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Christians: What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?

Christianity impervious to ignores evidenceIn the last post, I called Christianity “The Ultimate Unfalsifiable Hypothesis.” I am bothered by the worldview held by many Christians in which good things are evidence that God exists, and bad things are also evidence that God exists. This impervious-to-reality God belief can’t lose, but it isn’t realistic. It’s merely insulation from reality.

Christians who want to willfully reject evidence can certainly do so, but they have no grounds to pretend to be following the evidence where it leads. Let’s consider some examples.

Evidence Against Prayer

Imagine a prayer experiment that showed no effectiveness. But we needn’t imagine this; such a test has been conducted. The 2006 STEP experiment, often known as the Templeton Study because of the foundation that funded it, “was by far the most comprehensive and rigorous investigation of third-party prayer to date.” It found no value to prayer.

Have any Christians turned away from faith because of this study? I doubt it. They’ll say that you can’t test God or that God isn’t like a genie who answers to your command. They’ll say that using science to study religion is like using a hammer to carve a turkey—it’s simply not the right tool.

But if a prayer study had shown a benefit, you can be sure that Christians would be all over that, citing it as important evidence that everyone must consider.

Mother Teresa’s story is an excellent personal example of the results of prayer. As a young woman, she had an ecstatic vision of Jesus charging her to care for the poor. Surely she would’ve said that this was evidence for the existence of God and Jesus. But then mustn’t we also take seriously the absence of evidence and consider what that means? Her life was colored far more by the agony of ignored prayers than the ecstasy of visions. Late in life she wrote, “the silence and the emptiness is so great” and “I have no Faith … [the thoughts in my heart] make me suffer untold agony.”

Accepting positive evidence for prayer and ignoring any negative evidence is no honest search for the truth.

Pat Robertson publicly prayed that the 2003 hurricane Isabel wouldn’t hit the Virginia Beach area where his Christian Broadcasting Network is based. He demanded:

In the name of Jesus, we reach out our hand in faith and we command that storm to cease its forward motion to the north and to turn and to go out into the sea.

Here’s a photo of Isabel making landfall just south of Robertson’s 700 Club headquarters. It was that season’s costliest and deadliest. Oops.

How did Robertson explain the failure to the faithful? My guess is that it wasn’t too hard to dismiss unwelcome evidence to a flock that doesn’t care much about evidence. Where else can you fail this badly and come out looking good?

Evidence Against Divine Inspiration

A Mormon example of selective consideration of evidence is Joseph Smith’s translation of an Egyptian papyrus he called the “Book of Abraham,” which has become part of LDS canon. Modern evaluation has shown Smith’s “translation” to be nonsense, but did that sink Mormonism? Of course not—it’s not based on evidence!

When presented with plausible natural explanations for sensations of God’s presence, some people prefer to cling to the imaginary. One epileptic patient wouldn’t take meds because it would destroy her link to God. She said, “If God chooses to speak through a disease to me, that’s fine.”

Evidence Against Prediction

A religious leader’s specific prediction is a great way to put religion into the domain of science. You’d think that if the prediction doesn’t come to pass, the followers would realize that the entire thing was a sham.

But no—when the prediction doesn’t happen, a little song and dance can restore the leader’s credibility with at least some of his followers. The Millerites’ Great Disappointment of 1844 is an example. Determined post-Disappointment believers morphed into several groups, including one that became the Seventh Day Adventist church (which itself has made a number of failed end-of-the-world predictions).

More recent participants in the Guess the End of the World contest, which has been ongoing for 2000 years, include Hal Lindsey, who predicted the end in 1988. More recently, Harold Camping was wrong about his highly publicized prediction of the Rapture on May 21, 2011 and the end of the world five months later.

Even after the complete failure of his “prediction,” he rationalized that it was all God’s will, but what about his followers? How many concluded that Camping was totally wrong, that they were fools for being duped, and that they should’ve seen through his charade from the beginning?

The biggest failed prediction, of course, is the one in the gospel accounts themselves that the end of the world was at hand.

This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened (Matt. 24:34).

I’ve already deflated three of the most popular predictions (the virgin birth, Isaiah 53, and Psalm 22).

The Ultimate Falsifying Evidence?

Imagine that historians discovered an ossuary (bone box) from roughly 30 CE that said, “Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, born in Bethlehem and crucified in Jerusalem” and, after much study and debate, the consensus said that it was as convincing as any Jesus evidence. Given this compelling evidence of an un-risen Jesus, would all Christians discard their belief? We’ve already seen that William Lane Craig would not, and I’m sure that many or most would side with him. Rationalizations abound, such as the Justin Martyr gambit: argue that the devil planted false evidence to deceive us.

Remember Poe’s Law: without some obvious wink that you’re joking, you can’t create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing. A Christianity where Jesus actually died? Not a problem!

Christianity has weathered Galileo, evolution, and the 14-billion-year-old universe. It shrugs off the Problem of Evil and the Bible’s sanction of slavery and genocide. What negative evidence could sink Christianity? Probably not even clear evidence that Jesus was just a myth. A religion operating on faith after the generation of the founders is like an arch that stays up after the scaffolding is removed.

Christianity is the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail who said, after Arthur chopped his arm off, “ ’Tis but a scratch.” It’s the Teflon religion.

It’s the Holy Spirit who gives us
the ultimate assurance of Christianity’s truth.
Therefore, the only role left
for argument and evidence to play
is a subsidiary role.
— William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith

Photo credit: Uncommon Sense

About Bob Seidensticker
  • JohnH

    “Of course not—it’s not based on evidence!”
    Here I thought someone was Mormon or Christian or Muslim because it had been definitively proven that God not only exists but that their scriptures were completely historically accurate, that there were no debates on what is scripture, how it is translated (or even what translated means), and that magical-fairy-genie-God answered all prayers and left nothing up to debate, disagreement, discussion, or faith. Thank you so much for this incredible and unbelievably enlightening observation that religion isn’t science, as it completely overturns everything I ever thought (or commented on this very blog, like on your last post) as to the subject of how faith exists; Imagine one needs to have belief in something that is not seen and hasn’t been proven to have faith what an incredible revelation, which one certainly couldn’t have gotten from consulting a dictionary (as was shown previously consulting dictionaries is not the strong suit of many here). What an astounding shocking observation! Next you will be telling us that water is wet or something equally crazy.

    • Nox

      Snarkily pointing out the obviousness of an obvious fact might have a little more punch if there weren’t millions of people denying that obvious fact.

      • JohnH

        There are millions of people that believe that the sun revolves around the earth, in fact there may be more people that believe that then there are people like me or like Bob combined (in the US, world wide it is a certainty). I would still happily snarkily point out the obviousness of an obvious fact were the fact in question which celestial body revolves around which.

  • Michael

    Whenever Christians make a silly decision that costs them money or prestige, they will invariably use god as an excuse. “It’s not my fault. It’s god’s will. God has other plans for me. It will all turn out for the best.”

    That excuse enables them to get through their whole life without ever having to take responsibility for any of their actions. They will never, ever, give up that excuse – and so they will believe in god until the day they die.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      To some extent, yes, but keep in mind that Christians do sometimes deconvert.

      But you’re right that God belief gives them a comforting out. And that’s a selling feature–you get to lay your troubles at the feet of Jesus. Sounds pretty good until nothing happens. You need a job, your kid is dying, and so on. When your prayers go unanswered, even the noble ones, what the heck is that supposed to mean? Is God mad at you? And now you’ve got even more anxiety than if you just stood on your own two feet and faced reality.

  • smrnda

    As I said on the last post, we should distinguish between what William Lane Craig *says* he would do if such and such was revealed and what he actually would do. When he says “I’d still believe if I went back in time, stood by the tomb and no stone moved on the third days” he’s just talking big about hypothetical situations that aren’t going to happen. Craig can come up with these “I would believe even if” scenarios all day – he’s like a guy sitting on a pile of money who says he’ll believe in god even if he ends up poor; it’s all talk.

    If anyone can help me, I’m trying to think of other things that people believe in without evidence but that aren’t as ideologically loaded, just to compare the thought processes. I had thought up economic policy, but I find that it’s too easy to goal-post shift – if a person supports a policy for pragmatic reasons and they get shown that it’s likely to have bad results, they just argue it’s metaphysically correct regardless of outcome.

    My best shot at that was someone who sees ‘potential’ in some underachiever, and then is confronted with the underachiever not delivering… yet.

    Also, JohnH, been a while!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      smrnda:

      I agree that answering a hypothetical question and actually being faced with that question for real may provoke two different responses. But his response is still revealing. When asked if he would reject his faith if given very, very good evidence against it, he says he wouldn’t. And his Reasonable Faith unabashedly says the same thing.

      Incredible.

      I hope you get some ideas from the readership on parallels to this kind of evidence rejection. What comes to mind for me are superstitions developed through intermittent reinforcement.

      You wear your green socks to the game and the home team has a come-from-behind victory. Cool–it must be the socks! You wear them next time and we lose. OK–it can’t be just that the socks are a meaningless superstition. You must’ve done it wrong. Maybe they need to be freshly washed. Or dirty. Or you put them on the wrong feet. Or something.

    • JohnH

      ” JohnH, been a while!”
      Chasing someone down a rabbit hole to figure out that they aren’t using common definitions (or even remotely honest ones) put me off commenting on this site. Also, as others have pointed out (like on the Catholic Channel, I think, a few months back in reference to an Augustine quote) Bob is not the most knowledgeable or interesting or careful person to discuss things with, to put it politely. I will likely disappear (from here), again after today as I am getting pretty busy with other demands (especially given the high quality of the op by Bob, he never disappoints in that regard).

      • Bob Seidensticker

        John:

        Bob is not the most knowledgeable or interesting or careful person to discuss things with, to put it politely.

        Correct me then. Saying that there are errors but (like Fermat) you don’t have the opportunity to give them is a bit of a tease.

        • JohnH

          “And yet, will we ever come to an end of discussion and talk if we think we must always reply to replies? For replies come from those who either cannot understand what is said to them, or are so stubborn and contentious that they refuse to give in even if they do understand In fact, the Bible says “Their conversation is unrighteousness, and they are indefatigable in folly.” [Ps 94.4] You can see how infinitely laborious and fruitless it would be to try to refute every objection they offer, when they have resolved never to think before they speak provided that somehow or other they contradict our arguments.” Augustine of Hippo in one of the few places that I actually agree without reservation in what he says.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I see the frustration. As you can imagine, I experience it myself.

          … and yet both of us are still here.

        • Mark

          Wow. Good point.

    • nakedanthropologist

      Also, many people have cultural ties to the faith that they were raised in. One of the reasons that I remained “technically Catholic” (even though I disagreed vehemently with the church on many issues) was that my mom’s entire family is Catholic – and that was tied into a great deal of our family traditions. Having gone to a Catholic university, it was my experience that many younger Catholics remained so because of their families, not necessarily because they believed. Of course, this supposition is anecdotal on my part, but the Pew Research Center has done polls wherein a majority of American Catholics disagree with the church on matters such as contraception, abortion, and the pedophile-priests cover ups.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        I wrote a post on Secular Christianity. I understand the value that the non-supernatural elements of church can have–community, grandeur, philosophical stimulation, philanthropic focus, and so on. Maybe that’s where you’re going.

  • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca Richard Greydanus

    Where does one begin? Well, begin in the beginning. If we are going to start giving an account of what Christianity is, we might open the Bible to the first chapter of the first book, which would be the well-trod and oft-maligned ways of Genesis 1. Here we encounter our first major difficulty. The Bible itself doesn’t begin with the first words or the first pages in the volume we call the Bible. It can’t. The text itself is quite inanimate; which is to say, lifeless. It’s not going anywhere or doing anything. I would argue, in fact, the writers of Genesis 1 recognized a book could never begin with a book: not the Bible, not a history of the Judeo-Christian tradition, nor even a riveting novel by Robert Ludlum. Other examples could be offered, but I won’t labour the point. Every book ever written has to begin with you, or with someone like you, the reader. And more specifically, not with you, the reader, as an object of study; but with you, the reader, reading…reading anything you want, though here we should read the beginning of the Bible.

    Genesis 1 contains, in highly structured, poetic narrative, the account of how, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In short: the creation of everything that exists, including you, the reader. We can set aside the apparent archaism of the text. Genesis 1 may not easily yield up a neo-Darwinian account of biological evolution, harmonizing genetic theory with natural selection; but it is nevertheless very contemporary. In certain respects, it is more contemporary than a neo-Darwinian evolutionary account; though not that it is contemporary with the current scientific consensus, but because it is contemporary with you and I, as living breathing persons, in a world populated by many things.

    Once you step over the stumbling block of a ‘rigorous scientific methodology’ and the need to compare and contrast everything with the latest papers being published in journal Nature, the message of Genesis 1 is fairly explicable. Except for the bit of God creating at the beginning, and the human being created in the image of God at the end, everything described in between is exceedingly mundane. Here’s a link to the text so you can read for yourself: Genesis 1.

    The pairings of light and darkness are held up alongside the pairings of day and night. Land is divided from sea and sky. Fish go in the sea, mammals on the land, and birds in the sky. Way up high are the sun, moon, and stars. Some of the ways these things are talked about seem counterintuitive, I grant you that. Calling the sky a ‘vault’, for example, and dividing waters above the sky from waters below does sound a little strange. But from where I am standing, that’s a pretty good attempt to describe the water cycle without knowing too much about evaporation and the molecular construction of clouds. Tilt your head back the next time you are in an open field and look up: the sky does look like one big vault stretching from horizon to horizon to horizon.

    This is the world that you were born into, minus the agricultural, commercial, industrial, and technological development that attends a rapidly developing urban civilization. That is to say, minus both the creative ingenuity, and also the stupidity, of humans beings. It’s a perfectly pristine, natural world, ready for the human being to cultivate, dig up, and build in, which, in good time, humanity does get around to doing.

    The two bookends of the poetic narrative, i.e. how in the beginning God creates and when, on the sixth day, God creates a creature in his own image, require a little more mental dexterity. On the one hand, human beings are obviously created, just like everything else. On the other hand, human beings seem to be set apart from the rest of created things in some way deserving of the title ‘the image of God’. More specifically, something ‘godlike’ sets the human race apart from everything other thing on the face of the earth.

    The answer is ready to hand; I already touched upon it a couple of paragraphs earlier. Humanity is creative. Granted, humanity not calling stuff into existence out of thin air, but it is working with already existent natural materials in unexpected, sometimes wonderful, and at other times not-so-wonderful ways. And if the human races is responsible for all that artificial stuff that clutters the spaces we live in and the skylines we look at, a question might quite justly, one might even say naturally, be raised about who or what created all the natural stuff.

    More: http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/2013/02/introduction-to-christian-doctrine-101.html

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Richard:

      Thanks for the comments. As you can imagine, I don’t share your worldview.

      In certain respects, it is more contemporary than a neo-Darwinian evolutionary account

      I’m having a hard time seeing how an account that is not only completely wrong (compared to modern science’s take) but internally contradictory is “more contemporary.” Are you saying that its style is more appealing or it uses better metaphors or something?

      Once you step over the stumbling block of a ‘rigorous scientific methodology’

      Um … how is science a stumbling block? I guess if your goal is a preconception that the Bible is correct, science could be a nuisance, but I’m looking for reality and science is a tool that delivers, big time. The Bible … not so much.

      Calling the sky a ‘vault’, for example, and dividing waters above the sky from waters below does sound a little strange.

      That was their cosmology, taken from the Sumerians.

      It’s strange if you care about accuracy. If you don’t, then maybe not so strange.

      But from where I am standing, that’s a pretty good attempt to describe the water cycle without knowing too much about evaporation and the molecular construction of clouds.

      God knows more about the water cycle than we’ll ever know. Ignorance isn’t an effective backstop here.

      And no, this is a laughably wrong version of the water cycle. A vault separating the waters above from the waters below? “The waters above” doesn’t mean clouds, it means water.

      Tilt your head back the next time you are in an open field and look up: the sky does look like one big vault stretching from horizon to horizon to horizon.

      Granted. I have higher expectations of God than the observations of a child.

      something ‘godlike’ sets the human race apart from everything other thing on the face of the earth.

      Sure, that’s what Bronze Age people might well think. DNA analysis now shows that we’re just another mammal, quite closely related to chimpanzees and other primates. Nothing much godlike here except in people’s minds.

      • Blessed Jim

        ‘Um … how is science a stumbling block? I guess if your goal is a preconception that the Bible is correct, science could be a nuisance, but I’m looking for reality and science is a tool that delivers, big time. The Bible … not so much.’

        That right there is what convinced me to stop being a Christian. I was a liberal christian, spouting mystical, metaphorical stuff like Richard for about 50 years. Then, my wife tried to get me to join a fundamentalist church (Missouri synod Lutheran). So I read all their literature, and kept having the same stubling block time after time: the church dogma demanded that one accept the Bible stories as literal, even when I knew they just were not true. Modern science really has proven many bible stories (like Genesis) are just mythology. Not great mysterious truth, but just plain ignorant mythological stories. I just didn’t have the faith (or stomach) to accept dogma over truth.
        The Bible was written by ancient people, not a god. And those ancient people, while sincere, were very ignorant of the world around them. The only way to maintain the bible contains sacred truth is either to willfully ignore reality, or like Richard, to dress up the bible in mystical mumbo jumbo and obfuscation.

        • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

          Only so many ways you can skin a cat. Nothing mystical about what I am saying. Which was, in summary:

          The sort of mental processes involved in determining how a person ought to act with respect to X, where X might be a person, a tree, a field, or something, anything, else, are very different from the sort of mental processes involved in a scientific analysis of the composition and functionality of X.

          These two mental processes can be distinguished from each other as moral judgments are distinct from scientific judgments.

          The first chapter of Genesis is primarily a moral document, and while, I admit, it does make claims that have been disproven through scientific investigation–obviously! no one is disputing that–the methods of science don’t discredit the moral questions raised in the chapter.

          Now you may not like ‘biblical morality’, but that’s an entirely different matter.

        • Kodie

          You mean the moral question of whether it’s ok to flood the earth and drown everyone?

        • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

          My claim was that it was a moral question, rather than a scientific one.

          I made no claim about whether it was right or wrong. Or do you miss that?

        • Kodie

          The lesson is to be afraid of the whims of a god: to appease the weather-maker, one must straight-marry.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          My claim was that it was a moral question, rather than a scientific one.

          In the first place, many of your fellow Christians disagree. In the second, I kind of agree with those fellow Christians. You could shoehorn Gen. 1 into some sort of “moral document” genre, but as a simple creation myth–like so many from that part of the world at that time–it makes much more sense.

        • Blessed Jim

          “The sort of mental processes involved in determining how a person ought to act with respect to X, where X might be a person, a tree, a field, or something, anything, else, are very different from the sort of mental processes involved in a scientific analysis of the composition and functionality of X. ”

          UI must disagree. Most of the argument over environmental issues such as global climate change are caused by ignorance of the science. And that ignorance of the science is largely supported and reinforced by religious belief. In the last presidential campaign, the candidates most vocal in denying climate change were also the ones most vocal in supporting religious fundamentalism (Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, Rick Santorum). One cannot make reasonable moral judgements on how to interact with the surrounding world if one is basing those judgements on ignorance of that world. The same is true of the debate on same sex marriage. Much of the opposition is coming from people who are completely ignorant of the biology of homosexuality. So they are substituting religious superstition for facts when making decisions.

          “The first chapter of Genesis is primarily a moral document, and while, I admit, it does make claims that have been disproven through scientific investigation–obviously! no one is disputing that”

          While you personally might see it that way, that is not the belief of milions of fundamentalists and evangelicals in the US. The endless push to get creationism and intelligent design (creationism in a cheap tuxedo) taught in public school is a direct consequence of Christians believing Genesis is literally true.

  • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca Richard Greydanus

    Hello Bob,

    Thanks for you response. It’s a bit evasive. My argument essentially re-positioned the argument by making the claim the judgments made in the biblical texts are moral judgments, about how we ought to relate to the things of the world. For whatever reason, you have to draw this back into an argument about scientific accuracy. To which all a person can say is that it is not written in the language of scientific accuracy, but moral relations. (And I don’t have a worldview; I abhor the suggestion. I don’t have a worldview; I have a view of the room I am presently in, which is much less than the world.)

    Please do not play the atheist evangelical and presume that non-scientific texts ought to be read with a scientific literalism. The water above the sky is very easily interpret as rain clouds. Read Genesis 7:6-7, which talks about the floodgates of heaven opening.

    Why hold up all the scientific inaccuracies when the text doesn’t purport to be a scientific text, but a moral one?

    If you can distinguish between artificial things human beings have created and natural things, like human beings themselves, then you have a place to begin a conversation.

    rich

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Richard:

      Thanks for you response. It’s a bit evasive.

      Hmm. Not the response that I expected. I thought I very unambiguously outlined reasons why I think your thinking is wrong.

      For whatever reason, you have to draw this back into an argument about scientific accuracy.

      For the (I thought) obvious reason that science is our doorway to reality.

      Am I missing something? Is there another avenue to understanding reality that is as reliable?

      Or are we not talking about reality?

      The water above the sky is very easily interpret as rain clouds.

      Let me suggest instead that you first learn why scholars say that the Genesis cosmology was taken from the Sumerians. And then you can see if rain clouds make more sense.

      The link I gave you gives more information.

      Why hold up all the scientific inaccuracies when the text doesn’t purport to be a scientific text, but a moral one?

      There are no claims about creation and cosmology in Genesis?

      • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

        I responded to the Blessed Jim, and the comments are pertinent here as well.

        Indeed, the methods of scientific investigation are a doorway to the nature of reality. The difficulty, as I see it, is that the methods of scientific investigation don’t tell me what to do with the knowledge I gain. For example, what does knowledge of the laws of gravity tell me about whether it is right or wrong to throw a person from the 42 floor? Or, what does knowledge of nuclear fission tell me about whether it is appropriate to drop a nuclear bomb on a heavily populated area? Absolutely nothing.

        Now you might claim that other sciences, for example, like biology, from which I hear a lot of interesting stuff about biological altruism, will yield answers to these moral questions. Not likely. The thing studied doesn’t match up with the answers needed.What about other ‘sciences ‘like the science of sociology, what about political science? None of these yield the sort of exacting knowledge required to make a decision, let alone a moral decision.

        To your final question: of course there are cosmological claims made in Genesis. Never suggested otherwise.

        My final question: are you suggesting scientific knowledge can settle, definitively, moral disputes?

        • Bob Jase

          “My final question: are you suggesting scientific knowledge can settle, definitively, moral disputes?”

          Scientific knowledge of how socio-biological behaviors develope to increase the liklihood of survival of organisms have been pretty well demonstrated.

          Its at least as good as genocide followed by rape & slavery justified by “god said to do it” as far as morality goes, probably better.

        • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

          You apparently misunderstood the nature of the question. I’m wondering with it was a willful misunderstanding or a genuine confusion of terms.

          The moral question arises when a person must make a decision to act. Knowledge garnered through scientific investigation is always, everywhere a-moral. You, the person, still have to decide how to use it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          Our morality is easily explained as a combination of instinct and cultural influences. I agree that one doesn’t appeal to laws of physics to settle moral questions, but so what? Do you imagine that you must appeal to some sort of supernatural source?

        • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

          My last response to Liz (right now at the bottom of the page) will have to suffice as a response to this query as well.

          Though I also invite you to take a look at the extending version of an introduction to Christianity that I posted earlier:

          Where does one begin? Well, begin in the beginning. If we are going to start giving an account of what Christianity is, we might open the Bible to the first chapter of the first book, which would be the well-trod and oft-maligned ways of Genesis 1. Here we encounter our first major difficulty. The Bible itself doesn’t begin with the first words or the first pages in the volume we call the Bible. It can’t. The text itself is quite inanimate; which is to say, lifeless. It’s not going anywhere or doing anything. I would argue, in fact, the writers of Genesis 1 recognized a book could never begin with a book: not the Bible, not a history of the Judeo-Christian tradition, nor even a riveting novel by Robert Ludlum. Other examples could be offered, but I won’t labour the point. Every book ever written has to begin with you, or with someone like you, the reader. And more specifically, not with you, the reader, as an object of study; but with you, the reader, reading…reading anything you want, though here we should read the beginning of the Bible.

          More: http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/2013/02/introduction-to-christian-doctrine-101.html

          And if you are really interested, I have also tried to answer Richard Dawkins’ question, What do theologians study? here: http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/2013/01/answering-dawkins-question-what-do.html

        • Blessed Jim

          “My final question: are you suggesting scientific knowledge can settle, definitively, moral disputes?”

          I would say not necessarily, but accurate information make it more likely to find a reasonable solution to moral disputes. And inaccurate information is a hinderance to any reasonable solution.

          “Or, what does knowledge of nuclear fission tell me about whether it is appropriate to drop a nuclear bomb on a heavily populated area? Absolutely nothing.”

          If what you say is true, why do we bomb Iraq and Afganistan with conventional explosives rather than nuclear weapons? Are you saying that military policy can be made without knowledge of the effects of the weapons being used? You don’t need to know about fallout, or radioactive halflife, or the difference in alpha, beta and gamma emission, or the biological effect of the different isotopes produced in a nuclear weapon? Does the Bible give any guidance on when it is appropriate to used an neutron bomb or TNT explosives?

          What about the current debate about banning or registering assault weapons in the US? Do you think that any one can make an informed decision on this subject if they do not know the difference between an assault rifle and a single shot hunting rifle? Or how pistols differ from rifles? Does the Bible give you any guidance on proper gun safety?

          Also, as Bob pointed out, you really need to learn something about ancient astronomy before you claim that the water above refers to clouds. It doesn’t. You have to understand Babylonian astronomy: They believed that the earth was flat, the sky went up a few miles, and a clear crystal dome covered the sky. Above the dome was an infinite ocean. And beneath the flat earth was the same infinite ocean. So in story of Noah, when god opened a window in heaven to let in the water? Well the ancients actually believed that is how it was done: open a window above the sky and ocean poured in. And the fountains of the deep? If you poked a deep enough hole in the ground the water from the ocean under the flat earth would squirt out.

          Those bible passages were not some deep poetic statement, they were just ignorance.Such ignorance is excusable for the original authors. But believing such stories today is not excusable because we know better.

  • DrewL

    Christianity has weathered Galileo, evolution, and the 14-billion-year-old universe. It shrugs off the Problem of Evil and the Bible’s sanction of slavery and genocide. What negative evidence could sink Christianity? Probably not even clear evidence that Jesus was just a myth. A religion operating on faith after the generation of the founders is like an arch that stays up after the scaffolding is removed.

    …let’s not discount the possibility your well-reasoned blog posts finally bring the whole thing crashing down.

    I think the deeper question really is: if 2.1 billion people believe in Christianity despite your list of things here, is it more likely that a) 2.1 billion in the world are just incredibly stupid, or b) you have never adequately grasped what the Christian experience of reality really is.

    Keep in mind if you choose option a) then nearly everyone who originated the “scientific” and “rationalistic” approach you hold sacred was also incredibly stupid. Newton, Locke, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, the first guy to propose the Big Bang…you should probably steer yourself away from everything those evidence-hating idiots believed in.

    • Kodie

      The Christian experience of reality is warped. It’s a neurosis. I get this from how impressed Christians are with their experience and how unimpressive it sounds. It is a brainwashed cult to be blunt.

      So not necessarily stupid about everything – some people are better at compartmentalizing their beliefs. But look at Richard rationalize so hard. That’s like watching a puppy that can’t figure out why there’s another puppy in the mirror.

      You try so hard though! What kind of prize do you want?

      • DrewL

        Option A then. Well I hope that’s fun for you.

        • Kodie

          You are telling me that Christians have a special true feeling about their true truth and the whole problem is they’re deficient at explaining it to others? It’s a neurosis. It’s a pack identity, and we understand how that works and how that feels. It is not a special rush, it is not radio transmission from the heavens. It’s a neurosis. Or a delusion. For instance, you think you’re setting up a trap, but you’re not as smart as you think you are. There are intelligent people who are religious, because people aren’t perfect. But being religious is not intelligent, despite that you desperately want to be validated, begging Bob every day to give you attention for being a brat.

          You are delusional.

        • DrewL

          …begging Bob every day to give you attention for being a brat.

          Outstanding response. You recycle hundred-year-old Freudian theory (which is no longer taken seriously in any intellectual circles) and end with such civility. Truly Comment of the Year material here.

        • Kodie

          You don’t serve any other purpose though. Entertaining, you aren’t. Knowledgeable? You appear to read only books that support your conclusions. Is Bob wrong? Sometimes, but you never really catch him, your accuracy is off. What do you think you’re accomplishing?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Truly Comment of the Year material here.

          And that’s coming from someone who’s made many runners-up, so he oughta know!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      drewl:

      you have never adequately grasped what the Christian experience of reality really is.

      I think you want to refer to religion (or superstition or spirituality or other variants) rather than just Christianity. That there are many religions and most religious people think that the Christians have it wrong means that your “Yeah, but we’re number one!” doesn’t hold much water.

      Newton, Locke, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, the first guy to propose the Big Bang

      Christianity was pretty much the only game in town. I’d say that they did their marvelous work in spite of Christianity, not because of it.

      • DrewL

        Christianity was pretty much the only game in town. I’d say that they did their marvelous work in spite of Christianity, not because of it.

        I can envision someone arguing Dawkins, Hawking, and Sagan made their contributions in spite of their atheism.

        Sounds absurd? Maybe because it’s not so much an empirical argument as much as personal (unscientific, unverified) bias against a belief system they don’t agree with. That’s not how I prefer to approach things, do you?

        Note for those following along at home: I’ve pointed out to Bob several times that historians have completely rejected the science-and-religion conflict thesis (go read about it on Wikipedia). Bob has carved out an anti-intellectual stance here: scholarly work contradicts his personal beliefs and biases, so he sticks with dogmatic assumptions over the relevant scholarly work. It’s quite similar to how creationists deal with scientific consensus they don’t like: just pretend it doesn’t exist.

        • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

          One thing you can say about Bob is that he knows how to get a conversation going.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          historians have completely rejected the science-and-religion conflict thesis

          Cool. Educate us. Give us a summary.

          For some people, the Bible’s claim that prayer delivers conflicts with science.

          For some people, evidence actually does matter (contrast that with Wm. Craig who thinks that it doesn’t much matter).

          But, God knows, drewl is not “some people.”

        • DrewL

          Educate us. Give us a summary.

          Sure, let me share a website I and a few friends contribute to:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_thesis

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Thanks for the link.

          What do you think of NOMA?

          I notice also that your focus is on historians of science. What do theologians say? What do scientists say?

          And tell us how you resolve the apparent conflict–fundamentalists rejecting evolution, and so on.

        • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

          Most theologians outside the USA, and quite a few inside, dig NOMA.

          (Back to work…)

        • DrewL

          NOMA was rejected by everyone, haven’t we discussed this before? Any historian who walks into a conference trying to argue that something like that took place in history would be labeled delusional.

          I don’t read scientists on history. If I did that, I might as well let bible college graduates tell me what to think about evolution. No thanks, I’ll stick with the experts.

          “Theologians” as a general category cite the same historians cited in Wikipedia. That’s how scholarly research works: you cite people who are the experts in their fields. This is why Hitchens isn’t taken seriously outside of a very small bubble–he’s a terrible scholar who ignores previous work on issues he writes about.

          Fundamentalists rejecting evolution: yep it happens. But perhaps the number one mistake New Atheists make is presuming White, Modernistic, Western American Fundamentalism=Christianity, or worse and more common: Fundamentalism of my childhood=All Religion Everywhere. I think I’ll stick with the more historical perspective: Muslim and Christian thinkers (along with some pretty darn religious Greek thinker) gave us nearly all foundational elements of modern “rational” thought. I’m not sure the 80-year existence of the modern Christian fundamentalist movement is even a blip on the radar of this historical trajectory.

          It can be a challenge to escape one’s immediate context to take a wider historical view, but this is why we pay the historians, who are telling us: conflict thesis=not empirically supported.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          NOMA was rejected by everyone, haven’t we discussed this before?

          If you say so. I guess what you say has never seemed worth remembering.

          NOMA is one way to reject any idea of conflict. Since you’re rejecting the idea of conflict, I thought it might be relevant. My bad.

          I don’t read scientists on history.

          That’s nice. You might read them for science though. If I understand your point, science is one of the topics under discussion here.

          Fundamentalists rejecting evolution: yep it happens.

          So some Christians see a science/religion conflict. OK, makes sense. That’s certainly been what I’ve observed.

          But perhaps the number one mistake New Atheists make is presuming White, Modernistic, Western American Fundamentalism= … All Religion Everywhere.

          I see that that’s a problem. I don’t see that being widespread within atheism. (I’m not sure what “New Atheists” means to you.)

          It can be a challenge to escape one’s immediate context to take a wider historical view, but this is why we pay the historians, who are telling us: conflict thesis=not empirically supported.

          Is the conflict thesis relevant? We’ve already agreed that there are Christians today who see a science/religion conflict.

        • DrewL

          You’re not really getting it.

          Historians agree religion and science have not fundamentally been in conflict throughout history.

          You seem to a) deny that new atheism has a problem conflating American fundamentalism to represent all of religion, while also b) want to dismiss (or at least downplay) the work of historians on this issue because you seem to conflate American fundamentalism to represent all of religion.

          It’s amusing. But it’s poor logic.

          Let’s remember why we’re talking about this: you think the great thinkers of Western tradition made contributions in spite of their Christianity. I pointed out this was solely based upon your own personal biases (unscientific prejudices) against people who hold different beliefs than you, and you have no empirical evidence or scholarly research to back you up on this. You seemed to spin the conversation away from that point rather than respond.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          drewl:

          Historians agree religion and science have not fundamentally been in conflict throughout history.

          And since we have millions of Christians who act as if they do, I’m trying to see why your point is interesting. The reality of voters out there causing mayhem is what strips my gears. That strikes me as interesting.

          deny that new atheism has a problem conflating American fundamentalism to represent all of religion,

          A high quality poll could answer this question for us. I haven’t seen such a poll. Citation, please.

          want to dismiss (or at least downplay) the work of historians on this issue because you seem to conflate American fundamentalism to represent all of religion.

          You say that historians reject the conflict thesis. Sounds good to me.

          What do we conclude from this? That Christians actually aren’t denying science because they feel that science encroaches on their religion?

          Ya gotta hand it to the Creationists–they do great Machiavellian work in spreading disinformation. A minority of Americans accept evolution or want it taught (solely) in public school classrooms.

          you think the great thinkers of Western tradition made contributions in spite of their Christianity.

          And you think what? That they did it because of their Christianity?

          In support of your position, many university positions were there because the university was supported by the church. So that science was because of Christianity. In that sense, I agree with you. But perhaps you mean it in a broader way.

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

          Bob,
          I think you’re missing DrewL’s point. His point is not that there can never be any conflict between science and religion, but that any such conflict is not implicit in the nature of either science or religion.

          It seems that atheism has its own myths that need to be debunked before tearing down the idols in other’s houses.

        • DrewL

          Karl provides good clarification here, but Bob, you do have fair reason to both accept the historians’ rejection of the conflict thesis AND fret about creationists taking control of educational institutions in our country. So I can see what you’re arguing here.

          However, the problem becomes that you think you’re running a blog about the debunking arguments in “Christian apologetics” when you’re actually just problematizing fundamentalist approaches to science and scripture. How many of your posts attack very anti-scholarly literal readings of Scripture or approaches to science that simply aren’t respected by anyone outside of the American fundamentalist movement? I’d say nearly all of them. I’ve noticed Christianity to you is not MLK Jr, Dostoevsky, Pope John Paul, Reinhold Niebuhr, John Locke, Jonathan Edwards, or any of the early Enlightenment thinkers. It seems to be more William Lane Craig, Pat Robertson, and terrible Bible commentators you probably read on websites designed during the Clinton era. The fact that Newton, Bacon, Galileo, and the guy who first proposed the Big Bang were all people of faith is a direct threat to the caricature of faith you’re stringing together here; that explains your complex mental gymnastics to explain how they contributed to science and knowledge from a belief system that you say is anti-science/knowledge.

          I’d suggest you save yourself from these mental gymnastics by focusing on your true enemy: strands of anti-intellectualism or anti-science that are within modern American Christianity. I’d probably join you in that endeavor. You’d have to leave your revered Hitchens, Dawkins, and any of the “religion poisons everything” crowd behind, which I know might be tough for you, but think about what you’d gain in casting off their authority: no more anti-intellectual positions on logical positivism, scientism, the conflict thesis, or recycled Freudian theory. In other words, you’d be taken seriously beyond the easily-pleased “me too!” crowd of people still angry at the churches of their childhood.

          So there’s something to think about: why not narrow your target a bit, since you were never really challenging Christianity (or religion as a whole) in the first place? If you don’t think New Atheism conflates American fundamentalism to represent all of Christianity and religion, then please, help them see the distinction by making it more explicit in your own blog. I’m sure you’d still get just as much satisfaction in being intellectually superior to a specific population.

          AND you wouldn’t have to deal with people like me pointing out your unempirical generalizations to Christianity and religion as a whole. American fundamentalists are anti-science, you say? Sounds accurate to me: they say it in survey responses all the time. See, we’d be great buddies in this world! You should consider the possibilities here!

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          I think you’re missing DrewL’s point. His point is not that there can never be any conflict between science and religion, but that any such conflict is not implicit in the nature of either science or religion.

          OK, thanks for your input.

          Drewl says that there’s no implicit conflict, and yet we still have the problem in which Christianity makes testable claims that are tested and found wanting … and yet Christianity continues on like a zombie.

          To which Drewl will say that we’re talking honest-to-God historians saying this. To which I respond, that’s nice, but we still have the clash apparent in the news every couple of days.

          An irrelevant analogy comes to mind. At the end of the movie Animal House (the end of the parade), there’s an ROTC guy who says, “Stay calm! All is well!” The movie cuts back to him several times, and we see him getting more and more freaked out by the chaos. Somehow he seems a bit like Drewl in this case. “Historians say this! All is well!” he says, and yet around him are televangelists pretending to cast hurricanes out into the ocean and citizens voting to teach Creationism in public schools.

          It seems that atheism has its own myths that need to be debunked before tearing down the idols in other’s houses.

          I’m not sure what I believe in that’s a myth.

        • DrewL

          …wow, I feel like I’m reading a creationist science book here.

          Crazy scholars and experts with their “research” and “peer-review process”…what do those idiots know?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          How many of your posts attack very anti-scholarly literal readings of Scripture or approaches to science that simply aren’t respected by anyone outside of the American fundamentalist movement?

          Some, certainly. But let me make sure I hear what you’re saying. I think you’re congratulating me for reining in some fundamentalist nonsense and spreading a little common sense. Indeed–for doing much more of this heavy lifting than you’ve done at your own blog.

          You’re welcome! I’ll admit that a little appreciation does make it all worthwhile.

          But correct me if this wasn’t your point.

          Christianity to you is not MLK Jr, Dostoevsky, Pope John Paul…

          You think that every Christian in your list would be happy with 99% of my posts? OK. I seriously doubt it, but whatever. I can’t solve all problems all at once, nice thought it might be to imagine such a thing.

          Newton, Bacon, Galileo, and the guy who first proposed the Big Bang were all people of faith is a direct threat to the caricature of faith you’re stringing together here

          Oh? You’re batting 1000 in summarizing my position, so tell me about this “caricature” of people of faith. What do I say about them?

          strands of anti-intellectualism or anti-science that are within modern American Christianity.

          I’d point to the many posts that do this, but then you’d simply disagree, so no point in bothering.

          I’d probably join you in that endeavor.

          No, I’m good, thanks.

          You’d have to leave your revered Hitchens, Dawkins, and any of the “religion poisons everything” crowd behind, which I know might be tough for you, but think about what you’d gain in casting off their authority

          You know me far too well! Golly, it’s like we’re roommates. You know as well as I do that I can’t leave the New Atheism faith, Pope Richard, Cardinal Christopher, and so on.

          I’m sure you’d still get just as much satisfaction in being intellectually superior to a specific population.

          Yeah. As long as I can find some population to pretend to be smarter than, I’m happy.

          AND you wouldn’t have to deal with people like me pointing out your unempirical generalizations to Christianity and religion as a whole.

          Just as Jesus said that there’d always be poor people, there will always be pompous idiots on the internet who like to whine about blog posts without actually providing, y’know, actual errors in them. It just comes with the territory.

          But thanks for your concern.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          Crazy scholars and experts with their “research” and “peer-review process”…what do those idiots know?

          … or, you could actually respond to the point I’m making.

        • DrewL

          Sounds like you’re sticking to your guns on your anti-intellectualism. You’ll have to take up your dissent with the historians then, or really anyone who operates with a larger and more accurate view of religion and thereby sees how parochial your criticisms are.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          You’ll have to take up your dissent with the historians then, or really anyone who operates with a larger and more accurate view of religion and thereby sees how parochial your criticisms are.

          Oh? And what are my criticisms?

        • DrewL

          It seems you believe the historians are simply unaware of the “televangelists pretending to cast hurricanes out into the ocean and citizens voting to teach Creationism in public schools.” Feel free to correct me here, but it seems that for you, these instances seem to be sufficient evidence for you to accept the conflict thesis even if this puts you in opposition with all scholarly opinion on the subject. I’m thinking specifically of your “those guys made contributions in spite of their faith!” argument, which historians would get a good chuckle out of.

          Feel free to clarify your anti-intellectual justifications. Maybe after your “Why MLK Jr. Was Wrong About Segregation Being (Objectively) Wrong” post you can do one on “Why Historians Are Just Idiots When it Comes to History.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          It seems you believe the historians are simply unaware of the “televangelists …

          I don’t care about the historians. I don’t care about the conflict thesis. Has that not come through clearly enough? That historians reject the conflict thesis is nice but does nothing to address the actual problem at hand: nutty fundamentalists (who do think that there’s a conflict) causing trouble in society today.

          Feel free to correct me here, but it seems that for you, these instances seem to be sufficient evidence for you to accept the conflict thesis even if this puts you in opposition with all scholarly opinion on the subject.

          Consider yourself corrected. You’re wrong again.

          Feel free to clarify your anti-intellectual justifications.

          Heck–what other kinds do I have?

        • DrewL

          That historians reject the conflict thesis is nice but does nothing to address the actual problem at hand: nutty fundamentalists (who do think that there’s a conflict) causing trouble in society today.

          I’m seeing this argument from you right now, which I’ll violently paraphrase: Religion and science are innately in conflict BECAUSE fundamentalism and science are in conflict.

          Weren’t we just discussing the danger in conflating fundamentalism with all religion? Yet if your blog is intended to solely critique “nutty fundamentalists” getting worked up about hurricanes, I can’t understand why it:

          Appears on the “Atheist” channel (not a political channel or an “I hate uneducated White Southerners” channel)

          Routinely makes arguments framed as criticizing “all religions” or faith as a whole

          Routinely genuflects to (and memorializes/canonizes) thinkers who make arguments against all religions.

          Routinely ends even your most specifically targeted attacks on fundamentalist belief with a quote against religion as a whole.

          Struggles to recognize the very parochial power and influence fundamentalist thinkers have–you cite “Christian” thinkers I’ve never even heard of.

          …And most of all, has never acknowledged the many voices in Christianity and even American Protestantism that have been making the exact critiques you have, only with much more scholarly sophistication, for the past half century. Wouldn’t these people be your natural allies? And powerful ones, since they have far more credibility with your target population than you ever will?

          I guess what I’m trying to say is, I think you have a conflation problem, and I think it’s become most obvious in this discussion, as you try to account for religion and science not being fundamentally at odds.

          Maybe there’s a support group for this type of thing?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          I’m seeing this argument from you right now, which I’ll violently paraphrase

          Why not just quote? It’s just no fun to get my position accurately?

          You argue that historians see no conflict between science and religion. Yeah, got it. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Group hug. Feeling better now?

          Some fundamentalists do see a conflict. They don’t give a damn about historians; they’re irrelevant. And these fundamentalists are the interesting thing to talk about.

          Weren’t we just discussing the danger in conflating fundamentalism with all religion?

          I dunno. If it came from you I might’ve missed it. I’ve never said that Christian fundamentalism = all religion.

          I can’t understand why it: Appears on the “Atheist” channel

          And I can’t understand why you hang out here. Just sharin’ that Christian love?

          you cite “Christian” thinkers I’ve never even heard of.

          I thought you were the one who embraced learning new things. Am I supposed to apologize or something?

          has never acknowledged the many voices in Christianity and even American Protestantism that have been making the exact critiques you have, only with much more scholarly sophistication, for the past half century.

          I come across something new, learn about it, and then share it with the world through this blog. I spend 5 to 15 hours per blog post. To me, that’s a huge investment of time. The best I can hope for is to give a decently accurate post that will provoke thought and (perhaps) educate people about things they didn’t know. It’ll obviously be incomplete.

          In general, I’m eager to hear what readers think and what suggestions they have for improvement. You’re an exception–you’re obviously here just to antagonize. I don’t care if my goals please you or not.

    • Reverend Robbie

      DrewL, come on. You know when you’re making a false dichotomy. Mistaken does not = incredibly stupid. More people throughout history have not believed in Judaism or Christianity than have believed in Judaism or Christianity. By your reasoning, what should we conclude based on that?

  • Greg G

    2.1 billion people vaguely agree that they are Christian but there 40,000 different denominations so most of them are wrong. There’s another 5 billion people who think it’s completely wrong. Since the theists of the world have conflicting ideas, either almost every one of them is wrong on that subject or we can drop the “almost” qualifier. Since they all agree that all the others are wrong, I agree with each.

    I wouldn’t say they are all stupid as they usually have fantastically elaborate contrivances to support their wrongness.

    • JohnH

      “2.1 billion people vaguely agree that they are Christian but there 40,000 different denominations so most of them are wrong. ”
      Ah, but Christians are nowhere near distributed evenly amongst those 40,000 denominations (a majority of which should probably not be termed denominations as they are part of a large convention or communion). In fact if one restricted oneself to only to the Roman Catholic then one has already reached 1.1 billion, and if one restircts oneself to solely those such as the Old Church Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Church of England, and others that the Catholic recognize as being valid their ordinances and able to take communion with the Catholics then one has already gotten a very high percentage of that 2.1 billion people.

      Also, of those 5 Billion people elsewise 1.7 billion are Muslim who consider Christians as the people of the book and not actually wrong, nearly 1 billion are Hindu who aren’t completely opposed to the idea of Christ possibly being an incarnation of Vishnu or perhaps a minor deity sent to enlighten the non-hindu, And some percentage of the rest are not exclusive in their religious claims such that one could be, say, Shinto and Christian without major difficulties from the perspective of the Shinto. Indeed if one looks just at those groups that think it possible they are worshiping the same God then there are at least 5 Billion people that consider themselves to worship the same God as the Christians (or Jews) to some greater or lesser extent.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        John:

        Show me a group of people who agree that everyone else in the group are “Christians.” Your argument is strongest when you start with Roman Catholics, but it kind of fizzles out after that.

        Imagining Shintoists saying, “Oh yeah, the Catholics are totally Christian, just like me,” and the Lutherans saying, “Oh yeah, the Shintoists are totally Christian, just like me,” and so on doesn’t work IMO.

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

          What percentage of the world’s population would agree that the universe was created by an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, supernatural being? (ie what percentage are theists?)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John was talking about Christians.

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

          Greg G said:

          2.1 billion people vaguely agree that they are Christian but there 40,000 different denominations so most of them are wrong. There’s another 5 billion people who think it’s completely wrong. Since the theists of the world have conflicting ideas, either almost every one of them is wrong on that subject or we can drop the “almost” qualifier. Since they all agree that all the others are wrong, I agree with each.

          My point is that all the theists in the world agree with the statement I made previously. By a rough estimate, they make up over 50% of the world’s population.

          Now you can argue that they disagree about other things, but atheists do too.

          Should we play the “Which atheists are right?” game. There are plenty of divisions there too. We can also say, since atheism is so divided, and almost all atheists thing other atheists are wrong about something, why not just be done with it and assume they’re completely wrong about the whole deal?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Karl:

          My point is that all the theists in the world agree with the statement I made previously. By a rough estimate, they make up over 50% of the world’s population.

          I can accept that. Is that all you’re saying? Does something follow from this?

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

          I can accept that. Is that all you’re saying? Does something follow from this?

          Yes. I wrote it in the post above.

  • Greg G

    Richard

    The Old Testament has many clear prophecies that David’s seed would always be on the throne.

    .1 KINGS 2:1-4; PSALM 132:11; 1 KINGS 8:25; 2 CHRONICLES 6:16; 1 KINGS 6:11-12; 1 KINGS 9:2-7; 1 CHRONICLES 28:6.

    When the prophecies failed miserably, it was blamed on the conditions God placed about maintaining the Covenant. But later when the people were again following it, God wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain.

    So they started looking for more prophecies. The best they could do was to cherry pick verses out of context to come up with a prophecy of a Messiah who would make things right.

    After many generations of futile waiting, some kept searching for more hidden prophecy. They began to see verses about suffering and came up with the idea that the Messiah had come in the undefined mythic past. These writings are the Epistles of the New Testament. They never talk about a ministry, deeds, sayings, or anything that indicates the early first century. They talk a lot about the crucifixion but never give details about it. The authors’ ideas conflict as if each was making it up as they went along.

    Mark doesn’t help as nearly every passage can be traced to literature of the day and not oral tradition. The other three gospels had to rely on Mark’s fictional accounts for the bulk of their stories.

    There’s no contemporary evidence for Jesus and the extra biblical evidence only tells us that there were people who thought there was a Jesus but were in no position to know.

    Psalm 132:11-12 says that God will not revoke his promise with a big “if” in verse 12. Christianity goes further in Hebrews 8:7 by saying the old covenant was faulty or there wouldn’t have to be a new covenant. Why would an omniscient god make a promise on a faulty condition he knew couldn’t and wouldn’t be kept?

    • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

      Who is this addressed to? Me?

  • ctcss

    Bob

    I have looked at a number of the prayer studies, including the Templeton study, and IMO have not found them to be persuasive indictments of the ineffectiveness of prayer at all. (I pretty much disagree with everything they did, but it was their study to run, not mine. But then, I would never run a study on prayer in the first place.) But one thing should be noted here that no one ever seems to bring up. “Prayer”, as a generic term, has not been “proven” to have been ineffective by these studies. Rather, an experiment designer’s specific concept of what might constitute a testable form of prayer has been been examined under controlled conditions. It is those specific concepts of prayer and prayer conditions, and those concepts alone, that have been tested and have seemed to have had less than stellar results. And even there, I personally would not characterize the results as a failure. Rather, I would characterize them as inconclusive.

    But even more of a problem for me (and what should have been a problem for any publisher of the studies) was the huge gaping hole in the experiment’s design. Consider the following. Instead of prayer, imagine a drug to have been tested instead. A study of that sort usually consists of a test group receiving the drug, a control group receiving a placebo, and sometimes even a group receiving nothing at all. Of course, each group receiving the drug or the placebo have no idea of what they are receiving. But the main focus of the test is to see what will happen when the active agent (the new drug) is applied to the test group. But now suppose (in an incredible lapse of judgement) that the experiment’s designer had provided no way to tell where, or when, or if, the new drug (the active agent) had been applied to individuals in the test group. So during the study, the members of each group would be carefully monitored to see how they were faring, but the group supposedly receiving the active agent might or might not have actually been given it. Thus the whole experiment would be a waste of time because the data being collected would not reflect the proposed test conditions.

    Of course, a drug study this badly designed should never have even gotten off of the ground. And that is the problem with the prayer studies. The designer of the study has provided no guarantee that the active agent (God) has actually been applied in the study. All of the participants in the study (patients, doctors, nurses, pray-ers, etc.) have explicitly signed off as agreeing to be participants in the study. Every participant has signed off except for the most important one. And whether or not one believes in God, the design of the study should account for all of the participants, procedures, and items being used in the study and how they will utilized. If God has not explicitly agreed to participate in a way that everyone (including non-believers) can have confidence in, then the study is just as worthless as the badly designed drug study just described. (And no, Bible verses do not constitute proof of an agreement. Remember, everyone has to agree that they are convinced that God will be consistently participating in the prayer study, just as everyone needs to agree that they are convinced that the new drug is being consistently applied to the test group in the drug study described above, otherwise the study will be worthless. And personally, I do not see any way for people to reach such an agreement.)

    So does this mean that a person can never rely on God? Personally, I wouldn’t say so. I rely on (what I believe to be) God all the time, but never in the context of a controlled lab experiment. My goal is very different. I am not trying to test God, or even to test for God’s existence but rather, to try to grow in my understanding of God. In other words, I regard God as being in charge of me, not me as being in charge of God. I am seeking to have God inform me of things that are important to God. I am not trying to inform God of things that I consider to be important to me. That, to me, is a major difference.

    But as to your point in this post, after reading your last blog entry, I felt I needed to honestly consider what might change my beliefs about my trust in God and I finally came up with something (although impossible to accomplish) that might do the trick for me. Basically it’s this. I would need a time machine to revisit all of the events that I know of in modern history related to my own religious upbringing (in other words, things that very few others in the world know of, but which I personally consider to be important to my trust in God) where prayer was engaged to help solve a problematic situation, and then, somehow, remove prayer from the equation (with all else staying the same) to see whether or not the outcome would have been the same. If, in all instances, the results were identical or nearly identical to what actually happened, that might convince me that my trust in God had been misplaced. But based on a lifetime of experience, I don’t think the results would be the same, because it would require far too much co-incidence in some instances, and in others, some highly unlikely lack of action on the part of the people involved.

    Basically, I don’t have trust in prayer to God because I was told to do so. I trust it because I have found (over time) the use of it to have been proven reasonably trustworthy in my life. I am basing my continued trust in God on personal experience (empiricism), in other words, rather than blind faith. It’s not a study that I have done in a lab. It’s simply something I am doing with my life.

    My 2 cents.

    • avalon

      Hi ctcss,
      In a way, I agree with you. I think this study used the wrong branch of science. Rather than looking for objective changes in the external world, a prayer study should focus on internal changes in the subject; what you call “personal experience”. This is an area for psychology, not physics.
      avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      ctcss:

      But then, I would never run a study on prayer in the first place.

      Why not? It’s easy to look in the NT and find claims of prayer that are begging to be tested.

      “Prayer”, as a generic term, has not been “proven” to have been ineffective by these studies.

      Well, certainly not “proven,” but the failure of the tests is strong evidence that the bold NT claims are false.

      I would characterize them as inconclusive.

      The NT makes claims about prayer that do not stand up under testing. Sounds pretty open-and-shut to me.

      The designer of the study has provided no guarantee that the active agent (God) has actually been applied in the study.

      And the NT makes clear that this isn’t a worry. God’s got your back. It’s not like he’d be off watching TV or something.

      And no, Bible verses do not constitute proof of an agreement.

      You’re saying that verses can’t be put together to make a very strong case that God answers prayers?

      Your argument would be stronger IMO if you said that God, as a being with intelligence, doesn’t necessarily act like a chemical would. He might have all kinds of motivations to anticipate the study and not participate. Of course, then you need to explain why this would be the case (besides simply saving your hypothesis) when you get no clue of it from the NT.

      although impossible to accomplish

      Yes, your faith is pretty impervious to evidence! (Is that a good thing?)

      You’re probably aware of other Christians’ paths for leaving the faith–the problem of evil was a big issue for Bart Ehrman, for example. Are none of those impossible for you?

      I don’t have trust in prayer to God because I was told to do so. I trust it because I have found (over time) the use of it to have been proven reasonably trustworthy in my life.

      I can see how you could convince yourself of this, but again we must go back to the claims for prayer in the NT. Isn’t prayer pretty much a sure thing?

      • ctcss

        @ Bob

        “Why not? It’s easy to look in the NT and find claims of prayer that are begging to be tested.”

        You are referring to a shallow take on Christian theology. As an example, Mark took the trouble to point out that when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from death, he said “Talitha cumi” which he then pointed out simply meant “Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.” I dare anyone to say either of these phrases to see whether or not they would work to raise someone from the dead. The point is, Jesus was simply saying regular words. There was nothing special about the words at all. Something else entirely was going on there in order to cause the girl to revive. I don’t think that Jesus had a shallow take at all on the theology which he was exemplifying.

        “Well, certainly not “proven,” but the failure of the tests is strong evidence that the bold NT claims are false.”

        Shallow understanding is almost always going to be found to be inadequate.

        “The NT makes claims about prayer that do not stand up under testing. Sounds pretty open-and-shut to me.”

        Once again, a snap judgement on a shallow take. Yawn.

        “And the NT makes clear that this isn’t a worry. God’s got your back. It’s not like he’d be off watching TV or something.”

        Once again, a shallow take. (You do realize that some people actually approach this subject in a deeper way, don’t you?)

        “You’re saying that verses can’t be put together to make a very strong case that God answers prayers?”

        I’m trying to point out that speaking words is not the same as praying. See my example from Mark above.

        “Your argument would be stronger IMO if you said that God, as a being with intelligence, doesn’t necessarily act like a chemical would. He might have all kinds of motivations to anticipate the study and not participate. Of course, then you need to explain why this would be the case (besides simply saving your hypothesis) when you get no clue of it from the NT.”

        A helpful comment. Thank you. But as to no clue in the NT, consider Acts 19:13-16. Or consider Mark 9:14-29. Once again, you seem to be hewing to a very shallow notion of what prayer is all about.

        “Yes, your faith is pretty impervious to evidence! (Is that a good thing?)”

        No, my faith (trust) is based on the experience and evidence that I have encountered in my life.

        “You’re probably aware of other Christians’ paths for leaving the faith–the problem of evil was a big issue for Bart Ehrman, for example. Are none of those impossible for you?”

        You seem to think that I might not have thoroughly thought through any of my positions. Why are you so fixated on people with shallow notions regarding faith? As far as I can tell, my take on faith is not at all shallow. And no, Ehrman’s reason for leaving his faith do nothing for me. I feel that he made a mistake.

        “I can see how you could convince yourself of this, but again we must go back to the claims for prayer in the NT. Isn’t prayer pretty much a sure thing?”

        Actually, no it isn’t. Once again, you seem to be talking about a rather shallow take on such things.

        • Kodie

          My favorite is that atheists don’t have any way of knowing how deeply people believe their beliefs so the criticism is too shallow and inapplicable to the deeply held beliefs of true believers. I have gotten into debates about prayer before, and without a single exception that I can remember, a Christian will say you can’t pray for ex. “candy” and get candy! It just doesn’t work like that! You describe a long and non-obvious journey to the center of your faith, one in which you are irretrievably immersed in it and cannot see it from the outside, so it must look a lot like we are taking literal passages literally to mean prayers are like asking for something you want.

          I have found no one to describe the difference between praying and not praying to have any noticeable effect on the outcome, but it depends on what is being prayed for, not in the way that god answers them, but how they would happen or not happen anyway.

          If you are praying for money that you need, and no money comes, well that’s just god’s will, and maybe you offer to do some side work or overtime at your job, and guess what? Did god bring you that money?

          Maybe you pray for help making a decision. The decision-making process is in your head all the time. If you see a “sign” telling you to choose one of the options you have, it’s probably what you really wanted to do the whole time. Is the outcome for choosing that decision good or bad? There is no reason it has to be good or bad, it’s just that you distracted yourself by pretending the other (possibly more sensible or considerate) option was even on the table. When other people are part of your plans, you have to pretend to care how your decision will affect them, and they won’t think you’re selfish if you can sufficiently convince them that it’s god’s will.

          If you are praying to change your mood – well that’s easy. Sitting still and calming yourself has a great effect on focusing you to a different emotional state. If you are agitated and angry or upset, you can and even I can, get really quiet and soothe that bad mood and pray or meditate for a better one. This goes back to the first example as well. When you are disappointed that you haven’t got enough money, you can certainly train yourself to have the industry to add to your account, if the option to work harder or longer hours is available to you in the first place. It’s difficult and infringes on your free time or family togetherness, but you can summon the strength to deal with it.

          I do not think that I have a shallow understanding of how prayers seem to have power for some people, I just say that there’s no god on the other end of the line. I know there is no such thing as praying for candy and getting candy, but that would be the only meaningful proof that prayer isn’t just a trick you play on your own mind that anyone can do.

        • ctcss

          Thanks for the comments Kodie. I’m glad that you try not to take a shallow approach to the subject of prayer. Actually, in the past Bob has said some rather thoughtful things regarding prayer as well. I just think he was trying to be snarky towards me in order to jerk my chain. I hope your comments reflect a more common view among non-believers. It’s one thing for a person to wonder why another person might engage in prayer. It’s another thing altogether when they trivialize the person’s motives or intelligence for do so. Thanks for your considerate reply.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Kodie:

          it must look a lot like we are taking literal passages literally to mean prayers are like asking for something you want.

          Jesus said that if you have faith as tiny as a mustard seed, you will be able to move mountains. Jesus said that prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. Jesus said that whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Jesus said that all things are possible to him who believes. Jesus said, ‘Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.’ No limitations or delays are mentioned.

        • Kodie

          I eventually get to that, at the end of that post, and in the new post with what proof atheists would take. It seems like the prayer that people usually mean is not that kind and I go on to describe that I am and I think most people are aware of how prayer can be useful or effective in someone’s life as a quiet meditation, but really the only version that matters is the one where you ask for something you really need, and you get it.

          This doesn’t account for times when you do get what you want by chance. I reference praying for money in the other thread, but not in the way people usually pray for and sometimes get money. When I see people’s prayers for money answered by things like, ‘and then a check came in the mail from a rebate I forgot I sent in,’ I have to wonder how they fit god into ordinary accounting and postal service. How unsatisfying to realize that god’s methods look exactly like stuff that’s supposed to happen.

          I once sat through at least 20 minutes of a preacher on tv selling exactly this kind of prayer. I mean, how stupid do these people have to be – he’s telling them how his prayers are answered and the FedEx truck drives to his house multiple times a day with envelopes filled with checks, and if you want similar windfalls of cash, send him a check for $287 (or some number like that). It’s exactly like planting a seed, he says. You can’t just pray with your mouth for money, you have to plant it in the ground like a tree that grows money by mailing him your money so he can tell stories how he prayed with money and now he’s practically drowning in it.

          That’s pretty extreme and absolutely scummy, but I think I’d like Christians to stop trying to corner us with that “shallow interpretation.” Of course it doesn’t work that way because there’s no god. If it doesn’t work the way you want to, adjust your expectations of this magnificent deity and minimize him to a good listener. That’s supposed to be the “deep” version.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          ctcss:

          when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from death, he said “Talitha cumi”

          It’s a story. I’m unconvinced.

          Once again, a snap judgement on a shallow take. Yawn.

          Or, you could take the dozen or so claims about prayer in the NT and analyze them to make your point instead of just saying, “Wrong! I win.”

          I’m trying to point out that speaking words is not the same as praying.

          That’s nice. And my point remains: the NT makes very strong claims about prayer. Look ‘em up sometime.

  • avalon

    “Christians: What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?”

    Change your mind about what? God? Christianity? It seems these labels have no definite meaning.
    Thanks to some progressive Christians who posted here recently, I’ve learned that “Christians” can believe 1) the bible is “clearly fictional”, 2) a bodily resurrection and a virgin birth never happened, 3) heaven and hell don’t exist beyond this world 4) “God” can be defined as a type of energy.
    Clearly Christians (at least the progressive variety) have already changed their minds. Given the fluid nature of the meaning of the words “God” and “Christian”, and the subjective nature of bible interpretation, I guess it was only a matter of time.
    http://progressivechristianity.org/

    avalon

    • DrewL

      What…are you telling me there’s more to Christianity than the very Western, Modernistic, Americanized, anti-intellectual Fundamentalist sect I rejected from my childhood?

      Ridiculous.

      • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

        Hear, hear!

        God? Christianity? Heck, I don’t even know what ‘progressive’ means anymore…

      • Kodie

        Wishy-washy good-feeling means-nothing stuff is something?

      • avalon

        @drewl
        “What…are you telling me there’s more to Christianity than the very Western, Modernistic, Americanized, anti-intellectual Fundamentalist sect I rejected from my childhood?
        Ridiculous.”

        From what I’ve read at progressivechristianity.org Bob could call himself a Christian. You might see that as more to Christianity, I’d say there’s nothing to it at all. Seems the only requirement for being a Christian these days is to call yourself one. I imagine Bob agrees with most of the social issues the progressives agree with. So why isn’t Bob a progressive Christian (other than the fact he doesn’t want to torture the language)?

        avalon

        • DrewL

          There’s a great quote somewhere that modern Christianity is giving atheists less and less to not believe in.

          I’m sure progressivechristianity is very accommodated doctrine that intentionally shifts away from anything particularistic, supernaturalistic, or scripture-based. Yes, Bob would be fine in many Unitarian and mainline churches. Of course those have been shrinking for decades and may not survive most of our lifetimes (versus more particularistic/traditional doctrines have been growing like crazy). So I’d be careful about getting on board of a sinking ship unless you have good reason to. Perhaps it solves the Non-Golfers Club problem?

        • avalon

          Drewl,
          Drew: “There’s a great quote somewhere that modern Christianity is giving atheists less and less to not believe in.”

          avalon: If (as you say) “progressivechristianity… shifts away from anything particularistic, supernaturalistic, or scripture-based”, could we say they are more TOWARDS a more scientific or atheistic view?
          If Bob (as a self-described atheist) can call himself a progressive christian, what does that say about the label “christian”? And, at the other end of the spectrum, if fundies can call progressives atheists, what does that say about the word “God”?
          We use words to label things. When those things actually exist, we can agree on what those labels mean. But if we find a label that has no definite meaning beyond the individual, subjective use of it, wouldn’t that indicate the thing being labeled probably doesn’t exist beyond the mind of the user?
          Bob and progressive christians think alike. One says he’s an atheist, the other says they’re theistic christians. Another group of self-labeled christians say they’re both atheists. I think the confusion about the label stems from the subjective nature of the thing in question: God. Citing the number of members and whether it’s shrinking or growing doesn’t really help prove the objectivity of the thing in question.

          avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      And when I scan the subjects for the posts by Patheos “progresssive” Christian bloggers, it’s a refreshing bit of reality compared to many of the evangelical or Catholic bloggers.

  • Greg G

    Basically, I don’t have trust in prayer to God because I was told to do so. I trust it because I have found (over time) the use of it to have been proven reasonably trustworthy in my life.

    But what did you do to eliminate confirmation bias?

    • ctcss

      @ Greg G

      “But what did you do to eliminate confirmation bias?”

      Well, for one, the presence of confirmation bias does not mean that something is necessarily false. It simply means that one’s testing procedure might not be as robust as it could be. But as regards that kind of error, ask yourself how often you perform a serious clinical test regarding your doctor’s treatment efforts for you? Most people simply ask themselves if the treatment they receive does the trick for them. If it does, great! They’re happy. And if not, they ask the doctor for another solution. Sometimes things go well, sometimes not. People know which is which. They aren’t stupid when it comes to answers that they find to be helpful vs those they did not find to be helpful.

      It’s the same for me. Do all of my efforts at prayer always pan out? No. However, I do not live in isolation from the general population. Most of my friends and colleagues do not do what I do regarding relying on prayer. I see what they are doing and their results and I am aware of what I do and my results. I have never felt that how I approach things is in any way inferior to their way. So they provide a reality check of sorts for my efforts.

      So how do I know that prayer has been a help to me? Well, for one thing, this trust I have has been built up over a rather long time. And I definitely have fewer reservations now regarding my trust in prayer than I did when I was younger. So given the long time I have been relying on prayer (over 60 years), and the fact that the results have been reasonable, especially when the chips are down and something rather serious is going on, I feel that my approach has been solid, if not clinically demonstrated. And that’s fine by me. And all I was trying to point out in my post was that my trust was based on experience, as opposed to blind faith without any experience.

      Does that help answer your question?

  • Greg G

    Thanks for the reply, JohnH.

    But do you think the Catholic Church is right? The Protestants split from the CC because they thought they were wrong. Even the ones you list who commune with them disagree. The Eastern Orthodox split from them, too. They pray to saints. That’s polytheism disguised as monotheism.

    The Muslims believe Jesus was just a prophet. That’s huge contradiction of the Catholic and Protestant doctrines.

    The Hindus believe there are many paths to God but they don’t think Christianity is the best path. Christianity believes that Jesus is the only path so they are not compatible. There are Christians objecting to yoga classes in schools because it’s too Hindu.

    So you’ve helped prove my point. The biggest lump of Christianity is the one all the others split from because they were so wrong.

    You also didn’t show that any of them were right.

    • JohnH

      “But do you think the Catholic Church is right”
      Right about what? Short answer, no.

      ” They pray to saints. That’s polytheism disguised as monotheism. ”
      They (and many Hindus) don’t see it that way.

      “You also didn’t show that any of them were right.”
      I didn’t think that was a relevant point in that discussion.

  • Greg G

    As I recall, the Templeton study had a control group that got no prayer, a group who were prayed for but not told about it and a third group that were notified that they were being prayed for. The group assignments were random. The caregivers didn’t know who was in each group and neither did those who evaluated each patient.

    I think the name each patient in a prayer group was randomly assigned to two congregations. Do you think everybody who performed the prayers was incompetent at prayer? If only a few were doing more than talking to themselves there should have been a noticeable effect.

  • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

    Just read your the title question on the post, but through fresh eye.

    What Would It Take to Change Your Mind?

    Easy. Instead of supposing that hitting me over the head with a science textbook, all the while making fun of me, you could pretend to treat me like an adult, actually have a sympathetic conversation, try to understand where the other person is coming from, etc. And once you’ve lulled me into dropping my guard, you’ve got me.

    The problem is, though, you can’t seem to accept that other people don’t think like you do, can’t accept that your concerns aren’t the primary concerns of other people–and so you are unable to work with that insight. If you did, you might actually turn a lot more people into atheists.

    Just remember, in conversations, it’s rarely about being right. It’s about being considerate, and also being charitable. Which is why, incidentally, the Gospel message of God dying on behalf of human beings exercises such a powerful sway, for better or worse, over people’s minds.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Richard:

      Are you talking to me?

      Instead of supposing that hitting me over the head with a science textbook, all the while making fun of me, you could pretend to treat me like an adult, actually have a sympathetic conversation, try to understand where the other person is coming from, etc.

      Sounds good. Are you saying that this post mocked you?

      Which is why, incidentally, the Gospel message of God dying on behalf of human beings exercises such a powerful sway, for better or worse, over people’s minds.

      And, incidentally, God didn’t die. Dead means staying dead. According to the gospel story, Jesus was “dead” for a day and a half.

      • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

        I was addressing you. Sorry for not explicitly stating so.

        Make of the Gospel stories what you will. I am saying your matter-of-fact dismal of positions put forward by other might be, and has been, taken by some as a sort of arrogance.

        More the I follow your conversations, though, the better I understand that you just don’t get people who don’t ask the world the same questions you ask.

        For example: you cannot read the Gospel text in any other way than as a duplicitous document, because dead people don’t rise from the dead. Granted. But regardless whether dead people can rise from the dead, the gospel writers clearly thought that they could. So you slam them, instead of thinking through what believing this particular man had risen from the dead might mean for other people.

        I could care less whether you believe it. But I see no reason a naturally-inquisitive, open-minded enquirer wouldn’t want to explore what it has meant for other people.

        (Guffaw-ing about religious people being in any way open-minded will now commence…)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          I am saying your matter-of-fact dismal of positions put forward by other might be, and has been, taken by some as a sort of arrogance.

          A valid concern. In a face-to-face conversation, subtext would be better understood (or eliminated). Communicating through comments is a pretty clumsy way to clearly get one’s message across.

          And in the posts, I am limited by word count. My imperfect approach is to be a little more hard-hitting and plain than perhaps everyone would like, unfortunately.

          you just don’t get people who don’t ask the world the same questions you ask.

          To some extent, I agree.

          you cannot read the Gospel text in any other way than as a duplicitous document

          ?? Do you read the Iliad as a tissue of lies, a plot to deceive you?

          I doubt it. And similarly, I tried to understand the Gospel for what it was meant to convey and in the sense that its original hearers would’ve taken it.

          because dead people don’t rise from the dead.

          That’s true. I approach the Bible with the assumption that it’s just like all the other supernatural tales from ancient history. But I try to be open minded enough so that if the Bible is indeed the one exception, I would eventually see that.

          So you slam them, instead of thinking through what believing this particular man had risen from the dead might mean for other people.

          Are you saying that I oughtn’t be mean to people?

          I see no reason a naturally-inquisitive, open-minded enquirer wouldn’t want to explore what it has meant for other people.

          Of course.

  • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

    If you are looking for a charitable atheist to talk to I’m up for that. I’ve had plenty of polite and mutually beneficial discussions with theist friends. I grew up Protestant and have had a lot of theology but (weirdly enough) not a lot of Scripture, and I’m quite aware that I may be wrong on this issue.

    • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

      By the way — not sure if this is showing up as a reply properly, but I’m trying to reply to Richard — you seem to be claiming that the Bible expresses moral facts, rather than physical, scientific facts. Only the latter are experimentally testable. Very well.

      But to go back to Bob’s original question: How could you know if the Bible is wrong about those moral facts? Do you have an innate sense of morality, that seems to match up to the Bible very well? (This is approximately how Leah Libresco converted to Catholicism.) What would a book that expressed incorrect morality look like? (Protestant doctrine matching up poorly with my innate sense of morality was why I deconverted from Christianity.) If you somehow discovered a Bible passage you had never seen before, what would it take for you to go, “Oh, that’s wrong?”

      Or let me know if I am misinterpreting you.

  • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

    No, you are not misinterpreting me.

    I would be very uncomfortable with the idea that there existed a strict set of moral facts. Certainly some among the Ten Commandments would qualify: no murder, no stealing. The extreme generality of this small collection would seem to indicate that something else is going on.

    I have difficulty reading the Bible as a book of rules. There are rules listed there; but there are also stories accompanying them that explore the imperfect application of those rules, which would seem to caution a sort of prudence.

    The general narrative of the Bible, from the creation of the human being in the image of God, to the promise of a Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah, to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, to the message of his return at ‘the end of the age’, seems directed towards taking seriously the personal nature of the message. One must engage it for oneself, and work it out, as the Apostle Paul says, ‘ in fear and trembling’–which can and has been confused with cowing people into submission, but shouldn’t be confused, to my mind. The louder and more clearly God seems to be speaking to you, the message seems to be, the less likely it is God actually doing the talking.

    The Old and New Testament are basically long arguments against ‘tyranny’. In the OT, kings are shown to be failures. In the NT, in the Gospels specifically, the disciples are shown to always misunderstand what Christ is talking about. In Paul’s epistles, the basic message seems to be, though we ‘know’ what is right, we always fail to live up to even our own standards. All of which is why Christ is said to have come. In any case, this frank estimation of our human ability to lead others, teach others, or command others in what is the right thing to do doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence.

    The message seems to be that we all have to do this on our own, for ourselves, and while we are at it, help others along the way. Or, as Christ says, ‘Love God with all your heart; and love your neighbour as yourself.’

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Richard:

      One must engage it for oneself, and work it out, as the Apostle Paul says, ‘ in fear and trembling’

      This view, IMO, is a very blinkered approach. If you come at it with the presupposition that Christianity is true, that’s fine. But if you actually want to be open minded, I would suggest learning more about the other cultures of the time–the other Canaanite religions, for starters. When you see that early Judaism was just another flavor of the religious view of that place and time, it undercuts the idea that Judaism alone was correct and the others were just manmade inventions (more on this in tomorrow’s post).

      The louder and more clearly God seems to be speaking to you, the message seems to be, the less likely it is God actually doing the talking.

      If you’re saying that we can easily delude ourselves about the voice of God, that sounds prudent. But why imagine that that “still, small voice” is anything more than your own moral sense?

      In the OT, kings are shown to be failures.

      Well … David had a lot going for him. If David was just a failure, there would be no interest in a Messiah to sit on David’s throne.

      The message seems to be that we all have to do this on our own, for ourselves, and while we are at it, help others along the way.

      I like it. I don’t know why you have to inject the supernatural stuff, though.

      • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

        Well no…it’s precisely because the kings in the OT were failures that the Messiah needed to come.

        What supernatural stuff? I’m just reading a book, asking questions about myself, thinking about things, and so on, and so forth.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          Well no…it’s precisely because the kings in the OT were failures that the Messiah needed to come.

          Why all the reboots? Surely God could’ve seen how kings would work out (your argument that the OT kings were all failures makes little sense to me, as I’ve made clear, but whatever). If Jesus is the path, why not have Jesus come on Day 1?

          Y’know, it kinda makes the Bible simply a record of the development and evolution of a religion by ordinary people. No supernatural forces are necessary to make sense of it.

          What supernatural stuff?

          Uh … the supernatural stuff in the Bible.

        • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

          Take a theology class, or if you don’t have time, read a general introduction. Preferably not from a domination that can only claim to have come into existence in the last two centuries or a denomination that originates in the United States.

          You are still thinking about the Bible has a scientific text, in this case, a natural history.

          I’ve enjoyed this conversation…and will comment again on another posting.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Richard:

          Preferably not from a domination that can only claim to have come into existence in the last two centuries or a denomination that originates in the United States.

          Why the bias? You don’t like Johnny-come-lately sects?

          I can understand that, but keep in mind that Christianity itself is an update on Judaism. Why not be totally honest, throw out Catholicism (or whatever your flavor is), and go back to good old fashioned Judaism?

        • http://rgrydns2.blogspot.ca/ Richard Greydanus

          Teach a class on world religions and a class on religion and science. These things are kept well in mind. (Back to work…)

    • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

      Thanks, I like those ideas, and I’ll keep them in mind as I read through the Bible. I also don’t think there are many absolute moral facts like “stealing is wrong”, although that’s mainly because that sort of command sometimes conflicts with my higher principle of “helping people is good and harming people is bad”. In that sense I do have an absolute moral code.

      But anyway, I think that’s all orthogonal to the question of whether there is any evidence that could convince you that the Bible is not true. If the Bible presented a different morality would you still believe in it? If someone convinced you that your interpretation was wrong and the Bible promoted a different moral code, would you drop your belief in the Bible or change your morals?

      If your beliefs are unfalsifiable — if there’s no state of the world in which you would not hold them — that means that you would believe in the Bible even in a world in which it was not true.

      Or perhaps you’re not interested in the original post’s question and were simply replying to other comments that misjudged your beliefs… in which case, sorry, I’ll drop it.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Liz:

        my higher principle of “helping people is good and harming people is bad”. In that sense I do have an absolute moral code.

        I can understand your having some kind of golden rule, but where did the absolute part come in?

        I share that sentiment, but I see zero evidence of any supernatural or transcendental or absolute grounding for morals.

        • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

          I meant “absolute” in the sense of “always applies”: I’m not absolutely opposed to stealing, because it’s sometimes a good thing to do (like stealing a gun from someone intending to go on a shooting spree). But I can’t think of a situation where harming people is good, unless some other people benefit. Harming people is absolutely (always) wrong.

          But I think I agree: I don’t see a source for an obective3 (http://lesswrong.com/lw/5u2/pluralistic_moral_reductionism/) morality and because of the is-ought problem I don’t think I could identify that moral code if it existed. All I have is a very powerful but unjustified intuition that helping people is the right thing to do.

  • Selah

    Bob ,
    Nothing that you have to offer will make me change my mind. I’m running toward Jesus and not running away from Him like you guys.People who reject God and His Son are drowning and pushing the life preserver away.To argue against your only Hope in this life and the one to come is constructive suicide.It’s like a foolish man sitting on a sturdy branch of a tree and chopping away at it to let himself down. I’ll leave you with this: ” Doubt no more , but now believe , Question not , but just recceive , Artful doubts and reasonings be nailed with Jesus to the tree “.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Selah:

      Thanks for your comments.

      I need evidence and arguments. You’ve provided none.

    • Kodie

      Life preserver? Running away? Really, what are you running toward? A figment of your imagination. You fear greatly about something imaginary that you think we are all spiting ourselves, but I don’t know why you think that or why you think I should agree with you. There is no danger.

      • Selah

        @ Kodie & Zen Druid ,
        You both are in imminent danger as a matter of fact. In danger of Hades ( the realm of the dead) . I’ll let the great passage from Luke 16:21-31 explain what I mean.Let me know what you think about this true story.If you continue in your disbelief , I’m afraid you may have to deal with that great ” chasm “.

        • Kodie

          What I think about the story is that it’s not true. Sorry you worry so much about yourself but I’ll be fine. Not “fine” exactly, not in a healthy “alive” sort of way, but nothing I will be able to notice.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Selah: And how will you enjoy Paradise when you know that Kodie and ZD are being tortured for eternity? Won’t that make heaven hellish?

    • Phil

      Selah,

      Does it bother you that a conservative Muslim would say the exact same thing about his/her own religion?

      Why do you think you are right and that other person is wrong?

    • ZenDruid

      It must be wonderful living with a fear of life, a fear of death, a fear of imaginary punishment and a fear of real understanding, with an imaginary living dead man-god as your best hope.

  • Greg G

    “But do you think the Catholic Church is right”
    Right about what? Short answer, no.

    ” They pray to saints. That’s polytheism disguised as monotheism. ”
    They (and many Hindus) don’t see it that way.

    “You also didn’t show that any of them were right.”
    I didn’t think that was a relevant point in that discussion.

    Greek theology had many supernatural beings in a hierarchical structure and we call it polytheism. Christianity and Judaism have many supernatural beings in a hierarchical structure but they tell us it’s monotheism. The angels are as powerful as Greek gods. Satan is even more powerful than most ancient gods. The ancient Egyptians, Ahkenaten for one, believed there was one god and the other deities were manifestations of that one god. That’s monotheism.

    When I wrote

  • Greg G

    As I was saying, when I wrote

    Since the theists of the world have conflicting ideas, either almost every one of them is wrong on that subject or we can drop the “almost” qualifier. 

    perhaps I should have been more explicit. I was trying to be cleverly less repetitive. I was trying to convey that either almost all the religions were wrong or *all* the religions were wrong.

    I don’t know if it’s me or a bug in the smart phone browser but sometimes when I try to paste text, the tab I must touch happens to cover the Publish button so it posts before I’m finished.
    The human imagination is capable of contriving things that can’t be disproved but they are still just imaginary. The old gods with testable attributes have been disproved. The remaining theologies have evolved to being merely not disprovable. But that means they are all indistinguishable from imaginary contrivances.

  • Greg G

    Creationists don’t reject science because scientists haven’t made a good enough case for them. They reject science because it says Adam and Eve didn’t happen. If Adam and Eve didn’t happen, there was no Original Sin. If there’s no Original Sin then Jesus’ resurrection is meaningless. They would have nothing but a fear of the unknowns of death. So they buy the Bible hook, line and sinker. They buy into more fears so they must impose their beliefs onto others by any means necessary. They employ political action to force creationism into science classes, retard science, restrict access to medicine, and oppress outsiders. They do these things thinking they are doing good.

    About half of American Christians profess to be in this category.

    Progressive Christians aid them by voting for candidates because they claim to be Christian. Then we end up with Creationists on congressional science committees and school boards.

    We make enjoy an interesting debate from an intellectual perspective. I don’t care what you believe. If you want to talk about it and defend it, bring it and we can call each other stupid and have a good time. If you want to force your religion on me or impose superstitious nonsense on people, we’ll have a fight. Reality will impose itself on us all eventually. I try to explain reality.

    No accommodations will change their beliefs. It only encourages them to seek more.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Greg:

      Then we end up with Creationists on congressional science committees and school boards.

      I talk about science deniers on the House Science and Technology Committee here.

      In the 21st century? Hard to believe.

  • Greg G

    Those historians should look at present day American Fundamentalism. It’s half of American Christianity. They have a religion that conflicts with science. Accommodation won’t change the situation in any positive way. It has nothing to with science or atheism.

    Progressive Christianity is OK with science. Do they need accommodation? If they want a role for the supernatural, show the evidence for it. Science has progressed because it has no need for that hypothesis.

    Science studies reality. Religion must accommodate reality. Progressive Christianity has done that. Unfortunately, the half of Christianity with the political power can’t and won’t accommodate reality.

    Why bring atheists into it? The only things atheists can do is point out the real problem because they have an objective view. Fundies think they are right and Progressive Christianity is afraid to point out the problems their religion causes.

  • nakedanthropologist

    For me, it was my study of the history of Christianity that helped me along with my unbelief. I was raised Catholic, went to a Catholic elementary school, and even got my master’s degree from the Catholic University of America (located in Washington, DC). During high school I sorta/kinda lost my faith in Catholicism, and leaned towards a Unitarian Universalist perspective wherein I thought that God was a mysterious and unifying concept that everyone connected with in different ways. No religion was better than the other, and as long as a person didn’t hurt other people in the name of their faith I figured it was all good.

    And yet, reading up and studying the history of the Christian church during grad school showed me how the bible (and consequently Christian beliefs) had been cobbled together. That the church didn’t have the original copies of the gospels, and moreover, that there were no corroborating contemporary accounts. I was told by family and friends to “just have faith” and “don’t overthink it” but why should I? What good is faith if it’s a lie? And my mind couldn’t let it go – the bible is so contradictory, and can (and is) be used to support anything – sure I’ve seen people do good things because of their faith, but I’ve also observed horrific things in the name of faith. On a side note, I’ve lived with a chronic, painful, and potential terminal illness since I was a small child, and even as a child I was offended by the idea that my disease was part of “god’s plan” – if god is supposed to be perfect and noble and good, then why are there horrible, terrifying diseases kids are born with, rapes, and genocide? Sure there’s the free will idea, but to me the idea of Christian free will seems like a cop-out. I mean, if I see a child crossing the street and is about to get hit by a car, then I would try to stop it. I am interfering with the free will of the child, but I would also be doing the right thing – but god won’t interfere? I don’t buy it.

    In essence, I see no evidence for a god or gods. I can’t say for sure if a supernatural force(s) exist or not, but believing and knowing are two different things. The Judeo-Christian pantheon does not appeal to me, since the way it is described via texts (like the bible) is immoral; I have found no evidence that deities exist. Maybe some day that could happen, but I have no desire to place a personal belief in something that doesn’t appear to exist – if there was compelling evidence, perhaps I would change my mind.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      NA:

      Thanks for the input.

      The Bible is a sock puppet. You can make it say just about whatever you want. Doesn’t make it a very reliable source of wisdom or morality IMO.

  • Greg G

    Karla

    I understand DrewL’s point, but maintain that some religions are irreconcilable with science, particularly fundamentalist Christianity that has also become political. Their superstitions threaten society. They want to turn back the clock on humanity. Just listen to Broun and Bachmann. Senator Inhofe has denied global warming from the beginning and cites his religious beliefs. Many of them lost becsuse they didn’t know how crazy they sound when they repeat what they heard from the pulpit.

    Religions that are reconcilable are pretty much reconciled.

    The question isn’t whether religions agree on something. Nearly all frown on murder and theft. The question is whether even one of them is correct about god or gods. They might agree with each other but that doesn’t mean they are right. How would you verify thst one could accurately describe an aspect of a god? How could one prove that any one of them is not making the gods angrier with pseudo-monotheism?

  • Greg G

    DrewL

    You’re referring to Elaine Eckard and Templeton Foundation studies as if they are neutral, aren’t you? Now that’s funny.

    • DrewL

      Nope, I’m referring to historians. You know, the people who get paid to research this stuff?

      But I take it you’re critical of Eckard’s peer-reviewed work on the faith of scientists? I’m starting to think I’ve stumbled into some anti-science club with everyone being so “these findings don’t match my beliefs so screw them” all the time. Have you guys thought about opening your own museum in Kentucky to propagate how you are smarter than the established research on these subjects?

  • Greg G

    Karl

    I agree that your point is trivially true. It’s simply that “all theistic and deistic religions believe in at least one god”. It’s just an uninteresting point.

  • Greg G

    Eckard surveys scientists on matters on religion. She datamines the survey for gems such as 17% of American scientists have been to a church service in the past year to say that 1 in 6 have some religious belief, as if atheist scientists don’t go to church weddings.

    Horgan (can’t recall his first name ATM) worked with the Templeton Foundation but criticized their methods. They removed his name from the list of advisors.

    TF is easy money if a scientist is willing to keep the benefactors happy. If you’re too honest, you get expelled. That taints all others who take tbeir funding.

    • DrewL

      Ooo…special interests lurking behind the scenes, harsh punishment for dissent from consensus, obviously-flawed methodology that the leading scholars on the subject somehow failed to spot…

      Again, I feel like I’m reading a creationist science textbook.

      Now do the historians whose conclusions you don’t like! Conspiracy-ize them too!

  • Greg G

    Hi Ctcss. Thank you for the doctor analogy.

    Very often a patient will complain of pain but will have no sign of injury or disease. The doctor might prescribe a placebo as they often work In that situation and there’s less chance of side effects. If it doesn’t work the doctor will “give you something a little stronger”. Placebos can do the trick often enough.

    Twain or somebody said that being a doctor is the art of amusing the patient while nature takes its course.

    Quacks may offer a treatment. If the patient gets better, quack takes credit. If he gets worse, give more treatment, and so on. If the patient dies, it’s because the patient came to him too late.

    Prayer is like that.

    If you believe in prayer, it would tend to work as a placebo to make you feel good without doing good.

    • ctcss

      @ Greg G

      Thanks for the thoughtful response.

      “Twain or somebody said that being a doctor is the art of amusing the patient while nature takes its course.”

      I think it was Voltaire.

      “Placebos can do the trick often enough.”

      Actually,everything I have ever read about placebos suggests that they are limited in scope. If they were not, why not use them for everything? They most often can relieve subjective symptoms such as pain, but I am not sure to what degree their use has been applied, and how effective they are for all disease conditions. (The Wikipedia article on placebos is quite interesting to read, BTW.) The more I read about them, the murkier the view. Who can benefit most from placebo usage? What kinds of problems can it affect in a useful or safe way? I guess my question would be, how often would the general populace be content to rely on placebos for everything they run into? Would they feel safe doing so? And would the outcomes be the same?

      “If you believe in prayer, it would tend to work as a placebo to make you feel good without doing good.”

      Once again, I wonder how far people would go relying on something like this? For me (and simply because I have had a lot of life experience in doing this), I would rely on prayer for life threatening situations. In other words, given the choice of the emergency room or prayer, I would choose to reply on prayer. Given the choice of cancer treatment or prayer, I would choose prayer. And no, I do not make such a statement lightly or flippantly, nor would I ask anyone else to do this who also didn’t feel like this was the best way to go for them based on their own experiences using prayer. Life threatening situations can be very scary no matter what resource one relies on. I do not consider myself a fool or a lunatic, nor do I have a death wish, nor do I want to die so I can reach heaven. I simply consider the use of prayer to be a practical method of dealing with the problems that have confronted me.

      Thanks for the friendly dialogue. I wish this was the way most of these things went.

      • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

        There are multiple reasons placebos “work”, or that people think they do. One reason is that they can change people’s beliefs and behavior. This is an effect you can measure. If you randomly sort sick patients into two groups and give one group a placebo, and another group nothing, you would expect the placebo group to do better.

        The other reason is regression to the mean, which is a statistical phenomenon that occurs whenever there’s a process with some randomness in it. If something is unusually bad or good, it will tend to be closer to normal afterwards. Say you are feeling sick and go to the doctor on a day you feel especially bad. You will tend to feel better the next day regardless of what the doctor does. People often believe an ineffective medical treatment worked because of this phenomenon.

        Would people be content to rely on placebos for everything? They did for centuries! Bloodletting, for instance. Acupuncture. Doctors only figured out some really important things about how the body works in the last couple centuries, like that germs cause disease and that sanitation could prevent it. Most medical interventions were useless, but people still trusted doctors and their remedies quite a bit. And today people will swear by alternative medical ideas like homeopathy.

        People are bad at drawing conclusions about causality based on observations of their own lives.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Liz:

          And you’re probably aware of the nocebo effect, where the patient’s pessimistic view of the inert drug causes negative side effects.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        ctcss:

        given the choice of the emergency room or prayer, I would choose to reply on prayer. Given the choice of cancer treatment or prayer, I would choose prayer.

        Wow–very bold. Is this just you, or is this what your church community does as well?

        How does evidence fit in when you’d pray for medical help? My guess is that evidence that I would see as showing that prayer did no good you would not see that way. Does that sound right?

        • ctcss

          “Wow–very bold. Is this just you, or is this what your church community does as well?”

          It’s very much something I learned from my church community. And although such behavior might appear as being very bold to someone who doesn’t approach such situations in the way I was brought up, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as bold (conceptually speaking) when I actually do it. (Note: I did point out that life threatening situations can be rather scary no matter what method of treatment one adopts.) But consider, I assume you don’t feel that you are being very bold when you put your life into your hospital team’s hands, despite the fact that they made you sign an agreement that absolves them of any untoward outcomes. I would guess that is because, over time, you have gained trust in the effectiveness of their approach. It’s basically the same with me. When you find, over time, that you can rely on something, it’s not a huge stretch to repeat such trusting behavior again and again. That’s how trust is built up.

          “How does evidence fit in when you’d pray for medical help? My guess is that evidence that I would see as showing that prayer did no good you would not see that way. Does that sound right?”

          I was having trouble parsing your response. Is this a reasonably accurate rephrase of it?

          “How does contrary evidence fit into your approach when you pray for help with a threatening medical condition? Doesn’t negative evidence from controlled prayer studies make you want to try to rely on something else instead?”

          Interesting question, but the answer is actually still fairly simple. I never based my use of prayer on studies done by those other parties. And whatever their experience was, that was not my experience. I am basing my trust in what I have experienced (both directly by me and indirectly by others I know of, both in my family and in my church) and proceeding on that earned trust, rather than deciding to use (or not use) prayer based on the outcome of a study whose methods are rather different than the one that I was taught.

          Now, does that mean that I have never seen a prayer-based approach fail? Of course not. But my desire to trust in a prayer-based approach is not linked to a 100% guarantee of human success, any more than your desire to trust in a medical approach is linked to a 100% guarantee of human success. But one difference about such a choice for me is that engaging in prayer is an important part of making the effort to try to learn more and to understand more about God and God’s kingdom. (However, I am guessing your use of a medical approach is not necessarily prompted by your desire to learn more about medicine.) Praying, at least as I was taught it, requires effort on the person’s part, just as learning anything requires effort on the student’s part. So part of what I am doing when praying is trying to learn about God, which is very important to me and may take time to achieve, just as any learning activity might do.

          But as to your question about why I wasn’t put off by the negative evidence from prayer studies, as nearly as I can tell, they were approaching prayer in a rather different way than I was taught. For one thing, they were conducting their study using both prayer and medical efforts, which, as I was taught, would seem to cause one to divide one’s faith between God and matter. This does not strike me as being helpful, since placing any value on one automatically means removing value from the other, or indeed, from both. Where, exactly, is one’s trust being placed? And another difference I noticed was that the participants in the studies apparently were engaging in a form of petitionary prayer, whereas that is not the sort of prayer I engage in. Basically, I am not asking God to tweak things or to change things to help me out. I am simply seeking to understand the good that God is already providing since He already knows what is necessary before I even start praying. And as a corollary to this kind of approach, it should be apparent that if I am not trying to get God’s attention to help me out, it wouldn’t be necessary to have a lot of people offering prayers to help focus God’s attention on my behalf, which seems to be part of the reasoning behind the petitionary approach used in the studies. In my approach, I regard God as already fully paying attention to me all the time. Thus, rather than me needing to have God pay more attention to my plight, I understand that the need is for me to be paying more attention to God in order to discern the good that He is already providing. An additional difference regarding the need for outside additional help, is that if I feel the need for help with my (praying) effort to understand God more, I can always ask someone more experienced and knowledgeable to help me, just as a person might ask a teacher to help them understand an academic subject better. (I am using this example in a figurative way here.) And since one doesn’t need a crowd of teachers to help them learn a subject (one good teacher will do), I only need to ask one person (as opposed to many) to help shed more light on the problem I am having trouble grappling with. (Once again, this is a figurative construct.) Another possible difference between our approaches is that I was never taught to regard the bad things that seem to be part of the human experience as being part of God’s plan, any more than a teacher regards a student’s homework errors or test errors as being a planned part of the subject matter being taught. Thus I am never viewing bad things as something I need to accept (and be discouraged by) since God never ordained them to happen. So basically, engaging in prayer with this kind of outlook has a rather different mental feel to it, as you might guess.

          So given these rather major differences in approach, it would not seem logical to assume that the results of the prayer studies (conducted in very different way from my efforts) would provide data that was useful to me.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          ctcss:

          although such behavior might appear as being very bold to someone who doesn’t approach such situations in the way I was brought up, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as bold (conceptually speaking) when I actually do it.

          If you’ll excuse my saying so, that sounds akin to brainwashing. Your little group just decides, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the best medical care is actually prayer, not doctors, medicine, and hospitals.

          I’ve written before about a group in Oregon that was using prayer instead of medicine, kids died, and the state has now stepped in. For adults to have evidence-free approaches to good health is one thing, but imposing that on children is quite another.

          When you find, over time, that you can rely on something, it’s not a huge stretch to repeat such trusting behavior again and again.

          Are you saying that you can point to evidence that prayer works? What would skeptics think of your evidence? It sounds like you’re admitting that this wouldn’t stand up to peer review.

          But my desire to trust in a prayer-based approach is not linked to a 100% guarantee of human success, any more than your desire to trust in a medical approach is linked to a 100% guarantee of human success.

          You seem to imagine that these to modalities are remotely comparable. Evidence shows that conventional medicine (by and large) works. Evidence shows that prayer doesn’t do diddly squat.

          But, hey–it’s a free country. You can do this as long as you’re not imposing this on others and children always get proper medical care until they can decide for themselves.

          Basically, I am not asking God to tweak things or to change things to help me out. I am simply seeking to understand the good that God is already providing since He already knows what is necessary before I even start praying.

          So you’re not saying, “God, please cure Aunt Mary of cancer.” Rather you’re saying, “God, please let me understand your will about the progression of Aunt Mary’s health.” Is that right?

          If you take the conventional medicine route, treatment for some diseases is very good. Unlike what that prayer would give you.

          I understand that the need is for me to be paying more attention to God in order to discern the good that He is already providing.

          So you’re admitting that prayer isn’t actually effective in curing disease; it’s only there to help you cope with whatever happens. Is that right?

          As you can imagine, we’re not on the same page with respect to the role of prayer in health. But I appreciate your comments.

  • Greg G

    Why is it that DrewL can read that science conflicts with fundamentalism because of religious reasons and think the claim refers to all religion? Whenever he hears somebody yell, “Hey Dave”, he shouts back, “My name’s not Dave!”

    • Kodie

      He’s self-centered, probably angry because he didn’t get enough attention in his upbringing.

    • DrewL

      Did you misspell Bob as “drewl”? I believe it’s Bob who gets squeamish about concurring with the historians on their “religion doesn’t conflict with science” conclusion. And his hesitance is coming directly from conflating fundamentalism to all religion.

      So far the only people on this thread who have explicitly recognized the validity of peer-reviewed scholarly findings on this topic have been Karl and I. Everyone else seems to lean toward anti-intellectualism on this point since it so dangerously contradicts a very sacred belief they hold.

      • http://adaldrida.wordpress.com Liz

        I don’t think I follow exactly what the debate is over. Religion sometimes conflicts with science and sometimes does not. Rather, some religions in some time periods conflict with science, and some other religions in some other time periods do not. Some atheists with blogs talk about the religions that do conflict with science, which cause lots of problems.

        Is there anyone here who disagrees with that?

        • Kodie

          Drewl has the notion that Bob thinks he is refuting all evidence of a god by only attacking a caricature of god. Of course the bible is where we get the ideas Bob is arguing against, in small pieces. Drewl is offended because he thinks his beliefs get swept along with that tacky superficial biblical garbage, and his beliefs have more depth and nuance! Of course, historians and scholars pull at whatever thread they can draw from the biblical account and interpret it in what Drewl at least appears to imagine is deep and correct, and Bob never attacks his beliefs head-on, he just sweeps them along with what Drewl agrees is too obvious to bother refuting. When it really comes down to it, Drewl doesn’t see them as a harmful group that is worthy of the efforts spent refuting. But their intellect is not directly related to their power in government or the amount of money they have to spend on political influence. Drewl just says ignore it, it’s not real! It’s obviously not real! Because he doesn’t get it.

          To sum up Drewl, like so many progressive believers, “we’re not all like that!” He carries a caricature of his own of what motivates atheists – the shallow and conservative Christianity of our collective upbringings. There can be no other reason to call this stuff the BS it is. He seems to be challenging Bob to have something bad to say about progressive Christianity. Progressive Christianity harbors these superficial idiots! The most I have heard any Christian say to another is that the other is not a true Christian. Drewl is saying Bob is not attacking true Christianity in any of his posts about the bible, and mostly that Bob doesn’t have the intellectual chops to take on the challenge because it just might prove itself to him and upset his preconceived notion that there is no god.

          I would also like to see Bob take on the more progressive understanding of Jesus and the bible. That excuse-making, cherry-picking, religion-creating, pseudo-intellectual ground that Drewl stands on is just as shaky as biblical literalism.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Kodie:

          I would also like to see Bob take on the more progressive understanding of Jesus and the bible. That excuse-making, cherry-picking, religion-creating, pseudo-intellectual ground that Drewl stands on is just as shaky as biblical literalism.

          Agreed, but I focus on the low-hanging fruit. William Lane Craig saying that God is justified in his genocide (to take one example) is so over the top that I need to address it first.

          drewl has convinced himself that almost none of my posts attack his flavor of Christianity. I wonder then why he bothers to comment since not only is he unscathed, but he was never in the crosshairs.

          He must see things much more clearly than I do, because when I look at my recent posts, quite a few seem relevant to all forms of religion.

        • Phil

          I find myself wondering (out loud, apparently) what kind of Christian IS DrewL? He has certainly provided lots of kinds he is NOT. Just off the top of my head (and no chance to go back and look at old comments), but he is NOT (or seems to have no love for):

          1) A “progressive” Christian.
          2) A mainline protestant Christian
          3) A fundamentalist
          4) A Blibical “literalist.”
          5) Creationists.

          What does that leave? Roman Catholic? Eastern Orthodox? He certainly is (or was) big into labels. What’s his?

          [And DrewL, if you're reading this--I did actually go back and re-read Letter from Birmingham Jail a few weeks ago. (I hadn't read it in years and years.) I didn't find it particularly insightful--apparently, 'moral laws' come from God--but I did find it worthwhile. So thanks for that, I guess.]

          Finally, Bob, I got your book the other week–looking forward to reading it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Phil:

          Thanks for the book purchase! Let me know what you think.

          As for Drewl, I wonder what category he is myself. He may well have outlined that but I’ve forgotten. I suspect that he’ll fill us in.

          I’ve had other commenters who are hateful, some worse than Drewl. My main complaint is that they bring me down to their level. I usually respond in kind–if they’re reasonable, then the past is water under the bridge, and I’m reasonable as well. And when they’re obnoxious then I get a bit like that myself.

          A nuclear option that I’ve never used but JT says that he has used is to edit vile comments to lampoon them. Nice.

          And, as I’ve said many times, my primary frustration with Drewl is that he’s wasting bandwidth on vomit when he could actually be providing constructive criticism.

          Oh well. Takes all kinds, I guess.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Drewl:

        I believe it’s Bob who gets squeamish about concurring with the historians on their “religion doesn’t conflict with science” conclusion.

        How many times has Bob already agreed with you on this point? Get over it.

        • DrewL

          Great. When will we see a post about this?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          So we’re on the same page with no comment?? Nothing about why you kept bloviating about a point over which there was no disagreement? I confess that I was expecting something like, “Oh? My bad. I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”

          This topic doesn’t interest me. I don’t plan to post on it. Thanks for the suggestion.

        • DrewL

          I’ll believe you’re on the same page as me when you begin correcting your many commenters who still adhere to the conflict thesis.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          Sadly, I’ll never meet your high standards. As for the conflict thesis, it’s irrelevant when there are millions of Christians who don’t know about or care about historians’ rejecting it.

        • DrewL

          Ahh….great point. :)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Not super relevant, but the Spirit moves me to embed the Cheech and Chong bit “Dave.”

  • Reverend Robbie

    My mother, who is a liberal Christian, wrote a creative essay once in which she reconciled God’s disapproval of sacrifices with the crucifixion of Jesus. She wrote that God did not feel a sacrifice was necessary, but that he knew that flawed humans believed that there needed to be a sacrifice for there to be salvation. God, backed into a corner apparently, lovingly gave his son as a sacrifice so that humans would accept his salvation despite the fact that he, God, did not actually require such a thing.

    I commend my mother for being a loving, progressive, creative, and intelligent woman. But this is post-hoc rationalization at its best. If God saw human sacrifice, which he despised, as his only way to address this human misconception, then what kind of a bumbling idiot are we worshiping?

    Again, I hate even to criticize my mother, whom I adore, but that essay made me realize that I had listened to a lot of bizarre rationalizations from my parents growing up, and that little of it came from a position of true intellectual honesty.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Rev.:

      I agree–that was a creative approach. That reminds me of the Gnostic and Marcionite versions of Christianity in which the evil in our world is the result of another god who isn’t particularly good or perhaps skillful and which has a better god as an avenue to heavenly freedom.

      • Reverend Robbie

        As far as rationalizations for God go, I personally enjoy the Trickster God hypothesis, although we atheists are the only ones ever bring it up. It’s silly, but it’s also relatively elegant and I enjoy using a variation of it to turn Pascal’s Wager on its head. In this variation, God gives us limited, but intentionally insufficient evidence for his existence, and then tests to see if we improperly accept his existence. If we do accept his existence despite insufficient evidence, then he sends us to hell. Believers try to claim that it’s paradoxical, but a moment’s contemplation (which is often too much to ask) reveal it to be entirely consistent.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          And a nice variation on that is a point that Bob Price has raised. Many Christians admit that there are puzzles for which they have sufficient answers (problem of evil, for example). They often say that they’ll just wait until heaven to ask God.

          But now imagine that they’re in the waiting line to get into heaven. When they get there, God say, “Oh, it’s you. Sorry–you go to hell.” No explanation, nothing. It’s just arbitrary. If God is allowed to do things that make no sense to us, these Christians must allow this eventuality.

  • DrewL

    …Drewl is saying Bob is not attacking true Christianity in any of his posts about the bible, and mostly that Bob doesn’t have the intellectual chops to take on the challenge

    Well this is one explanation for why Bob prefers the shallow end of the intellectual pool. He certainly seems to devote a large percentage of his life sparring with lightweights like WLC or all his guys I’ve never heard of, none of whom have much influence in Christian circles.

    But I’m kinder than you give me credit: I prefer to think Bob’s inability to engage anyone taken seriously in American Christianity is due not to intellectual inadequacies but to his conflation problem, as described above. While he thinks he’s striking fatal blows at Christianity (and religion as a whole) when he tears up biblical literalism or rationalist proofs of God, he’s more like the middle-schooler who can’t figure out his success at bullying kids is largely due to mistakenly going to the kindergarteners’ recess every day. He’ll learn, one day.

    Wow I’m not sure I’ve ever been labeled a progressive before, that’s a new one.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      drewl:

      lightweights like WLC or all his guys I’ve never heard of, none of whom have much influence in Christian circles.

      Who are the Christian thinkers who have more influence?

      • DrewL

        Good question. The big thing is that you need to realize the difference between fundamentalism and the rest of American Christianity. Let me give you the overview: fundamentalism is fairly small proportion of the American population (less than 10% of the population) and are the anti-science, anti-ecumenism, Scriptural-literalism, anti-sophisticated theology, anti-intellectual, creationist, conspiracy-theorist-minded, prophetically-inclined, anti-historical, predominately lower-educated types….yes, your worst nightmare. Most relevant of all: they don’t read your blog. They don’t read any blogs. They read ugly websites with blinky texts that sell VHS tapes about the end of the world. They think most Christians (other than their church) are on their way to hell with the rest of the world, so they marginalize themselves from American Christianity.

        If I were you, I’d be targeting the thinkers who have influence in the generic, middle-brow evangelical-protestant world of American Christianity (probably 25-30% of the population). This is a crowd that, unlike fundamentalists, have some college education, send their kids to secular colleges (where they get involved in ecumenical ministries like Intervarsity, Campus Crusade, YoungLife), have a more sophisticated theology than biblical literalism, and will recognize that believers outside their own church/denomination are probably not all on their way to hell. They are all over the Patheos Christianity channels.

        If you want influential thinkers for this group, you need to be reading Christianity Today. I imagine its circulation has dropped in the last decade, but symbolically it still stands as the ultimate umbrella organization that brings together the more orthodox/conservative side of American Christianity. Fundamentalists won’t read CT because the ecumenism would be a threat to them. Any book that gets reviewed here is probably “fair game.” Peter Kreeft and CS Lewis, who you’ve engaged, are solid in these circles, but also: NT Wright, Tim Keller, John Piper, and on the more pastoral side are Phillip Yancey, Brennan Manning, Beth Moore…you tear these people down, you’ve struck the jugular. (WLC is an awkward fit here because he’s a philosopher no one inside Christianity reads and no one outside Christianity takes seriously. )

        Of course, intellectually, even all these guys are lightweights. This is because, just as New Atheism is predominately middle-brow, so is American Evangelical-Protestantism. If you want to take down Christianity philosophically, you’ll have to take down the philosophers who are actually respected in the academic arena of philosophy, most of whom are in this book:

        http://amzn.com/0631213287

        If you want to take Christianity down on Scripture interpretation, you’ll need to target these serious Biblical scholars who also hold faith commitments: NT Wright is somewhat respected, but also Richard Hays, E.P. Sanders, Peter Enns, F.F. Bruce….oooo go take down the Pope’s book on Jesus.

        So there you go: I just circled the thermal exhaust port of American Christianity for you, set your navigation system accordingly.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          Let me give you the overview

          You think you’re educating me on this?

          fundamentalism is fairly small proportion of the American population (less than 10% of the population)

          Yup.

          and are the anti-science, anti-ecumenism, Scriptural-literalism, anti-sophisticated theology, anti-intellectual, creationist, conspiracy-theorist-minded, prophetically-inclined, anti-historical, predominately lower-educated types

          More of a sweeping generalization than I would’ve given.

          If I were you, I’d be targeting the thinkers who have influence in the generic, middle-brow evangelical-protestant world of American Christianity

          Yes, that’s an important segment.

          you need to be reading Christianity Today

          I’ve been getting the e-newsletter for some time. I read some of the articles, not many.

          If you want to take down Christianity philosophically, you’ll have to take down the philosophers who are actually respected in the academic arena of philosophy

          Argumentation is an interest of mine, but philosophy isn’t. It’s probably because of the nonsense I’ve heard from some Christian philosophers (WLC comes to mind). I have little respect for their work, and that has tainted philosophy for me. There’s probably some good stuff within philosophy that I haven’t come across, but either way it’s not on my short list.

          I appreciate the suggested names. What do you suggest I do with this? Can you think of any articles you think would bug me enough to write a response post?

          I’ve written many posts that IMO target all Christians, but you seem to imagine that I’ve written none. Sounds like our definitions of hard-hitting posts targeted at Christianity in general are different.

        • DrewL

          I’ve written many posts that IMO target all Christians, but you seem to imagine that I’ve written none. Sounds like our definitions of hard-hitting posts targeted at Christianity in general are different.

          If you haven’t engaged any believer whose thought is actually respected in the fields of (secular) philosophy and (largely a-religious) Biblical Studies, you haven’t written any hard-hitting posts.

          You’re just the middle-schooler at the kindergartner’s recess until you make that move.

          I don’t actually read CT either, but that’s where your audience is.

        • DrewL

          Argumentation is an interest of mine, but philosophy isn’t. It’s probably because of the nonsense I’ve heard from some Christian philosophers (WLC comes to mind). I have little respect for their work, and that has tainted philosophy for me.

          This is probably the saddest part of your post. It’s like saying you enjoy bowling but don’t care for bowling alleys. You’re resigning yourself to the plastic pins in your living room but still touting yourself to others as a real bowler.

          Several atheist philosophers have recognized the significant impact theist-minded philosophers have had in the field in the last 30-40 years. Rorty, an atheist deeply skeptical of all truth claims, famously said we are past the point where Christianity should be labeled any more irrational than atheism, largely due to the gains theistic philosophy has made in the past decades. So if you like argumentation, that’s where the action is. If you’re not in that conversation, you’re not really interested in argumentation. WLC is not part of this scene at all; I don’t think that justifies your non-involvement.

          I would leap with joy the day you reference an argument from any serious philosopher or Biblical scholar. Please: put the plastic bowling pins away just for once, and step into the real world of bowling.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          It’s like saying you enjoy bowling but don’t care for bowling alleys. You’re resigning yourself to the plastic pins in your living room but still touting yourself to others as a real bowler.

          I wouldn’t categorize Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Christopher Hitchens as philosophers. That’s the domain that I find interesting.

          But if you have come across some particularly intriguing theistic philosophical arguments that I’ve missed, point them out.

          I would leap with joy the day you reference an argument from any serious philosopher or Biblical scholar.

          Is it not a wee bit arrogant to dub yourself the judge of all that is Good and Holy within this domain?

        • DrewL

          I wouldn’t categorize Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Christopher Hitchens as philosophers. That’s the domain that I find interesting.

          What do you do when even the leading atheist philosophers point out how terrible their arguments are? Just carry on, fingers plugged your ears?

          Intriguing theistic arguments: good news, they’re all summarized in a single book, and I just linked to it above.

          I’m not making the judgment of what’s good and holy: that’s what we have scholars for. There’s a group of thinkers who the peer-review process and academic publishing firms deem the most brilliant and advanced thinkers on subjects of faith, reason, and Scripture.

          You tend to avoid all of them.

          If you want to do hard-hitting arguments on Christianity, that’s where you do it. If you don’t want to do that, let’s start helping you rename and retarget your blog.

        • DrewL

          …and now you’re avoiding even my critiques.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          You have critiques? Great–I’d love to hear them. The schoolyard whining I could do without, thanks.

        • Kodie

          Most of the time on blogs, I see when someone has knowledge to add, they say it and people will discuss it if it’s relevant or interesting to the original article. I have almost never seen where a poster consistently nags the blogger to address something imaginary. I mean, I think if Drew wants to add to the discussion, he could say “well did you know so-and-so’s take on the issues brought up in your article is this and Bob what do you think?” and then Bob might say “that is interesting, thank you for bringing that to my attention, and here is where I disagree with that as well.” That’s how it’s supposed to go. It’s not supposed to be Drew says “but you don’t take into account the stuff that’s really going on,” and Bob says “well what is it that’s so important” and Drew says “you figure it out! I’m not here to write your blog for you! I’m just here to complain that the content is incomplete and doesn’t meet my satisfaction every single day.” I have never seen such a thing anywhere else.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drewl:

          What do you do when even the leading atheist philosophers point out how terrible their arguments are? Just carry on, fingers plugged your ears?

          I’ve read some books and many articles that conclude that their arguments are terrible. And these books/articles are very weakly argued. So, no, I don’t plug my ears. I read the arguments and evaluate them.

          Lots of smoke; no fire.

          I won’t be reading your suggested book anytime soon, though I appreciate the suggestion. Looks very much off target for what I’m interested in. If you have any articles in that vein that are more approachable and that skewer Dawkins et al (or otherwise make important pro-Christian arguments), however, I’d be interested to hear about them.

          If you want to do hard-hitting arguments on Christianity

          I’ve already done plenty, and you never seem to respond to their arguments.

        • Phil

          DrewL:

          I am curious about this quote:

          Rorty, an atheist deeply skeptical of all truth claims, famously said we are past the point where Christianity should be labeled any more irrational than atheism, largely due to the gains theistic philosophy has made in the past decades.

          Do you have a citation for this and/or the context in which it was said? I couldn’t find anything using Google.

        • Phil

          Hmmm, methinks this quote by Rorty does not exist.

  • Cylon

    Yep, most religion values faith over evidence, and thus proves uniquely resilient against reality based criticism. But please keep criticizing it! There are still many within the ranks of the religious who do value evidence despite what they have been indoctrinated to believe. I was one of them until recently when the evidence I was presented with became too overwhelming.

    “A Mormon example of selective consideration of evidence is Joseph Smith’s translation of an Egyptian papyrus he called the “Book of Abraham,” which has become part of LDS canon. Modern evaluation has shown Smith’s “translation” to be nonsense, but did that sink Mormonism? Of course not—it’s not based on evidence!”

    As an ex-Mormon, I find this example very relevant. There are apologetics for the Book of Abraham issue for those few who manage to stumble upon the facts, but the way it’s dealt with for the majority is just to keep people ignorant of the issue entirely. The vast majority of Mormons have no idea that the scrolls Smith used to “translate” the BoA were found and translated in reality, and of course they have nothing to do with what Smith said they did. Finding that out was one of the major catalysts for me realizing the whole thing was made up.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Cylon:

      Thanks for sharing your background.

      It’s pretty amazing to imagine that the bombshell that the Book of Abraham could be isn’t a problem simply because ordinary Mormons are not told of the history. I suppose if someone finds out, fellow Mormons wouldn’t likely be eager to hear of the discovery, so the information just fades away.

      • Cylon

        It’s more than that, though. Not only are Mormons not told large parts of their relevant history, there is a lot of active preaching that anything that contradicts the faith-promoting historical whitewashing is Anti-Mormon and should be avoided like the plague. It’s a self-perpetuating system to promote promote ignorance, and it works surprisingly well. It’s less effective since the advent of the internet, though.

        Not that any of this is unique to Mormonism, of course.

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