Welcome ‘Unbelievable?’ Listeners! Apologetics IS a Waste of Time!

If you’ve reached my site through this discussion with Chris Sinkinson about his book Confident Christianity on Unbelievable, welcome! I want to thank Justin Brierley for inviting me to participate in the discussion and for being a fair-minded moderator, and Chris for his charming, intelligent, upbeat approach to the topic.

A little about me: my blog, Temple of the Future, exists to present a passionate, activist vision of Humanism for the 21st Century. I advocate a Humanism that is unapologetically atheist, and at the same time engaged fully with the great moral issues of our time. I pursue my vision for Humanism mainly through my work as Research and Education Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, and particularly through the Humanist Community Project: an initiative which aims to build values-based communities for nonreligious people. If you want to know more about me, go here. If you want to know more about my outlook and ideas, try these introductory posts. For an introduction to the Humanist Community Project, look here. For a single-shot expression of my Humanist worldview, I recommend listening to this talk.

For those who want a longer expression of my views on apologetics – not a topic I discuss frequently anymore – this post is for you. My three basic arguments against apologetics – and we only really addressed the first of these in the radio show – are these:

  1. The Problem of Evidence: There is insufficient evidence to believe in the truth of Christianity and the existence of God and, this having been demonstrated repeatedly, it is a “waste of time” to do apologetics.
  2. The Problem of Priorities: Apologetics is a distraction from healing the sick and feeding the hungry. We should respect, as Humanist philosopher Felix Adler put it, deed before creed. Human needs come before metaphysical quibbles.
  3. The Problem of Morality: Our shared human problems can only be solved by reason, and to promote unreason, as some strands of apologetics do, is therefore a moral failing. Apologetics also has some very immoral outcomes.

 

The Problem of Evidence

On the first point, I hold that there is simply insufficient evidence, and no compelling reasons, to accept the truth-claims of Christianity. None of the logical arguments in favor of the existence of God are cogent. The evidence supporting the central claims of Christianity (such as the resurrection) is exceptionally weak by any reasonable standard. And, most damning, prominent apologists – even ones who stress the importance of reasons and evidence – accept this to be the case. William Lane Craig is the best example, who said:

“God has provided a more secure foundation for our faith than the shifting sands of evidence and argument…I hold that argument and evidence play an essential role in our showing Christianity to be true, but a contingent and secondary role in our personally knowing Christianity to be true. The proper ground of our knowing Christianity to be true is the inner work of the Holy Spirit…[God] has given us the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit as the proper foundation for our knowledge of the great truths of the Gospel.”

I submit that if “The proper ground of our knowing Christianity to be true is the inner work of the Holy Spirit”, and if “argument and evidence play…a contingent and secondary role in our personally knowing Christianity to be true”, then the apologist has essentially conceded the case to the atheist. Any reasonable proposition should be believed on the merits of the arguments and evidence which support it, not on the basis of “the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit”.

And it is striking that both Chris and Craig say that they became Christians not because of the strength of the arguments in favor, but for other, primarily personal reasons. Craig says:

“I became a Christian my third year of high school, not through any careful consideration of the evidence, but because the Christian students who shared the Gospel with me seemed to be living on a different plane of reality than I was. Their faith in Christ imparted meaning to their lives along with a joyous peace, which I craved”

Chris spoke in similar terms about the Christians he encountered: “There was something they had that I didn’t have.”

After that experience came the rationalization of the choice to believe. And that, for me, is the wrong way round. If you are rationalizing a decision which fills a deep yearning within yourself you have to be extra-skeptical of the evidence, and I think the evidence for Christianity doesn’t stack up.

This is particularly clear when it comes to the resurrection, for which there is shockingly little good evidence. If you ask yourself, as I asked Chris, “What evidence you would require to believe a friend who claims they had literally come back from the dead during a week in which you had not seen them?”, you will see the problem clearly. Any reasonable person would expect evidence far in excess of the evidence we have to support the resurrection of Jesus.

And so apologetics fails due to lack of evidence.

The Problem of Priorities

I also think that debating whether God exists demonstrates a lack of perspective.   We live in a world of extraordinary human suffering, and settling the metaphysical questions regarding the existence of God will not necessarily alleviate that suffering one jot. No one can honestly claim they know for sure what happens after we die. But we do know for sure that, in this life, we can act to make a difference to those who are in pain.

Apologetics is a distraction to the cause of improving human wellfare.

Promoting Humanism – Reason, Compassion, and Hope for the future – is different. Promoting reason is a good priority because it results in increases in human welfare. New medical treatments and new technologies frequently improve real human lives. Promoting compassion (a necessary companion to reason) results in increases in human welfare. Promoting god, or defending Christianity, on its own, does not. And so it is a misplaced priority in a world of hunger, pain and suffering.

The Problem of Morals

Some forms of apologetics – not the form of apologetics that Chris was primarily advocating, but some – are also morally suspect. By promoting blind faith over reason, some forms of apologetics actually hold back human progress. They stop people questioning oppressive practices, stop people taking life-saving medicines, stop people loving their gay children. And this is morally unacceptable.

And, indeed, some forms of apologetics result in astonishingly amoral outcomes. William Lane Craig famously has defended the slaughter of the Canaanites as part of his apologetics:

“But why take the lives of innocent children? …God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel… Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.”

It’s difficult for anyone who cares at all about human beings to stomach an argument which literally claims that the slaughter of children is a good thing. But these are the webs which even some very intelligent people are entangled in when they seek to justify the works of God. Craig’s words here are evil, and all moral people should repudiate them.

Timothy Keller, another noted apologist, gives a similar example in his bestselling book The Reason for God:

I knew a man in my first parish who had lost most of his eyesight after he was shot in the face after a drug deal gone bad… The loss of his sight devastated him, but it also profoundly humbled him. “As my physical eyes were closed, my spiritual eyes were opened.”…With time and perspective most of us can see good reasons for at least some of the tragedy and pain that occurs in life. Why couldn’t it be possible that, from God’s vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?

Here, Keller argues that there are “good reasons” for a man getting shot in the face and becoming mostly blind. Where do such arguments end? Am I to believe there are “good reasons” when a young athlete is paralyzed in a car accident? When a woman is beaten by her husband? When a child is raped by their father?

People often say “If God is dead, everything is permitted.” These examples show, rather, that if God is alive, everything is excused.

These wicked arguments stem directly from attempts to apologize for God – from doing apologetics – and show the moral dangers when people try to justify the unjustifiable.

Conclusion

There is much more to be said regarding apologetics. These arguments are mere sketches. But I believe that the strength of my case is undeniable: while I respect and value the attempt to justify one’s worldview through argument and evidence, I think that in the case of apologetics for the Christian faith the attempt is unsupported by reason, distracting from the real moral problems we face, and immoral.

Apologetics is a waste of time.

 

About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.

  • http://www.westcumbriaskepic.com Rob

    Game, set and match – well done!
    I was shocked at the level of argument made by Sinkinson really poor. Like shooting fish in a barrel. I aways come away from tese tings disappointed. Haven’t they got *anyone* who can put up a good argument? I suppose that without the facts on their side it would be tricky…

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Thanks Rob! I appreciate the support :)

  • James White

    Mr. Croft,

    I greatly enjoyed your discussion with Chris Sinkinson on the recent “Unbelievable” show hosted by Justin Brierley. I am an evangelical christian and suspect that your and my respective views would differ on the validity of Christianity (slight chuckle). However, regarding the show, while I do believe the topic of the show was on whether apologetics was a ‘waste of time’ rather than a show focused on a full-fledged presentation of such apologetic evidence|rationale, nevertheless, I thoroughly appreciated the manner in which you articulated your thoughts and questions and the substance contained therein. I will be visiting this site in the future. One of the questions put to you in the show (and I understand this was also not the focus of that show) was rationale for the humanistic values you in fact do hold given an ethos of atheism (not sure I said that quite right, but, I hope you remember that brief section of the show). I will enjoy browsing the material you have here on this site with regard to that question.

    Thank you again for your part in an intriguing exchange between you and Chris. I was hoping the two of you could continue talking much longer than the show allowed.

    Regards,

    James White

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Thanks James – I really appreciate your kind comments and look forward to hearing from you again if you have any questions!

  • Ari Goldberg

    Regarding evidence:

    You gloss over Craig’s statement that “I hold that argument and evidence play an essential role in our showing Christianity to be true”, and the fact that Craig devotes over 90% of all his speaking and writing to arguments for God’s existence. Let’s hear your refutations of them. I’ve listened to dozens of his debates with atheists, and he ends each one the same way: (I’m paraphrasing), “I haven’t heard any arguments in favor of atheism tonight, and I’ve heard no arguments showing that any of my premises are false.” For you to merely state that there’s a lack of evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible is just an empty assertion until you show that Craig’s (as just one example) is false.

    Is it possible for something that begins to exist to have no cause of its existence?
    Can something come into being from nothing?
    Is an actually infinite series of past events possible?
    Is the delicate balancing of the initial conditions of the universe and the values of the constants of the laws of physics arise by accident? Is that the best explanation?
    Would Jesus’ disciples willingly suffer torture and death for a cause they knew to be a lie?
    Is it a coincidence that the Hebrew scriptures made predictions of the life and mission of the Messiah and Jesus fulfilled dozens of them very specifically, including ones he had no control over, including his family line and the time and place of his birth?

    Perhaps you addressed these somewhere on your site – if so, I apologize for my oversight. I did a search for several key words and nothing came up, so I’m presuming that you haven’t attempted a refutation of these arguments.

    Regarding the way Craig and Chris came to Christ in the wrong order, i.e., before being convinced by reasonable arguments: People come to faith in different ways. Lee Strobel and Walid Shoebat came to faith by trying to prove Christianity wrong, and changing their mind by looking at the evidence. There’s nothing wrong with observing a special love and joy in a community of people, and wanting those things in your life. As long as good evidence eventually follows to support their intuitive attractions, which there is plenty of, the end result is a holistic and truthful world-view.

    Regarding priorities:

    If it’s true that mankind needs to be reconciled to God to avoid condemnation in the after-life, there’s no higher priority than that. Yes, Christian apologists could be devoting more time to human physical and emotional needs, however, due to the pervasive falsehoods of atheism in our culture, many people who might embrace God never give the thought a chance, and apologetics makes it reasonable to believe in God, the Bible, and Christianity. In the same way that Richard Dawkins said of evolution, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”, I would assert “Christian apologetics makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled Christian”. Just as Darwin has caused countless millions of Christians to leave their faith, Christian apologetics is bringing countless millions of people to consider the claims of Christianity. And that is hardly a case of misplaced priorities.

    Regarding the problem of morality

    Here I do agree with you in your criticism of Craig’s remarks about the killing of Canaanite children being for their ultimate good, because they’re destined for heaven. I think this is a dangerous belief, and I fault him for it. It reminds me of a similar belief of some New Agers, who believe in the evolution of the human species through reincarnation. They believe that Jews and Christians are a less-evolved root race of homo sapiens, and in order for mankind to evolve into homo noeticus, Jews and Christians need to be “eliminated” from the gene pool. This is for their own good, of course, because when they are reincarnated, they will be able to work through their bad karma and evolve to the next higher level of existence. See the writings of Helena Blavatsky, Alice Bailey, and Barbara Marx Hubbard.

    However, I would qualify Craig’s statements as follows: 1) I don’t believe the scriptural evidence for Craig’s belief is strong – I challenge anyone to make a case that the fate of children is so taught by the Bible. 2) All Christians believe that the events surrounding the conquering of Canaan were one-time events, not normative for other times in history. 3) I don’t think there’s a strong case to be made that the vast majority of Christians are any more immoral than non-Christians. I’m excluding the institutionalized atrocities of the state churches, particularly Roman Catholicism, for which there is no scriptural support. I do not judge the message of the Bible by how some followers misinterpret it, but by the actual words and deeds of its prophets, and Christ himself.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Hey Ari – thanks for stopping by! I’ll respond to your points briefly here, although there’s always much more to be said on these matters.

      “You gloss over Craig’s statement that “I hold that argument and evidence play an essential role in our showing Christianity to be true”, and the fact that Craig devotes over 90% of all his speaking and writing to arguments for God’s existence.”

      I do not – I just see them in the context of his other pronouncements and actions, which suggests that he feels that faith, rather than the “the shifting sands of evidence and argument”, is a more “secure foundation” for belief. That’s an explicit admission right there that evidence and reasons are secondary. Add to that an exhortation to a student NOT to investigate the question for themselves, and you have a pattern which suggests searching after the truth is less important than equipping Chrisitans to defend the faith they already have.

      “I’ve listened to dozens of his debates with atheists, and he ends each one the same way: (I’m paraphrasing), “I haven’t heard any arguments in favor of atheism tonight, and I’ve heard no arguments showing that any of my premises are false.” For you to merely state that there’s a lack of evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible is just an empty assertion until you show that Craig’s (as just one example) is false.”

      Every single one of the logical arguments Craig provides have been decimated by philosophers. They are all riddled with logical flaws – and one flaw is enough to scupper a logical argument. Take Kalam: Craig himself admits that the first premise is based on the “intuition that it is true”. I have watched him say so countless times. It is therefore nothing but a bald assertion. Therefore the argument falls. I’ve never seen him respond satisfactorily to this charge.

      As for the evidence for God (as opposed to the logical arguments), you are the one who has to provide and defend it. Chris provided none in the show. I await the evidence.

      You then ask a list of questions commonly asked of atheists. I will give very brief replies, but one critical point is this: I could concede I have no answers to ALL of them and you would still be MILES away from providing convincing reasons to believe in the truth of the Christian claim. Your responsibility to provide a positive case for your position doesn’t vanish just because your opponent’s position is untenable.

      “Is it possible for something that begins to exist to have no cause of its existence?”

      I’d need a precise definition of each term here before answering: “begins”, “exist”, “something”, “cause” and “possible” all need precise definitions.

      “Can something come into being from nothing?”

      I don’t know. I don’t know even if this is an intelligible question.

      “Is an actually infinite series of past events possible?”

      I don’t know. I don’t know even if this is an intelligible question.

      “Is the delicate balancing of the initial conditions of the universe and the values of the constants of the laws of physics arise by accident? Is that the best explanation?”

      If we were to suggest it might have happened “by accident”, we would first need to demonstrate that other initial conditions are in fact possible. Can you demonstrate that?

      “Would Jesus’ disciples willingly suffer torture and death for a cause they knew to be a lie?”

      Possibly – human beings have died for things they knew to be untrue before. If they thought the lie noble enough, or had other impinging factors upon them, they may have done. Further, they may have believed their cause to be true, and been mistaken.

      “Is it a coincidence that the Hebrew scriptures made predictions of the life and mission of the Messiah and Jesus fulfilled dozens of them very specifically, including ones he had no control over, including his family line and the time and place of his birth?”

      I doubt it’s a coincidence that the surviving texts purporting to describe Jesus’ life and those purporting to prophecy his coming match up as well as they do. I suspect that’s the result of some strategic massaging of the facts, as frequently happens when spiritual leaders are presented as a fulfillment of prophecy. Further, Jesus fails for fulfill many of the prophecies. Care to account for that?

      “There’s nothing wrong with observing a special love and joy in a community of people, and wanting those things in your life. As long as good evidence eventually follows to support their intuitive attractions, which there is plenty of, the end result is a holistic and truthful world-view.”

      I agree with all this, except the point that there is plenty of good evidence. I think there is hardly any at all. No one has ever provided me with any.

      “If it’s true that mankind needs to be reconciled to God to avoid condemnation in the after-life, there’s no higher priority than that.”

      I don’t agree that this is obvious, actually. Why, morally speaking, are the dictates of a God more important than human suffering in the here-and-now? And how does that square with the moral framework Christians claim their faith supports? It’s this sort of thinking which leads to the wicked conclusions drawn by Keller and Craig which I quote here.

      I appreciate your recognition of Craig’s folly here, but it seems tough to reconcile your view with an all-good God who in infallible. Are we to say God made a moral misjudgment here? As for your 3rd point, I agree that there is not “a strong case to be made that the vast majority of Christians are any more immoral than non-Christians”. That is why I don’t seek to make such a case. But to claim there is no scriptural support for the institutionalized oppression of women and gay people still being perpetuated by churches around the world today is to make a completely unjustifiable statement.

      • Ari Goldberg

        Hi James,

        Thanks a lot for your reply. I’d like to pursue the idea of Craig’s arguments being decimated by philosophers. Can you recommend a particular philosopher, book, or debate audio, so I can study his refutations? You said, as one example, that Craig’s defense of premise one of the Kalam argument is chiefly based on intuition. I think you may be misunderstanding what he said. I’ve listened carefully to many of his debates, and from my recollection, he sometimes uses the statement “this seems intuitively correct” only to provide an initial reason to pursue development of the premise, never to be the primary evidence for it. Even his argument from experience is based on more than just intuition. And that is his least factually-based argument of all! The Kalam premise #1 is this: “Whatever begins to exist, has a cause of it’s existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.” Do you not believe this? Why? It seems that to not believe this, in regard to the substance of universe, at least, is to believe in magic – that something can just pop into existence from nothing, or that space/time/matter have been in existence from eternity. Magic is a miracle, which is not allowed in atheism. And an infinitely old universe is mathematically and logically impossible – the present could never exist, because there could always have been one more event in the past that could have occurred prior to it. There are many ways to defend this: Infinity minus infinity yields self-contradictory results; a famous mathematician said that actual infinites exist nowhere in nature; and so forth.

        Numbers and other abstract entities like the rules of logic, do not need causes, because they exist by necessity of their own nature.

        God also does not need a cause, because he/she/it never came into existence, since time began only the moment that God created the universe. The concept of “before” the creation of the universe is logically incoherent, like a married bachelor or a square circle.

        Sometimes I think the so-called refutations of Craig’s arguments are based on the idea that each argument requires absolute 100% proof. Instead, the student should ask, What is the best explanation for the existence of the world, history, morality, etc.? A good argument only needs to demonstrate that it is more reasonable than its negation. It only has to be 51% to 49% more likely, plausible, rational, etc. than its negation. In many areas of life, we don’t have absolute proof of our beliefs, but that doesn’t stop us from acting upon them. I assert that the arguments for the truth of Christianity are sufficiently strong to act upon them, and the arguments for the truth of atheism are insufficiently strong to act upon those.

        So your claim that Craig’s argument is based primarily on intuition seems to me to be a misunderstanding of what Craig said. He has provided many sound, logical, and factual reasons for accepting premise 1, not just intuition. Where are the refutations?

  • Chris Sinkinson

    Hi James

    Thanks again for dialoguing with me, though our discussion was only a starting point which did no more than state the areas that would need more detailed debate. I appreciated your perceptiveness.

    You raise three “problems” which, ironically, I see as three areas of aid to the presentation of the Christian faith. The first, which you correctly note we focused upon, was the issue of evidence. To be honest, I think that we do have some important agreement here. We both recognise that evidence is required for warranted belief. Where we disagree is over what counts as evidence. That’s why I would still want to pursue with you the standards required and whether you are being as fair minded as your manner implies!

    What I would have wanted to debate further is the issue of how evidence is itself already interpreted. Rather than being simple brute facts that we must both endorse we already have prior commitments that shape our view of the evidence. I think this is obvious in the work of a philosopher like David Hume (or, at an entirely different level a Bertrand Russell or Richard Dawkins). Hume is good, but he is operating with a particularly narrow set of standards. Now you may not take Hume’s position so I would have to apologise if I am making assumptions here, but if Hume were to challenge me about evidence for the resurrection I would first want to discuss the nature of evidence. Hume is simply biased toward a naturalistic explanation – no matter what historical evidence I might point to as compelling evidence, Hume would dismiss it as less compelling than a naturalistic explanation (people tell lies or something).

    This seems to me to be a more foundational issue than simply listing evidences for the resurrection. I suppose I might ask you to clarify what evidence you would be looking for? In the show didn’t you mention blood DNA? That would be something! I guess the evidence of the Turin shroud might enter this kind of discussion, but even at its mention do I detect a twitch of anti-supernaturalism?

    I’m not ignoring the other two problems you raise, there is plenty to discuss in regard to them but I can’t bear posts that are too long!

    All the best,
    Chris Sinkinson

    All the best
    Chris

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Hey Chris! I’m so glad to see you here. Your question about the nature of evidence I might accept is well-posed and very interesting. Of course you are right in saying that how we interpret a set of evidence, and even what we count to BE “evidence”, will depend somewhat on our epistemology. So, sure, let’s talk about it. What types of evidence do you think I am disposed against?

      The area where I think I get confused is where you suggest that someone like Hume is biased towards “naturalistic explanations”. The difficulty I have here is in imagining what a “non-naturalistic explanation” might look like in practice, and how we might evidence it. Can you explain to me what a supernatural explanation for something might look like, what types of evidence we would look for to support the occurrence of such an event, and how it would be meaningfully different to a natural explanation?

      • Chris Sinkinson

        Well that’s a fair point because I suppose neither of us are really thinking in the categories of “naturalism” or “non-naturalism” about ourselves we are just using those categories to define one another. To me there is no such thing as “supernaturalism” only a universe that is open to the causal influence of a transcendent being. I only use the term to recognise that this view is not that which is held by a naturalist.

        Therefore, the real difference between us would be the range of causal factors we might appeal to in our explanations and also our view of what would count as an ultimate cause. We both share assent to material causes, you may have some quirky ones I don’t share (aliens or whatnot), but I also believe in a transcendent God who is able to cause events. Furthermore, that God is the ultimate cause for all that we see. Thomas Aquinas’ first cause argument wasn’t simply about creation! I could pray for something and see an answer to that prayer in a process that could perfectly well be explained by a naturalist and yet believe it represents the work of God. So in an example like that my “supernatural” explanation of an answered prayer would not look any different from a “natural” explanation, except that I would want to unravel the chain of causation back to God. But with a simple example like much answered prayer I do understand your perplexity – the explanations don’t seem so different. However, certain key events related to God’s acts in history do look rather more anomalous.

        So, back to the resurrection of Jesus. We both have access to the historical data – eyewitness evidence, imapact in history. I find the naturalistic explanations unconvincing. A “non-naturalistic” explanation is that Jesus did not suffer the normal natural process of postmortem decay but that these processes were transformed so that his physical form was transformed and he rose from the dead, appearing to his followers. If this happened then I can see no naturalistic explanation for it, thus it points me to God. Therefore, as far as I can see, someone committed to naturalism would have to explain the entire event away as a hoax or mistake.

        • TempleoftheFuture

          Good – we’re really right at the heart of it now.

          When you say “I believe in a transcendent God who is able to cause events”, how are you saying anything different to “God exists in my view of nature, and God can do things?” What are you smuggling in under the heading “transcendent” here?

          This problem becomes very clear when you turn to the resurrection. From my view, your description is of a NATURAL process by which Jesus may have come back to life – the regeneration of cells or somesuch. This process is open to investigation by empirical methods, as you seem to accept. Whether we wish to invoke God at the end of the causal chain is not strictly relevant to the question of the evidence which exists in order to support the event: as I said in the program, we can deal with the metaphysical implications of an event AFTER we have established it actually occurred.

          So we are back to a straight-up investigation of the evidence. Your God-belief lends no relevant epistemological weight to your argument (I rather think it detracts from your argument, actually, on the basis of preference for parsimony, but let’s leave that aside for a moment).

          Now, you say that explaining the fact that some people seem to have believed someone to have risen from the dead to be a hoax or mistake is unconvincing to you. This is what I don’t understand. How can it possibly be LESS convincing an explanation that the highly irregular (to put it mildly) resurrection of a human being? This argument becomes irrefutable, in my judgment, in view of the fact that MANY people have believed throughout history that certain supernatural events have occurred which you, Chris, DO dismiss as a hoax or a mistake: the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation; Joseph Smith’s revelation; the claims made of Muhammad; the supernatural elements of Scientology; the creation myths of Hindus and much more.

          You also have to deal with the fact that eyewitnesses to events often misremember them (this has been firmly established experimentally), and that memories change depending on the desires and frameworks of the rememberer (this is also firmly established). And this is all if I grant you the legitimacy of ALL the evidence (which itself is highly disputed).

          I.e. the alternative to believing in the resurrection is supported by an awful lot of evidence and does not contradict any other evidence to a great degree. An account which overcomes this objection would be one which provides much better evidence for the resurrection than has been provided.

  • Chris Sinkinson

    I’m glad you are willing to concede so much, though I realise you are only doing this for the sake of argument (so I won’t hold you to it!) The reality is that you only need to concede the historicity of the empty tomb for the argument to have wings. However, if you are willing to grant that Jesus was physically resurrected from the dead then I have to ask you how you can explain this event.

    Now, I do find your response interesting because I admit that you don’t seem to be taking the kind of Hume position that I meet with many atheists. They only hold to the possibilities of the disciples being liars or fools, you do concede the possibility of an event presently inexplicable from what we know of natural laws.

    My explanation of the resurrection event doesn’t occur in a vacumn but, as I said in our radio dialogue, part of my framework in which I also believe in divine causation. Given the kind of person Jesus was, the kind of things he said, and his context as part of an unfolding Jewish expectation of God’s action in history, it seems entirely plausible to me to believe the resurrection demonstrates that Jesus is who he claimed to be.

    My “God-belief” therefore does have epistemological significance in how I interpret the evidence. I suppose someone could decide to not believe in the existence of other persons. It would be possible to explain all events without referring to the existence of other minds. While James Croft makes choices and decisions you could believe that all the humanoids you are surrounded by are mere automatons following instructions (hasn’t it ever felt that way?!?). Therefore, every letter that lands on the doormat or every person who speaks to you in passing on the street is the result of purely natural processes with no human will involved at all. Of course, you don’t think that way. You are constantly using your “other-persons” belief to interpret all these events.

    For much of life miracles don’t happen and so you and I would share a pretty common understanding of the data. If you or I get sick we go to the doctor and get a prescription. But I would think that there is a bigger picture in which all of life makes more sense. Not just the resurrection of Jesus! The meaning of love, and purpose, and values. We would agree about some aspects of the natural processes involved(nerve endings sending signals and neurons firing) but your explanation stops way too soon for me.

    Plenty of significant leading scientists agree with this point. Francis Collins finds no problem in unravelling DNA, treating cancer and recognising the presence and purpose of God in it all. This is far from a science V. faith dilemma – it is something more like a science + faith perspective.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      OK – so we’re getting somewhere! This is much better than the discussion on the Unbelievable website =P. I understand your argument currently to be something like this:

      Let’s assume for the sake of argument that some person did come back to life after being dead for three days, and we have to come up with an explanation of it. I (James) have an interpretive framework which excludes God, and therefore for me God is not an option when it comes to choosing some way to explain what occurred. You (Chris), however, have God as part of your worldview, and therefore can call upon Him to do the necessary explanatory work. This makes it more reasonable to posit resurrection as an explanation for the observed natural event, since presumably God can cause resurrections, while under a naturalistic framework it’s hard to see how to explain one.

      I see a couple of big problems with this view:

      First, it seems dangerously self-reinforcing. One might want to use solid evidence of something like a resurrection to demonstrate there is such a thing as God. On the other hand, here you have to already believe in God in order to accept there is solid evidence for the resurrection. This is not quite a fatal flaw in the argument because, since I take an essentially coherentist position when it comes to epistemology, I am willing to grant the possibility that an explanatory framework which says “It is more reasonable to believe that God exists and caused a resurrection than to believe that a resurrection occurred without a God or that God exists and something other than a resurrection happened.” However we would want good evidence to ground both elements of this worldview – God+resurrection – and would need to show it to be more reasonable than the alternative views – God+no resurrection, no-God+resurrection, or no-God+no-resurrection.

      In my view all the evidence which might lead us to accept the view that the resurrection happened (and remember what a huge concession I’m already making to accept all the evidence as genuine, time-appropriate etc.) is also consistent with a view that the resurrection did not happen, and that it was a mistake, a hoax, a hallucination or something like that. There is not one single piece of evidence I can see which is flatly inconsistent with such a view.

      Further, as I’ve been at pains to point out, there are literally hundreds (probably thousands) of examples of historical and contemporary figures to whom supernatural deeds are ascribed. The evidence put forward to support these deeds bears a striking similarity in kind to that put forward by those defending the historicity of the resurrection. And yet we both reject them (and, I would say, we are right to do so). I honestly do not see what makes the claims to Christ’s resurrection better than the claims of countless Yogis that they have been reincarnated or somesuch.

      So even though I grant the possibility of some unexplained natural event, I say again the evidence to believe that such an event actually happened is very weak. I’m still not sure why accepting God into the framework, as you do, makes it easier to establish that such an event actually occurred. It might provide you with another explanatory OPTION, but I don’t think it lends weight to one explanation over another. And comparing the option of God+resurrection with the option of no-God+no-resurrection, it seems to me the evidence points squarely to the latter rather than the former.

      IF you were ALREADY committed to a God-belief, then you have a choice between God+resurrection and God+no resurrection, and I agree that that MIGHT change the calculation. But you’d have to establish God first to do that, and I solidly believe logical arguments which attempt to do so fail quite spectacularly.

      Second, there are big logical and explanatory problems which arise when you bring God into the framework, which raises the question, to me, as to how good an explanatory option God really is.

      What does it mean, precisely, to say “God caused the resurrection”? I mean, what precisely happened as a matter of fact? Did the cells spontaneously regenerate? By what physical mechanism did they do so? Did the dead body just get up and start walking around (a zombie Jesus scenario)? And in which case was there brain function? If not, how was Jesus’ personality preserved? These are serious questions, though they may sound ridiculous, because anything that happens in the natural world has observable characteristics and we should be able to ask about the mechanisms by which something happened.

      Saying “God did it” is a bit of hand-waving which seems to me very unsatisfactory. What, precisely, did God do? This matters because it has a bearing on the evidence we might seek to support the claim. The zombie Jesus scenario is very different, in terms of the evidence we’d look for to support it, than other scenarios: we’d want witnesses of a bleeding, shuffling, hand-pierced corpse walking around and speaking to people, for instance.

      Indeed, simply by invoking God as an explanatory reply I’d say you haven’t really done much explaining. To say “god did it” is not to aid our understanding of an event – which is the purpose of an explanation.

      Third, if the position is essentially “naturalism plus God”, this seems to me to fail a test of parsimony IF we don’t have VERY solid grounds for accepting the “plus”. Indeed, precisely because Collins and others can do their science quite happily without invoking God seems to me an argument NOT to believe in Him – it shows the epistemological superfluity of the belief.

  • Chris Sinkinson

    Yes, I almost think this is a fairminded way of putting the choice! But I’ll come back to the “almost” bit in a moment!

    I don’t think “God did it” is mere hand waving. It is to refer to an agent of causation who does not fit into easily recognised categories. But then, if I see a spray can message scrawled on my wall I would say “So and So did it.” I would have good reason to believe that no materialistic explanation would be good enough. We would both point to a transcendental explanation – a person as an agent of causation. The fact that I can’t explain the mechanics of the human brain, purpose, will in any significant detail doesn’t worry me because even that lies at the frontiers of present scientific knowledge.

    My claim that God caused the resurrection does not mean that no natural processes could ever be identified (perhaps from a cosmic vantage point it could look quite simple) only that this event happening to this person at this point in time runs a supernatural highlighter pen through his life and words – it makes me take note of who he was and what he said.

    We do have an issue here of epistemology and the order of coming to belief – the traditional evidential argument (or what Alvin Plantinga calls foundationalism for our purposes) is to assume that we start with a blank canvas and build the case for what we believe step by step. Of course, the reality is far more complicated. People come to faith for a variety of reasons and the resurrection is part of that. Presumably, no one becomes an atheist for one knock down reason but rather as a result of a number of mutually reinforcing ideas? I think you are right to identify the resurrection as central but it clearly doesn’t stand on its own. It complements other beliefs, experiences and evidence. Rather than dismissing them as a set of mutually self-reinforcing ideas you may well accept that any major worldview worth taking note of has this comprehensive scope. As a good example of this I often wonder about Pinchas Lapide who as a Jewish historian became convinced of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and yet did not come to believe in him as God. That reminds me that it is possible to be persuaded of the main lines of evidence without coming to personal faith in Christ.

    The reason why I say I find you “almost” fairminded is that I think you wrongly give the impression we are all naturalists, but believers have God as a kind of bolt on extra. The distinction between supernaturalist and naturalist would give that impression. Most Christians, I would have thought, believe that the transcendental categories apply to the whole of life – explaining ultimate origins, purpose, causes, love, ethics and so on. Because I see meaning in the whole of life and nature then I do not think I am ever a naturalist in your sense of the term.

    So the resurrection stands out as a central line of enquiry – I can’t understand why anyone would want to dismiss it even if they don’t want to draw God conclusions. Incidentally, your point about reincarnted Yogis (I keep thinking of Jellystone Park) and, in the previous post, reference to the Dalai Lama are good points. I don’t for one moment concede that because I believe in certain miracles I have to believe in every miracle any more than happily accepting cash means that I would happily accept fake banknotes. But I can’t dismiss any miracle out of hand. Therefore, I would have to ask you to give me one example of a resurrection that is in any way of parallel for the claim made about Christ in terms of historical documents, eyewitness references and impact on secular history. Then I could take a look at how well it stands up.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Hey Chris!

      Sorry for the long time it took for me to reply – I’ve been travelling a lot and swept up in lots of other important work! You raise some interesting points here, mainly about epistemology and how we come to beliefs, and I think I’m quite happy to take the non-foundationalist position I subscribe to and accept the broad thrust of your characterization. That does not mean, however, that any given argument offered as part of a coherent, mutually-reinforcing worldview, need not be justified on its own merits relative to accepted epistemic criteria.

      And this, for me, is precisely the problem with the resurrection. Like you, I can;t understand the position you hold either. If I grant the legitimacy of the New Testament documents (and I’ve been reading up on this – almost no one does! Even New Testament scholars seem to widely accept that the earliest texts we have of anything like the New Testament date from the THIRD AND FOURTH CENTURIES! That, I don’t need to tell you, is WAY past the point of reasonable reliability. What we have to date the existence of the Gospels to earlier than that are quotes and references by other authors to them. But that is not enough to establish the historical reliability of the gospel accounts in-toto, and I cannot see how anyone could claim that this is the case.

      This immediately undercuts your claim, because it means you have no reliable “historical documents” and certainly no “eyewitness testimonies” at all – just reported eyewitness testimonies referred to in manuscripts written hundreds of years late. The impact Jesus may have had on history, though it seems to be a favorite debating point among apologists, seems to me entirely irrelevant, for the reasons I have already described (the widespread existence of extremely influential religious figures whose supernatural claims you reject).

      So on what concrete basis do you judge these banknotes to be genuine?

  • John Phillips

    WOW! Let me start by saying that I am a Christian, and even though I disagree with your view, it is refreshing. It’s refreshing that you are not postmodern, you will and do say that I am WRONG! And that is refreshing! I do hope that you will continue to examine the claims of Christ, and I will continue to pray for you.

    with sincere regards, thank you!

  • John

    You did a great job in presenting your views.

    I’m becoming increasingly disappointed with the arguments that believers provide. Convoluted logical statements and “faith” are not good enough.

    I’ve been meaning to hunt around for research on the causes of visions in ancient times (such as bad food, eg. ergotism) or gases (eg. Delphi). Do you know of such a collection ?

    Along a similar line “The first fossil hunters: paleontology in Greek and Roman times”, by Adrienne Mayor outlines how bones interwove with the mythology of gods.

  • Gary Charlesworth

    Hi James,
    I enjoyed your dialogue with Chris Sinkinson on Unbelievable so much I listened to it twice. I am a Christian and feel that there are some flaws in your thinking and that Chris missed out some key points and as a result felt compelled to respond.

    First, in regard to your airplane analogy that if the plane meets scientific and engineering principles then it is safe and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong:
    Planes crash quite often, even though they meet your requirements. Causes as you know can be diverse, such as metal fatigue, pilot error, weather conditions, poor maintenance etc. My reason for pointing out the obvious is twofold.
    1) When you get on a plane, as I am sure you have, even with the knowledge that they can crash you have faith that all of the parties involved in getting that plane off the ground and getting it back down again have done their job properly. You have faith that all will be well, knowing there is no certainty of a safe arrival. The same is true when you get behind the wheel of an automobile or enter a building. We are all creatures of faith, we could not function otherwise, as it would not be feasible to check everyone’s work prior to boarding your flight.
    2) The second reason for mentioning it is your similar assumption that science can determine everything. If you discount the possibility of a spiritual element then you could stand to miss out on a great deal. Have you not noticed how often it is that someone will make a movie or write a book where the basic premise is the classic battle of good vs evil? No one mocks this premise, in fact most people cheer for the good guys to win in the end, and the authors even oblige in most cases. The bible states that there is a spiritual realm, and says that there is a real spiritual war: good vs evil. No one questions the existence of either good or evil, just about their origins. So if a spiritual world might exist, what kind of scientific studies could validate this? Can anyone put either good or evil in a test tube? I think not.

    Second, with regard to evidence you say you need to believe in God, I have three points.
    1)If the real Jesus showed up in your office, I would guess that you would dismiss Him and perhaps even call security, even though the best evidence possible was literally right under your nose. If it was the real biblical son of god, Jesus, that came to earth 2000 years ago, they did not accept Him either, and in fact had Him killed.
    2) The opposite is also true, that convincing evidence can in fact be false, magicians, con artists, and illusionists make a living doing this on a regular basis. Our senses can be easily fooled, and since our senses only detect a small part of the frequency spectrum there are all kinds of activities around us that we cannot detect, even though we know they are there (FM signals, Gamma rays etc.). So what about the possibility of activities that we cannot detect by any means? Spiritual ones for example?

    You see it does not matter what you believe with regard to evidence. No one (nor science) can conclusively prove there is a god, or not, or what his attributes are etc. You cannot prove that once you are dead it’s all over for you. You have faith that it is true, faith being that filler material that fills the gap between the evidence you have chosen to believe and the certainty of your belief. As I mentioned earlier, we are all creatures of faith in some way or another.

    3) The final point regarding evidence is not a slight at you when I say, you cannot know God regardless of how much evidence you are shown, because this is true of everyone. The bible, if it is correct as I believe it is, says that God is God and not subject to our whims, claims and judgements, of mankind. He reveals Himself to those whom He chooses. We are all born in sin, and He blinds us to our knowledge of Himself until He sees fit.

    He chooses us, we do not choose Him. i.e. a mountain of evidence is useless to resolve this issue until he chooses you to be able to understand Him. this point is critical!

    It also says that it is God’s will that no one will perish, and He extends the offer of Jesus Christ to everyone, but your heart has to be right. This means that you acknowledge that as a human being you have a sinful nature, that you repent, and acknowledge Him as the one true living god. When you seek Him earnestly then He is likely to choose you, and not until.(I can provide the biblical references to any of this should you desire, and I could also provide you with the evidences that connect with me as to the bibles truth, which I have not heard mentioned so far). The bible similarly states that the natural man cannot understand spiritual things, which sounds like the humanist position, so I encourage you to entertain what I am saying.

    And finally, you may not like the bible or agree with what it says, but no one over the centuries has been able to prove it to be false, and a great many have tried. It answers all of the big questions that man has been asking ever since he began. It also best explains the world we live in in so many ways. It is a most remarkable creation.

    If I have packed too much into this comment, I apologize, hope this helps, and I respectfully look forward to your analysis.
    Cheers,
    Gary

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Hi Gary,

      Apologies for coming late to your comment – I’ve been traveling for the past few weeks. You raise a number of points that would take a long while to respond to, but briefly:

      The purpose of the airplane analogy (which Chris introduced, actually) was to demonstrate that “we all have faith”. I question the legitimacy of the analogy because the confidence we have in airplanes is based on an entirely different level of reasoning and evidence than is commonly used to support belief in God. As I noted on the show, our confidence in planes, which is not absolute (an important point, as you note), is based on huge amounts of evidence and understanding of underlying physical mechanisms.

      Belief in God – even the most logically intense forms – is simply disanalogous in numerous ways to our confidence in planes. And this is why I questioned Chris drawing the analogy and calling both forms of confidence “faith” – the differences matter, and you hide them from the listener if you put them under the same heading, Thus, I was arguing for clarity and careful use of language, which is essential in any discussion.

      You claim I make the “assumption that science can determine everything.” I plead not guilty – I am well aware that there may be many things science will never explain. But this does nothing to support unreasonable positions. If there is something to be explained, I’m pretty clear that the tools of reason (including, but not limited to science) will be the best way to come to explain that thing. And I think you implicitly agree, because here you are trying to reason this out with me!

      Your second couple of points seem to me to be beside the point. Certainly it is possible to imagine entities that we cannot sense by any means, but that is not the Christian claim. The Christian claim is historical, and should be judged on the historical evidence. If you want to make the claim that some special form of argumentation is required to demonstrate the reasonableness of Christianity, then please, suggest some way we might test the truth of the claims. But that’s your problem, not mine!

      Your final point reveals this problem in a very clear way. Essentially, as I read you, you ultimately think that evidence and reasons are not going to be convincing. And if that’s the case, why do you take the time to comment, and why should I reply? If it is all in God’s hands, isn’t apologetics even more a waste of time than I’ve argued?

  • Gary Charlesworth

    Hi James,
    Thanks for your courteous response, which I would like to respond to if I may.

    First, addressing the faith issue, I would like to say that there is very little that we can say for certain. We cannot prove that either we or the world existed 24 hours ago, and that we weren’t created just 10 minutes ago, along with all of the historical evidence simultaneously. I don’t believe this and I suppose that you do not either, but we can’t disprove the possibility, no matter how small. I also consider science to be an evolving field, having made many errors over the years, some of which have been corrected, some are still a work in progress. Examples are Steven Hawking believing that information was lost when it entered a black hole. And later he recanted. Science was touting the benefits of oatmeal not too long ago for reducing a persons cholesterol,level, when it turned out that it had no effect at all save that when you were eating oatmeal, you were not eating foods that actually did raise peoples cholesterol levels. Newtons Laws were thought to be good for hundreds of years when they just turned out to be good approximations for the everyday world, but not for high-speed physics.
    My point is this. There is a leap between what we think is true and what the truth actually is. Faith is the filler between those two. It is the glue that bonds the evidence we have uncovered to our beliefs. We are all creatures of faith, no matter our beliefs.

    A Canadian university back in Dec 2011 announced the results of a study of university studies of all things, and determined that evidence can be drawn from the data of a typical study to support a variety of conclusions, some of which are non-complimentary and even contradictory.

    There is a massive amount of data over global warming and look at the massive controversy over it. Surely with all of the data and evidence collected, it should have given us a definitive answer if science was so reliable. As you know, the evidence was heavily adjusted according to some reports (East Anglia) that, human bias coming into play, data manipulation and even to the possibility that it is a massive con game to generate profits through proposed carbon tax schemes. In fact the data analysis / conclusions were so unreliable that they had to change the name from Global Warming to Climate Change!
    Companies and governments commission “scientific” studies all of the time that most often support positions that they initially approved of. This helps them of course sell their agenda or product. Sorry to be cynical about sciences purity, but humans tamper with it to suit their own ends. Science is just not as reliable as it should be when in the hands of humans. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against science, I just see it as a highly imperfect institution, just the same as all of the other highly imperfect human institutions, which is in effect all of them!

    With regard to the airplane analogy, it is simply that. All analogies break down at some point, but they still have some value or there would be no need for them. I agree that to speak as clearly and accurately as possible is key, but very difficult to do for such a complex subject as we make many assumptions about what the other person knows or doesn’t know, and about what they believe or don’t believe.

    As for reason, I agree with you. Reason is perhaps our most important tool in our toolbox. It is also true however that we are emotional beings first, and logical beings second, so we have to account for human emotions and biases in our communications with others.

    I am not sure where you have got the idea that the Christian claim is purely historical. I assure you that it is not. As a Christian I can testify to a great many things that support the claim in other ways. While you may not agree with them or understand them, that does not mean they are not part of the Christian experience.

    For example, what about answered prayer? I have known Christians to log their prayers in book after book and record the hundreds of subsequent responses. Cause and effect if you will.

    What about being given peace that passes all understanding? I don’t expect you to understand this one, but I can personally vouch for this experience. Many offer their personal testimonies.

    What about the incredibly specific prophesies in the bible about future events, hundreds and thousands of years into the writers’ future? Many of which have come true, (some recently), some as we speak and others yet to come. No other book in the world has a record of prophecy even remotely close. For to be wrong even once destroys ones credibility, yet the bible has made almost two thousand. Can science explain this? And how many prophecies have scientists even made, let alone have fulfilled? Science loses on this score hands down.

    I could go on about the Christian experience but will leave it at that.

    Evidence and reason will never bring anyone to a knowledge of God, but it is far from useless. We are sinful creatures and we are at enmity with God. He asks us to repent, and try to follow His example in Jesus Christ. Whether we are accepted or not is Gods decision, as we cannot and should not try to force his hand. He chooses whom He chooses. Humans tend to do what they want, not what God wants, so He only chooses those that desire to follow him. This would be analogous as to why you have never invited Hells Angels motorcycle club members to a party you may have thrown. Who wants to have to deal with rebels? So someone can look at the arguments of reason for Jesus Christ and prepare their heart to be changed. This is the first step, God does step 2.

    Another analogy you can relate to would be to go to university, take the required courses, get your degree(s), and then apply for a job or research posting. You have done the prep work and put yourself in a position to be accepted for that posting, but the choice of whether or not you have the job is entirely someone else’s. Reason only gets you so far!

    God does the heavy lifting; reason just gets the ball rolling.

    Hope this helps clarify,
    Gary

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Hi Gary,

      Thanks for this reply. I think part of the problem here is you make some inaccurate assumptions about my position. You mention how science is evolving etc, and end with this statement:

      “My point is this. There is a leap between what we think is true and what the truth actually is. Faith is the filler between those two. It is the glue that bonds the evidence we have uncovered to our beliefs. We are all creatures of faith, no matter our beliefs.”

      I agree that there is a gap between science’s models of reality and reality itself (this is a shorthand for a very complex philosophical position, but good enough for now ;)). But I do NOT believe that the best way to solve that problem is to leap the gap and assert, without full confidence, that the science is “true”. Rather, we should KEEP IN MIND that the scientific models are likely to be inaccurate. In that sense I recognize that there is a place to take a “leap of faith” across the gap – I just refuse to take it out of principle. If we do not know something absolutely, we should seek not to believe it absolutely, and that goes for scientific models as well as for everything else. You seem to assume that scientists believe their models are THE TRUTH. They don’t, in my experience. Rather, they recognize better than anyone that they are approximations.

      The rest of the stuff regarding your experience may very well be true – in the sense that you’ve had that experience. But it’s the interpretations of the experiences which are open to question, and that’s where the sticking point is…

      • Gary Charlesworth

        Hi James,
        And again thanks for your thoughtful response.
        While your position has a clear logic to it, it also I believe has some clear drawbacks and some unfortunate conclusions.

        First it would seem that we agree there is a gap between what we know and what we can absolutely know. If you are waiting for science to completely fill in the gaps for you before you can update your position or know the TRUTH, I would suggest that unless science makes some staggering advances in the next few years, you are very likely to leave this mortal coil never knowing the TRUTH. This is an outcome that I feel is almost certain for humanists, and one that I personally would consider to be most unfortunate.

        Second, and I don’t know how this has happened, but science has done a brilliant job of proclaiming itself as the only possible source of knowledge, and modern man for the most part, has bought into this idea. This in effect makes science GOD. Where is the absolute knowledge that science is the only way? Where is it written? What about things like philosophy, art etc.? Is it not possible there is a God and He sent His Son to educate us (amongst other things)? How can science be hailed as the ultimate / only authority? What is your authority James that science is the ultimate authority? Why do you limit yourself that you cannot progress until science gives you the go-ahead?

        Third, I agree that many scientists would see their models as approximations. However, how many of those same scientists believe in evolution and the big bang for the origin of the universe and by extension man himself. There are holes in the evolutionary theory you could drive a multi-verse through:
        -big bang supports the idea that everything came from nothing, is this logical?
        -where are all of the trillions of missing transitional fossils? You never hear of a fossil being transitional, but always as a particular animal with which we are already familiar
        -how can the fossil record show sudden explosions of creatures rather than a continual steady progression?
        -do they really believe birds descended from dinosaurs???
        -evolution opposes the second law of thermodynamics
        -where are all the transitional animals today? Do they suddenly die out once the new creatures are established? Why not before if they were so weak?
        -why can scientists today with all of their tools not begin to create life from base elements but random chance without any computers or design input has generated the world around us, with all of the environmental complexity and synergy that exists? Is random chance that much smarter than our current group of intellectuals?

        Speaking of multi-verses, how many scientists believe in them when there is zero scientific evidence for their existence? (Note: the Bible talks about multi-verses, heaven, hell, other realms etc.)
        A great many of these same scientists would defend either evolution or multi-verses far beyond the factual evidence for them, many to the point of anger when they are opposed.

        Finally, we are all human beings first, scientists or whatever second. As such we each analyze our lives and our surroundings through our human filters which can consist of our 5 senses, emotions, experiences, family, friends, our mentors etc can all affect our final thoughts. People can look at the same information and draw completely different conclusions. Some scientists are driven by the desire to help others, Some are driven by ego, awards, titles etc. Humans by themselves are not reliable sources of information.
        Again I suggest to you that there are other sources of more reliable information. I am of course referring to God, Jesus Christ and the Bible. While many do not agree with or even like the Bible a great many have tried to disprove it over the centuries. We are still waiting for someone to claim that prize. How can that be if it is so clearly false?

        Take care,
        Gary

        • TempleoftheFuture

          Hi Gary! I’ll respond to your points in order:

          “First it would seem that we agree there is a gap between what we know and what we can absolutely know. If you are waiting for science to completely fill in the gaps for you before you can update your position or know the TRUTH, I would suggest that unless science makes some staggering advances in the next few years, you are very likely to leave this mortal coil never knowing the TRUTH. This is an outcome that I feel is almost certain for humanists, and one that I personally would consider to be most unfortunate.”

          I don’t consider this unfortunate at all. I consider it to be the honest and humble position. We will almost certainly die not knowing the truth about many things. The real question is will we be able to advance our understanding in a meaningful way – and that is what Science offers which faith (as I understand it) does not.

          “Second, and I don’t know how this has happened, but science has done a brilliant job of proclaiming itself as the only possible source of knowledge, and modern man for the most part, has bought into this idea. This in effect makes science GOD. Where is the absolute knowledge that science is the only way? Where is it written? What about things like philosophy, art etc.? Is it not possible there is a God and He sent His Son to educate us (amongst other things)? How can science be hailed as the ultimate / only authority? What is your authority James that science is the ultimate authority? Why do you limit yourself that you cannot progress until science gives you the go-ahead?”

          You again misunderstand my position. I do believe that philosophy, the arts and other mechanisms can help us understand the world better. I write about this all the time on this blog, and I am a philosopher professionally.

          Your third point, I’m afraid, displays a shocking and almost total lack of knowledge of modern evolutionary theory. Literally every point you have made is flatly false. Let’s take just one example – your claim that we can’t find “transitional fossils”. Can you be more specific? What sort of fossils would you expect to find, if evolution were true, which we can’t find?

          Your last point – that no one has “disproved” the Bible – is very odd indeed. What would it take to “disprove” the Bible? Historical texts are either judged to be accurate or not – they are not “proved” or “disproved”. What on earth do you mean by “disproving the Bible?”

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Gary – can you link a peer-reviewed scientific study which has demonstrated the effectiveness of intercessory prayer? If it were as similar to “cause and effect” as you suggest then that should be easy to find.

      And about these prophecies which are “incredibly specific” – can you give a few examples?

  • JWC

    James –

    Just listened to your appearance on Unbelievable. First of all, I wanted to express my appreciation of your calm, rational discussion of the topics without resorting to personal attacks. As one who has been seeking truth recently, it has been alarming to see the amount of really hateful language and tactics on the side of some of the “new athiests.” Frankly, it is not only uncalled for but is poorly supported by reason. Your thoughtful discussion was a breath of fresh air!

    I’ve had a recent crisis of faith as a former Catholic, – which was provoked by the recent rise of atheism. I am in the process of developing an appreciation for philosophy and theology (which, sadly, I neglected during my stay at our mutual alma matter in Cambridge, MA). I will readily admit that my knowledge in these areas is superficial and, over the summer, I intend on improving my knowledge base. But as I have started my quest mainly with watching televised academic debates between those such as William Lane Craig and others (admittedly not the best place to ground one’s theology, but all I have time for now), I am curious about your statements above and on the radio program – namely, that he (and other apologists) use tired arguments which have been soundly defeated by the philosophy community writ large.

    It seems like, in your written response above and on the show, you’ve made two counter-claims. You interpretation of Craig’s argument re: the Kalam is not accurate, I believe, to his position; while he may assert that the “KCA” makes intuitive sense, he provides (seemingly) solid philosophical and scientific arguments to back his claims. Such as – the scientific evidence that the universe does, indeed, have a beginning (the Big Bang), that infinities cannot truly be found in nature, and more.

    Your other assertion is that his moral argument fails because of the evil in the world; you give the slaughter of the Caananites in the bible as an example. I’ve seen, however, very substantial arguments from a Christian perspective for which I have not heard convincing replies from the opposition. For instance – the problem of the Canaanites is negated if you do not take the bible as inerrant (personally, the verdict is still out on that one). Secondly, Craig and others (such as Plantiga, although again I have yet to read the source text) offer very convincing rebuttals of the “problem of evil.” I’ve rambled enough in this post, but could elaborate later. Lastly, such moral judgments require an objective morality which, though atheists philosophers want to affirm, I have yet to hear a convincing argument for. In which case, it is not really that God is being immoral – rather, that the atheist just doesn’t like it.

    I’d love for you to point me in the direction of the arguments which you think defeat Craig (and other apologists) so soundly – I would really like to hear them. What I think is pretty powerful, however, is that I’ve watched a large number of Craig’s debates. He uses largely the same 3-5 arguments in each – he doesn’t pull anything out of left field. But I have yet to hear any such knock-down arguments as you assert – and he has debated a number of really smart people. (Although I would not argue that his positions have uniformly knocked down his opponents, thought they have been convincing to me – all I’m saying is that they seem to hold their intellectual weight more than you grant).

    I really do need to get back to studying. Thanks again for your very thought provoking radio show and I hope very much that you have the time to explain your position to me more fully!

    Best,
    JWC

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Hi JWC,

      Thanks for commenting and for your kind words regarding the debate on Unbelievable? I’ve had a great time on that show on both occasions I was asked to speak and I hope to go on there again in the future. I’m excited to hear you’re exploring philosophy and theology more deeply, and I wish you the best of luck with that!

      As for your questions, we need to be a little more precise. Craig’s problem re: Kalam is that he asserts that the FIRST PREMISE is true based on intuition alone. That’s not the same as asserting the whole argument on the basis of intuition, but it is enough for the argument to fail logically.

      Second, I was not directly talking about the “problem of evil” in my discussion of morality (in other words, I was not specifically raising the question of theodicy). I was making a different case, which is that the attempt to reconcile the manifest evil in the world with the existence of an omnibenevolent God is itself an immoral pursuit which leads to immoral outcomes. I think we have a very strong prima facie case, for instance, to be very skeptical of any reasoning which leads us to not only justify but celebrate the wholesale slaughter of infants, as Craig’s argument does.

      The question of a naturalistic basis for morality is extremely complicated and one I can’t address in this reply, sadly. If you have a more specific question I might be able to do a short response, but the whole issue is extremely complex!

      This, for your reference, is my favorite debate with Craig, because Shelly Kagan shows in the post-debate discussion how you can move Craig off his talking points if you are allowed to question him directly. I think you might find his response to the question of morality helpful – I did!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqZ5azg8mlg&feature=relmfu

      Best Wishes,

      James.

  • http://www.myspace.com/morgansoriginals Richard Morgan

    I find the whole business of Christian apologetics extremely irritating. (And unfortunately I can’t stand William Craig’s voice!) I think one of the problems with modern (and mostly American) apologetics is that we all know that no-one ever got converted by losing an argument. Just as no-one ever got reasoned into falling in love and doing lots of irrational stuff. Every time I listen to an apologist (which is not very often), if they have an American accent I am reminded of the advice given by an American IT and Communications expert to a friend of mine who is preparing a “book” about “new proof” of the existence of God. (Like you, I too have weird friends.)
    This guy told us, “When I read a book like this, I need to be assured that at the end of it I will a) feel smarter, and b) be able to beat the hell out of anybody who disagrees withe me.”
    I can’t help but feel, in a typically uncharitable way, that THAT is what modern books on apologetics are all about. I strongly sense that this is a particularly American phenomenon, but I may be wrong, as I am an old Welshman living in the South of France.

    In the discussion with Chris Sinkinson (who has the redeeming characteristic of being British – “For he iiiiiiis an Englishman.” G&S dixit) I found you mainly lucid, reasonable and pleasant to listen to. Your were only occasionally manipulative and slightly petulant, but, hey, who am I to cast the first stone?

    Chris, and other apologists, are handicapped in these discussions in that they can not go the whole nine yards when talking about their faith. All Christians believe that faith is a Grace, a gift from God. We were not reasoned into our “peak experience” and so are unable to use philosophical tools and “rational thinking” to justify our claims.
    Yes, it’s all post hoc, and can be very comforting for those Christians who need to feel smarter and be able to beat the hell out of an atheist. It could be useful for those who are struggling to articulate certain aspects of their faith – to themselves and others. But to take reason, logic and rational thinking, which atheists claim are their most powerful (only?) tools and try to use them AGAINST atheist arguments seems to me, today, to be a fool’s errand.
    For me, this show confirmed by suspicion that apologetics is largely a waste of time. Even though it seems to sell a lot of books.
    I think I am looking forward to accessing the writing and videos that you have modestly made available here.
    I was a bit surprised to find the resources page empty. Or is that some kind of subtle, atheist trick?

    And out of curiosity I shall be reading Chris’s book, because he sounds like a nice guy, though I think I would prefer him as a pastor than an apologist. In fact, if I wasn’t a Catholic, I’m sure I’d love him as a pastor.

  • Gary Charlesworth

    Hi James,
    I am following up on my post of May 28, as I have not seen your response yet. I would particularly like to hear your views with regard to that post and in particular to my final question of that post. Also, from my previous post of May 12, I discussed in brief the large body of evidence with regard to fulfilled biblical prophecy and your explanation for this as well. These are the issues that convinced me of the truth of the bible, and I wonder if you have any explanation for either or them?
    Look forward to hearing from you James,
    thanks, Gary

  • Gary Charlesworth

    Hi James,
    I have not seen a response to my post of May 28, or answered my challenge of the evidence of biblical prophecy from May 12, would like to get your comments
    thanks, Gary

    • TempleoftheFuture

      I’ve been travelling a lot recently – my apologies! Getting back to those challenges now. See above.

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