God Doesn’t Solve the “Who Sez?” Problem

I’ve finished reading Timothy Keller’s book The Reason for God. It was a hard slog, especially the last section, in which he announces he’s not going to argue for God’s existence any more because everyone already agrees with him whether they admit it or not (yes, he actually says that), and instead devotes his time to writing theological fan-fiction about how happy and glorious and wonderful everything will be when Jesus comes back.

I’ve addressed Keller’s arguments regarding inherited religious beliefs and truth-seeking methods of belief formation, as well as whether evolved reasoning abilities are trustworthy. This will be my third and last post.

As part of his everyone-already-agrees-with-me argument, Keller says that people’s moral intuitions can only be justified if God exists:

Most people feel that human rights are not created by us but are found by us, that they are there and must be honored by majorities, whether they like them or not. But… [if there is no god] who gets the right to put their subjective, arbitrary moral feelings into law? You may say “the majority has the right to make the law,” but do you mean that then the majority has the right to vote to exterminate a minority? If you say “No, that is wrong,” then you are back to square one. “Who sez” that the majority has a moral obligation not to kill the minority? [p.159]

Just in the spirit of being absolutely fair to Keller (because I’m nothing if not fair!), I’ll acknowledge that these are legitimate things to ask. The question of who gets to make the rules, and the meta-rules about what sorts of rules they can and can’t make, are issues that every society has to grapple with.

That said – and now I’m going to be less charitable – Keller obviously isn’t asking these questions because he wants answers. Secular philosophers have written lengthy treatises on the non-supernatural origins of morality, but he doesn’t even acknowledge any of these efforts, much less make any attempt to refute them. Like the creationists who deploy strategic pessimism and insist that scientific mysteries are just too hard for us to figure out, Keller wants us to conclude that our moral views are inexplicable, throw up our hands and say “God did it”.

But here’s the incredible part. You’d think that after making an argument like this, Keller would present a case for why his particular religious beliefs offer a solution to this problem. But the astonishing thing is, he doesn’t. He just takes it for granted that people who believe in God have a firm grounding for their moral views, and moves on without saying anything more about the subject. (The lazy, arrogant “you already know I’m right” mentality probably detracts from the perceived necessity of actually defending disputable points.)

Keller’s implicit claim is that God’s existence settles moral debates, but this is obviously wrong. Millions of people who believe in God disagree, often starkly and sometimes violently, about what’s moral and what’s not, and they all cite their beliefs about God’s will in favor of those diametrically opposed views. As I said to Peter Hitchens, if the clouds parted and a luminous, bearded figure appeared and boomed out his commandments, we’d be having a different debate, but that’s not the world we live in.

Even admitting God into the picture for the sake of argument, we wind up right back where we were before, facing the problem of who gets to make the rules and why. What happens when someone says, “God spoke to me and said he wants me to kill you”?

If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. [p.162]

Again, this claim is left hanging with no justification. Human rights are a modern idea, and one that’s entirely foreign to the Bible, which endorses racism, patriarchy, slavery, divine-right monarchy, and other ideas that we now recognize as antithetical to human rights. Keller’s attempt to claim this idea for Christianity is another example of how the forces of religious orthodoxy battle to hold back moral progress as long as possible, and then when they finally lose, turn around and claim credit for the outcome they fought to prevent.

The answer to Keller’s “who sez” quandary, as I’ve written before, is that morality isn’t a question of “who”, but a question of “why”. Morality is and can only be a set of principles which rational agents freely agree to because it produces the greatest good for everyone in the long run. If we let reason and the evidence guide us, we’ll eventually converge on the same conclusions. Belief in gods makes that consensus harder, not easier, to reach, by encouraging people to consider their own personal opinions and prejudices to be sacrosanct.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Morality is and can only be a set of principles which rational agents freely agree to because it produces the greatest good for everyone in the long run.

    Interestingly, I consider that to be pragmatics, not morality … and there is a number of secular moral philosophies that agree with me. That’s your own opinion, certainly, but it has problems, and in fact the same problem that Keller raises: if it would produce the greatest good for everyone in the long run to exterminate a minority, would you say “It would still be wrong”? If so, then you don’t accept that morality just is a set of principles that everyone agrees to because it produces the greatest good for everyone, because you’d accept that there are cases where producing the greatest good is not moral. But if you don’t, then you risk running into the same problem that Christians run into, which is having to accept that genocide can be moral.

  • Jason Wexler

    I’m not sure what Adams response would be, but the easy and obvious answer is that yes genocide in a general abstract sense does in fact fall into the category of “moral” when free from specific details of who and why. However it is those specific details of who and why which always catch us up, causing every potential instance of genocide to become unpragmatic and immoral.

  • Verbose Stoic

    This isn’t that easy, since it means that you’d have to say that, yes, to you genocide can indeed be moral, under the right circumstances, so you can’t say that genocide just is morally wrong. If you then argue with, say, people like William Lane Craig, you can’t say that genocide in and of itself is wrong, but that those aren’t the right circumstances to make it moral. Except that they would then point out that they don’t have the same definition of moral as you, and then it all reverts back to a discussion over what the right morality is, making the charge of “You support genocide!” weak.

    On the flip side, if you are talking to people who are, say, Kantians or Stoics, they CAN say that genocide just IS morally wrong and that it is an indication of a flaw in your moral system that you accept it as being morally right. Your response would be exactly the same as the person’s above: you don’t agree with them on what it means to be moral. And then it reverts back, again, to a discussion over what the right morality is.

    That you would in theory allow genocide or killing people or even potentially enslaving people to be moral if it made things better for the everyone is taken to be an indication of a flaw in your system, and one that reasonable people might reject. So, at best, you end up having to justify your stance, and at worst you have a strong counter against it.

  • Jason Wexler

    I’m sorry, I didn’t make it clear that I was offering a plausible solution to the problem you were positing, and not my own beliefs. I personally reject absolute morality and accept that all such values are culturally and temporally biased whims and can be nothing but that. Anything that is objectively good, right, true or any of the opposites of those cases is so based on something inherrent in the universe or the individual subject that can be independently verified. I have no problem living with or accepting the consequences or contradiction of supporting as situationally moral something I know to be pragmatically wrong, i.e. I oppose genocide or violence or cruelty even though I can conceive of situations where it is absolutely better to do those things, and I oppose them even in those situations; and I recognize I do so at least in those cases on an irrational whim, because I personally value non-violence (and admittedly in part because those pragmatic pro-violence situations are highly unlikely) and accept that I have no ground to tell someone else they are wrong if they disagree with me. Additionaly I don’t see a need to worry about immorality in others either contemporary, historical or forthcoming, when I can’t do anything about it.

  • kraut2

    “If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. [p.162]”

    This nincompoop completely ignores the history of religion over the last two thousand years (where were human rights during feudalism, the early industrial age?) the fact that several thousand version of gods exist. He blithely assumes his version of god is the correct one, based on what? demographics, statistics, preferences?

  • Verbose Stoic

    Actually, I should apologize and point out that the “you” wasn’t aimed at you specifically, but as a generic “you” who is someone who is making the claim.

    You seem to be a relativist, and it has its own problems … the biggest of which being that you can’t really say that someone else is acting morally wrong with any real strength. But that would be getting away from the topic and so let’s put that aside.

  • Jason Wexler

    I already accepted that I can’t say someone else is morally wrong in my response to you, so it’s a moot point. I can however claim that they are objectively and pragmatically wrong, believing that values are cultural and temporal whims for instances doesn’t mean I can’t say that you are wrong to claim the sky is polka dotted. I’ve always happily claimed to be a relativist and learning from Sam Harris’ book “The Moral Landscape” that, that term usually includes a belief that there is no truth at all hasn’t stopped me from self describing that way in a moral sense, since I don’t believe that there is a single unmistakeable and objective truth to moral questions. That said while I may not be able to tell someone else that say slavery is morally wrong, I can point out all sorts of compelling evidence that it is both harmful and inefficient. I can also actively chose to undermine their ability to keep slaves.

  • 8DX

    Heh, just yesterday I listened to an Unbelievable podcast where they were discussing the Lawrence Kraus vs. John Lennox debate – specifically the validity of asking “Why questions”. Justin and the producer seemed to agree that “But, why?” is a valid response to saying “Why questions are invalid.” Syncs up nicely – atheists don’t say “Why questions” are invalid altogether – just that they are only valid concerning humanity’s problems (morality, ethics, society), not concerning “Where did the universe come from?” There’s no universal WHY, just a whole heap of small, human, subjective whys.

  • MNb

    “He just takes it for granted that people who believe in God have a firm grounding for their moral views”

    It’s basically the same strategy as followed by creationists. Evolution Theory is wrong hence god. Subjective morality doesn’t work, hence god.

    “If we let reason and the evidence guide us”
    I want a place for emotion too. The vast majority of mankind cringes when confronted with a suffering child. Apologetics way too often leads to disappearing empathy. Don’t look further than Craig for an example.

  • MNb

    This is the problem of choosing between two evils. While it’s a legitimate question to which in the end I don’t have a satisfying answer such dilemma’s are surprisingly rare in practice.
    To use your own example: genocide causes immense suffering. I hardly can imagine how great the good for all survivors should be to compensate. Can you? Then please explain in detail.

  • MNb

    “then it all reverts back to a discussion over what the right morality is”
    Of course. Craig thinks pleasing god is the right morality. I don’t. For me human happiness and well-being is the starting point, in this life in this world. The only way I can defend it is by pointing out that almost all people prefer to be happy. This is an argumentum ad populum.
    If we dig a little deeper yet we’ll see that it comes down to emotion. Being unhappy and seeing other people unhappy makes me sad. Not believing makes Craig sad.
    So there is no way to prove that one morality is right and another is wrong. Worse: in extremis all ethical systems I know lead to inconsistencies, meaning consequences unacceptable to the supporter of that ethical system.
    So it has taken me literally more than two decades to decide I’m a utilitarian. There are two things I like about it: many believers intuitively use utilitarian arguments in practice (I know of a striking example of a Dutch orthodox-protestant during WW-2); forcing moralities on other people invariably went wrong in the past and utilitarianism as the weakest tendency to do so.

  • Azkyroth

    Interestingly

    Facts not in evidence.

    I consider that to be pragmatics, not morality

    This is a pointless and arbitrary distinction. Any useful morality is heavily informed by, and in a certain light even a subset of, pragmatics.

    if it would produce the greatest good for everyone in the long run to exterminate a minority, would you say “It would still be wrong”?

    This is like asking what the implications of a heat engine with an efficiency greater than unity would be for the economy. (It is, to your marginal credit, not quite like asking what the surface area of a square circle, or the square root of “banana,” would be, this time). The fact that you can form a vague, one-sentence verbal description of a scenario does not establish that it is a realistic situation worth actually considering when developing an ethos one intends to apply to the real world.

    EDIT: (Actually, a more charitable analogy: this is like insisting that I can’t adequately describe the motion of my car using Newton’s second law because Newtonian predictions deviate spectacularly from actual results at speeds near that of light…while hinting that the ancient Greeks were probably right about bodies being “jubilant” about returning to earth after all).

  • Verbose Stoic

    On what grounds do you declare that a physical or logical impossibility? At best, you can say that it won’t happen very often … but then you will still run into the Kantians, say, who will still hold it against your moral code that it would, indeed, allow that, and then start to list all the more minor heinousnesses that your moral code will allow in the name of the greatest good.

  • Verbose Stoic

    First, choosing between multiple “evils” — ie things that would cause suffering — is incredibly common. The trolley case, for example.

    Second, you would run into issues with moral codes who would say that this isn’t a choice between two evils, but between one obvious evil and something that you might consider an evil but only because you have an absolutely screwy moral system.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Since you edited it after I first responded, let me respond to your second analogy. The first part of it is a reasonable comparison, but note that people would point out that Newtonian physics is still wrong because of that deviation, and in morality would say that you’re likely getting what would be analogous to the motion of the car wrong because why that is the answer is as important as what the answer is when it comes to morality. Thus, they’d ask why it is that you would use the incorrect moral principles when you could just go ahead and use the right ones, since the analogy, again, presumes that you do have the incorrect moral principles. As for the second part, I don’t see how that’s really relevant to the discussion. What are you using to compare that to in your example?

  • pRinzler

    Theists’ problem is that the false dichotomy they set up – morality is either God-given or arbitrary – is founded on the false idea that people can decide do to anything. People *can’t* decide to do anything; science shows us that, via evolution, there can be such a thing as human nature, that is, some thing that people tend to do and some things that they don’t. For instance, it would be nearly impossible for me to, without any unstated circumstance or influence, for me to walk across the hallway right now, go to my friend and colleague who is sitting at his desk, and poke his eyes out, regardless of whether I consciously think this is a bad thing to do or not. I am not free to decide to do that. It’s not part of my nature (given to me by evolution as well as my childhood training).

  • Azkyroth

    You were invited to come up with a plausible scenario where that would actually work out and ignored the question. I certainly can’t envision one, and there are good heuristic reasons to infer that the understanding of “good for” that the rest of us are having precludes it, and that any scenario in which it did obtain requires not only such unlikely simplistic pragmatic aspects but such implausibly perfect knowledge and confidence about them that it should be dismissed in the absence of compelling evidence. As with the heat engine scenario, there are good reasons to think it will not actually occur, even if one can imagine it – or, at least, imagine the description being applied to something. I reject the idea that positively proving something “physically or logically impossible” is a reasonable standard for dismissing a claim which is outside experience and has no plausible mechanism or scenario even prop…

    …wait, what the hell am I doing? >.>

  • Jeff

    “But… [if there is no god] who gets the right to put their subjective, arbitrary moral feelings into law?”

    So is he acknowledging in this sentence that the wishes of Yahweh are every bit as subjective and arbitrary as those of any random human?

  • Jason Wexler

    Only the last 2000 years? Doesn’t Yahweh Encourage some pretty nasty genocides and commit one or two himself? The Greek gods had no concept of sexual consent or fidelity, the Celtic gods regularly went to war against humanity (occasionally losing, which isn’t so much immoral but is fascinating), Indra created the Hindu caste system and the four great sages enslaved all of China. Religion was pretty much bullocks long before Jesus didn’t come along.

  • Jim Jones

    > He blithely assumes his version of god is the correct one, based on what?

    Based on faith — IOW, wishful thinking.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    I loved your type of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” summation until the last line. How do you explain our date system?

  • Azkyroth

    “Incorrect” is the wrong framing; the results are indistinguishable under conditions normally encountered by humans without superhuman effort.

    note that people would point out that Newtonian physics is still wrong because of that deviation, and in morality would say that you’re likely getting what would be analogous to the motion of the car wrong because why that is the answer is as important as what the answer is when it comes to morality. Thus, they’d ask why it is that you would use the incorrect moral principles when you could just go ahead and use the right ones

    Go look up what the “more complete” equations of motion are. Please report on the error actually obtained, using Newtonian vs “the more complete” equations, within the maximum speed range of publicly purchasable automobiles, and the actual form of those equations. Then understand that they are still incomplete because they are basically incompatible with quantum theory and see if you can figure out the leading candidates for a model that unites the two.

    Having principles that give results that are, for any practical purpose, correct, and are tractable and easily expressed in practice, is valuable, particularly in the absence of anything other than, for instance…

    As for the second part, I don’t see how that’s really relevant to the discussion. What are you using to compare that to in your example?

    …the way you keep bringing up Kant, for one, who formulated a moral system which dictated that masturbation is unethical and that one cannot morally lie to save a life, and drag out a tendentious courtier’s reply every time I point this out.

  • Azkyroth

    What do gender roles have to do with this?

  • GCT

    It would be easier for you to just cut and paste your previous comments every single time a question on morality comes up. That way, we could cut and paste our responses that you’ll inevitably ignore so that you can cut and paste the same answered crap over and over.

  • GCT

    Do you actually think that because people hundreds of years after Jesus supposedly was born decided to label their calendars based on their estimations of the event and the writings of biased sources and that it caught on means that it’s a certainty that Jesus really was born then and really did walk the Earth?

    There’s scant evidence that Jesus even existed…and by scant, I mean just about none. There’s no contemporary source that corroborates his existence or any of the events he supposedly was a part of, which is rather odd since he supposedly was responsible for many miraculous things, which on one bothered to record at the time.

  • Bender

    Come on, it’s highly likely he existed. As Christopher Hitchens used to say, the very fact Luke came up with that absurd census story to explain why the alleged messiah came from Nazareth, instead of Bethlehem as he was supposed, indicates there must have been a man called Jesus and he was famous before somebody decided to fabricate a religion around him. Otherwise, why not invent directly “Jesus of Bethlehem”?

  • Jason Wexler

    With the possible exception of the Muslim callender, every system of recording years, is based on a fictitious 0 year, an event or person that didn’t happen or ever exist. All callenders also have the interesting feature of coming into use long after their 0 year (again the Muslim calender is the exception), anyway I thought most Christians knew and accepted that Dionysus Exiguus, got the incarnation year wrong, and that Jesus should he have existed would have been born somewhere between 7 and 4 BC. Personally given the primacy of Easter over Christmas in the traditional Christian worldview up until the Victorian era, I’ve never been able to figure out why he used the nativity and not the crucifixion as 0 year, then again considering all of the historical errors and dating mistakes in his calculations, he may well have thought he was dating the crucifixion.

  • smrnda

    Another interpretation is that a moral society should provide some minimum level of well-being to all, which gets out of the ‘greatest good for greatest number’ problem where oppressing a minority gets rendered acceptable.

  • smrnda

    Human rights seem at odd with quite a few religions.

  • smrnda

    A firm grounding isn’t necessarily a good thing. Many Xtians won’t even accept a discussion on issues like homosexuality since the Bible already *told them it is bad* and that’s the end of that to them. You see the same thing with any number of issues – people whose minds are made up because they accept some argument from authority where they can’t even discuss a moral issue. It’s the opposite of thinking about what/why things are good or bad.

    It’s good to be open to new information and new arguments. There are some basic morals that I don’t feel I could give up, but I’m also interested in hearing arguments for and against things since there have been issues where I’ve changed my opinions based on new knowledge.

    Craig’s whole line of reasoning is that he supports authoritarianism, which isn’t a view or morality compatible with compassion, which is why he’s pitying people KILLING kids and not the kids.

  • smrnda

    True, but there is one thing – sometimes we might admit that our instincts are wrong or lead to counterproductive behaviors, so some level of being able to fight them can be moral. I’ve studied cognitive psychology and social psychology, mostly issues involving in-group and out-group bias and prejudice. It’s a scientific fact that people are biased in these areas, but that’s still a bad thing even though it’s likely just human nature.

    So I’d say we have human nature, for good or ill, and I also totally agree that we’re sometimes stuck with how we behave, though sometimes it is good and other times bad.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    Jason…this is very interesting…thank you! So when everyone pays a bill or writes a check today are they not acknowledging Christ and the, “In the Year of our Lord….” whether they want to or not?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Only in the same sense that anyone who uses the word “Thursday” is declaring themselves to be a worshipper of Thor.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    So we have eyewitnesses to Christ being here and our calendar system, so yeah I do think Christ lived. Now whether or not one accepts him as the Savior is different, but he certainly lived and was resurrected and we acknowledge that when we write a check…or check our blog posts:)

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    Ha! I like that…but it’s not even close to the same meaning. Christ replaced the false gods. Anyhoo….Thor didn’t resurrect…except at the movie theater:)

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    Not gender roles…it was a clarification question because I like Jason’s posts. His summation was good. Now if you wanna discuss gender roles that will keep us here until the Lord returns! ha!

  • Plutosdad

    No

  • Jason Wexler

    Death and resurrection is very common in Mythology and Thor is one of hundreds of gods who have done just that.

  • GCT

    So we have eyewitnesses to Christ being here and our calendar system, so yeah I do think Christ lived.

    Name one eyewitness to Christ being here. There aren’t any.

    As for the calendar system, we do know who came up with it, when they did so, and how they did so, but that doesn’t help your case.

    It’s possible that there was an itinerant preacher named “Jesus” who lived during that time period, but we have no compelling evidence of him and the stories we have of him are most certainly fabricated.

    Now whether or not one accepts him as the Savior is different, but he certainly lived and was resurrected and we acknowledge that when we write a check…or check our blog posts:)

    It we have no evidence that he even lived, how can you be so certain that he was resurrected? There’s no record of it, nor of all the other things that supposedly occurred when it happened (no zombies rose out of the ground and walked around the holy city, nor was there a recorded earthquake).

    And, I fail to see how writing a check or checking a blog post has anything to do with this in the slightest.

  • GCT

    Using the conventions of the culture that we live in does not provide evidence that Jesus existed or is some sort of god figure. If this were true, you’d have to extend the same argument to all other cultures that use different calendars and claim all of their gods are real too.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    If you are sincere I can get you the historical evidence..it’s really no bother at all. Now a closed mind…that is a real bother…on any day or date:)

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    That would just disprove that anything you or I are saying is null and void if the culture was the gist. What other countries are currently using different calendar systems for their official daily dates (not the religious calendars that aren’t official)? What calendar system is this blog using?

  • Jason Wexler

    Do people still write cheques? I am pretty sure the date field leaves the AD off. In any event the fact that people have to use a callender that doesn’t correspond to their belief system doesn’t mean they are endorssing it. We still have to live in the society around us, I can’t just go around claiming it’s the year 13,151,289,772, in part because I have no idea if it’s true and in part because no one else would understand what I am saying the same applies if I say it’s the years 4,932,719,200 (ignition of the sun) or 4,052,334,714 (coalescence of the Earth) or 582,910,662 (Cambrian explosion) or 4,250,342 (Australopithecus) of 150,280 (Homo Sapiens) there is no universal date that is accurately known and represents something real that didn’t take thousands of years to occur and for which we know to the precession of a single year. So there isn’t a point in re-numbering the calender since it doesn’t hurt anything.

  • GCT

    Sure, if you have anything that’s not already covered by the following link…

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/choking-on-the-camel-preface/

    You didn’t assume that I know nothing about the subject already, did you?

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    Yes in Mythology it’s common, but our date system based on mythology? Surely you would agree the date on this blog system is “In the Year of our Lord”?

  • Jason Wexler

    Alice be careful engaging Azkyroth. And he was making a bad pun.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    Be careful? Now what fun would that be? :) I knew I was off topic…and I have no problem with puns or honest debate.

  • GCT

    Our dates are based on mythology, yes. Again, just because someone used their mythology and got the surrounding culture to agree to that specific dating system does not mean that the mythology is correct. If that were true, then you’d have to accept that all gods that have calendars based on them are real. When are you heading down to the synagogue and the mosque?

  • GCT

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

    You’re not getting it though. If Muslims took over the world and decided to force everyone to use their calendar, would you automatically decide that Allah must be the true god and start worshiping him? You can’t use the prevalence of a cultural convention to prove that your religion is correct.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    No…you aren’t getting it. Go to the reason for the date system we use today and you will see. I could be forced to use a date system based on Allah, but reject it in my heart as you are doing. But Allah didn’t resurrect now did he? That would be supernatural.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    I like the synagogue, and can’t get into the mosque…does the local Muslim hooka place we like count?:)

  • Science Avenger

    So we have eyewitnesses to Christ being here…

    No we don’t. The Gospels are not eyewitness accounts, as demonstrated by the following:

    1) They contain the contents of dreams
    2) They contain the contents of people’s thoughts
    3) They describe events where there was supposedly only one person present.

    At best they are second hand accounts, at worst, pure propaganda.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    Propaganda? So we have a date system based on propaganda? Hmm….and the Bible tells you when someone is dreaming. That’s truthful. You just told me your thoughts. That’s truthful. And they aren’t second hand accounts…they are firsthand accounts and the gospels all agree (though the style of writing is different). Imagine having four eyewitnesses agree (and there were hundreds of other witnesses). Have you studied the authenticity of the gospels and Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.?

  • GCT

    We already went over the date system history. Someone decided to try and standardize dates based on their particular mythology and it caught on in a culture that was steeped in that mythology. Many other cultures have since adopted it when dealing with this culture for pragmatic reasons. Again, this has no bearing on the truth or falsity of the mythology in question (and yes, your religion is a mythology).

    But Allah didn’t resurrect now did he? That would be supernatural.

    We have no evidence to suggest that anyone has ever been resurrected. If you accept the claims that your particular religious figure has been resurrected, then you should be willing to accept the claims of all other religious figures that have just as much evidence. For example, Mithras was also a figure that was resurrected (and shares a lot of striking similarities with the Jesus myth) and predates Jesus by a couple decades in the same geographic location. Why do you not have an open mind about Mithras?

  • pRinzler

    “Hmm….and the Bible tells you when someone is dreaming. That’s truthful. ”

    You’re changing the subject. Science Avenger mentioned the Bible relaying the *content* of a dream, not *when* someone is dreaming.

    “they are firsthand accounts”

    In order for something written to be a firsthand account, the person who wrote the account must have personally witnessed what is being written about. Correct or not?

    ” the gospels all agree”

    On everything? Or just some things?

    “Have you studied the authenticity of the gospels and Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.?”

    Authentic what? Authentic legends of the time? Authentic histories of the time? Authentic fiction of the time? The gospels may have been authenticated to have been written at a certain time, but I’m unaware that the supernatural content of them (the resurrection

  • GCT

    They are not first hand accounts. The earliest writings post-date the events they supposedly chronicle by many decades, at best. The supposed authors are also not the actual authors of the pieces. They’re also at least partly cribbed from one another, although they disagree in content when the author wanted to present their vision of Jesus. For example, the author that wrote the so-called Luke account wanted to portray a Jesus that was more god-like than the earlier Mark account that he was cribbing from (potentially due to criticism from non-Xians that Jesus couldn’t have been a god because the Mark account doesn’t show him as sufficiently god-like – which is also not a good argument, but something that it’s possible “Luke” was responding to).

    And, yes, I’ve studied some of this stuff. Have you?

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    Hey if you want a genuine discussion of the authenticity of the Bible I am definitely game, but then again one has to know their audience and you need to debate with people who studied the matter.

    Now since GCT likes Wikipedia…here is a quote from there: “Most modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed” It’s from their page that goes all over the various thoughts out there on this topic.

  • GCT

    Cute, but it doesn’t answer the objection that you are engaging in special pleading.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    If you studied it you would know they are firsthand accounts….that’s what eyewitness accounts usually are:) And, yes, I have studied it in-depth…the whole writing of the Bible, the preservation, the historical time period…the differences of opinions….but back to today….today is still in the “Year of our Lord” and as I just wrote to another poster with a Wikipedia quote for you that this isn’t the right audience…or right blog. Write an article and write to me that you posted it and I will come over and debate it.

  • Jason Wexler

    So does that mean Dr. Watson counts as an eye witness to the historicity of Sherlock Holmes? I am pretty sure that Captain Kirk says Spock is real. The problem with claiming there were eye witnesses for Jesus’ resurrection is that their (the witnesses) historical reality or existence is also doubtful.

  • GCT

    Yes, most modern scholars brought up in the Xian tradition agree that Jesus probably existed, although that’s a far cry from the idea that not only did he exist, but he also performed miracles and rose from the dead. They, also, have very much difficulty presenting the evidence.

  • GCT

    If you studied it you would know they are firsthand accounts….

    Actually, it’s because I’ve studied it that I can be certain enough that they are not. What evidence do you have to show that they are first hand accounts? There’s no corroborating evidence anywhere.

    And, yes, I have studied it in-depth…the whole writing of the Bible, the preservation, the historical time period…

    Then, I presume you’re aware of all the textual variants, the copying errors, the editing, etc? You should be aware of the stylistic variances and what they were attempting to rebut (in that we have rebuttals from criticisms).

    today is still in the “Year of our Lord” and as I just wrote to another poster with a Wikipedia quote for you that this isn’t the right audience…or right blog.

    Although many are moving over to CE, AD is still in use, yes, and it’s still based on a mythology that caught on in the culture and says nothing about the truth or falsity of your mythology.

    Write an article and write to me that you posted it and I will come over and debate it.

    Write an article on what? Besides, have you even checked the link I left for you discussing the dearth of evidence for Jesus?

  • pRinzler

    Alice, could you please answer my questions from my last post? I’m happy to discuss things with you, and I’m happy to answer your questions, but first things first.

  • Science Avenger

    Me telling you my thoughts is a first hand account. Me telling you someone else’s thoughts (as the Bible does) is second hand. Ditto for the contents of someone else’s dreams, or someone else’s experience having a conversation with the Devil on a mountaintop. Unless Jesus wrote the story in the Bible about his meeting with Satan, its second hand at best.

    I don’t understand why you find it so bizarre that something in society could be based on propaganda. Ever study the actual story of Thanksgiving? The version we celebrate is propaganda, plain and simple.

  • Jason Wexler

    No not really. Acknowledging is a conscious act and most people write and use dates without giving it any consideration. Further only the most devout religious believers include a reference to Jesus when citing the date, it is increasingly common for people to not know why or where the date comes from. People regardless of what they believe and how strongly believe it tend to view day and month names and the source of our year count as incidental and inconsequential, and I suspect most people who do know the sources, are more like me and view it as an unnecessary battle to try and change them. Although I would point out I hear far more references to the months and the days of the weeks which are of Pagan religious origin, than I hear the year being mentioned. “The President was elected last year…” as opposed to “The President was elected in XXXX” versus “I went there back in June…” as opposed to “I went there X months ago…”

  • Alex Harman

    In a broad sense, everyone’s a utilitarian — we just use different ultimate values to construct our utility functions. For example, Libertarians and Objectivists seek to maximize “liberty,” in the narrow sense of freedom from government interference, for everyone, and care little whether it comes at the expense of happiness or even survival for many people.

  • Alex Harman

    I have to say, your obsession with the Anno Domini/Common Era dating system is one of the most bizarre hobbyhorses I’ve ever seen an evangelical commenter riding, and I’ve seen some weird ones. Perhaps we’ll establish a new dating system with a new year zero in the future; either the date of the Trinity atomic test or the day Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth would be good, precisely known candidates for when an old era ended and a new one began. It’s not too likely, though, just because of cultural inertia — the Gregorian calendar is so widely used now that it would be enormously inconvenient to switch, at least while we’re all living on one planet. (The Ante Diaspora/Post Diaspora system in David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” novels, dating from the launch of the first interstellar colony ship, does seem like a plausible replacement if our future history actually does follow such a course.)

    P.S. Given the amount of time I spent vivisecting your arguments in my last response to you in the “Congratulations, New Jersey!” thread, it’s a little disappointing that you never responded. Only a little, as I don’t really expect your response to be any less clueless than the rest of your persecuted-hegemon whining in that thread, but still.

  • smrnda

    There are quite a few calendar systems. It is now year 4711 according to the Chinese calendar. That’s quite a few people there using a totally different system.

  • smrnda

    I myself would like to write my checks in milliseconds since the Epoch, but from the moment I’d start writing I’d have to change the number before I was done.

    (The epoch is Jan 1 1970, which, according to some dating systems used in computers, is the earliest date.)

  • Jason Wexler

    I’d like to switch to an entirely digital form of money/currency exchanged through the use of biometric measures.

  • Pattrsn

    No

  • MNb

    +1.

  • Nemo

    Prove that the Hebrew war god had a son who resurrected, then we’ll talk. Simply asserting “those gods are in the grave, Jesus lives” doesn’t make it so. I’ve little doubt that the character of Jesus was based on a real person. And that’s all: a person. Given that no historical source speaks of Jesus until several decades after his life suggests that the character of Jesus is a legend that arose surrounding the real person. For example, give me a source that speaks of the dead walking Jerusalem, as the Book of Matthew claims. There aren’t any.
    Yes, our dating system can be traced back to a monk who decided that Jesus’s alleged birth date was x years ago and thus established that as year 0. That does not prove any sort of supernatural power at work. You yourself acknowledged that Thursday is Thor’s day. If you can simply dismiss Norse mythology without any discussion, I can do the same for Ancient Near Eastern mythology.

  • evodevo

    How about the Jewish calendar? This is 5774 according to them ! And, since Jesus was an orthodox Jew, I guess that would be the calendar he would be using.

  • evodevo

    Who might that be? Certainly none of the “eyewitnesses” wrote an account. Paul is the only writer of whom we have a record, and he never saw Jesus in the flesh and doesn’t even mention the nativity.

  • evodevo

    No, the Gospels don’t agree – on almost anything. They especially don’t agree on the details of the nativity or the crucifixion or resurrection. Sorry, you lose.

  • evodevo

    Ok, then get it.

  • http://www.calgarysecularchurch.org/ Korey Peters

    When I was in the process of leaving my faith, I would scour the internet, looking for proof of the truth of the Bible. I encountered frequently explanations of the same kind you offered here: “Christ exists because our calendar is based on him”. It takes about 4 seconds of honest thought to realize this reasoning is intellectually bankrupt.

    The fact that evidence like this is put forward at all eventually caused me to complete my de-conversion. For surely, if real and compelling evidence actually existed, apologists would use it instead of evidence that was hollow and transparently juvenile. But they do not. I found this to be deeply concerning and eventually left my faith because of it.

  • GCT

    No, it’s highly likely that a cult sprung up around a mythical figure. Simply because people believed that Jesus existed doesn’t mean that he did. Secondly, they were fudging the stories in order to fit what they thought were the prophecies, hence the story of Jesus born from a virgin – a mistranslation from the prophecy that the messiah would come from a young woman.

  • Kerry

    Indeed you are correct. My wife who is Taiwanese, actually has a date on her passport showing her birth year as…I don’t remember the exact date, but like 4672. It also includes the dating system we use and her name also must be typed in English letters not just Chinese characters so ease of travel.

  • Jon Jermey

    Anyone who doesn’t think humans can themselves develop a whole set of complex and flexible rules for their behaviour, in order to improve their welfare, needs to explain how they think language came about. Of course, once people thought that came from God too, but we can identify and trace back changes in language relatively easily, so that idea won’t hold water.

    If you accept that humans can develop and maintain many different and equally complex systems of communication, then I don’t see how you can’t accept the same thing for systems of morality.

  • Guest

    It startles me that advocates of this argument (and it is a popular one) don’t figure out that ‘God sez’ does not solve this problem or moral arbitrariness at all.

    If morality was not arbitrary, then there would be no need for God – good things would be good and bad things would be bad, no matter what He had to say about them. But on the other hand, if morality IS arbitrary, then why defer to His opinion of what is good or bad as opposed to our opinions of what is good or bad?

  • Richard Hollis

    It startles me that advocates of this argument (and it is a popular one) don’t figure out that ‘God sez’ does not solve this problem of moral arbitrariness at all.

    If morality was not arbitrary, then there would be no need for God – good things would be good and bad things would be bad, no matter what He had to say about them. But on the other hand, if morality IS arbitrary, then why defer to His opinion of what is good or bad rather than our opinions?

  • James

    And your evidence for the resurrection is what exactly? The evidence for the non-existence of Thor is exactly the same as the evidence for the non-existence of Allah and for the non-existence of Yhwh (aka the Judeo-Christian god). Why do you believe in one but not the other two when the positive evidence for existence of all three is exactly nil?

  • James

    Good point. I’d add to it that no one doubts that Joseph Smith existed and even that he wrote the Book of Mormon, but that isn’t proof that he really was handed golden plates by the archangel Moroni. Alice loves her special pleading; the sort of evidence she accepts as true regarding Christianity, she would completely reject if it was presented to support any worldview different from her own.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    Sorry! I am playing catch-up and didn’t see your post until just now. No…I think you are wrong. The whole Christian church was built upon the eye witness accounts of the empty tomb (that’s the way it was before the internet:) Allah? When I studied up on Allah it was via the Oxford Dictionary on Islam and it said Allah was one of many pagan gods chosen at that time…no eye witnesses. just a symbolic type of moon emblem with connotations attached. It’s easily found in the book or online.

  • Derrik Pates

    You realize that the four Gospels, which Christians claim are all “independent” accounts, actually aren’t independent accounts, right? The books of Matthew and Luke were directly cribbed from Mark, and the book of John is largely accepted as entirely fictitious by most modern biblical scholars. The authors aren’t even known – the names were chosen by the early Christian church. And as for Paul? You’re talking about a guy who had a frontal lobe seizure (modern science tells us that what he experienced was almost certainly a frontal lobe seizure), as he himself admits he never did meet Jesus of Nazareth, and couldn’t possibly have.

    Never mind the fact that there are… oh, zero extrabiblical accounts of any of the things Jesus supposedly did, or even his existence. The actual evidence for Jesus is extremely thin, contrary to what your priest/pastor would have you believe.

  • ShellyR

    You are right that Keller did not properly explain the idea that God provides a basis for morality. He incorrectly assumed that even non-Christians reading his book would have a full understanding of Biblical principles. However, simply because he did not provide an explanation did not mean no explanation exists. First let me defend Christian morality by agreeing with you. Yes, horrible things have been committed in the name of God. But I respectfully submit that this was not because they were too Christian, but because they were not Christian enough. Let me use your example. If someone hears God speak to them and tell them to kill someone, and they do, they would have disobeyed scripture. The Bible tells believers we are told not to believe a teaching that contradicts scriptures (Romans 16:17), and Christians are commanded not to murder (Exodus 20), thus a Christian who murders on behalf of God is not actually obeying God. The purpose of verses like Romans 16:17, and all the teachings of the Bible, is because even Christians struggle with the same sin nature as every other human. Thus we need rules that are absolute and written out for us so we don’t get persuaded– by other people or by our own imaginations– to do bad things. However, Christians throughout the years have used the name of God to achieve their own agendas. A common example is the crusades. So many lives lost just because a Pope was on a power trip and peasants couldn’t read the scripture to know that they were doing wrong. This is the fault of Christians who were hypocrites, not the Christian teachings themselves. The Bible teaches of love, kindness, forgiveness, peace. It teaches things like turning the other cheek, valuing children, supporting widows, defending the downtrodden and outcasts. It took a long time for America to conquer slavery and segregation; yet without the Christian value for life, would we have ever ended slavery? Examples of murder, racism, et cetera that are found in the Bible used as examples of wrong, not teachings of right, such as murder (Cain killing Abel), discrimination (Peter stops talking to the Greeks when the Jews show up), lying (Ananias and Sapphira), et cetera. When you think about all the horrible things that have happened in history, those done by Christians are only a fraction. Christians can be hypocrites because we have principles to be hypocritical about.

    That leads me to the second half of my argument. Let me make the case that God does actually supply a basis for morality where athiesm does not. The Bible supplies the idea that every human life has value, because every human being was created purposefully by God in his image. Yes, some distorted Biblical examples of respecting authority were misused to defend slavery in America. Yet Biblical principles were the basis for the anti-slavery movement (for examples, see http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/bourne/bourne.html). With a theistic worldview, every human has inherent value. But, with materialistic atheism, all I am is matter in motion. Pain and suffering are only certain electrical patterns in the brain. The sun will eventually burn out and the universe will face a heat death. Nothing will mean anything. All will be dead; why does it matter if one speck on a tiny planet called earth makes another speck meet its meaningless oblivion a little early? Rape, murder, and cancer are all part of survival of the fittest. But if souls are eternal and crafted by God, what I do to another human being has eternal significance.
    America is the nation foremostly consistent with its founding principles of equality, value, and rights. We were the hub of feminism. We conquered segregation. We give away millions of dollars each year in aid to the poor. We are most often the first response to international catastrophes. Yet how long will our “gentler ethical prejudices” last without their theistic foundations? With athiesm, my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are only comfortable delusions created by society; they can be taken away by society. No one talks about how Darwinist ideas influenced leaders such as Stalin and Hitler in their disregard for lives, which cost combined about 11 million lives (6 million in the Holocaust, 4 to 5 million in the Ukraine famine).

    I believe that you, Adam Lee, are probably a pretty good person. Probably better than some out there who call themselves Christian. Athiests are good people too. But I ask you to consider, where do your ideas of right and wrong come from? You say that Christianity does not provide proper ideas of right and wrong either, yet you make no defense of how atheism does. Do you believe rape is wrong? Well, why? Do you believe drunk driving, torture, and murdering children are wrong? You have these principles, I argue, because you are inconsistent with your own beliefs. You have love and mercy and believe your own life has some meaning. But if all you is a collection of chemicals, surviving only to die and be forgotten, why should it matter what you do? Why should it matter if you kill another collection of chemicals?

  • Science Avenger

    They. Are. Not. Eyewitness. Accounts. We’ve given you proof they aren’t, which you haven’t addressed, yet you continue to repeat the claim. Why is that?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Yes, some distorted Biblical examples of respecting authority were misused to defend slavery in America

    Shelly,

    Your trivially disprovable claim that only a “distorted” reading of the Bible could lead one to endorse slavery, when in fact both testaments of the Bible contain numerous explicit verses permitting, condoning and regulating slavery, suggests to me that you’re not prepared to have a serious or productive discussion on this topic.

  • pRinzler

    “Why should it matter if you kill another collection of chemicals?”

    The fact that it does is prior to why it does. It should not be surprising to you that I, like many people could no more go on a murderous rampage and tear someone apart limb to limb than I could flap my arms and fly. That behavior is just not inside me. I suspect it is not inside you, either, and it’s not your religion that is the thing that prevents you from doing that.

    Why? Probably due to a combination of evolution as a social animal, and upbringing (not necessarily a religious upbringing, either).

  • GCT

    He incorrectly assumed that even non-Christians reading his book would have a full understanding of Biblical principles.

    Just because we don’t agree with you doesn’t mean we don’t understand.

    Yes, horrible things have been committed in the name of God. But I respectfully submit that this was not because they were too Christian, but because they were not Christian enough.

    This is a no true Scotsman fallacy. Given the various ways in which people can and have interpreted the Bible throughout history, claiming that you have the correct interpretation also seems rather arrogant.

    Let me use your example. If someone hears God speak to them and tell them to kill someone, and they do, they would have disobeyed scripture.

    No, they would not. Disobeying god would be to disobey scripture. If god tells you to kill someone, you better do it. Also, it’s not considered murder if it’s sanctioned by god. You don’t get to claim all killing is murder while turning a blind eye to the various genocides sanctioned and/or carried out by god.

    Thus we need rules that are absolute and written out for us so we don’t get persuaded– by other people or by our own imaginations– to do bad things.

    Yet, you don’t hold to an absolute morality, as god’s demands are just as relative as anyone else’s. This is aptly demonstrated by what I just said about god and his genocides.

    The Bible teaches of love, kindness, forgiveness, peace.

    Yes, in certain situations for certain people. It also teaches damnation, hate, thought crime, genocide, slavery, etc.

    It took a long time for America to conquer slavery and segregation; yet without the Christian value for life, would we have ever ended slavery?

    Considering that both sides claimed to have the backing of the Bible and the pro-slavery side had a better case…

    Examples of murder, racism, et cetera that are found in the Bible used as examples of wrong, not teachings of right…

    Except for all the genocides, slavery, killing by the Bible heroes like David, etc. The common thread isn’t that killing/racism/etc. is wrong, it’s that one must do what god says.

    Let me make the case that God does actually supply a basis for morality where athiesm does not.

    This is not the case. In order to come to your morality code, even if you read the Bible you have to decide how to interpret it – which passages to accept, which to ignore, and what those passages all mean. This means you cannot get your morality from the Bible.

    The Bible supplies the idea that every human life has value, because every human being was created purposefully by God in his image.

    This simply does not follow. Just because god made us does not imbue us with value, especially when coupled with the idea that we all deserve eternal damnation, which is also a Xian teaching.

    Nothing will mean anything. All will be dead; why does it matter if one speck on a tiny planet called earth makes another speck meet its meaningless oblivion a little early?

    I also fail to see why nothing can have meaning unless it is eternal – it’s a non sequitur.

    Rape, murder, and cancer are all part of survival of the fittest.

    Except we don’t simply go around raping and murdering each other, nor did we before your god came along. Amazing that. It may have to do with the fact that humans are evolved social animals. Also, Xians get cancer too.

    America is the nation foremostly consistent with its founding principles of equality, value, and rights.

    Genocide of the native Americans, slavery, drone strikes, Jim Crow laws, etc. Sorry, but I don’t simply accept that this is the case.

    Yet how long will our “gentler ethical prejudices” last without their theistic foundations?

    Theism is the problem in most cases. Slavery was upheld by theists. Women did not gain rights because Xianity (else why did it take so long in Xian nations?) Same for non-whites. Right now, gays are the current object of Xian aggression and bigotry, not to mention that Xians are still waging war on women and minorities. This idea that Xians are the paragons of virtue and equality simply doesn’t accord with the facts.

    No one talks about how Darwinist ideas influenced leaders such as Stalin and Hitler in their disregard for lives, which cost combined about 11 million lives (6 million in the Holocaust, 4 to 5 million in the Ukraine famine).

    Actually, quite a few Xians try to prop up the false connection between Hitler and Stalin with Darwin, but the evidence is pretty clear that Hitler held Darwin’s ideas in disdain, as did Stalin. Not to mention the fact that Hitler was not an atheist but a Xian. Also, Stalin went to Xian seminary.

    You say that Christianity does not provide proper ideas of right and wrong either, yet you make no defense of how atheism does.

    No, Adam doesn’t go into every detail of well-trod ground in every single post he puts up. Oh, the shame. If you actually want to see Adam’s positions, I suggest you dig around the site a bit, especially his essays.

  • https://www.facebook.com/arobert6 Alice Robertson

    Hi! I am just getting back to this thread. Sorry about that. Since the thread is dead could you write to me? My address is: alicerobertson@ameritech.net Now watch me get three down votes again. I may very well owe Disqus a refund at this point:) I could change that by posting where your audience loves what you say, but doesn’ know how to think…but what fun would that be? And we know true science needs delight and surprise to prevent a closed mind.

  • Errant Endeavour

    Slightly off topic, sorry. Reading this article: http://theweek.com/article/index/254941/memo-to-atheists-godrsquos-not-dead-yet

    I wondered if you’d be doing a similar thing for Hart’s book?


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