25 Reasons We Don’t Live in a World with a God (Part 12)

25 Reasons We Don’t Live in a World with a God (Part 12) May 21, 2018

Do we live in a world with a god? It doesn’t look like it (read part 1 of this series here).

Let’s continue our survey with the next clue that we live in a godless world.

23. Because of Shermer’s Law

Michael Shermer observed, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”

Suppose someone absorbed a false belief during childhood—a superstition, a bias, or even a worldview. As they got older, they discarded some of these beliefs that weren’t supported by good evidence, but they held on to some, particularly those beliefs integral to their self-image. And here’s the interesting part: because they’re much smarter as adults, they can put together a plausible defense for those false beliefs, even if they hold them for no better reason than that they were indoctrinated in them as a child.

This isn’t like defending a belief that you know is false—such as, just for fun, creating as compelling an argument as possible that the Earth is flat. Shermer’s Law applies to people defending a false belief for reasons that they believe. There is no self-deception going on. The alternative is to admit to themselves that they’ve believed this false belief for years or even a lifetime, but the subconscious protects one’s self-esteem and prevents this. More here.

If God existed, belief would be defended with evidence.

24. Because Christianity evolves

A palimpsest is a manuscript page with its ink scraped or washed off that was then reused. In some cases, the pen marks from the previous (older) document can still be read.

We see a metaphorical palimpsest with the Bible. Taken by itself, some passages make little sense. For example, what does it mean that the water for Noah’s flood came from “the springs of the great deep” and the “floodgates of the heavens”? We can put the pieces together if we hypothesize that the ancient mythology of Genesis was built on still-older cosmology from the Sumerians and other Mesopotamian civilizations.

Of course, seeing Yahweh worship as built on the religion of the guys down the street pretty much rules out any historical foundation, but the point here is how the biblical story has changed. For example, God evolves through the Bible. In his youth, he wasn’t distant and omni-everything, he was rather like Zeus. He walked through the Garden of Eden and spoke with Adam and Eve like an ordinary man. He visited Abraham. He spoke to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). He also wasn’t omniscient, and he needed scouts to check out the rumors about Sodom and Gomorrah that he heard. He regretted creating man before the flood.

By the time of the New Testament, things are remembered differently. “No one has seen God at any time,” (John 1:18). It tells us that God knows everything (1 John 3:20) and doesn’t change (James 1:17).

For an omniscient, unchanging god, he sure has changed a lot.

The most recent change to God is his retreat in the face of science. God used to cause lightning and drought, but not anymore—science provided a better explanation that could be tested. God used to cause cancer and plagues, but science explains them better, too. How about miraculous cures, then? Sorry—labeling a surprising remission as a medical miracle is wishful thinking. Only science has evidence that it can improve health outcomes or even eliminate disease. More here.

And what is “Christianity”? That, too, is a moving target. Christianity is like bacteria in a petri dish, and new denominations are now splitting off at a rate of two per day.

Consider Christianity in the early days and the long way it’s come. There have been 21 church councils, and the conclusions of each council were declared infallible (because magic, I guess). Then there are the schisms within the Christian church. The Protestant Reformation may come to mind as the most interesting, at least from the standpoint of Christians in the United States, but there have been dozens.

Nothing objective grounds the evolution of various doctrines and the declaring of some as orthodox and some as heresy. If you lived centuries ago, doing your best to conform to Christianity as it was preached in your church, but died believing what is now considered heresy, well, I guess it sucks to be you.

Even the canon (the set of books considered authoritative scripture) has been a moving target. It took until the Council of Rome (382) to get the canon more or less defined, but that list was amended within the Roman Catholic church by the Council of Trent (1545). Different Christian denominations still have different canons today. Since they disagree about the same canon, it’s obvious that no infallible hand guided its selection. Here again, there is nothing objective to ground it. The canon was a popularity contest, and theologians would argue for whatever set of books was in vogue in their part of the world.

If we lived in God world, it would look it. God’s a smart guy, and his message would be simple and unambiguous. More here.

Continued in part 13.

Christians can see science and technology deliver nine times
but still doubt it the tenth time,
and they can see religion fail nine times
but still expect it to succeed the tenth time.

.

Image via Retrogasm, CC license

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  • Bob Jase

    Progressive revelation is a euphemism for evolution.

    • Otto

      and Post Hoc rationalization.

  • JP415

    Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.

    See Alvin Plantinga, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig.

    • Ficino

      I think Dave Armstrong offered to Bob, as a reason to believe in Christianity, Plantinga’s argument that belief in God is properly basic and can be justified independently of evidence.

      That is, it is up there with belief in evidence of your senses, or belief that certain fundamental maths propositions are true.

      • Kevin K

        I will never-ever understand why Plantinga is held in such high regard. That’s quite possibly the worst argument for the existence of Bigfoot, unicorns, leprechauns, huldenfolke, God I’ve seen in … well … ever. It’s properly basic to describe it as moronic, independent of any other evidence.

        • Doubting Thomas

          Dave Armstrong described Plantinga as “the greatest living Christian philosopher.” It’s quite an unintended indictment of the state of Christian philosophy.

      • I’ve never been impressed by the properly basic argument.

        Where does proper basicality take them? I assume that they think it takes them to a personal god but not Christianity?

        • Otto

          It is nothing but a cop out … What Capt. Cassidy describes as a thought stopper.

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2013/05/31/stopping-thought/

        • Thanks for the link.

        • epeeist

          Where does proper basicality take them?

          It falls a victim to self-reference. How does one show that the idea of of “proper basicality” is properly basic?

        • Nice irony. The self-referential problem is one of their favorite complaints.

        • Ficino

          There is a new post on Dave Armstrong’s blog, dedicated to more about some Bob Seidensticker fellow – who dat? Armstrong and some combox commentators supply a long list of categories of evidence/arguments for God and Christianity (and w/ Shroud of Turin, I guess Catholicism). Armstrong repeats what he has said to several atheists, incl. me, that “Atheism in my opinion is an intellectual malady: a state in which no evidence is ever sufficient to dissuade the atheist because they will it to be so.” He faults Seidensticker for failing to state what sort of evidence would convince him to believe. Grimlock is taking him up on the challenge.

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2018/05/reply-to-atheist-seidensticker-on-demands-for-evidence.html#disqus_thread

        • Thanks. I didn’t have the stomach to wade through more of his stuff.

        • I read the comments. You’re right–Grimlock makes some great points.

        • Grimlock

          Thanks for the compliment(s)!

        • I fear that Dave’s blog will be useful in the future simply for demonstrating how to be badly wrong. I got a Dave overdose in my last encounter there, but the comments on this post were fun to read. It’s nice to see that there are a few commenters who can speak up for reason. Keep up the good work.

        • Grimlock

          Thanks. The same discussion kicked off again, now in this topic:

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2018/05/dialogue-w-atheist-jesus-thor-evidence-for-god.html

          If you have the time and interest, I’d be curious if you have any thoughts about how I could make the point that I’m trying to make more clear. We seem to be talking past each other a bit.

          Grim

        • Dave says:

          What would convince you [Grimlock] that God has revealed Himself: thus causing you to believe in Him? Bob never answered this.

          I think I did. Anyway, just to set the record straight, I at least answered this extensively in my next post (link below). I won’t bother getting into it with Dave on his latest post, because I’m pretty sure that I can’t change his mind.

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2018/05/25-reasons-we-dont-live-in-a-world-with-a-god-part-13/

        • What’s his deal? Does he often shovel blog comments into a post? I know that writing posts is hard, and I can appreciate that this is a quick way to get a post out, but it seems a little shallow.

        • I see you ended a long comment with this:

          P.S. I probably won’t have the time for a proper response before Sunday.

          That seems rather inconsiderate of you. You do realize that Dave has a schedule, don’t you? He’s just going to make the next post a conglomeration of comments from this post!

        • Grimlock

          Well, at the very least one can hope it won’t end up in an infinite series of such posts, based on each other.

        • Think of the effects on the space-time continuum!

        • Grimlock

          I’ve only had a couple of rounds of commenting there, when he’s interacted with atheists. But in those cases that seems to be quite common with such posts. I have no idea why… I’m not a huge fan of it.

        • If he can just recycle blather from last time, I guess it makes the process of writing posts much easier. But he should have the advantage–he should be the one getting the divine inspiration.

        • Otto

          I really enjoyed the read, you did a great job of staying on point, and then when the light was shined on Dave he did what he typically does…claimed it was just a rabbit hole and not tangential to the discussion…’and what does it matter, you shitty atheists made up your mind a long time ago anyway’.

          I actually thought you were going to get an answer to the question. What can I say… I am still gullible after all these years.

        • Yeah, if there were a Dave drinking game, “I know from my long experience of 10^5 years that atheists do X” would demand a shot.

        • Susan

          if there were a Dave drinking game, “I know from my long experience of 10^5 years that atheists do X” would demand a shot.

          Dangerous game. We’d all be dead in no time.

        • TheNuszAbides

          dead in no time

          pessimist! why not start at the other end and posit a stretched-out eternal death, since time is just mental trickery anyway? (probably demons)

        • Grimlock

          Thank you for the kind words. In case you’re interested, the discussion kicked off again, this time in this topic:

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2018/05/dialogue-w-atheist-jesus-thor-evidence-for-god.html

          I seem to be struggling to make my point sufficiently clear. Oh well.

          Grim

        • Otto

          Armstrong forgets many of us atheists were Christian, we did believe, so his premise that no evidence is ever enough (and will never be enough) is faulty. The reason I rejected Christianity is because the ‘evidence’ all boils down to ‘some people said this stuff happened’, everything that comes after that is just window dressing, i.e. ‘why would anyone die for a lie’, etc. There were many non-Christian claims that I rejected on that basis, I made an exception for my Christian belief… it was put in a special category. When the Christian claims can rise above other claims that have the exact same foundation, then (and only then) will I be interested in taking Christianity more seriously.

          And the Shroud of Turin? Seriously? WTF?

        • And the Shroud of Turin? Seriously?

          Maybe it’s a Catholic thing.

          Apologists like to argue that they have good evidence for the historicity of Jesus. They like to appeal to how short the time from event to documentation was, how many copies they have, and so on. In the case of the Shroud, however, this backfires. The earliest evidence of it is a report (from the local bishop to the pope?) that the Shroud is a fake and they have the artist who created it.

          Relics were a big thing then, and I believe there were dozens of shrouds.

        • Otto

          It seems I also read about how if the Shroud was draped over a body it would not have made the impression it supposedly did, i.e. the geometry would not fit correctly.

          Then there is the problem that we know that Shrouds don’t make impressions like that (and only after about 36 hours +/-) on bodies, so one has to presuppose Jesus was God first and therefore had magical powers to create such an artifact. The Shroud ‘evidence’ for Jesus is only compelling if you buy into Jesus beforehand, so how can it be used as independent evidence?

        • Greg G.

          Why does one image have a face and the other has the back of a head, but there is no top of the head image?

        • Right–the geometry fails in a couple of significant ways. The biggest is that a cloth would be draped around the face, roughly ear to ear. Then lay that flat, and you’ve got an ugly, distorted face–not a pretty rendition of our Lord and Savior but a lot more realistic.

          Also, in the gospel of John, they talk about one sheet for the body and a separate one for the head. Whoops.

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2014/04/shroud-of-turin-easter-miracle-or-hoax-debunked/

        • Greg G.

          Also the image from the front shows both legs straight while the image from the rear shows one leg bent at the knee.

        • JP415

          He was a contortionist, dammit!

        • JP415

          if the Shroud was draped over a body it would not have made the impression it supposedly did

          The body looks so gangly and gaunt that somebody (can’t remember who) suggested that Jesus might have had Marfan syndrome. I’m guessing he inherited that from Mary’s side.

        • Bob Jase

          No, those are Nephilim characteristics.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          “Mary’s side.”

          LOL

        • Ctharrot

          The thread over there is a hoot. The Shroud guy has left several, rather manic comments about it being scientifically validated evidence of the Resurrection, and even Armstrong told him to lay off.

        • Bob Jase

          Congratulate me – he banned me, 1st time e-var! Maybe I should tell him the Veronica and the Virgin of Guadelupe are realso he’ll forgive me.

        • Otto

          #metoo

          Good thing too because I am pretty sure I would have chimed in on the conversation and gotten banned again since it didn’t take much the first go round.

        • Whoo-hoo! You’re now one of the bad people. Congrats.

        • Susan

          You’re now one of the bad people. Congrats.

          This is Strange Notions all over again. If you don’t follow the script, they will ban you. And accuse you of being all sorts of nasty things without evidence that supports that, when they do so.

          Which, come to think of it, is the RCC from the beginning.

          They silence, delete and repeat the script.

          Thank goodness they no longer have the political/financial power (where most of us live) to imprison, torture and execute us.

          Sadly, they still have enough political/financial power to commit heinous acts and get away with it.

          They do not do well with honest, free discussion.

          Because they are selling snake oil. Honest and free discussion makes that difficult.

          Indoctrination is the only game they know.

        • My sample size is small, but the several Catholic bloggers I’ve engaged with here at Patheos have been surprisingly unwilling to engage in fair and open discussion. That’s not enough for me to make a blanket statement, so I continue to collect data. Thanks for the input.

        • Susan

          My sample size is small.

          Mine is as large as my life provides.

          I was indoctrinated as a child.

          The apologists use the same tactics as the people who indoctrinated me.

          They don’t like it when you question anything.

          They provide nothing to support the claims they indoctrinate children with.

          I am willing to change that position if at least one of their apologists would do something different

          Instead, they repeat the “cumulative” pack of crappy arguments.

          And mostly, accuse people who don’t believe them of having character flaws (without evidence) and/or not understanding their sophisticated arguments (without evidence).

        • Interesting. My experience has been more with rabid fundamentalists, not rabid Catholics. Even though fundamentalists think they are a big deal, that’s just in the US. The RCC is the one that actually has the volume. I can imagine that that power would increase cockiness.

          (Aside: one of my favorite tricks of theirs is their appeal to Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century to help cosmologists understand where the universe comes from.)

        • TheNuszAbides

          accuse people who don’t believe them of … not understanding their sophisticated arguments
          (without evidence)

          au contraire – the overwhelming evidence is the ongoing chorus of “nope, still not convinced!”

        • DoorknobHead

          He banned me too, quite some time ago….it kinda makes ya feel good when some people with a particular character (or lack thereof) ban you, don’t it? I treaded lightly on his channel, but he banned me for comments I made elsewhere showing equal respect to others (he must have been curious after I started engaging with him). He must have felt my power! 🙂

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          I don’t know if this is what you meant, but your comment spun the wheels a bit for me.

          First off, comparing god to other properly basic concepts isn’t the evidence that theists seem to think it is. In fact, it isn’t evidence at all, it just means one must assume god’s existence to interact with the world.

          This is bullshit, of course, which any simple thought experiment can expose. Does presuming god’s existence facilitate better testing of shower temperature, for instance?

          But it’s actually worse than that, because by shoehorning good into the intrinsically untestable properly basic box, theists unwittingly concede that all their arguments are useless mental masturbation. If they want me to consider god in the same level as solipsism, I won’t put up much of a fight.

        • Does presuming god’s existence facilitate better testing of shower temperature, for instance?

          some of their claims are pretty nutty. “God is the ground of all logic” seems to be what some of them say. To that, I want to know what a godless world would look like. If a godless world would have no logic (something could be a rock and not-a-rock at the same time), I’d like to see the evidence.

        • Greg G.

          In godless world, a god could be a god and not a god, but only a god can be a god, therefore there is a god. I’m convinced.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Absolutely. It’s also noteworthy that all other properly basic beliefs are patently obvious once pointed out. “You’re right, I guess I do assume the reliability of my senses and the actuality of external reality.”

          Only god is so properly basic that you don’t realize you are making that presumption even after being made aware of it. Funny that.

      • JP415

        I suppose if you wanted to, you could say that any abstract idea is properly basic — at least, it would be difficult for someone to prove you wrong.

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          But ideas don’t have to be proven *wrong*, they need to be demonstrated.

          🙂

      • Greg G.

        They claim that if you do not believe what they know by their sensus divinitatis, then your sensus divinitatis is defective. They know that because their sensus divinitatis is not defective.

        • Otto

          Do we need to ask for a refund?

        • Greg G.

          Did you save the receipt? It was attached to your belly-button when you were born.

        • Otto

          Damn…

          And can we just say ‘God detector’ instead of sensus divinitatis?

        • Greg G.

          And can we just say ‘God detector’ instead of sensus divinitatis?

          No, saying a stupid thing in Latin makes it less obvious.

        • Susan

          saying a stupid thing in Latin makes it less obvious.

          To many people, saying it in Latin is enough to make it true.

        • Greg G.

          In vino veritas.

        • Susan

          In vino veritas.

          Feles arborem ascendit.

        • Greg G.

          Happiness in tree climbing?

        • Susan

          Happiness in tree climbing?

          The cat climbs up the tree.

          I see a future in catholic fortune cookies for both of us.

        • Greg G.

          Ahhhh…. Feles > Felix > Cat. I thought Feles > Feliz > Happiness. I grew up listening to Jose Feliciano at Christmas.

        • Otto

          Summa cumme laude
          Magna cumme laude
          The radios too laude

        • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

          BTW, with the middle word being ‘cumme’ instead of ‘cum’, it becomes laudatory rubber production ;-), per Google Translate.

        • Otto

          I wasn’t sure which spelling was correct so I looked it up in Google and made a mistake…pisses me off when I try to get it right and still fk it up….lol

        • Bravo Sierra

          Re: “Did you save the receipt? It was attached to your belly-button when you were born.”
          Are you sure it wasn’t attached a little lower?

        • Greg G.

          I am still angry about that one.

      • Ctharrot

        Seems to me such an approach would work precisely as well (or poorly) to justify belief in Ahura Mazda, Jupiter, Ra, Inanna, and any number of other deities that I’m sure Armstrong and Plantinga summarily dismiss as products of the human imagination.

    • Susan

      See Alvin Plantinga, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig

      Which only tells us that you don’t have to be a mouth-breathing idiot to be a christian.

      I agree. We’d be idiots to not agree. But you don’t have to be a mouth-breathing idiot to think the earth is flat, or that the government is out to get you or that Elvis lived.

      Seriously. You can be fairly bright. In those fields, they will think you are a genius.

      But really. Their intellects aren’t particularly impressive in overall terms.

      And these are their great intellectuals.

      I’m not sure they would have been called intellectuals if the philsophy of religion didn’t take it seriously.

      Which, seems to be equivalent to the philosophy of astrology to me.

      They have specialties in fields that generally don’t take them seriously for reasons those fields have spelled out.

  • Kuno

    Nothing objective grounds the evolution of various doctrines and the
    declaring of some as orthodox and some as heresy. If you lived centuries
    ago, doing your best to conform to Christianity as it was preached in
    your church, but died believing what is now considered heresy, well, I
    guess it sucks to be you.

    The more I learned about history, the more this conclusion became apparent.

  • RichardSRussell

    The canon was a popularity contest.

    Camel (noun) a horse assembled by a committee

  • Some do try to defend it with evidence. It just doesn’t hold up.

    • RichardSRussell

      I am often at pains to distinguish between “evidence” and “proof”; the former supports a conclusion, the latter sets it in concrete. Aside from logic and mathematics, it’s quite difficult to truly prove something. Evidence, however, is frequently found on both sides of an issue.

      • epeeist

        I am often at pains to distinguish between “evidence” and “proof”;

        Indeed, but you ought to consider “justification” as well. There are other ways that a conclusion can be supported besides direct evidence.

        • RichardSRussell

          My wife assures me of this all the time, but I’d be interested to see what examples you can gin up that are relevant to the subjects Bob discusses on Cross Examined.

      • True. Let us say then that atheism has more evidence for it.

  • Philmonomer

    On a completely different note, I assume you’ve seen that Warren Throckmorton’s blog is gone from Patheos? I have no idea what that’s about, but it seems like they gave him less than 24 hours notice. I assume that whatever is going on is unique to his situation; however, you may want to think about your back-up for this blog (including–maybe especially–the comments).

    • Greg G.

      http://www.wthrockmorton.com/

      Patheos leadership informed me yesterday that my blog no longer fit their “strategic objectives.” Since I don’t know what those are, I can’t say how I didn’t fit them.

      What a strange turn of events. Patheos was at the center of the Mars Hill Church and Gospel for Asia stories and now they host Mark Driscoll and K.P. Yohannan. All of the those Patheos links about Mars Hill and GFA are now erased. The content is here and archived elsewhere but admittedly, it will be harder to find.

      • I would be quite disturbed if this showed a power struggle with Mark Driscoll pushing out Throckmorton.

    • Yeah. I was a big fan of his work in shining a light on Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill church here in Seattle. He was some category of Christian, though I forget which one. Seeing Christians policing their own bad behavior, in this one case at least, was praiseworthy.

      The Nonreligious bloggers are buzzing with the news, but there’s not much to say. That Throckmorton claims to have been blindsided is weird. Presumably clarify will emerge soon.

  • John MacDonald

    Bob wrote “Michael Shermer observed, ‘Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.’

    Also, as Howard Gardner pointed out, people have different kinds of intelligences. Someone can be gifted at math, and yet sub-par linguistically. Someone can be proficient musically, but not bodily/kinesthetically. In this way, someone can be highly gifted in other areas, but not when it comes to existential intelligence (reasoning through the Big Questions).