing about the existence of God. There seems to be at least a little anger involved. Why is that?

        • Kodie

          Recently I outlined a variant of First Cause as a probability of divinity and I was answered with, “You don’t know that” (of course I don’t, I’ve presented it as one of two alternatives for a reason, I simply find it simpler and more probably correct)

          You find it simpler; you find it more probably correct. Hypothetically, of course, does it occur to you that your personal way of measuring what’s probable or correct has flaws in it? That your methodology for determining what seems the most plausible has flaws in it? You think atheists are just jacking you around when they don’t believe you or aren’t moved by your argument? Denying what’s perfectly obvious to you for sport?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          You think atheists are just jacking you around when they don’t believe you or aren’t moved by your argument? Denying what’s perfectly obvious to you for sport?

          Not at all, but if the purpose of a statement has to do with a hypothetical, unknown first mover, then any statements which say, “it is hypothetical” are akin to answering, “What if the car is red?” when someone says, “I think the car that I will get from Hertz is more likely to be blue than red.” It is chimp talk, irrelevant, and a waste of time. And, when one begins to speculate on the properties that such an entity might hold, “you have no proof that it is Christian” is akin to shouting, “You don’t know that they have strawberry” to someone pondering what ice creams a given Dairy Queen might carry.

          Oh, and I don’t think that they’re jacking me around because they’re atheists. I think they did it because they were human. I think they did it because they wanted to win an argument and were unwilling to actually stay on topic.

          You find it simpler; you find it more probably correct. Hypothetically, of course, does it occur to you that your personal way of measuring what’s probable or correct has flaws in it? That your methodology for determining what seems the most plausible has flaws in it?

          I’m tempted to answer this sarcastically, but I don’t think that would be effective. Yes, I have thought of those. Yes, I am aware that they are probably effecting my outlook on life even now. Yes, I am aware that all people have prejudices which effect them.

          Have you thought about how you are prejudice? Have you thought about your metrics?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          His definition is akin to, “If an atheist were to convert…

          We’ve been over this. I appreciate that atheists convert. This isn’t the subject.

          Your demand for something novelty is, frankly, amusing. New evidence is not nearly as important as proper understanding of the evidences at hand.

          So the proper arguments have been in front of atheists all this time, but they just don’t understand them?

          You have simply asserted that this magical human of yours would be impervious to attacks and would be able to proclaim Christianity from the rooftops and get thousands, if not millions, to convert.

          If one is bullied into silence by a group he no longer cares much about (you’ll have to explain this one to me), then how about the next atheist who uncovers these flaws? Or the next one? No one claims that every well-informed atheist who converts to Christianity has to blow the whistle … but wouldn’t some?

          This is why I believe the most eloquent atheist will only create ripples by changing to some other religion: bias towards the familiar rules us with an iron fist.

          Eloquence isn’t the issue.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          So the proper arguments have been in front of atheists all this time, but they just don’t understand them?

          My experience is that people will often ignore obvious truths. It is quite reasonable to believe that an atheist will see things one way fifteen times and see things different on the sixteenth. It is quite reasonable to believe that anyone will be able to do the same.

          As a programmer, I’m surprised you haven’t had the experience of looking at a problem for an hour and the suddenly coming up with something even without new evidences available.

          No one claims that every well-informed atheist who converts to Christianity has to blow the whistle … but wouldn’t some?

          I don’t think that the majority of evidence suggest that there would be a seismic event.

          Eloquence isn’t the issue.

          … I disagree. I have found that there are quite a few brilliant people who could not explain themselves out of a wet paper bag. They are often ignored because of this.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          My experience is that people will often ignore obvious truths.

          Agreed.

          As a programmer, I’m surprised you haven’t had the experience of looking at a problem for an hour and the suddenly coming up with something even without new evidences available.

          Sure–we can have new insights by seeing new relationships or ideas within old facts. Could an atheist discover that a Christian apologetic is actually valid after years of rejecting it as invalid? Sure–that’s the whole point of this post. I acknowledge that there may be ways to defeat the atheist objections to Christian arguments, but I haven’t seen them.

          I don’t think that the majority of evidence suggest that there would be a seismic event.

          I disagree. Consider the impact of Antony Flew in both the Christian sphere and the atheist. And he wasn’t even the kind of atheist conversion I’m talking about.

          Probably nothing more to say. We have both presented our positions, and we are on opposite sides of this issue.

          I have found that there are quite a few brilliant people who could not explain themselves out of a wet paper bag.

          All I can do is restate my many-times-restated position: an atheist like me who converted after realizing that the bulk of his arguments (that is: my arguments!) are wrong could clumsily but completely state the reasons why, and that would be a bombshell within the atheist community.

  • DrewL

    173 comments later, we now know when Bob said:

    Well-informed atheists never change because of intellectual reasons. (original post)

    what he really meant was:

    I’m saying that atheists like me don’t convert. (October 15th comment)

    So for everyone who put forward a possible counter-example, I’m sorry: you obviously didn’t find someone sufficiently Bob-like.

    Bob, we finally understand your hypothesis. Consider calling it the “No TRUE Bob-like atheist…”

    • Kodie

      Not only has nobody come up with an example or a valid reasoned argument for becoming a theist, you resort to dishonesty to make your case for you. It is very difficult to figure out why someone who knows all the traps and tricks and fallacious arguments that other so-called intelligent people decided that only a theistic belief was rational and still believed it. Plenty of people obviously agree that theism is the “valid” choice and some of them were atheists prior, but what is the secret good, valid, rational argument so the rest of us can see and possibly convert too? If it’s rational, we want in, we really would want to.

      The point is, there is none.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        Not entirely sure that he’s being dishonest in this. The original thesis is something rather dubious and the quote, “I’m saying that atheists like me don’t convert” only makes that problem worse. Even if he did not mean to make his original quote a tautology, that statement is perilously close to accomplishing that anyway.

        • Kodie

          I didn’t think it was worded or presented the best way either, but I still understood what he meant. I don’t think this is an argument that can be won by sheer pedantry.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          Eh. I am far more inclined to see Bob’s statement as a gaffe and DrewL’s statement as an attempt at humor.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Drew:

      This (admittedly limited) survey was meant to test the hypothesis that well-informed atheists never change because of intellectual reasons. I think the hypothesis stands.

      This is what I originally said, and I stand by it. I don’t know if you’re wordsmithing here or if you actually have a serious objection.

      • DrewL

        I do have serious objections. I think you are actually smart enough to recognize your original hypothesis is a No True Scotsman fallacy, which is why you at times pivot to a second hypothesis: if any atheist had TRULY “intellectual” reasons to convert, all atheists would find those reasons absolutely irresistible (or at times you exchange “all atheists” for yourself). This second hypothesis is not only a No True Scotsman but also a laughably bad, anti-evolutionary, anti-historical take on how human reasoning works. But from what I can tell you don’t believe in evolutionary theories of reasoning or hold yourself (and other atheists) exempt from them.

        As psychologist Daniel Kahneman pointed out, it is the cruel birth defect of human reasoning that we not only have blindspots, but we have blindspots where our blindspots are. I see that again and again in the exchanges above.

        • Kodie

          The door is wide open for the logical argument that seals Christianity as true. As it stands, it’s not even plausible. Why would anyone believe it, and especially why someone who knows all the reasons it can’t be true? It’s been thousands of years and billions of believers and we’re not literally waiting for one certain kind of former atheist to determine the argument that cannot fail logic. It’s an extraordinary and unbelievable claim of apparently vital importance that given the arguments I’m familiar with so far, what has convinced most Christians I’ve encountered, it is disappointing how few people put any thought to it.

          Vice versa, re: evolution (for example) – why is it important? Why would religions have to lie about what atheists “worship”? Not “believing” in evolution doesn’t make you smarter; evolution has made you about as smart as you are already and not to make you smart, but because being smart was advantageous in our niche. Do I have to believe it? I don’t. It’s still true. Do I worship Darwin? I don’t and I don’t have to. Evolution is still true. Does it console me? I didn’t ask for anything to console me. One break in the big religion case is this ultimate need to be consoled for living. What’s that about?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          if any atheist had TRULY “intellectual” reasons to convert, all atheists would find those reasons absolutely irresistible

          Not a very good paraphrase. I’ll let the original post do the talking.

          laughably bad, anti-evolutionary, anti-historical

          You get an “A” for bluster. But I need a little more help to understand precisely where the problem is.

        • DrewL

          Here’s your pivot to your second hypothesis in an attempt to deal with Ed Feser’s conversion (your original hypothesis disappears here, this is a very strategic pivot for you):

          But here’s my point: if I were to convert to Christianity by intellectual reasons, I would (apparently) have discovered that a preponderance of my intellectual arguments both against Christianity and for atheism were false.

          You go on to say in another place:

          …but wouldn’t he delight in showing his former allies the many errors in their intellectual arguments?

          Summary:
          If: Intellectual Conversion,
          Then: Said person would be capable of convincing Bob of his errors.
          No one is capable of convincing Bob of his errors right now. Therefore: there has never to date been an intellectual conversion.
          In logic: If P then Q, Not Q, Therefore, Not P. Logic checks out.

          The part no one is buying here is “said person would be capable of convincing Bob of his errors.” If you take evolutionary explanations of reasoning seriously, whether or not YOU are convinced of an argument relates very little to the argument’s validity; it relates more to your self-interest in avoiding being wrong. And if you take evolutionary-based social psychology seriously, YOU are going to be one of the worst “neutral” adjudicators of valid argument because you put so much stock in your identity as an atheist: statistically this makes you less likely to recognize a valdi argument challenging the core beliefs you hold sacred.

          So whether or not “said person would be capable of convincing Bob of his errors” probably has little relation to validity of said arguments or said conversion.

          I’m still waiting for you to say ANYTHING about evolutionary theories of reasoning: I still get the sense you hold yourself exempt from them. But please, tell me why Bob Seidensticker gets to be infallible judge of a what is a TRULY intellectual conversion with TRULY intellectual arguments.

        • Kodie

          Drew, what do you want to be true? Does that make it true or do facts make it true? Are you trying to build a case against Bob? Why don’t you have this winning argument? Why do NO THEISTS have this winning argument? Theists who use the phrase “an atheist like you” are mistaken. Obviously this can’t be adequately described to theists who think they are equally reasonable, not enough to shut you up, but it has been adequately described to people who are atheists like Bob. Atheists like Bob understand exactly what he meant. Former atheists unlike Bob do not know why the argument(s) that convinced them are unreasonable. Bob is not the final arbiter on what is a convincing argument until one convinces him. Is everyone convinced by something eventually? If someone is familiar with these arguments and what is fallacious about all of them, what atheist like that would suddenly believe them and why?

          I think that could happen to an atheist like Bob, but it wouldn’t prove the veracity of the religious belief unless the support for the claim was examined as new evidence and it checked out logically. How do we verify what has only formerly built up on poor logical arguments? What would convince the rest of atheists like Bob that this was true and not just believed? That has never occurred.

          But I think on one hand, it’s fine of you to try to poke holes in something. The language was clear enough but if you want to believe the opposite, you’re right to examine it for veracity before believing it. On the other hand, you see things that aren’t there and have apparently made it your mission to discredit Bob on whatever slim grounds you can get your hands on. Why is that so important to you?

  • Bob Seidensticker

    Joshua: It’s a little easier down here at the bottom.

    Why get persecuted if the knew the whole thing was a hoax?

    Agreed. This is a straw man. Few atheists go here.

    Or if they were fooled, how do you explain that?

    The game of telephone.

    You realize that even secular scholars think that the New Testament writings are, by and large, relatively accurate to the extent that they tell us of non-miraculous events?

    The gospel story is a story. I see no reason to imagine that it’s history.

    Based on that alone, you’ve got Stephen being martyred in Acts, Paul almost being killed numerous times, and James being killed by Herod.

    “Why would they die for a lie?” assumes that it was a hoax. Neither of us is arguing that.

    You have no reason to believe the Gospels were legend apart from your atheism, do you?

    I have no reason to believe the gospels were history. They look like other legends, so let’s put them in the bin labeled “Legend.”

    Or have you come up with evidence that no one else has yet found?

    I’m rejecting Christian claims, not providing my own.

    But my original point was, of course, that Joseph Smith, as a single individual, could be either incredibly egotistical or insane. Arguing that’s the case with a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors and others, of whom there were a large number, is another thing entirely.

    As a wise man once said, “You’re really good at avoiding the issue and saying nothing that really responds to my argument.” The fishermen and tax collectors are part of the story. You don’t assume that the first half is true and then say, “OK–explain how the tomb became empty, Smart Guy.”

    it’s rather telling that there were allegedly thousands who witnessed certain miracles, there was still an empty grave after Jesus’ death, the disciples began their preaching in Jerusalem (the one place full of the people who could dispute them), and let’s not forget the Pharisees and others were ALWAYS on the lookout for their preaching.

    Again: it’s a story! The thousands who were fed, the empty tomb, the empowered disciples, the Establishment eager to shut down rabble rousing from the Jesus gang–all part of the story.

    your notion that the Gospels weren’t written until nearly 40 years later is not well supported, either.

    ?? Maybe you need to get out more. If you want to argue that there are NT scholars that argue for early dating, sure, I’ll accept that. But I think late dating (65-70 for Mark, and later for the rest) is not only widespread but may be the consensus.

    It’s pretty much universally accepted that Jesus was a rabbi who was executed sometime around 30 AD, and it’s also widely accepted that the tomb was empty. That’s all I need.

    If you want to debate with those people, you’re welcome to it. From my standpoint, I’m still at the “it’s a story” point. There is no empty tomb to explain when I doubt what came before.

    You don’t need to convince me, but you at least need to convince yourself. “Well, all the atheists accept it” shouldn’t be adequate for you either. Why do we know that the empty tomb is a historical fact?

    The historical evidence we have about them is better than what we have for Alexander, Julius Caesar, and other such figures.

    Nope. Miracle stories were told about these men, but they are scrubbed out of the historical record. Act like a historian and do the same for the Jesus story.

    how do we know the stories aren’t true?

    Turnabout isn’t really fair play here, because you have the burden of proof.

    I could challenge you with, “Well, how do we know that Merlin wasn’t really a shape shifter?” And then, after you provide evidence showing that the Merlin story is implausible, I say, “No: you’ve only provided a reasonable argument. I want to know that the Merlin story isn’t true.”

    You think you’re clever, but you’re only playing a child’s game with that question.

    There’s a lot of that going around.

    Your question is really asking me to disprove a negative, which is about the most unfair tactic there is aside from outright falsification of data.

    Well, you know atheists–answering to no one, they’re always ready to try every underhanded trick possible.

    Who’s asking you to disprove a negative? I’m simply asking you to show me that taking the gospel story as true is the most reasonable explanation of the facts. That’s always seen as a reasonable path where I come from.

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      Maybe you need to get out more. If you want to argue that there are NT scholars that argue for early dating, sure, I’ll accept that. But I think late dating (65-70 for Mark, and later for the rest) is not only widespread but may be the consensus.

      Just as a note: you are correct about the dating of Mark, that is about the date most scholars agree on. That said, I will note (mostly as food for thought) that there are a number of scholars beginning to advance the idea that Matthew (or at least some form of proto-Matthew) predates Mark by something like 10 years. I don’t know how strong the arguments are, but that is what was taught to me by my grad school professor.

      I could challenge you with, “Well, how do we know that Merlin wasn’t really a shape shifter?” And then, after you provide evidence showing that the Merlin story is implausible, I say, “No: you’ve only provided a reasonable argument. I want to know that the Merlin story isn’t true.”

      Or we could go with Chesterton’s argument, which would be akin to, “I don’t know, how do I know Merlin wasn’t a shape-shifter? For all we know he very well may have been. Saints have done fantastical things and Merlin was supposed to be closely allied with the opposing supernatural power. That power has already demonstrated once that he could turn himself into a snake, why couldn’t he have leant that power out?” (Not saying I want to defend this position, I just think it amusing).

      On a more serious note, there is no account of Merlin as shape-shifter until hundreds of years later. No one who was contemporaneous with Merlin claimed that he had any supernatural powers (or, at least, no one left testimony of that), let alone the ability to cast shape-shifting spells (which was his actual power, BTW). On the other hand with Christ there are four accounts which could have had at least second hand knowledge of the events surrounding the crucifixion. We also have the testimonies of the Catholic Epistles, most of which were written by people who at least claim to have seen Christ in the flesh.

      After that we have the testimony of Paul of Tarsus, who spent years under the tutelage of the primitive Church. While he might not have had first-person knowledge of the events spoken of in the Gospels, he certainly had more that sufficient access to those who did. Further, he testifies to the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ so clearly the belief must have been codified within the Church before Mark was written (Paul died at about 60 AD).

      At a minimum, it must then be said that there are a variety of texts which testifies to a belief in the resurrection of the dead which comes about by the death and resurrection of a man Jesus who was called Christ/Messiah. This variety of texts dates back to at least 50 AD, and, even assuming an average life expectancy of 30 years, this leaves quite a few people who would have been alive while Christ walked the earth. Even if the Gospels were written 25-50 years later, that is still testament to a number of documents which spoke of the resurrection within less than one lifespan of the events.

      Whether you accept the content of the Gospels, I think it clear that the evidence substantiating the existence of the belief (as opposed to a substantiation of the actual events) dates to a very early period. And while I will say that the historical evidence for Caesar is superior to that of Christ, the historiography of Socrates is about parallel.

      Miracle stories were told about these men, but they are scrubbed out of the historical record.

      Can you provide a link or text supporting that? I don’t disbelieve you, but I would like to read the legends. (Not questioning you on this, really, but I can’t find that on the interwebs)

      Who’s asking you to disprove a negative?

      I have to take issue with this if only because the paradigm is wrong. Richard Dawkins said in The God Delusion, “We disprove negatives all the time. We’ve proven, for example, that there is no highest prime.” He then goes into Betrand Russel’s interstellar teapot (well, interplanetary, but the word “interstellar” is so much more fun). The debate is over teapots, not negatives.

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        (Not trying to be snarky ref. Merlin. I *really* like the legend and intended the comment about “his real power” be have a humorous tone. I don’t think I accomplished that. Sorry.)

      • Bob Seidensticker

        IT:

        the idea that Matthew (or at least some form of proto-Matthew) predates Mark by something like 10 years. I don’t know how strong the arguments are, but that is what was taught to me by my grad school professor.

        Hmm. I hadn’t heard that. I can see how it would support the facts fairly well, but I know the Markan Priority theory somewhat and favor that one myself. But not even close to being an expert.

        “I don’t know, how do I know Merlin wasn’t a shape-shifter? For all we know he very well may have been.

        We can’t prove he wasn’t (indeed, we can’t prove anything in history or science), but we go where the facts point. They don’t point to that story being true (nor the gospel story).

        That power has already demonstrated once that he could turn himself into a snake

        I gotta disagree with Chesterton here. The snake was a snake. “Snake = Satan” was added much later.

        let alone the ability to cast shape-shifting spells (which was his actual power, BTW)

        I thought Merlin himself could and did change. No?

        On the other hand with Christ there are four accounts which could have had at least second hand knowledge of the events surrounding the crucifixion.

        Heck–they might’ve been eyewitnesses themselves. It doesn’t say that, but if you simply want to look at possibilities, lots of nutty stuff is possible. But who cares? Does the gospels story being true seem the likeliest possibility? Not to me.

        We also have the testimonies of the Catholic Epistles, most of which were written by people who at least claim to have seen Christ in the flesh.

        And does this count for much? You have an ancient document with an unknown pedigree (that is: who’s been fiddling with it?) that makes the most preposterous claims imaginable. So what? Who would believe that?

        I think it clear that the evidence substantiating the existence of the belief (as opposed to a substantiation of the actual events) dates to a very early period.

        OK. Is this much of an argument? Does this salvage this far-fetched claim?

        And while I will say that the historical evidence for Caesar is superior to that of Christ, the historiography of Socrates is about parallel.

        Yeah … but Socrates didn’t perform miracles. Jesus has been put in the same bin as Merlin. His documentation may be better, but being in that bin is pretty much the death knell. No claims are made about Socrates (aside from his wisdom) that couldn’t be made about millions of other men. He lived, he tried to improve the world in his own particular way, he died. The Jesus story is very, very different.

        Can you provide a link or text supporting that? I don’t disbelieve you, but I would like to read the legends.

        Go to the post here and search for “Suetonius.”

        I have to take issue with this if only because the paradigm is wrong.

        Joshua charged me with demanding that he disprove a negative. I wasn’t.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          @Bob

          I know the Markan Priority theory somewhat and favor that one myself.

          I actually prefer it. I was very glad to hear that the opinion had returned to quasi-prominence. It reconciles the early legends quite nicely (the ancient tradition said that Matthew was first, followed by Mark, followed by Luke), especially if the proto-Matthew was in Aramaic or Hebrew. I also like how it changes some of the meaning of Mark and makes the short ending more hopeful. But, it is a minority opinion.

          I thought Merlin himself could and did change. No?

          Sure, but the power was the ability to shape shift a person. He just happens to be a person (mostly).

          I gotta disagree with Chesterton here. The snake was a snake. “Snake = Satan” was added much later.

          I just pointed Chesterton out because I thought it the most amusing reply. I will say though that if you’re taking Chesterton’s axiom’s then there is no problem with “Snake = Satan” coming at a later date.

          Joshua charged me with demanding that he disprove a negative. I wasn’t.

          I mostly pointed that out because “disprove a negative” is something misleading on its own right and I wanted to say it somewhere. I figured that a Dawkins quote would be better suited to you.

          … some arguments and stuff

          I’m making no truth claims about the narratives. I am not willing to get into an argument about the validity of sources or who actually saw what. My point (and I’m sorry if this was not clear) is that the belief was present among people who were contemporaneous with Christ. While the arguments using the game telephone might be appropriate for, say, the Protoevangelium of James, the argument weakens for the majority of the documents in the New Testament.

          While one can make an argument that the incidents described were distorted very quickly, it is very difficult to make any argument that things were substantially modified by the passage of time or by the excessive passage from mouth to ear. Basically, it seems that either the source of error was among the 72 (Christ actually had 72 actual disciples, and 12 apostles), or the error was in Paul (I think this least likely and will explain why if you ask), or there was no error. Either Christianity was wrong in its inception, or it was never wrong. One thing which is unlikely, however, is that Christianity was substantially distorted over the next 10-15 years.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I think it very important that I do not intend to steer the interpretation of the facts with this post save to say that Christianity was not distorted over time. I do not wish to engage in discussion over whether the claims of Christianity have ever been correct, I simply want to point out that time-related distortion does not seem to be an honest read of the facts.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          My point (and I’m sorry if this was not clear) is that the belief was present among people who were contemporaneous with Christ.

          OK. I have heard some scholars reject this (Bob Price thinks the gospels were written in the second century, for example), but that’s nothing I want to get into.

          While the arguments using the game telephone might be appropriate for, say, the Protoevangelium of James, the argument weakens for the majority of the documents in the New Testament.

          Why is telephone a poor analogy to how the story developed over time and was eventually written down in the gospels?

          it is very difficult to make any argument that things were substantially modified by the passage of time or by the excessive passage from mouth to ear

          Why? Because there were so few people in the chain? And why wouldn’t legendary accretion be the obvious first explanation for a supernatural tale?

          Christ actually had 72 actual disciples

          I didn’t know that. Where does it say? I was wondering about the use of 72 (72 virgins in Paradise for Muslims; 70 or 72 sons of Elohim in the Canaanite religion; and so on). I guess it just means “lots” but I wonder if 72 = 2^3 × 3^2.

          Either Christianity was wrong in its inception, or it was never wrong. One thing which is unlikely, however, is that Christianity was substantially distorted over the next 10-15 years.

          I don’t see why you claim this. The Jesus story happens in an Aramaic/Jewish culture in Jerusalem, and then the story gets written down in a Greek culture in (say) Alexandria 40 years later. Wow–that’s a long journey, and a lot of stuff will happen to the story. It’ll pick up a lot of baggage, especially as it makes itself comfortable in this new Greek environment. But you reject this–why?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          OK. I have heard some scholars reject this (Bob Price thinks the gospels were written in the second century, for example), but that’s nothing I want to get into.

          But the Gospels are irrelevant to whether the belief in a crucifixion/resurrection believe existed. Those may or may not have been late editions but they are not generally considered primary sources.

          The Jesus story happens in an Aramaic/Jewish culture in Jerusalem, and then the story gets written down in a Greek culture in (say) Alexandria 40 years later.

          Yes, but the doctrines show evidence in a belief in the resurrection in as little as 15 years later, possibly shorter than that (most Pauline literature is dated to c. 50-60. Paul studied Christianity for 3-5 years prior to his going on missionary journeys. This places the date of his learning the doctrines at a maximum of 15-20 years after Christ, possibly even less than that).

          As I said, the Gospels are irrelevant when determining whether or not the belief existed. My argument is that the belief existed, and, for that matter, was the dominant belief in less than 20 years after the resurrection (which isn’t to say that it wasn’t always the belief, merely that it was most likely the majority belief by 53 AD — well within the lifetime of one or more of the original disciples). I make no further assertions other than that.

          Why is telephone a poor analogy to how the story developed over time and was eventually written down in the gospels?

          Telephone, as an analogy, works really well with chains that are 5+ people long. Because Pauline literature comes from a very early date it is unlikely that the chain would have been more than 2 or 3 people long. By his own testimony he knew and spoke with Peter, suggesting that either he lied about that (unlikely) or that he heard first hand testimony of the story of Christ.

          I didn’t know that. Where does it say? I was wondering about the use of 72 (72 virgins in Paradise for Muslims; 70 or 72 sons of Elohim in the Canaanite religion; and so on). I guess it just means “lots” but I wonder if 72 = 2^3 × 3^2.

          Luke 10 says 70 (maybe that was the number? I thought it was 72 for some reason). Matthaius was selected from among these to replace Judas.

          72 is significant because it is 6 (the number of man??? 6 has many meanings) x 12 (the number of Israel). It also happens to be half of 144 (no idea what that means). It turns up time and again. I can think of once in ancient Jewish secular history (the translation of the Septuagint (Septuagint refers to 72 scholars, even though the word means 70… or something)) and I believe that one of the OT prophets gathered 72 elders to teach the people the Tanach.

          My Biblical numerology has never been too strong (especially if I’m wrong about it being 70 and not 72).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          Those may or may not have been late editions but they are not generally considered primary sources.

          The gospels give us our most substantial documentation of the resurrection, though. Not the earliest–is that your point?

          the doctrines show evidence in a belief in the resurrection in as little as 15 years later, possibly shorter than that

          Sort the NT books chronologically and you see the story grow–not much more than the resurrection with Paul, then more with Mark, and culminating with the highest Christology in John. And getting even more fantastic, if you want to go to the later, noncanonical gospels.

          it was most likely the majority belief

          The majority belief in Palestine? Among Jews? Within the Roman Empire?

          Because Pauline literature comes from a very early date it is unlikely that the chain would have been more than 2 or 3 people long.

          And Paul is preaching to Greeks–those people who knew about the dying and rising of Dionysus, and so on.

          All kinds of shenanigans could’ve happened that are far likelier than that Jesus actually resurrected. How old is our oldest copy of 1 Cor.? Hundreds of years after the original, I imagine. That’s a lot of room for some copyist hanky-panky, such as adding in a later creedal statement about the resurrection.

          By his own testimony he knew and spoke with Peter, suggesting that either he lied about that (unlikely) or that he heard first hand testimony of the story of Christ.

          Huh? People lie or are mistaken or have delusions all the time. Resurrection and son of God stuff? That’s pretty rare.

          Which is more likely?

          Luke 10 says 70

          Mine says “72.” Interesting.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          The gospels give us our most substantial documentation of the resurrection, though. Not the earliest–is that your point?

          My point is that the earliest Christians believed in the resurrection.

          Sort the NT books chronologically and you see the story grow–not much more than the resurrection with Paul, then more with Mark, and culminating with the highest Christology in John. And getting even more fantastic, if you want to go to the later, noncanonical gospels.

          Not really relevant. Even if they were telling fantastical stories 20 years later, that would not change the fact that Paul was teaching the resurrection within a decade and a half of Christ. Whether the Gospels are accurate is an entirely separate question.

          The majority belief in Palestine? Among Jews? Within the Roman Empire?

          Given Paul’s testimony, it is most likely that it was the majority opinion, period.

          And Paul is preaching to Greeks–those people who knew about the dying and rising of Dionysus, and so on. All kinds of shenanigans could’ve happened that are far likelier than that Jesus actually resurrected.

          Whether Jesus resurrected or not is irrelevant to whether there was a belief that he did. Whether the belief is justified is a different question. The people believed it. Paul preached it. Determining whether the belief is justified is not relevant to the point.

          Huh? People lie or are mistaken or have delusions all the time. Resurrection and son of God stuff? That’s pretty rare. Which is more likely?

          My point (and that is not refuted yet) is that if the resurrection story was fabricated, it was a very early fabrication. A later fabrication does not line up.

          How old is our oldest copy of 1 Cor.? Hundreds of years after the original, I imagine.

          A short search online suggests that our earliest collection Pauline documents dates to about 200 AD. The oldest Pauline document dates from the second half of the second century. Questioning the date of the Epistles, however, is difficult: while it is comparably hard to prove that Mark was from 50 or that Matthew was from 40 (or 80, or after 100), dating Paul is not nearly so daunting of a task.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          My point (and that is not refuted yet) is that if the resurrection story was fabricated, it was a very early fabrication.

          I don’t think it was deliberately fabricated. I’ve never heard any atheist propose this (except non-seriously).

          A short search online suggests that our earliest collection Pauline documents dates to about 200 AD.

          And my short search online says that our earliest papyrus copy of 1 Cor. 15 is P123, dated to 350. This makes papyrus no older than the earliest complete Bibles (Sinaiticus or Vaticanus).

          I think my concern stands: that’s 300 years from autograph until our oldest copy. Hanky panky.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I don’t think it was deliberately fabricated. I’ve never heard any atheist propose this (except non-seriously).

          Whether it is fabrication or not is not the point. The point is that the resurrection belief was present very early on. If there was any fabrication, misunderstanding, or hallucination that effected Christianity, it effected the original witnesses to Christ. It is not a doctrine which was added later.

          And my short search online says that our earliest papyrus copy of 1 Cor. 15 is P123, dated to 350. This makes papyrus no older than the earliest complete Bibles (Sinaiticus or Vaticanus).

          That is not the only statement of the resurrection in the Bible (though it is a particularly powerful one). Romans 6:5, however, has one which is sufficient (referring to “His” (Christ’s) resurrection) and that is included in Papyrus 46. That folio dates to between 175 and 225, but Romans dates to the mid 50′s AD.

          I think my concern stands: that’s 300 years from autograph until our oldest copy.

          The reason that the documents are dated this way has to do with linguistic and rhetorical style which can be found in them, as well as contemporary events that they describe. Unless I miss my guess, persons who are more educated than either of us (at least in those fields and the field of linguistics as a whole) have come to a fairly unanimous consensus about the dates of the original authorship.

          If you demand more than that, well, I suppose I could sort through my attic and find the New Jerome Bible Commentary, one of the best guides from the last 15 years, for a more substantial quote. I’d rather not though, that is a lot of work.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          have come to a fairly unanimous consensus about the dates of the original authorship.

          You’re focused on the time lag between event and first writing. We’re on the same page here. I’m focused on problem #2, which is the time lag from autograph to our oldest copy.

          You know about how serious Jewish scribes were in copying the OT (one missed stroke and the entire sheet is discarded). It wasn’t like that with the NT. The 150 years that you have between autograph and P46 leaves a large Dark Age where we can’t be certain that the document wasn’t tweaked.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          I’m focused on problem #2, which is the time lag from autograph to our oldest copy. You know about how serious Jewish scribes were in copying the OT (one missed stroke and the entire sheet is discarded). It wasn’t like that with the NT. The 150 years that you have between autograph and P46 leaves a large Dark Age where we can’t be certain that the document wasn’t tweaked.

          That lag is not really that much of a problem. Even using a critical perspective, there is little evidence that the documents were tampered with so drastically that later authors would be able to insert new doctrines without leaving massive cross-document contradictions or anachronistic vocabulary (like the Arabic word in the beginning of the Song of Songs). Basically, we would expect there to be some fingerprint of the later redactors. For example, the story of the woman caught in adultery is almost positively a later addition. We know this because it is missing from some of the earliest manuscripts and because the language of that story is not the same style or vocabulary as the rest of the book of John. The doctrine of the resurrection, however, shows little of this evidence tampering.

          However you would interpret the value of the belief in a resurrection, the majority of the evidence supports the conclusion that the doctrine’s origins were extremely close to the start of Christianity. This doctrine finds its way into extra-biblical documents, such as the writings of Ignatius of Antioch (my namesake). Parallel teachings, like the eschatological return of Christ (it seems unlikely that Christ could be believed to be returning unless there is a doctrine that he really isn’t *dead*), also appear both within the Pauline writings as well as outside of the canon (Didache 16 is rather unambiguous). And these appearances are not trivial. They are so integrated with the original authorships that it is easier to deny Pauline authorship of the entire document than it is to determine which pieces are a later redaction. You may very well need to deny Paul in his entirety (which is, in a sense, the Elaine Pagels approach).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          Even using a critical perspective, there is little evidence that the documents were tampered with so drastically that later authors would be able to insert new doctrines without leaving massive cross-document contradictions or anachronistic vocabulary

          We must be reading different interpretations of the NT. There are Marcionite, Gnostic, and Ebionite elements in the NT–this isn’t one seamless message as if written by a single hand. We see the chaotic beginning of a new religion–fascinating, but let’s not imagine supernatural truth here.

          You mentioned the story of the women caught in adultery, but how do we know that it was added? Because we have two or more manuscript traditions that we can compare. What about all the additions that don’t have two different traditions? We don’t have direct evidence of tampering. When there are hundreds of years of nothing from autograph to oldest copy, the (large) burden is on the apologist who wants to argue that there has been no change.

          As for the resurrection, 1 Cor. 15 and the gospels are your earliest sources, right?

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          but let’s not imagine supernatural truth here.

          This line of argument does not include an appeal to supernatural truth. It is simply an argument that a belief existed at a certain period of time. I have not tried to argue that the belief was justified, merely that it was present.

          When there are hundreds of years of nothing from autograph to oldest copy,

          150 years at the most in this case, not centuries. But even still, the prominence of the doctrine is difficult to deny. It is never contradicted within the NT texts, and it finds itself consistent through all of them, which signifies as very early incorporation.

          the (large) burden is on the apologist who wants to argue that there has been no change.

          I’m not arguing that there is no change. I’m not even arguing that the resurrection myth is even true. I’m arguing that the best available evidence suggests an early, most likely first generation, incorporation of the resurrection myth.

          As for the resurrection, 1 Cor. 15 and the gospels are your earliest sources, right?

          The idea of the resurrection is in at least 9(?) books in addition to the Gospels/Acts (And obviously it is in Revelation). Three of these are Paul: Romans, 1 Cor. and Phil; and two are Pauline: 2 Tim. and Hebrews. Then there are in the Catholic Epistles: references in 1-2 Peter, Jude, and several times in the Johannine Epistles.

          The earliest manuscript referencing it includes Romans 6, which is an explicit statement of the doctrine. It may not be spelled out as completely as it is in 1 Cor, and the significance is definitely not as prominent as it is in 1 Cor, but it is still there.

          how do we know that [the woman caught in adultery] was added? Because we have two or more manuscript traditions that we can compare.

          We also have the fact that sometimes it appears in Luke and that the language/style of that particular passage is not consistent with the rest of the book. Those are tools that are commonly used to determine how other books in the NT were supposedly spliced together. While having multiple versions is very useful, linguistic and stylistic analysis are far more common.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          150 years at the most in this case, not centuries.

          When the oldest copy of 1 Cor. 15 is from 350 CE, that sounds like three centuries to me. But if you’d prefer 300 years, that’s fine, too.

          the prominence of the doctrine is difficult to deny. It is never contradicted within the NT texts

          You’re saying that you find no element of competing Christians within the NT? How about Paul’s friction with the Peter/James crowd documented in Galatians? Doesn’t look very consistent to me.

          I’m arguing that the best available evidence suggests an early, most likely first generation, incorporation of the resurrection myth.

          Yes, that’s possible. But (sorry to keep coming back to the elephant in the room) that’s a weak foundation on which to build a supernatural claim.

          While having multiple versions is very useful, linguistic and stylistic analysis are far more common.

          When you have two competing versions, you know for a fact that at least one isn’t original. When you just have one tradition, you can make a best guess but (again) this doubt doesn’t make for a firm foundation for supernatural claims.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          When the oldest copy of 1 Cor. 15 is from 350 CE, that sounds like three centuries to me. But if you’d prefer 300 years, that’s fine, too.

          But the earliest copy of ROMANS 6, which also mentions the resurrection, is from < 175 AD.

          You’re saying that you find no element of competing Christians within the NT? How about Paul’s friction with the Peter/James crowd documented in Galatians? Doesn’t look very consistent to me.

          Not at all, and I am surprised you could even get that idea from the context of what I wrote. No, my statement was that there is no element of contradiction on whether or not there was a resurrection.

          that’s a weak foundation on which to build a supernatural claim.

          I never said it was a strong one. I’m not even saying that the early Church thought Christ was resurrected in the body. My argument that you can’t claim that the resurrection is a later addition when all available evidence points to the fact that it was believed by Paul.

          When you have two competing versions, you know for a fact that at least one isn’t original. When you just have one tradition, you can make a best guess

          The best guess and the cleanest interpretation of the facts is that the belief in the resurrection dates to the first century. Any statement to the otherwise is equivalent to a YEC denying plate tectonics or it is a conspiracy theory on the level of “we never landed on the moon.”

          this doubt doesn’t make for a firm foundation for supernatural claims.

          Again not my point. My point is that the best available evidence shows that this belief is two degrees of separation from Christ at the very most. It may or may not be true, but the argument that “the resurrection is only testified to by late documents” is specious.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          The best guess and the cleanest interpretation of the facts is that the belief in the resurrection dates to the first century. Any statement to the otherwise is equivalent to a YEC denying plate tectonics or it is a conspiracy theory on the level of “we never landed on the moon.”

          I agree with sentence 1, but you’ve overreached with sentence 2.

          “But we have a copy of Romans 6 from 175CE!!” is hardly slam-dunk proof of your claim. The NT is indeed very well attested … as ancient documents go. But that’s not saying much.

        • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

          “But we have a copy of Romans 6 from 175CE!!” is hardly slam-dunk proof of your claim. The NT is indeed very well attested … as ancient documents go. But that’s not saying much.

          Facts in evidence:
          1.) The earliest copy of any document we have cites the belief.
          2.) The belief is consistent across all copies of all documents we have encountered, including from separate faith groups (it is present in Petrine and Johaninne writings)
          3.) The relevant documents are written in a linguistic style which places their origin to within 50-100 years of Christ.
          4.) The internal references of the document place it close to around 50-60 AD.

          The only reasonable conclusion that an expert in the field would conclude was that the teaching was authentic and that the authenticity is well past the margin of error.

          Other facts in evidence:
          1.) A person who denies something which falls outside of a reasonable margin of error is unjustifiably prejudiced.
          2.) This teaching is well outside of a possibility of a margin for error.
          3.) You seem to be denying that the teaching is authentic.

          What conclusion follows?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          1.) A person who denies something which falls outside of a reasonable margin of error is unjustifiably prejudiced.

          Who’s denying it? I’ve agreed already. What I’m doing is questioning what you could build on so flimsy a foundation.

          2.) This teaching is well outside of a possibility of a margin for error.

          Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying here, but this sounds like you’re way out on a limb. What is it that couldn’t possibly be in error?

          What conclusion follows?

          Yes, that’s precisely my question. You’ll probably say that your claims are very localized, but I’m asking the big question, the only interesting question: Does God exist? That’s the enormous conclusion that isn’t supported by your evidence.

    • Joshua

      @Bob:

      Agreed. This is a straw man. Few atheists go here.

      How is it a straw man?

      The game of telephone.

      Assuming you’re trying to make a rational argument here, you obviously don’t understand who “they” are, despite the fact I’ve stated it multiple times, so let me say it again: “they” are people who were witnesses, either to Jesus’ life and miracles, or the life and miracles of his disciples in the first century. So telephone doesn’t work here.

      The gospel story is a story. I see no reason to imagine that it’s history.

      Then I see no reason to imagine anything we have records for past 30 years ago is history. It’s all just a story. How the blazes do you explain the rise of Christianity as a persecuted, minority religion if it’s JUST a story? Do be reasonable.

      “Why would they die for a lie?” assumes that it was a hoax. Neither of us is arguing that.

      If not a hoax, then a mass delusion. You can’t explain that either. And don’t reply that it’s a “story,” because that’s the same bloody thing as saying it’s a hoax.

      I have no reason to believe the gospels were history. They look like other legends, so let’s put them in the bin labeled “Legend.”

      Which makes no sense given the rise of Christianity as a persecuted, minority religion. Or are you denying that was the case as well?

      I’m rejecting Christian claims, not providing my own.

      I reject your claim, then, that is the subject of the article. I need not supply an explanation.

      As a wise man once said, “You’re really good at avoiding the issue and saying nothing that really responds to my argument.” The fishermen and tax collectors are part of the story. You don’t assume that the first half is true and then say, “OK–explain how the tomb became empty, Smart Guy.”

      You’re getting desperate. I already said that scholars (even secular ones) agree with ME on this issue. Scholars who know more about the topic than either of us. So as I said before (and apparently I’m the wise one here), you can deny what the scholars think, but if you do you’ve got to come up with a dang good reason or I have no reason to believe you mean anything by your claim.

      Again: it’s a story! The thousands who were fed, the empty tomb, the empowered disciples, the Establishment eager to shut down rabble rousing from the Jesus gang–all part of the story.

      See above.

      ?? Maybe you need to get out more. If you want to argue that there are NT scholars that argue for early dating, sure, I’ll accept that. But I think late dating (65-70 for Mark, and later for the rest) is not only widespread but may be the consensus.

      See Ignatius’ comment above, for starters. Also, consider the fact that the only basis for a late date is either 1) it’s the earliest copy we’ve found, or 2) scholars ASSUME prophecies made couldn’t have been made before hand. Well shucks, if we have to play by those rules OF COURSE I lose. But I don’t have to play by those rules.

      You don’t need to convince me, but you at least need to convince yourself. “Well, all the atheists accept it” shouldn’t be adequate for you either. Why do we know that the empty tomb is a historical fact?

      Because, as Habermas points out in his debate, the crucifixion is as well or better supported than anything else in ancient history. Now, by your logic, that means we consign all of ancient history to the trash bin. Fine, if that’s how you want to play, but I really, really don’t think you want to do that.

      Nope. Miracle stories were told about these men, but they are scrubbed out of the historical record. Act like a historian and do the same for the Jesus story.

      “These men” being Alexander and Julius Caesar, I presume? If so, again, let me point out that the crucifixion is BETTER supported than most ancient history, including these guys. And no one scrubbed their miracles out of the record; it’s just widely accepted that these were efforts by “court historians” to beef up their hero. It’s a lot easier to explain in those cases, too, because they were kings and emperors, who by and large aren’t persecuted minorities, best I can tell.

      Turnabout isn’t really fair play here, because you have the burden of proof.

      I could challenge you with, “Well, how do we know that Merlin wasn’t really a shape shifter?” And then, after you provide evidence showing that the Merlin story is implausible, I say, “No: you’ve only provided a reasonable argument. I want to know that the Merlin story isn’t true.”

      Really? And how exactly do you figure I have the burden of proof? Your Merlin example is absurd, for the simple reason that I never claimed anything could be absolutely proven.

      There’s a lot of that going around.

      Indeed? I find it amusing that you constantly insinuate that I commit fallacies or do other such things, yet never cite a specific example. Perhaps because there aren’t any?

      Well, you know atheists–answering to no one, they’re always ready to try every underhanded trick possible.

      Who’s asking you to disprove a negative? I’m simply asking you to show me that taking the gospel story as true is the most reasonable explanation of the facts. That’s always seen as a reasonable path where I come from.

      Which I’ve done, if you’ve bothered to read what I wrote. Secular scholars agree with ME that the crucifixion is the most well attested fact in ancient history. So we know that part of the story is true. Now we can move to the empty tomb, which you so studiously ignore. Once we get to the empty tomb, I’ve got my argument. The only way you can still legitimately ask your question (“how do we know the gospels aren’t just legend?”) is by ignoring the fact that the best scholars disagree with you, or else by expecting me to absolutely prove my position (i.e., disproving a negative). If you want to dump all ancient history as being mere legend, fine. But if you don’t, you have no good reason to reject the gospels wholesale, other that a predisposition to disbelieve them. But predispositions aren’t arguments.

      • Kodie

        You believe things that can’t be true on faith. They were not recorded. They were not witnessed reliably. They can’t be recreated to prove them in fact. There is no evidence.

        Think about this – you believe it’s true and you are writing passionately on account of it. Can you think of any other people who might have believed something and written passionately on account of it with no evidence? Your evidence is other people’s belief, not the evidence they have. How well do you think I’m going to believe something is true if the only way I have of accepting it is on someone else’s beliefs? They’re not real. It doesn’t go back all the way to anything. It only goes back on someone’s belief because someone else believed. That’s how proselytizing works. You tell someone about Jesus like they’ve never heard it before, they don’t ask you too many questions, and maybe you have won a soul.

        The account is unbelievable. If you assert that magical things happen occasionally that defy biology or physics, you are going to have more work to do than say someone else says it’s true too. It may be convincing to you that you’re told that apostles died for believing it. When Bob says it’s part of a story, then I think you should consider that as well. You dismiss it because you cling to your beliefs. It’s certainly more emotional for people who can’t be convinced to be told a story where people died because they were there but they were doubted and killed. WOW! An unbelievable thing you’re telling me, and I don’t believe it any more than whoever killed these apostles. It sounds ridiculous. But you tell me they bravely stuck to the story! Then how this unbelievable thing might have happened despite the fact that it’s scientifically impossible. Based on human reporting.

        No. I don’t believe humans saw this happened, were doubted, then elected to be killed rather than pretend they hadn’t seen it. They never saw it. It never happened. Resurrections are impossible. You say you have historians who agree with you? What are their credentials and what information do they have? What you seem to suggest is that no amount of information is good enough to convince committed atheists – that’s just your perspective. If you could understand why the leaps in logic a mile wide over this story are just not that convincing if you put thought into it beside being a committed Christian, then you would understand why people leave Christianity but atheists claim Christianity only by emotional and illogical arguments ultimately. That’s the blind spot of a Christian – if you decide we’re going to accept premises, then of course things fall into place perfectly, but that’s a gaping leap to accept the premise. Your historians have not presented the magic bullet with the no-leaps arguments. Is Jesus a real guy, aside from his magical properties? Even that is not confirmed. He’s a character in a story, like Noah was a character in a story and Adam and Eve are characters in a story and The Cat in the Hat was a character in a story. The effort gone into proving him real only suggests him one of many rabbis, still never proves he was magical, and what are you basing your magical beliefs on? Other people’s accounts no more rational than you who ignore the leaps they have to make to seem credible and write the slanted story so it’s convincing enough to gullible readers. Do you really strive to learn the truth or do you become rapt at the prospect of any news that helps you state the conclusion you already had?

        Logic seems to mean nothing to you Christians. Sure you were convinced and some of you claim to have been tough nuts to crack, but lately these suggestions that it takes a “change of attitude” to accept, really means to ignore reality to conceive that it is merely possible. Sure, if you make conditions toward the end you want, anything can be true, why the hell not?!

        • Joshua

          @Kodie:

          You believe things that can’t be true on faith. They were not recorded. They were not witnessed reliably. They can’t be recreated to prove them in fact. There is no evidence.

          Could you give me an example?

          When Bob says it’s part of a story, then I think you should consider that as well. You dismiss it because you cling to your beliefs.

          No, I dismiss it because to dismiss the entirety of the NT, we’d have to give up on all ancient history. Here’s what I can say fairly definitively that even you probably won’t disagree with: Christianity began as a minority sect of Judaism. It was persecuted, if not from the beginning, certainly within 100 years of its inception. It’s not a fun religion (no sex outside of marriage, no getting drunk, various other rules that most people don’t like to follow). Now, if you’re a pagan in first century Corinth, say, why the heck would you give up your relatively easy life to join a religion that’s hard to live by, and which is persecuted? Seems to me like those people would have needed good evidence, don’t you think? If they had that evidence, evidence enough to withstand persecution, that in itself is evidence for the accuracy of the claims made by the religion.

          Then how this unbelievable thing might have happened despite the fact that it’s scientifically impossible.

          Considering your remark towards the end regarding logic, this is a most ironic statement. Scientifically impossible? Only if you assume I’m wrong from the start. In short, you’ve just argued in a circle, which is one of the worst violations of logic there is.

          If you could understand why the leaps in logic a mile wide over this story are just not that convincing if you put thought into it beside being a committed Christian, then you would understand why people leave Christianity but atheists claim Christianity only by emotional and illogical arguments ultimately.

          I never cease to be amazed at people who accuse me of bad logic and yet fail to cite a single instance with any accompanying argument. Let alone the fact that I could turn this statement around and apply it in reverse with just as much validity.

          That’s the blind spot of a Christian – if you decide we’re going to accept premises, then of course things fall into place perfectly, but that’s a gaping leap to accept the premise.

          And you haven’t done just the same thing, I suppose? I have asserted no premises that cannot be backed up with good evidence. You’ve yet to make a coherent argument.

          Your historians have not presented the magic bullet with the no-leaps arguments. Is Jesus a real guy, aside from his magical properties? Even that is not confirmed.

          There’s no such thing as a magic bullet; you can give up on that. But Jesus as a person not being confirmed? Sure, if you’re willing to let Julius Caesar by a mythical character. Find me one scholar who doubts Jesus actually existed.

          Logic seems to mean nothing to you Christians. Sure you were convinced and some of you claim to have been tough nuts to crack, but lately these suggestions that it takes a “change of attitude” to accept, really means to ignore reality to conceive that it is merely possible. Sure, if you make conditions toward the end you want, anything can be true, why the hell not?!

          On the contrary, I read logic books in my spare time. And at this point, you really don’t seem to be arguing so much as ranting, so I don’t see any value in furthering this conversation.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joshua: I’ll make a few comments in response to your comment to Kodie.

          No, I dismiss it because to dismiss the entirety of the NT, we’d have to give up on all ancient history.

          You’re asking for historical consistency? OK: historians drop the miracle stories. Let’s be consistent.

          It’s not a fun religion (no sex outside of marriage, no getting drunk, various other rules that most people don’t like to follow).

          Let’s go with your assessment: it’s not a fun religion. Is Christianity the only religion for which this is true? If not, then whatever explains that religion’s success (since it’s not Christianity, I imagine we agree that it’s a human invention) might explain Christianity’s success.

          If they had that evidence, evidence enough to withstand persecution, that in itself is evidence for the accuracy of the claims made by the religion.

          19 guys crashed planes on 9/11. They martyred themselves for their belief. Is that strong evidence of the truth claims of their religion? Or simply strong evidence of their faith?

          Scientifically impossible?

          Would you prefer “insanely implausible”?

          Find me one scholar who doubts Jesus actually existed.

          Richard Carrier, PhD. Robert Price, PhD. It’s not a majority, but there is some impressive intellectual horsepower on that side of the equation.

        • Kodie

          @Josh: there’s no credible evidence for Jesus resurrecting. There is questionable evidence that a single man existed whom this story is referring to. Your credulity of the story is not evidence, nor is anyone else’s credulity that a miracle occurred. I know how foolish people can be and how easily they can be convinced if you use the right words or expressions.

          I told the story of how I was in sales in my mid-20s, where I was aware my boss was a liar to the customers but I didn’t make the connection that he was a liar to me. He was awesome at sales from being a great liar, but I was on the “inside” so the thought never occurred to me that he was, for the good of my commissions and the store’s profits, and most likely some kickback he gets just for being the floor manager, lying to me so that I would be convincing to my customers, make more sales and sell more pricey items. There are some who are confident liars and some who need to believe what they’re saying first, and I’m the latter. But it worked.

          Don’t you feel like it’s even possible that you are being sold by your manager to be a more convincing liar because you believe the sources wouldn’t lie to you? You’re taking someone else’s word for something you have no way of checking out and nobody has a way of checking out. You seem to believe that a story you’ve always known as historical could not be invented, and the only reason you can come up with is dismissing all other historical figures who died a long time before we were all born. Jesus being fake does not dismiss all historical figures who were recorded as accurately as they were, and plausibly believed to have occurred. No matter what scholars try to prove the man was real, don’t prove he disappeared from a tomb magically. There is no precedent for that happening, no scientific plausibility for that happening, no credible witness for that happening, and perhaps a dozen or so people who believed the account without scrutinizing the details for veracity. And dozens of modern literature going over the same ground and they have a scholarly tone, but the hole still exists – I don’t think it could have happened no matter who believes it. Whatever event may have occurred was not investigated and conclusions were jumped to and recorded inaccurately. Of course this really drives Christianity well, because people are willing to jump to those conclusions, but only because someone they trust appeared to have jumped first. Why trust? I trusted my manager not to lie to me, and I sold a lot of crap to people who believed I knew what I was talking about.

        • Joshua

          @Bob:

          You’re asking for historical consistency? OK: historians drop the miracle stories. Let’s be consistent.

          Did I ever, throughout this argument, assume those miracles were true? I don’t think so. I pretty much argued that they were true based on the fact that the rest of the Gospel story is true, plus we have the empty tomb and a bunch of people who then go die claiming that Jesus was resurrected. Are you willing to accept that? Last I checked, your argument was that the ENTIRETY of the Gospel story is JUST a story. So for you to make the argument that I should be more consistent is laughable. Unless, of course, you’re willing to say that everything we know about Julius Caesar is JUST a story. But given that you haven’t said that yet, I’m betting you’re not willing to go there.

          Let’s go with your assessment: it’s not a fun religion. Is Christianity the only religion for which this is true? If not, then whatever explains that religion’s success (since it’s not Christianity, I imagine we agree that it’s a human invention) might explain Christianity’s success.

          Name me a religion that is as hard to live by as Christianity that arose in culture that was totally the opposite.

          19 guys crashed planes on 9/11. They martyred themselves for their belief. Is that strong evidence of the truth claims of their religion? Or simply strong evidence of their faith?

          Inapt analogy. The 9/11 hackers weren’t around when their religion was getting started. And Islam spread by the sword, not through martyrdom.

          Would you prefer “insanely implausible”?

          I would prefer non-circular arguments, frankly, but I get the feeling I’m shooting pretty high with that one. Might have to settle. But if I’m going to settle, I at least want to know by what criteria you say it’s “insanely implausible.”

          Richard Carrier, PhD. Robert Price, PhD. It’s not a majority, but there is some impressive intellectual horsepower on that side of the equation.

          OK, I suppose these guys have reasons? Reasons that don’t also relegate the rest of ancient history to the trashbin?

          @Kodie:

          I don’t think it could have happened no matter who believes it. Whatever event may have occurred was not investigated and conclusions were jumped to and recorded inaccurately.

          Further proof there’s no point arguing with you. You accuse me of just believing stuff other people told me, but you’re just a pure dogmatist when it comes to your denial. Hard to reason with someone whose bedrock assumption is that the other debater is wrong.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Joshua:

          I pretty much argued that they were true based on the fact that the rest of the Gospel story is true, plus we have the empty tomb and a bunch of people who then go die claiming that Jesus was resurrected. Are you willing to accept that?

          No. Taking the pedestrian parts of the gospel story as true (up to the death and burial, say) and then demanding an explanation for the empty tomb makes no sense. And I’ve already debunked “why would they die for a lie?” in another post.

          Unless, of course, you’re willing to say that everything we know about Julius Caesar is JUST a story. But given that you haven’t said that yet, I’m betting you’re not willing to go there.

          We have quite a bit more evidence of the life of Julius Caesar (including his own writings) than we do for the life of Jesus. But I have no interest in arguing the Christ Myth theory.

          Name me a religion that is as hard to live by as Christianity that arose in culture that was totally the opposite.

          Expand on your point. A thousand religions have sprung up throughout history, some variations from others, and some totally new. If your point is that Christianity is unique, I’ll agree. It’s unique just like the other thousand religions. I’m not sure what you’re saying here.

          Inapt analogy. The 9/11 hackers weren’t around when their religion was getting started.

          And the authors of the gospels were? It’s possible, but “it’s possible” isn’t much on which to support supernatural claims.

          I at least want to know by what criteria you say it’s “insanely implausible.”

          Remind me again—what are we talking about here?

          OK, I suppose these guys have reasons? Reasons that don’t also relegate the rest of ancient history to the trashbin?

          I am poorly versed in the Christ Myth theory. But criteria that argues that Julius Caesar existed (y’know—that guy of whose likeness we have coins, a month named after him, stone monuments attesting to his deeds, archeological evidence in Gaul of his military exploits, and documents from his own hand) and Jesus didn’t (y’know—that guy who didn’t) aren’t hard to come by.

        • Kodie

          You believe a human body disappeared from a tomb because it was resurrected because a few author concur on it. That is what you said? That’s just not enough evidence to go on, and maybe you think it’s enough so that everyone should believe it, but it’s not. It’s not plausible in the same way that maybe George Washington really did chop down a cherry tree – he totally could have. People chop down trees, a cherry tree is a kind of tree, and George Washington was a real person. So that’s a plausible claim. Put him at the scene of the crime admitting as much, and the story gets a lot fuzzier, but I don’t think civilization literally depends on it being true either. That’s another strike against your argument because the value of it being true vs. just being nice to believe is kind of an important difference.

          I don’t think I’m being dogmatic at all. Most of your argument is like, “Why would so many people believe it if it weren’t true?” I take issue with the widespread belief particularly because it is impossible, yet so many people are willing to overlook that it’s impossible and are then willing to steer their decisions and make decisions for other people based on it being true. The fact that not just one event but many events that could not have happened are reported to have happened by, to me, questionable witnesses, the case is not shut. It conflicts with reality – this is the ultimate case of who is at the door because I don’t really want to get up to see. It could be someone important and I better go, but it might be a solicitor and that’s not really worth altering what’s naturally possible based on hearsay that it could be a friend surprising me or even a neighbor asking if I want their extra cupcakes. If I’m going to get up from my chair, I don’t want a guess, I don’t want someone by the door to say it looks like Jenny brought her baby by to visit, when I get up, it better be Jenny with her baby and not a solicitor with a sample case. I will say, are you sure, look again. Of course, there’s no way to check if it’s Jesus or not.

          To you, that leaves open a wide open spectacular possibility that it is, but resurrection is impossible, you seem to forgive that too easily. I don’t think I’m being dogmatic given that you’re reporting to me based on what someone else thinks they saw and it happens to be both something impossible in nature and absolutely vitally necessary to be true if we’re going to latch onto its other properties, which tend to be intrusive, peculiar, short-sighted, impractical – where you see popularity as a boost to the argument, I see what’s really wrong with the argument to wreck your boost.

          So don’t argue with me anymore, I don’t care.

        • Joshua

          Merely because I can’t resist the comedy:

          Kodie said:

          I don’t think I’m being dogmatic at all.

          And proceeded to call resurrection impossible at least twice in the same comment, despite the fact that whether the resurrection occurred is the precise question being debated.

          A few examples of definitions of “dogmatic” I found with one Google search:
          1. “Inclined to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true”
          2. “characterized by or given to the expression of opinions very strongly or positively as if they were facts”
          3. “Characterized by an authoritative . . . assertion of unproved or unprovable principles”

          And with that, I’ll leave.

        • Kodie

          If you’d rather ignore reality, then you have to come to terms with the fact that you don’t have any credible evidence, or, should I say, the evidence you think you have doesn’t make it credible. You are rather pedantic about picking out phrases so you can pretend you’re so much smarter or above arguing but ignore the diagram I drew for you so you could understand the concept of why your evidence isn’t credible compared to other more plausible myths. Its extreme implausibility despite the fact that so many believe it is not a point in its favor, or theirs. So you basically revert to believing what you want to believe and calling anyone who argues with you a doodyhead. That’s your plan here. Winning!

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Joshua:

        How is it a straw man?

        You know what a straw man is. I call it a straw man because I think it fits the dictionary definition. To attack this issue when few atheists raise it as an objection to Christianity is a straw man.

        “they” are people who were witnesses

        What reliably do we know of these witnesses? Our gospels are far removed from the witnesses. The authors of the gospels were on the other end of a decades-long game of telephone.

        Then I see no reason to imagine anything we have records for past 30 years ago is history

        A newspaper story from 1982 is quite different from an account of a man rising from the dead–either 30 years ago or (especially!) 2000.

        How the blazes do you explain the rise of Christianity as a persecuted, minority religion if it’s JUST a story?

        How does any religion start? Are they all true? Or are some of them (dare I say it?) stories–either myths or legends?

        Do be reasonable.

        If not a hoax, then a mass delusion. You can’t explain that either. And don’t reply that it’s a “story,” because that’s the same bloody thing as saying it’s a hoax.

        Nope. A hoax is a deliberate lie. The far end of a 40-year-long game of telephone might not be a hoax but an honest transcription of a legend that’s going around a particular community.

        I already said that scholars (even secular ones) agree with ME on this issue.

        Argue with them then. Here, I’m afraid you’re stuck with ignorant me.

        See Ignatius’ comment above, for starters.

        Yes, I saw that. He agreed with me.

        But I don’t have to play by those rules.

        Wait–aren’t you the one who brought up the scholars? If they accept a late date, shouldn’t you?

        by your logic, that means we consign all of ancient history to the trash bin.

        Show me how it follows.

        let me point out that the crucifixion is BETTER supported than most ancient history, including these guys.

        We’ve been over this. Miracles are scrubbed out of the historical record. The record of Julius or Alexander, minus the miracles, is the story we have in history–and it’s remarkable. But take Jesus and remove the miracles, and you have nothing.

        And no one scrubbed their miracles out of the record

        Are the miracles attributed to Julius or Augustus or Alexander true? Of course not. History records the miracle claims, but it rejects that the miracles are true.

        And how exactly do you figure I have the burden of proof?

        You said: “how do we know the stories aren’t true?” Of course, we don’t know. It’s not my job to prove that the stories aren’t true. Our common goal, I hope, is to find the most plausible path through the evidence.

        Secular scholars agree with ME that the crucifixion is the most well attested fact in ancient history.

        Is the interesting point the crucifixion? I thought it was the resurrection.

        So we know that part of the story is true. Now we can move to the empty tomb, which you so studiously ignore.

        “Of course the Emerald City exists! Where else would the Yellow Brick Road go to??”

        “Of course the resurrection happened! How else can we explain the empty tomb??”

        • Joshua

          Argue with them then. Here, I’m afraid you’re stuck with ignorant me.

          OK. In that case I have no reason to argue with you. Too bad I wasted all that time doing so in my previous comment without checking this one first.

  • MNb

    Show one ex-atheist, who as an atheist knew about the philosophical/theological arguments pro and con, reconsidered his/her case and converted because of those considerations. I think that’s what Bob’s saying.

    Ignatius T: try Livius.org. It’s written by a Dutch pro on Ancient History. Some people here badly need to read the articles called Testis Unus Testis Nullus and The Edges of the Earth.

  • Joe Peterson

    lol This is a funny article…. Basically Flew came to believe there is possibly a God so he must have lost his mind…….. What one fails to perceive is as much as reason plays a role for holding to atheism or theism so does presuppositions.We base our view of reality on certain precepts when these are shifted to one degree or another different reasons become more possible. Once materialism is thought to be on shaky grounds or debunked it changes one ‘s perspective and other cards begin to fall as well. Theist’s experience similar things when they convert as well . when a few arguments convince them about agnosticism or atheism all of a sudden the other arguments once refuted become part of their new religion and appear to have a strong reasons for support.

  • Andrzej

    As I am a former Atheist (now Eastern Catholic christian) I find that his article does not hit on anything insightful – maybe Atheism in Western countries is overly scholastic (in nature) which is to say too comfortable with the Western versions Philosophy and thus very content in taking on Western versions of Christianity (Roman Catholics and Protestants); allow me then to give my two cents.

    I did not leave (Western) Atheism because Christianity had good arguments, I became a Christian (Eastern Christian) because Philosophy in the West (regardless of whether it might be Theism or Atheism) with all its arguments, severely LACKED. Lacked in what? Culture, a sense of communion, good Music and Architecture, Prayer, a sense of fellowship (…you get the gist).

    No argument brought me to Christianity – my journey to Eastern Christianity began with music and architecture; as much as my journey to atheism began with Science; and it grew from thence.

    Understanding the concept/idea/person of God is much different in the West than it is in the East.
    In the West, there is this need for proof always (and you find this very much with the Thomist and the Platonist – in fact, and I dare say, the only difference between a Thomist and an Atheist is religion).

    In the East, it is different. Look at ‘atheism’ in Japan for example, it isn’t militant or in need of conformity – it is so blatantly cultural! Every new years day, you find these professed ‘atheist’ going to visit a shinto temple to pay their respects – and they DON’T HAVE TO DO IT (its different from a funeral or a wedding in a Church). Another group of so called ‘religionists’ are the Jains – they are a community of religious people who do not believe in any form of God or deity; think of it as a direct opposite of Hindu theology; but with parallel practices – yet they have so much conviction in living things that they worship them.

    My point is this – Western Atheism does not care about the existence of a God- or of gods, rather Western Atheism is a protest movement against WORSHIP of anything but MAN!

    So back to the main question. Why am I an Eastern Christian?
    1) Because I am content to believe in a God – regardless of proofs for or against my decision.
    2) Because it makes me happy to go to Church and to live life according to my prescribed principles
    3) Because I am in love with the Church
    4) Because my life seems fuller
    5) Christianity is my truth

    Whats yours?

    • Andrzej

      When I was in the transition towards conversion –
      my doubts were immense! I thought I was going insane (I visited a psychologist – and as a psychologist myself it just overwhelmed me greatly).
      I crashed all that I had built in my mind and way of living – regardless of the arguments that were so right to my eyes! I hated the belief in God, it was stupid and a sign of a backward society – now I am a Christian (a Catholic! in an institution I thought – and still think – as being corrupted to its core)
      Why? would a person do such a thing?
      People don’t usually act on arguments – they act on conviction.
      Which does not mean you develop a conviction over good arguments ;) (which is why for a time I was an atheist).
      Well that felt good letting all that out – just know that I intend no malice in these comments.
      I just find a lack in holism everywhere in Western society (in church, or not) – if atheists can learn to visit a place of worship for the sake of the principle by which it was built and if a Christian can sit down with an atheist without this innate fear that he will deconvert (as you say) – the world would be nice.

      • Andrzej

        Typo: Which does not mean you CANNOT* develop a conviction over good arguments

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      I did not leave (Western) Atheism because Christianity had good arguments, I became a Christian (Eastern Christian) because Philosophy in the West (regardless of whether it might be Theism or Atheism) with all its arguments, severely LACKED. Lacked in what? Culture, a sense of communion, good Music and Architecture, Prayer, a sense of fellowship (…you get the gist).

      I feel like I should point out that of these are quite available in the Western Church. They may have been suppressed or abandoned for the last half century or so, but most of the devout have noticed a return to these values. Chant is increasing in the Liturgy, Latin has returned, bishops have stopped most of the rampant abuses, older styles of architecture are returning and there are fewer reckovations, etc.

      On a bit of a rant, I would like it if those vocal against the celibacy would note that the vocations crisis has moved well past high tide, and has actually left completely where this renaissance takes strongest root. Indeed, in my diocese we have more seminarians than we have since the middle of the last century. I think that more-or-less proves everything you’ve said about culture and its significance in these matters.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Anderzej: You have an interesting perspective.

      I became a Christian (Eastern Christian) because Philosophy in the West (regardless of whether it might be Theism or Atheism) with all its arguments, severely LACKED. Lacked in what? Culture, a sense of communion, good Music and Architecture, Prayer, a sense of fellowship (…you get the gist).

      Looks like you’re amalgamating two things. First, there’s the question of what’s true. Is there a god(s) or not? I want to know. I find philosophy shanghaied into service for Christianity by some apologists, which is unfortunate. Philosophy is used in making arguments here, but I don’t find it particularly useful or compelling.

      My conclusion: no, there is no god.

      Second: how does one live one’s life? With what do you want to surround yourself? This is where community, fellowship, culture, and so on come in. Like you, this is important to me.

      my journey to Eastern Christianity began with music and architecture; as much as my journey to atheism began with Science; and it grew from thence.

      Music, architecture, and science are all great. Is one answer or the other on the god question necessary for us to have these in our lives?

      Another group of so called ‘religionists’ are the Jains – they are a community of religious people who do not believe in any form of God or deity

      An atheist going through the cultural motions of paying Shinto respects to the dead makes sense to me. I just celebrated Christmas, for example.

      (But the Jains do believe in gods.)

      My point is this – Western Atheism does not care about the existence of a God- or of gods, rather Western Atheism is a protest movement against WORSHIP of anything but MAN!

      I don’t see your point. I’m not protesting anything, just trying to follow the facts where they point.

      1) Because I am content to believe in a God – regardless of proofs for or against my decision.

      I’ve never heard anyone say that before. Interesting.

      So you just believe on faith? Sounds like many Christians (except that they pretend or try to convince themselves that they actually have evidence).

      2) Because it makes me happy to go to Church and to live life according to my prescribed principles

      Principles are important to the atheists that I know, too.

      3) Because I am in love with the Church

      Community is great, but I have no use for the customs and rituals of a church. If it works for you, that’s great.

      4) Because my life seems fuller

      There is community, music, art, and so on outside the church, y’know.

      5) Christianity is my truth

      Did you word that correctly? Sounds like Christianity is you faith. How can it be your truth if you have no interest in evidence for or against?

      • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

        Philosophy is used in making arguments here, but I don’t find it particularly useful or compelling.

        I find this statement very interesting if only because I view philosophy as one of the very few things which actually is compelling.

        Like you, this is important to me.

        I think that there is an important distinction to be made here. Andrzej believes that they are important whether he wants them to be or not, while you say that they are important to you but they are not actually important excluding reference to the individual.

        Did you word that correctly? Sounds like Christianity is you faith. How can it be your truth if you have no interest in evidence for or against?

        My first thought on reading this is that you two are clearly using different versions of “true”. You (Bob) are using it in the boolean sense — an axiom is either true or false and this state may be verified and subject to experimentation. The statement “the lightbulb is on” would fit that form of truthity. He (Andrzej) is using it in the theo/philosophical(/political) sense. In such a system “true” is far closer to the word “axiom”. Measures of reliability of these truths would be far closer to measurement of a philosophical system’s self-integrity and experimentation really has a very, very minor part to play. The statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident” is a clear example of this form of truth. A person who talks about how the rights of man are “truths” would not be speaking in the context of the conclusions based on experimental data.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          IT:

          Measures of reliability of these truths would be far closer to measurement of a philosophical system’s self-integrity and experimentation really has a very, very minor part to play.

          Reliability is important but evidence is not? You’ve lost me.

          The statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident” is a clear example of this form of truth.

          “Self evident” means that they come from an instinct that all humans share. OK, I’m on the same page. As you say, this isn’t the conclusion from an experiment. But these are still testable claims. Do we in fact agree that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental rights? If polls found that this was, in fact, a minority opinion, the claim would fall.

      • Andrzej

        I grew up in a family of Jains, Hindu’s and Sikhs – good luck with the “Jains believing in Gods bit” – Not to come across as being rude, but that – to me – sounded like an Asian telling a Westerner that Napoleon was British :P
        Though giving you the benefit of the doubt – Jains (as far as I can tell) vehemently reject (and I have had first hand experience of this) the idea/teaching of any sort of God. They deify and worship human beings who lived well according to their principles – much like how Catholics honor Saints (or Americans honoring war-heroes *or British honoring tea – maybe not* ). They are A-theists in the sense that they do not believe in a God that created itself or anything for that matter – rather it is they (the Jains) who create their Gods (or become a God – after a life well lived) *jaws drop – Atheist-like religion Exists* :O.

        I do not believe you celebrate Christmas the same way the Japanese do – they pay their respects at a Temple; I am no judge but unless you do attend Mass/liturgy/or church service of some sorts during Christmas you do not celebrate Christmas like the Japs – which, forgive me for how this sounds, I don’t quite see any Westernised Atheists (who are won’t to sit down sipping wine and eating roast turkey while listening to old records playing or being asleep on a well-deserved holiday <- *guilty*) doing :P

        As for all the others, I quite agree that you could in more ways than one out argue me and win – since what began as my journey to Christianity was admittedly aesthetical (very subjective in nature) – oh Pyrrhus!! ;) – plus whatever I say will just be echoing Theophorus' own input (mine will obviously be less eloquent.

        I will just leave you with this –

        "2) Because it makes me happy to go to Church and to live life according to my prescribed principles

        Principles are important to the atheists that I know, too."

        When I said; convictions trump arguments big-time; this was almost exactly what I meant.
        Forgive me if I seem like I am harping on words – but my principles aren't just important to me they make me happy and fulfilled (when I got baptised – it was the happiest moment of my life -why? I cannot explain it to you without sounding like a complete nut – its like argumentatively explaining to a stranger why I am in love with my wife – how does one do that?). My dear Bob – how do you expect me to turn my happiness into an argument? and why would I want to do that? I am content and happy (with CONVICTION) believing in a God –

        and even if you do remove conviction from this equation – which fool would want to turn that into an argument that could make that belief fall to pieces and subsequently shatter his/her happiness? (I am not saying this won't happen – it happened to me twice before – and I do not deny that there are no convicted atheist out there – though *puts on mask of mischief* what your convicted atheists *group 3 as you put it* are convicted by, other than unprovable [unprovable because Gods nature or the nature of deities is different in every religion and thus is impossible to quantify within science *much more with common-sense*- unless you take that very variability of what constitutes to be God (or a God) in every religion as proof of Gods non-existence which to me as bad science and says nothing about anything] facts upon facts upon facts of the non-existence of Deities/God, boggles me to bits. A Christian on the other hand has a God – and if this God appears to him no argument is necessary for if he relates back to this experience to someone else He is either seen as a liar or not a liar – that is all that should matter to the person on the receiving end of the tale, unless they really want to believe; then it becomes spicy :P ).

        - Something like this isn't just a matter of faith, it has to be truth – and not just any truth but the truth, MY TRUTH. You're not dealing with numbers here Bob. Good night!

        • Bob Seidensticker

          A:

          I grew up in a family of Jains, Hindu’s and Sikhs – good luck with the “Jains believing in Gods bit” – Not to come across as being rude, but that – to me – sounded like an Asian telling a Westerner that Napoleon was British :P

          I’ve been to Shravanabelagola and seen the statue of Gommateshvara Bahubali and the statues of the 24 Tirthankaras. The Tirthankaras are what I was thinking of. I thought they were supernatural. No?

          [Japanese] pay their respects at a Temple

          You’re right about the different–I didn’t go to church. But I might have in a different family situation. If I had, then that would IMO have been parallel to a Japanese atheist participating in a Shinto or Buddhist ritual because it was cultural, not because he believed it did anything supernatural.

          convictions trump arguments

          If you believe it, that outweighs the argument against it? Is that your point?

          how do you expect me to turn my happiness into an argument?

          Of course I wouldn’t demand that. I would like to make sure I understand your position, though. You’re saying that you believe because it makes you happy, not because evidence drove you there?

          which fool would want to turn that into an argument that could make that belief fall to pieces and subsequently shatter his/her happiness?

          Again, we seem to have very different ways of looking at things, so I might not be grasping it all, but let me respond nevertheless. I couldn’t be happy holding onto a belief that evidence showed me was false. More precisely, I couldn’t hold on to such a belief.

          Sure, It would be more pleasant to hear “You have indigestion!” than “You have cancer!” from my doctor, but if I do indeed have cancer, I can’t take steps to treat it unless I know the truth, regardless of its (short-term) impact on my happiness. A belief held simply because it’s a happy belief is worthless to me.

          Something like this isn't just a matter of faith, it has to be truth

          And now you’ve lost me, because this is just what I would say. Yes, a matter of faith isn’t of much consequence; we’re striving for the truth, regardless of whether it’s a happy truth or not.

        • Andrzej

          “I’ve been to Shravanabelagola and seen the statue of Gommateshvara Bahubali and the statues of the 24 Tirthankaras. The Tirthankaras are what I was thinking of. I thought they were supernatural. No?” (sorry, IDK how to do that quoting thing you all seem to be doing)

          A: You’ve been to Karnataka! Nice place – at least to me *wife’s from there* ;)
          Not quite, the Tirthankaras are exactly what I described in the earlier posts – humans who have done good (at least according to Jain principles) and thus do not need to repeat the Karmic cycle *they are one with the Force – cue star wars music – so to speak*
          They are revered after they die, not as gods – i.e. the way hindus, muslims, christians, jews, etc revere/worship/serve their Creator God(s) – but as fulfilled human beings, nor are they worshipped.
          Their only ‘supernatural’ principle would be the concept of Karma and the Soul – which to them is uncreated and thus seen as a natural occurrence. If I may be so bold, I would say that they view the Karmic concept in almost the same light as how Evolution is understood – as an automatic and natural process. Though I have even met some Jains who declare that the whole concept of Karma is symbolical – yet they still pray, do their rituals and adhere to their religious principles, making them not dissimilar from Western Atheists *minus the religious activities*.

          Moving on to:

          “If you believe it, that outweighs the argument against it? Is that your point?”

          A: In a way yes, but conviction goes deeper than just belief – I will get back to this later.

          “Of course I wouldn’t demand that. I would like to make sure I understand your position, though. You’re saying that you believe because it makes you happy, not because evidence drove you there?”

          A: That which you quoted wasn’t meant to be an accusation :P I meant it rhetorically. I appreciate you wanting to understand my position – I really do *you remind me of an atheist friend of mine, we chat away through the night about religion, life, and philosophy over wine and pipe-smoke – till our wives get mad ;)*.
          But moving on. To answer this – and boy am I going to sound like a nut – you need to understand that we both view the word ‘evidence’ here in two completely different lights. To your context evidence comes from argumental and experimental proofs – we’ll call this factual evidence – to my context evidence is experiential. You see?
          We’re both holding the same coin but looking at it from a different angle.

          Let me give an analogy –
          I love my wife. <– Can this ever be a statement of just mere faith? No! it has to be truth. Yes, my faith in her person-hood led me to fall in love with her, and it took faith in my own strength to ask her to marry me *as much as it took the same faith for her to say YES! – thank God*. But 'love' is not a matter of faith – it is the 'truth' that my relationship with her is built on. Imagine a situation where your wife asks you if you love her and you tell her – "Well..I believe I do" – go prepare the couch mate :P
          You don't make the declaration that you love someone into a statement of faith, you do so by making it a statement of Truth and conviction -"Yes I love you, with my whole life"

          But what then is 'love'? it is not a tangible thing – you cannot quantify it, at least more than it being a social construct. In Psychology we try to quantify and operationalise 'love' through the accidents of 'love' – like altruism, affection, likeability,etc.- but no matter how much we try we can never ever show that 'love' actually exists at all, apart from being a social concept – and we even go so far as to assert that 'love' is actually a by-product of the neural activities, hormonal processes, and etc. – yet it drives many of us.
          Then we may ask the question of why I love my wife – the only tangible and acceptable answer would be me telling you all the experiences I have had with her, I cannot MAKE you believe that I am in love with her. You just have to take my word for it – which means I am either a liar or not a liar. Therein lies the paradox – if this is my truth how does this make me a liar? and what is your business in it?

          The same goes with my conviction in God. I have had experiences – some which are completely natural and others I cannot explain. If I told you now that I have experienced the love of God in other people, you can argue and say that this is just a mere exageration of my own emotions. However now if I told you that I have seen the love and mercy of God in His very personhood with my waking eyes, you cannot argue with me – because now it becomes a statement of my own truth and I either became a liar, or a mad-man in your eyes (not an accusation :P). But would it matter if I am seen as a liar? No because this truth that I hold is one that is personal and you can argue that I need a Doctor – but at the end of the day you weren't there to see ;)
          This is what gives atheism an upper hand – and rightfully so – you guys have factual evidences that is there for everyone to see! But the religious man's evidence is personal – but it shouldn't mean that he is wrong, no? :)

          For these reasons, I can never quite understand blatant evangelisation of peoples. Most of the time it is laced with bloody bathos – which incidentally is the only way one can militantly dispense a piece of evidence that is experiential without using the sword of force – and which for the longest time turned me away from Christianity (it is very prevalent in protestant Christianity this).

          One of my favourite quotes comes from a Papist saint St. Francis of Assisi – "Speak the Gospel at all times, use words only if necessary"

          That, at least to me and the teachings of my Church- which has a knack of doing just the opposite, is what Christianity is all about!
          To build a relationship with the Triune-God through prayer and then through charity and love with all Human beings. ;)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Andrzej:

          (sorry, IDK how to do that quoting thing you all seem to be doing)

          Surround the text to quote with [blockquote] and [/blockquote], except replace the square brackets with angled ones (less than/greater than).

          humans who have done good (at least according to Jain principles)

          How do they compare with Buddhist bodhisattvas?

          you need to understand that we both view the word ‘evidence’ here in two completely different lights. To your context evidence comes from argumental and experimental proofs – we’ll call this factual evidence – to my context evidence is experiential.

          Evidence is primarily observed facts in my mind.

          You say that evidence is experiential. How is that different from my view of evidence?

          I love my wife.

          How does this relate to knowing that God exists? You know that your wife exists, and yet this trivial matter turns out to be the most important within Christianity.

          we try we can never ever show that 'love' actually exists at all, apart from being a social concept

          I don’t see the difficulty. Who claims that love doesn’t exist? And yet for any particular god, again the existence question is the fundamental one.

          I cannot MAKE you believe that I am in love with her. You just have to take my word for it

          And if you say that you love Jesus (or whoever), I will also happily take your word for it. It’s hardly a surprising claim. But that Jesus exists–that’s quite another matter.

          the religious man's evidence is personal – but it shouldn't mean that he is wrong, no?

          No. But this isn’t an argument by which anyone else is convinced. Furthermore, the religious man should acknowledge that his own belief claims (“I’ve seen the hand of God in other people!”) are no better grounded than those of other religionists whose claims he rejects.

    • http://www.facebook.com/corymcstudmuffin.smith Cory Limpy Smith

      This really helped me thank you

  • finn

    If you want to be purely scientific and rational about it, you can’t argue your way toward religion or atheism. Religion relies on self-referential texts as an appeal to authority (modern Abrahamic religions; older polytheistic religions are generally demonstrably false, Hinduism is a disorganized and generally personal religion, and most Eastern religions are technically sociological and/or psychological philosophies). Atheism falsely states that the scientific approach is to reject an idea in the abscence of proof.

    It all trickles down to whether the big bang was started by a “god” or happened by chance–and in order to observe this, we would need to either invent time travel (risking becoming the catalyst, thus an “I’m my own grandfather” scenario) or a space ship capable of traveling so much faster than the speed of light that we could observe the photons emitted by the big bang as they passed by (and if we estimated the age of the universe correctly, it would still take 13,000 years going 1,000,000 times the speed of light.) That said, I doubt very much that the most basic Deist argument–from nothing, nothing comes–can ever actually be disproven from a scientific standpoint. Suppose that makes me a hard agnostic, although I prefer to identify as simply not religious.

    What confuses me is how somebody jumps directly from rejecting the notion of any creator at all to the acceptance of such claims as:

    The world was created in October 4,004 B.C. (I think this is the given date?) and humans are made out of dirt.

    Until the flood, there was a vapor canopy that provided water for the whole world

    A wooden boat 400 feet long was able to support millions of animals for a year

    Christ freed humanity from laws forbidding eating filthy animals and working on the divinely ordained day of mandatory rest, but not homosexuality.

    Demons and witches are real, physical creatures

    Worshipping God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as separate entities doesn’t conflict with the commandment that only God is worthy of worship and praise because they are all the same God, but need to be worshipped separately.

    Seems like a pretty big jump to go straight to Christianity.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      finn:

      Atheism falsely states that the scientific approach is to reject an idea in the abscence of proof.

      Who has proof? No atheist that I know. As I see things, a new claim with evidence against it and none for it should be rejected (unicorns, leprechauns, etc.). You disagree?

      I doubt very much that the most basic Deist argument–from nothing, nothing comes–can ever actually be disproven from a scientific standpoint.

      (1) Science doesn’t prove anything. That’s what math and logic do.

      (2) And does that deist argument have any backing?

  • Greg G

    The word faith has multiple definitions. One meaning is a concept introduced by Paul specific to Christianity. It’s funny when believers try to conflate that meaning with the way an atheist would use it.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    Good blog post. I’ll just say that yes, I believe in God, but you are spot on that non of those arguments prove Christianity, and to be honest, philosophy doesn’t prove God’s existence, either. I will also say that I don’t find the lack of evidence in God a good reason to believe he doesn’t exists. Logical positivism says that only that which can be verified empirically is true, and its definitely a false proposition. I find modern day atheism little more than this. I think Flew may have pointed that out, but I haven’t read his books (just study philosophy myself). I guess I’m saying that if we wanted to use philosophy, I think agnosticism best sums it up. I’m not a scientists, so I’ll give you that one. If we want to talk in terms of possibilities, I think God is a valid possibility, just one that isn’t proveable as you said.

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    I’m saddened by the anti-religious vitriol I see in the atheist community, my community. Let me be clear, there is plenty of legitimate criticism to be made, but it can be done in a civil manner, without making the religious into The Hated Other. I’ve seen and been the target of dog piling when daring to defend the religious against anti-religious prejudice (not that it’s nearly as big a problem for you as anti-atheist prejudice is for us). I disagree with the few atheists who choose to convert, but I would never give them a hard time about it, or even bring it up unless they wanted to talk about it first. So long as they don’t start harming others with their religion, it’s not my business, and I do recognize religion has some benefits for the religious.

    I will say, however, that I am somewhat disappointed by the reasons these ex-atheist converts gave for converting. I’m disappointed in my own community too, for not teaching a holistic secular philosophy. There is so much focus on the purely intellectual, the coldly logical, and the debunking of religion. Robertson and Morgan write about love, about finding more in life than just sterile intellectual logic arguments. Secular humanism has much to say about love, emotion, the social aspects of life. Too bad the secular community talks so very little about this. Love can be understood, enjoyed, practiced, and lived quite well without resorting to supernatural explanations and sources of it. I don’t blame converts one bit for seeking emotional fulfillment in a religious community when the secular community fails to provide it for them. I will admit some of the secular are immature assholes, and they tend to be the loudest. I simply ask that the religious not claim that they have the one source of love, emotional fulfillment, or what have you, or that those perfectly natural and human things somehow point to a god.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I’m saddened by the anti-religious vitriol I see in the atheist community

      Yes, that’s a legitimate concern.

      My own motivation here is driven by Christian excesses within society. If Christianity was just what Christians believed and practiced and that’s it, I’d find another hobby. But, for many, Christianity slops out of its container as Christians want to get prayer in City Council meetings or Creationism taught in public schools.

      Robertson and Morgan write about love, about finding more in life than just sterile intellectual logic arguments.

      Yes, good stuff. But I miss the “… so therefore, God” logic. If they want to believe just ’cuz, that’s fine, but I need reasons to believe in God.

      I agree that secular humanism rounds out the atheist position.

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