menu
June 18, 2020

[originally posted on 11-17-17]
***
I’m delighted to see liberals and/or feminists starting to do the same thing now. The fact of these recent revelations shouldn’t surprise anyone in the slightest: not one bit. The only surprise is: why did it take liberals and mainstream (largely liberal and secular) society so long to finally say “enough is enough“? Could it be, it’s because the very sexual revolution that liberals have championed for so long, has arguably played a key role in bringing these scandals and outrageous behaviors (in terms of being so widespread) about?
*
And they say that conservatives (like me) supposedly care so much less about “women’s issues” and that liberals are so much more compassionate and concerned, and treat women as equals? That’s all exploded to hell now, ain’t it? Sexual sin knows no political boundaries. It’s a human sin problem, and last I checked, we are all fallen creatures, with concupiscence and lust that we must overcome by God’s grace. Liberals were ecstatic about Judgment Day Roy Moore (i.e., keeping the myth alive that this is supposedly more of a conservative and “Christian hypocrisy” / “holier than thou” problem), and then, lo and behold, the Senator Al Franken scandal arose . . . I must say: I love the irony and comedic timing there.
*
All of a sudden, now 70-something liberals like Jeff Greenfield (whom I have liked as a newsman through the years) become morally courageous (with Bill Clinton safely out of office and Hillary defeated and irrelevant) and say that Bill Clinton is a sexual predator? Welcome to the club, Jeff! Of course, we conservatives have been saying that since before Monica Lewinsky: all the way back to Gennifer Flowers in 1992 (that’s 25 years, by my math). We were mocked and pilloried (the “vast right-wing conspiracy” routine); that is, till the blue dress appeared, and till Clinton admitted to at least the Lewinsky shenanigans. Where was all the vaunted, self-proclaimed liberal “superior” concern for women and equal treatment, back then, and for the intervening 25 years? Radical feminist icon Gloria Steinem defended The Zipper against all the allegations in 1998, in the New York Slimes.
 
I wrote almost ten years ago, when the Catholic sex scandals were swirling around (which I immediately condemned in no uncertain terms), that this was universal in society. I documented how Protestants and Orthodox and institutions like the public schools had their own sex scandals, and said it was in every other sector of society, too, so that if only the Catholic Church is scrutinized, people will be allowing many other victims to suffer.
 
Bingo (to use some Catholic lingo)! Now we have Hollywood (that surprises anyone??!!) and national politicians (that does, too?) and the press (Halperin) being exposed for the same garbage.
 
The latest scandals all over the place also show very clearly that it’s obviously not a problem confined to men who are supposed to be celibate by profession (priests). The Catholic scandals largely had to do with homosexual promiscuity and abuse of young men; but the current ones (at least those we are hearing about) deal mostly with heterosexual promiscuity and immorality.
*
I wrote in my own combox, under an article about Protestant, Orthodox, and Jewish sex scandals, on 6 April 2008: (italics and bolding added presently)
 
I refuse to sit by and accept the myth that these horrors only occur in Catholic circles (since that is all we hear about in the media). It’s just not true.
I utterly condemn the heinous sins and at the same time tell the truth about where they are occurring (and that is everywhere, pretty much). If we pretend that it only happens with priests, then we are enabling the perpetrators to commit even more crimes, as we put our heads in the sand.
In other words, pointing out the severe bias of the media is not helping the abuse continue; it is the pretense of “Catholic only” that does that, because then it can occur in all these other places, and folks aren’t even aware of it (which is exactly what the molesters and pedophiles like: safe anonymity).
 
Now, in November 2017, society is starting to wake up. How many thousands of victims could have been spared these past ten years, if folks had stopped pretending that it was only a problem in the Catholic Church, or that saintly, equal-rights-for-all bleeding-heart liberals (unlike those wicked conservative bigots and woman-haters) would never ever mistreat women and use and abuse them as a result of the so-called “privilege” of their power and riches?

*

Again, in my blog post, “Wisconsin, Irish, German, and Other Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandals: Collection of Factual, Objective Links” (dated 4-21-10), I linked (in the final section) to several papers that contended for the same thing: the society-wide nature of these sexual problems. That observation appeared to fall on deaf ears in our society till now. And so, in the meantime, that many more lives were harmed and altered forever (many literally ruined) by our society’s unwillingness to face the facts. Here are some of those articles I linked to, with excerpts:

“Sexual abuse is society’s problem, too” (Phil Lawler, Catholic Culture, 25 March 2010); excerpts:

. . . take the public schools. When an accusation was lodged against the history teacher, a generation ago, was he prosecuted? Not likely. Far more often he was quietly let go, and eventually found a job teaching in another school–just as priests were allowed to work in another parish. . . .
*
It wasn’t just the Church. Society as a whole chose to avert its eyes and cover up the evidence of scandalous conduct. Now that the Church has been under fire for a decade or more, it’s time to broaden the inquiry. What other institutions were guilty, and why? What other institutions need reform? . . .
*
For years now we have been talking about sexual abuse as a problem for the Catholic Church, and that it certainly is. But it’s a problem outside the Church as well, and that problem should now be addressed.
“Rabbi calls media coverage of Church abuse scandal one-dimensional” (Catholic News Agency, 7 April 2010); excerpt:
A lot of sex abuse involving children is going on, the rabbi noted. “It’s not simply a Catholic problem.”
I even found one article that (almost prophetically) discussed the Hollywood director and child rapist Roman Polanski in conjunction with the Catholic scandals: “Dominic Lawson: The Pope is vilified, Polanski indulged” (Independent, 19 April 2010; see more about Lawson). Excerpts:
Polanski has not been doing the usual TV interviews that accompany critical acclaim. He is under house arrest in his Swiss chalet, fighting the attempts of a California court to extradite him for the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Geimer, in 1977.

The world of film – indeed, of art in general – regards this (Polanski’s arrest, that is, not his abuse of a 13-year-old girl) as a scandal. This attitude was most clearly evident in the remark of the Hollywood actress Whoopi Goldberg, who last year defended him with the observation, “I know it wasn’t rape-rape”. With this remarkable neologism, Goldberg gave a new gloss to the old line (usually uttered by men) of “she said no, but she meant yes”.

Geimer’s testimony to the grand jury of the Los Angeles Supreme Court therefore bears repetition. She told the court how the then 44-year-old director plied her with the drug Quaalude mixed with champagne at the home of Jack Nicholson, and then, ignoring her befuddled requests that she wanted to “go home”, began to molest her. Polanski, obviously much less befuddled, repeatedly asked her if she was on the pill; not satisfied with the clarity of her response, he buggered her. . . .

I had always imagined that it was people who raped children, rather than organisations, but perhaps Prof Dawkins is not so much interested in bringing men to book for their abuse of children, as the Catholic Church for the opinions it propagates. In fact this was made clear – Dawkins is at all times wonderfully lucid – in his book The God Delusion, published in 2006. He wrote then that “we live in a time of hysteria about paedophilia, a mob psychology that calls to mind the Salem witchhunts of 1692”. Dawkins went on: “The Roman Catholic Church has borne a heavy share of such retrospective opprobrium … I dislike the Catholic Church, but I dislike unfairness even more and I can’t help wondering whether this one institution has been unfairly demonised over this issue, especially in Ireland and America.”

. . . there is also a similarity between Polanski’s behaviour and that of the sexually predatory priest. In both cases the abuse was one of a position of power. That is much more obvious in the case of the clergy: especially in a country such as Ireland, where the constitution of the Republic itself gave them “special” authority. They had, in effect, absolute power, which was not just (as Acton observed) absolutely corrupting, but which also intimidated their victims into acquiescence.

Similarly, the world-famous film director fully understood the power he had over a 13-year-old would-be starlet, whose pictures he had promised to take for a future edition of French Vogue. It is almost the oldest story in Hollywood, but none the less disgusting for that; the defence of “she wanted it, really” would not impress the cultural world if the proposer of that eternal exculpation were a man without artistic pedigree.

Just as it was outrageous for the Catholic Church, at any level, to put the burnishing of the reputation of its priesthood ahead of the sufferings of children, so those who put their faith in artists should realise that they too have no special claim to be beyond good and evil.

So, I tried to do my share to expose the society-wide sexual coercion going on: ten years ago and seven years ago.  I’m very glad to see that finally the message is gaining traction: among all political perspectives, so that at long last, instances of this monstrous behavior can be decreased. Polanski was wildly cheered at a recent Hollywood awards show. Maybe now he won’t be anymore. That’s progress.

Now, we see liberals condemning Bill Clinton’s behavior: 25 years late, but better late than never (though they had no problem nominating his ultra-abuse-enabling wife). And we see Democrat Senators giving fellow Democrat Senator and pervert Al Franken no quarter. That’s new. And that means that (thank God) we have an opportunity to make some huge and long overdue changes in what our society permits, as regards [mostly] powerful men and their [mostly] female sexual victims.

***

Photo credit: US Air Force photo / ad [URL / public domain]

***

May 25, 2020

This dialogue began when atheist “Sporkfighter” started commenting underneath my paper, Dialogues on “Contradictions” w Bible-Bashing Atheists. His words will be in blue.

*****

What is “Biblical evidence” without prior extra-Biblical evidence of the Bible’s accuracy?

Exactly right. It presupposes biblical inspiration, which must be established on other grounds. The title of my blog is basically a roundabout polemical swipe at Protestants, who agree with us that the Bible is inspired.

We agree that the Bible is inspired?

Who is “we”? A liberal Protestant? Then you wouldn’t. :-) One who actually continues the heritage of Luther, Calvin, and Wesley would.

Unless you can demonstrate that the Bible is more than mythology and that any occasional correlation with fact is more than coincidence, there’s no reason to give it a second glance.

Yep. See: God: Historical Arguments (Copious Helpful Resources).

The Epic of Gilgamesh is set in Uruk, a real city. Sleepless in Seattle is set in Seattle, a real city. Harry Potter is set in Great Britain, a real country. Setting a story in a real place does not mean everything or anything else in the story is real.

The Shroud of Turin? At best, it’s a burial shroud of somebody, but somebody who looks remarkably like medieval European images of Christ with long hair, not the short hair common among first century Jews. At worst (and most likely) it’s an image of a human created by a human to defraud other humans. There was a brisk trade in Biblical relics for more than a thousand years, and educated people have know most of them were fakes for nearly as long. Just read the Pardoner’s Tale from the Canterbury Tales.

Discovery channel documentaries? If I believe those, I have to believe in ancient aliens too.

No, it’s not enough to show some mundane events in the Bible really happened or that places in the Bible really existed or that lots of people believe the stranger parts really happened. If the important, the miraculous parts of the Bible are to be believed, you have to show that those parts are true. Where’s the extra-Biblical evidence for Noah’s flood, for Jesus’ resurrection?

Finally, if any part of the Bible is known to be false, then every part of it is suspect. Since Christians themselves can’t agree on which parts are true, which are allegorical, or what the “true” parts mean, every word in the Bible not validated extra-Biblically is suspect.

Believe if you want, but at least understand why others might not believe. We’re not stupid, we’re not mad at God, and we’re not denying God so we can live debauched lives of sin.

Thanks for your input. I didn’t expect you to respond to the evidences I presented, so I wasn’t surprised. It doesn’t make them null and void, however, simply because you cavalierly dismiss them.

Stick around; maybe in due course you’ll see something appealing in the Christian worldview that you hadn’t seen before. You’re more than welcome as long as you don’t sink to rank insults.

You presented no evidence, just a box of links, most of which I’ve read many times in the past.

Evidence that the Bible is true must reference evidence outside the Bible, so most of your evidence “from the Bible” could at best show the Bible is internally consistent, but well written fiction is always internally consistent, so that would prove nothing even if the Bible were internally consistent, and it’s not.

Evidence that some of the Bible is true is not evidence that all of the Bible is true just as a chemistry textbook from 1880 isn’t all correct because some of it is. This seem obvious, but many apologists don’t seem to get it.

The number of miracles* reported have diminished in grandeur as science explains more, education replaces credulity. This isn’t proof that the miracles of the Bible didn’t happen, but it does lead me to wonder why the sun stood still, people rose from the dead, and virgins gave birth then but not now. You’d need stronger evidence that they happened as well as an explanation for why they don’t anymore.**

*It’s not a miracle when one of a few people survive a disaster without some reason the majority didn’t.

**Curious fact: The number of UFO reports have dropped as cell phones became ubiquitous. If you report a UFO now, people expect pictures. Kind of like miracles, people don’t take the word of anonymous strangers anymore, they expect the evidence.

The Shroud of Turin is a good example of what’s wrong the way evidence for the Bible falls apart when you look carefully, so let’s look at. The Shroud purports to be an image of Christ on linen fabric that could not possibly have been created by humans on cloth preserved for 2,000 years. However…

1. The best dating techniques place its creation between 1260–1390 CE. You can argue against that dating, but that’s not evidence placing it around 30 CE.

2. You can’t prove it’s of Middle-eastern origin, and we know similar fabric has been made in other places and other times, including medieval Europe.

3. You can’t prove it’s not a creation of human ingenuity; how could you without knowing the limits on human ingenuity?

No, the most likely explanation is that it’s a forgery from a time and place that we know and people of the day knew was rife with forged Biblical relics. Just read Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale” from 1387-1400. Moreover, the first evidence we have for it’s existence was in 1390, when the local bishop reported that an artist confessed to creating it! Clearly, the best explanation is that the Shroud is one more of the thousands of forged Christian relics that were common as cats in Europe of the day*.

*Take a guess at how many of Jesus’ foreskins were paraded around Europe…got a number? At least eight and perhaps 18.

All the evidence for the Bible as truth I’ve studied falls apart similarly upon examination. If you have something you’ve personally looked into, I’m all eyes, but don’t waste my time with a bunch of links to arguments you haven’t investigated carefully on your own.

I have in fact investigated many of these things on my own. You may not know much about me. I’ve been doing apologetics for 39 years, have written 50 books (some 30 or so published by “real” publishers: not just self-published), and have 2900 articles on my blog. The fact that you can utterly dismiss all of those articles and play the game as if they don’t present any evidence whatsoever that isn’t circular reasoning, shows that you are in an impenetrable epistemological bubble and impervious to anything outside of it.

You write, for example: “Evidence that the Bible is true must reference evidence outside the Bible . . .”

Of course, all of archaeological evidence (to mention just one thing) is of that nature. But you’re capable of blowing all that off in one fell swoop. You’re not fooling anyone. That’s not a serious attempt to grapple with the relevant evidence.

There are good arguments that the dating of the Shroud is at the time of Christ. In a nutshell, the samples taken that showed later dates were from patches that were later added. There are objective ways to determine this, and they have been demonstrated. That’s only about dating, of course, and is the bare minimum of anything approaching “proof” that it’s the burial shroud of Jesus, but at least it shows that it is not a mere “medieval hoax.”

Basically, you’re saying (in a nice way so far, but still . . .) that Christians are merely blind faith, irrational, anti-scientific dummies. It’s the old atheist line, and it won’t do.

What I’ve been mostly doing with atheists is shooting down their alleged “contradictions” in the Bible. I’ve done that 40 times with Bob Seidensticker (Cross Examined site), 42 with Dr. David Madison (Debunking Christianity) and 21 refutations of Ward Ricker (see the post above), who put together a book with a bunch of these. This is something objective that can be discussed pro and con rather than the “101 objections” routine, where nothing serious can be accomplished.

I also wrote a paper specifically for people like you who want to blow off the extensive scholarly links / articles that I have compiled regarding evidences for Christianity and theistic proofs: Why I Collect Lots of Scholarly Articles for Atheists.

I would say, with all due respect, don’t waste my time, either, with your flippant dismissal of a whole range of relevant articles and arguments in favor of Christianity, and your epistemological naiveté. It doesn’t work with me. It may with many less educated Christians, and even many less experienced Christian apologists, but not with me. I’m too familiar with the timeworn games and tactics, and I see the sort of counter-arguments that atheists come up with, because I’ve been interacting with them these past 39 years off and on.

I have in fact investigated many of these things on my own. You may not know much about me. I’ve been doing apologetics for 39 years, have written 50 books (some 30 or so published by “real” publishers: not just self-published), and have 2900 articles on my blog.

I, too have been reading and studying for forty years, starting with degrees in mathematics and physics. Chances are excellent that I’ve read some of your research material myself. What are the chances that you’ve read, say, Atheism: The Case Against God by George Smith or other comparable works from the atheist point of view? In my experience, apologists read other apologists and they argue against other apologists’ versions of atheism but not against an atheist’s version of atheism.

If you’ve really studied and written on these issues, you should know better than to give 30 links and call it an argument. One at a time…what’s your best evidence? I can debunk it or I can’t, you can support it or you can’t, but that way it’s possible to hold a discussion.

Yeah, I’ve read books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens (probably the two most well-known atheist books in recent times), and John Loftus. I responded to both Dawkins and Loftus in several papers. Loftus (who challenged me to do it) has ignored my replies. When he has “interacted” with me in the past it was sort of like Mt. Vesuvius or Mt. St. Helens: lots of smoke and fury but little else.

I explained why I provided the links (in my article I linked to). There is nothing wrong with it: no more than books providing lengthy bibliographies for further related reading. I was trying to provide a service to atheists: in effect, “you want some serious scholarly articles from a Christian viewpoint that cover these topics you are interested in? Here you go.” I recognize my limitations: which is why I’m citing scholars in certain areas. I can’t do everything myself. It doesn’t follow that I make no arguments. I do, and I also provide further reading. What in the world is wrong with that is, I confess, beyond my comprehension. Atheists apparently reject the notion of “further recommended reading.” I’ve gone through this silliness several times now.

Asking me what my best evidence is is like asking a happily married man why he loves his wife. I believe as I do because of the cumulative force of scores and scores of factors and reasons and evidences. I’ve written about a great many of those things.

If you are truly interested in dialogue (and not just smug “gotcha!” polemics and breezy dismissals), pick something I’ve written about and go at it. Most atheists simply ignore my refutations of their arguments (especially the alleged Bible contradictions). You can always pick up their slack if you like. But it has to be a dialogue that goes somewhere; has some constructive value (and I don’t mean by that only that one or the other is persuaded; insights and understandings can at least be gained). See my atheism & agnosticism and philosophy & science pages.

Oh, one more thing. If you want to do serious, ongoing dialogue, you’re gonna have to share your real name and some online source that tells more about you. I don’t spend much time on mysterious, anonymous folks. If you have the courage of your convictions you ought to “come out” and reveal yourself beyond nicknames. As it is, even your Disqus profile tells me nothing.

OK, I read “Replies to Atheists’ & Skeptics’ Garden Variety Objections.” [link]

Every point starts with the assumption that God exists. That’s great once you’re there, but how do you get there? My question isn’t “What is God like?” I ask “Is there a god?”

You misunderstand what that paper was about. I answer from within the paradigm of how a question is framed and will argue differently, based on who I am talking to. The first question was, “How can we really know what God is like?” This, in a sense, momentarily posits the existence of God for the sake of argument and then inquires: how do we know what God — if he exists — is like? And so I said, “look at Jesus.” That is the Christian answer.

You are answering questions I haven’t asked precisely because you’re speaking from inside Christianity to people who take the existence of God as a given. None of that matters to someone who doesn’t already believe.

You make an “internal criticism” directed towards the Christian system. Therefore I have to talk about God as I understand Him to be from within that system, to show that there is no inconsistency or incoherence. Same thing with the next section about God and suffering: the classic objection. I can’t reply to that and not mention God, because it is a critique of the Christian God to begin with. Three more questions are of the same type.

The last question in the paper is: “And how can we totally understand God?” One can’t answer that without mentioning God, either. We have to answer according to our theistic and Christian understanding.

This person is arguing, in effect, “your system seems incoherent and inexplicable to me. Please explain it so that it doesn’t seem that way.” And so I did. It depends on what a person is asking for.

In “Bad or Absent Fathers as a Strong Indicator of Atheism” [link] you follow Vitz’s cherry-picked aspects of cherry-picked atheists’ relations with their fathers with this: “It’s a known fact that people’s relationships with their fathers in particular can have a significant effect on their view of God.” Beyond the sociological observation that people generally follow the religion of their parents, isn’t this just a matter of human psychology? What has it to do with the question of God’s existence?

I didn’t claim that the atheists and their fathers paper had to do with whether God exists or not. This is a turning the tables argument against the atheist polemic that Christians are only such because of their upbringing. So we retort by saying: so is atheism, many times. The examples of famous atheists are evidence of that: not of whether God exists. You are analyzing very sloppily and illogically. This is simply sociological observation (my major was sociology and Vitz is a psychologist or psychiatrist).

“Must Christianity be Empirically Falsifiable to be Rationally Held?” [link] A scientific hypothesis should be falsifiable, but is Christianity a scientific hypothesis? Some people would claim that the existence of God is a scientific question in that God does or does not exist, that “no God” could be disproved by his appearance in Times Square. That hasn’t happened but I can’t show that it won’t. Seems like a silly stand for an atheist to take.

I explain carefully the point I am trying to make there and you seem to have missed it. The exact essence of the paper is in its title. It’s not an argument about God’s existence, but rather, about the circular nature of empiricist-only atheist thought and logical positivism. The point is that there are many fields of knowledge which are not ultimately dependent on empiricism and falsifiablility: mathematics and logic being two. Nor can science even begin with pure empiricism. It requires non-empirical axioms such as uniformitarianism to get off the ground.

“Jesus’ Death: Proof of a “Bloodthirsty” God, or Loving Sacrifice?” [link]

Again, you assume God exists, then discuss his personality. The does not address the atheist’s first question: “Does God exist?”

It’s not meant to do what you seem to always demand: ironclad, undeniable proof of God. This is, again, about an internal criticism of Christianity. So one has to tackle it from within the Christian paradigm, explaining how we think His death suggests love rather than a “bloodthirsty” God.

I clearly haven’t read everything you’ve written, but in everything I have read, you take God as a given and move on from there. I’m unwilling to grant you that as an axiom in this context. In real life, you can believe what you want for reasons you find convincing.

All you have shown, then, is that you consistently misunderstand the purpose and nature of individual articles of mine, and the nature and force of the arguments as well. It’s very common. Atheists are in their own little bubble, so they underestimate and often completely miscomprehend Christian apologetics arguments.

Finally, I’ve found many Christians to be mean-spirited and vindictive. They’ve attacked me online, they’ve contacted my employer to try and get me fired, and they’ve threatened my children, so I will not be doxxing myself.

That’s most unfortunate and sad. I am not that way at all, and apologize on behalf of the morons calling themselves Christians who would act in such a way. They make my job very difficult, too, if many atheists approach me thinking I’m gonna act like these jackasses and fools that you describe. I’m trying to represent the thinking of Christians and the spirit of the thing, which is loving all people and God and not falling into all the usual prevalent sins.

Indeed you are not. I have close friends that are Mormon, Muslim, and Christian who know I think their religious belief are unfounded, just as they think I’m not seeing the truth, but we’re willing to let each other be wrong because it’s the only way can all be left to be right.

***

Photo credit: geralt (2-16-16) [PixabayPixabay License]

***

 

May 16, 2020

This is a follow-up comment to my Reply to Atheist Ward Ricker Re “Biblical Contradictions” (5-15-20). He replied with a 5 1/2 page article. And now I counter-reply. Ward’s words will be in blue.

*****

I have just read your reply, and it convinces me that constructive dialogue between us will not be possible, for several reasons:

1) You doubt my good will, good faith, and sincerity (a charge I do not reciprocate): which qualities are absolutely essential to assume in an opponent if constructive dialogue is to occur. Failing these, it never ever is possible, as I know full well from long experience. I have never seen an exception to this dynamic. Examples:

Why would you twist the meaning around as you do? Your “suggestions” contradict the clear “words of god”. Why would you do so?

You are simply unwilling to accept what the Bible says . . .

One wonders if you are just trying to confuse.

2) You fundamentally dislike my writing style and/or methodology:

At the risk of offending, in going through your writings I have noted how convoluted your arguments tend to be. Indeed, I find it difficult to respond even to the few that I respond to here, because your arguments are rather convoluted, confusing and unclear. Your lack of clear, concise statements makes it difficult to write a response. It makes for a lot of work (and, indeed, I have other things to do with my life), so if you wonder why you have trouble getting people to respond to you, you might take that into consideration.

That’s your right, of course (it’s a free country), and such things are largely subjective (and because they are, many people believe exactly the opposite of what you think about my writing). “Different strokes for different folks” / “can’t please everyone,” etc. But it means that you and I will not be able to constructively dialogue, because (from where I sit), you don’t even comprehend (at least some) of my arguments in the first place, and because of that, fall back on a complaint that the problem must be on my end: that I am unacceptably and unfortunately muddled, confused and unclear. It also leads to straw men in such a scenario. You don’t get what I am saying and so wind up fighting straw men that are simply not what my argument was.

3) We have vastly different conceptions as to what dialogue itself is. You don’t want to go point-by-point, as I almost always do (socratic method). You’ll do it for a time, for carefully selected passages, but you ignore others. You selected passages from my Seidensticker series, but never showed a willingness to comprehensively deal with any particular one (which is what I am looking for).

This never works. In my opinion, true dialogue must take into account the opponents’ entire argument, and not pick-and-choose some stuff, while arbitrarily ignoring others. And you can always fall back on your opinion that my writing is frustratingly unclear (#2 above). That means there is no hope for us to constructively engage. I wish it were otherwise, but this is the only conclusion I can reasonably draw, based on your reply.

I lay out my conception of such a serious, philosophical-type discussion here: Good Discussion: Back-and-Forth Dialogue vs. “Mutual Monologue”.

Don’t feel too bad. Virtually no one of any persuasion ever does this, these days (and I endlessly bemoan that fact). But being the idealist and socratic that I am, I will keep seeking it (heaven help me).

4) It appears (as is often the case with atheists) that your past fundamentalism still profoundly affects your present attempts to interpret the Bible, due to relentless false premises, leading to (of course) false conclusions. Examples abound:

a) you clearly don’t understand the very different ancient Hebrew modes of thinking; particularly the “both/and” approach, which is very difficult for modern sensibilities to grasp: with our excessive false dichotomies and “either/or” mentalities. As long as you don’t get this aspect, you’ll never understand many Bible passages, especially ones about God. And it causes you to assert many “contradictions” that in fact are not.

b) you don’t think through the notion of God being a judge. It’s not difficult to find many human analogies to judging and punishing: human judges passing sentences on criminals, the Allies “judging” and defeating the Nazis in World War II, our superiority over animals; parents’ chastising and punishing of children (an analogy to God that the Bible itself makes), police exercising lethal force as the situation warrants. Failing this understanding leads you to conclude that God is engaged in evil, wicked acts of “violence” when He is justly judging. It’s like saying we were “evil” and “ruthless” and “bloodthirsty” when we wiped out the Nazis.

c) you don’t have the slightest clue about anthropomorphism and anthropopathism (I would guess that you probably never even heard the words till now). If you did, you would understand how language is very diversely used in Scripture, and often is non-literal and you would understand things like God “repenting.” This leads you to make inane observations like, “But that’s not what it says. It says that he repented . . . “ [my italics added] Of course, that’s what it “says.” That’s not at issue. The question is whether it is literal or metaphorical. This is what you don’t get.

There are many different genres in the Bible (consider, for example, Jesus’ parables and the proverbs and books like Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon). But because you are a former fundamentalist (most atheists who play the “Bible contradiction” game were), you always have to interpret literally (or so it sure seems so far). That was wrong and dumb and hermeneutically clueless when you were a Christian, and it remains so now. It caused you to arrive at false conclusions then, and it does now. This is an elementary component of biblical interpretation.

d) you object to consulting the original languages: which is essentially necessary in all proper exegesis of the Bible.

e) your wooden hyper-literalism is again sadly evident in how you treat the question of OT references to “many gods”. Clearly the OT teaches that these are not real “gods.” Only God (YHWH) is real. But you can’t see that, out of your (as usual) inapplicable literalism of interpretation. How I explain this makes perfect logical and rational sense. But you can’t see it, because your false premise won’t allow you to. Seidensticker and Madison and Loftus and other Bible-bashing atheists make these same mistakes. It’s nothing unique to you.

But this shows that I wouldn’t have any more success in achieving true dialogue with you than I have with them. You’re willing to talk (good and admirable itself), but because of these factors it’ll never work, and my patience would last no more than a day. All good dialogue can only proceed if there are some premises held in common.

f) you are equally out to sea in examining the traits of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence; some passages concerning these are also non-literal, and you (predictably by now) think they are literal. So you come to the wrong conclusion. It’s because you have very little inkling of how ancient Hebrew thought about things. They weren’t stupid; just very different from us, as we would expect. Our type of thinking (linear / either/or rationalism and syllogistic logic) comes from the ancient Greeks. We have to realize that this is a framework and understand that the Hebrew framework is a different one. We can’t be like a fish in a tank, not knowing that it is.

5) Your conclusion sums up your problem in approaching a Christian apologist like myself, seeking dialogue:

Why would you want to defend a book in the first place that teaches acceptance of murder, slavery, genocide, rape, racism and many of the other evils that still plague our planet today?

Quite obviously (as seen in my replies to Seidensticker), I don’t think it condones any of these things. Your proper task is not to ask asinine, insulting “when did you stop beating your wife?” types of questions, but rather, to try to understand why I come to the opposite conclusion of yours. I’m perfectly sincere and operating in good faith just as I believe you are. In a constructive, mutually respectful dialogue, you would never frame your question in these terms, but rather, would say something like:

Why is it that you think that the Bible doesn’t advocate murder, slavery, genocide, rape, racism and many other evils, as it seems to in my reading (at least prima facie)? I want to understand your reasoning — borne of your 39 years of apologetics research and writing –, so I can best be in a position to rationally come to the correct conclusion about biblical teaching.”

6) All of this said, I may still take on several of your proposed contradictions, just so I can have opportunity to show how very wrong atheist contentions are (which is one thing Christian apologists do). But dialogue of the sort I seek is clearly impossible between us.

***

Related Reading

*

“Three Days and Nights” in the Tomb: Contradiction? [10-31-06]

*
*
Death of Judas: Alleged Bible Contradictions Debunked (vs. Dave Van Allen and Dr. Jim Arvo) [9-27-07]
*
*
*
*
*
*
Gadarenes, Gerasenes, Swine, & Atheist Skeptics (vs. Jonathan MS Pearce) [7-25-17]
*
*
*
*
Atheist Inventions of Many Bogus “Bible Contradictions” [National Catholic Register, 9-4-18]
*
*
*
*
*
*

*

***

Photo credit: George Redgrave (11-16-14) [Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0 license]

***

April 30, 2020

These two exchanges occurred underneath existing blog articles of mine. The rabidly anti-Catholic traxxion (words in blue below) was replying under an article of mine about how many anti-Catholic Protestant polemicists are young earth creationistsLinguagroover (words in green) replied underneath my purely theological / biblical piece, “Soul Sleep”: A Thorough Biblical Refutation.

*****

The hypocrisy of this article is absolutely mind numbing.
 
Catholic criticises Protestant YEC’s …. are you serious? Are you promoting the same Catholic church that placed Galileo under house arrest for supporting the Copernican model? and banned both of their books?
 
The same church that taught (“inerrantly”… uh huh…) and held to deeply flawed Aristotelian philosophy and integrated it into its religious worldview, including a static geo-centric universe? as believed and taught by Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis?
 
Since your premise is “education” of Catholics vs Protestants – more than slightly disingenuous assertion that your condition in matters now considered science is supportive of your ability to interpret “historical theology”.
 
Are you for real? :)
 
If you’d like to have a serious, intelligent, informed discussion about the Galileo incident, I’ve written several times about it (pick one of these and come back and dialogue):
*
Nor was Galileo some irrefutable font of wisdom. He and the other scientists of the time made plenty of errors, too:
 
 
Moreover, why is it that people like you always croak (almost always without nearly sufficient historical understanding) about Galileo, while the far worse case of Antoine Lavoisier, the father of chemistry, is ignored and unknown. He was murdered by the supposedly “enlightened” French philosophes and anti-Catholic fanatics (the very folks who claimed that they worshiped only “reason”). But no, we must hear about Galileo until Kingdom Come: who wasn’t tortured, and who was “sentenced” to a sort of “house arrest” in the luxurious palaces of his Catholic supporters.
Lastly, the Galileo trial(s) had nothing directly to do with Catholic claims of infallibility, as St. John Henry Cardinal Newman explains:
So again Galileo, supposing he began (I have no reason for implying or thinking he did, but supposing he began) with doubting the received doctrine about the centrality of the earth, I think he would have been defective in religiousness; but not defective in faith, (unless indeed by chance he erroneously thought that the centrality had been defined). On the other hand, when he saw good reasons for doubting it, it was very fair to ask, and implied no irreligiousness,—”After all, is it defined?” and then, on inquiry, he would have found liberty of thought “in possession,” and would both by right and with piety doubt of the earth’s centrality. (Letter to Edward B. Pusey, 23 March 1867; cited in Wilfred Ward, The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman [two volumes: London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912], vol. 2, 221; my italics and bolding)
*
*****
‘Consciousness after death is clearly taught in Scripture.’ Indeed it is – which is why any religion asserting this (by faith – it has no other methodology) is utterly incompatible with evidence-based science.
*
Whatever brings you comfort: circular arguments; appeals to evidence-free assertion; . . . and trying to make out that atheism is a religion. I was a Christian. I know what a religion is. Atheism ain’t.

When you flatly deny consciousness after death, of course the premise of that is that there is no such thing as a soul, and beyond that, no spirit; only matter. That’s one philosophical opinion, but it’s not the only one, and it’s certainly not proven beyond any doubt whatever, so that no rational inquirer can possibly deny it.

As you must know, many — if not most of the — important philosophers throughout history have been dualists and theists, rather than materialists. So it’s not simply “blind faith.” The existence of a soul, the afterlife, and God can be argued for strictly on a philosophical / non-religious basis, and has been defended by many brilliant, dazzling minds.

Secondly, I would contend that when you say “utterly incompatible” you overstep your own epistemological boundaries: the limits of your own chosen worldview. You can say that consciousness after death has nothing to do with science, and I would enthusiastically agree. It cannot, by definition, because science (essentially applied empirical philosophy) deals with matter. Therefore, it has nothing to tell us about things like souls and spirit, which are irrelevant or nonexistent categories within its purview.

By the same token, however, because it cannot speak to those things, it also follows logically that it cannot rule them out from its own perspective. You can no more say, “science has disproven the existence of souls” than we can say, “religion has disproven the theory of evolution.” Both are impermissible, because they are serious category mistakes at the presuppositional level.

You also go way too far in insinuating that any religion that believes in consciousness after death (i.e., immortality of souls), must do so only by faith (false: we can also enlist dualist philosophy), and must be “utterly incompatible with evidence-based science”. The latter is also a false statement, based on what I have already stated: it’s like comparing apples and oranges or a fish to a bicycle.

Christianity is not only not intrinsically opposed to science; it was crucial and virtually necessary to the beginning of modern science. See also: Christians or Theists Founded 115 Scientific Fields.

And we can bring much reason to the defense of our views, not just “faith.” That’s what the theistic proofs are about. You may disagree with them, but they are specimens of philosophical reasoning; not just faith.

Lastly, you flatly deny that atheism is a religion. Typically, as an atheist, you seem to think that science is the be-all and end-all of all knowledge (clearly and unarguably false), that it is based only on evidence (false: it necessarily entails mathematics and logic: both of which include unprovable and non-empirical starting axioms), and that atheism entails no acceptance of unprovable axioms. The latter is also spectacularly false, as I think I demonstrated rather conclusively in my paper: Atheism: the Faith of “Atomism”.

I’d be happy to discuss any of these things at length. As it is, I will now make a new blog paper of this exchange. I’ll post it here when I’m done.

*****
Photo credit: Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition (1857), by Christiano Banti (1824-1904) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
*****
April 16, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18: “you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone who (very much like he himself) was (to hear him tell it) not backing up his position: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 36 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. As of 7-9-19, this is how Bob absurdly rationalizes his non-response: “He’s written several blog posts titled, in effect, ‘In Which Bob Seidensticker Was Mean to Me.’ Normally, I’d enjoy a semi-thoughtful debate, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or search “Seidensticker Folly #” in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

Bob’s article, “More Pointless Parables” (5-9-14; orig. 4-30-12) goes after the miracle of the sun standing still during a battle with Joshua:

Joshua 10:12-14 (RSV) Then spoke Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the men of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon, and thou Moon in the valley of Ai’jalon.” [13] And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. [14] There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD hearkened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.

Even if God had stopped the sun 3000 years ago, there is no way to deduce that from information available to astronomers today, . . . And let’s not even speculate at what “stopping the sun” (that is, stopping the rotation of the earth) would’ve done. . . . 

I know what you’re thinking: why waste time on this ridiculous tale? It’s because there are people who believe it.

As usual, imagining that the Bible’s miracle stories really happened takes us to nowhere that can be scientifically justified.

Bob has mocked this story elsewhere, too:

Two more examples are when God played games with the sun, stopping its motion for hours so Joshua could continue killing Amorites (Joshua 10:13) . . . It’s one thing for God to move things across the sky over a flat earth, but it gets complicated in a heliocentric solar system when “stopping the sun” would require stopping the earth’s rotation.

Could God have used magic to stop the earth’s rotation so that its inhabitants didn’t notice the deceleration and subsequent acceleration (and report it in the biblical accounts)? Could he have maintained the earth’s protective magnetic field that would’ve been lost if the molten iron core stopped rotating? Sure, but the much simpler explanation is that the human authors of the Bible wrongly thought that the earth was at the center of the universe, just like in neighboring societies. (2-12-20; orig. 11-30-15)

I have already offered a reply to this objection in one of my refutations of the notorious atheist Richard Dawkins:

Dawkins tackles the miracle of the sun at Fatima, Portugal in 1917:

[T]he earth was suddenly yanked sideways in its orbit, and the solar system destroyed, with nobody outside Fatima noticing. (p. 92)

The miracle could simply consist of God changing the perception of the people there (an LSD trip, for example, does the same thing purely naturally); not literally making the sun do weird “unscientific” things. The same possible scenario would also apply to the famous miracle of the Bible, where Joshua “made the sun stand still” (Josh 10:12-13). First of all, the  Bible uses pre-scientific phenomenological language. We actually still do the same today, when we say “the sun came up” or “the sun went down at 6:36.” That’s not literal language, because we know that it is the earth’s rotation that makes it appear that way.

Joshua’s miracle was indeed a miracle, but it could still have been of a psychological nature, as opposed to an astronomical one. Or it could be something like, as one Protestant commentary put it: ” the light of the sun and moon was supernaturally prolonged by the same laws of refraction and reflection that ordinarily cause the sun to appear above the horizon, when it is in reality below it.” Atheists seem to always want to interpret the Bible (and in this case, a Marian-related apparition) hyper-literally, but they are often wrong, because they assume primitive ignorance, when in fact, there is a high degree of sophistication that is beyond the atheist’s willingness (not intellectual capacity) to even attempt to understand. (5-25-18)

I also made a reply on this topic in another of my (now, 39) refutations of Seidensticker:

This is an exceedingly involved discussion, with equally devout Christian commentators holding to several different theories, and this article is already lengthy enough, so I will defer to an extremely in-depth treatment: Glenn Miller’s article, “What about ‘The Fivefold Challenge’?” Readers — after following the link — need to do a word search to get to the relevant section: “Miracle Two: The stopping of the sun by Joshua.” Glenn is delightfully thorough and comprehensive in his reasoning, as always. It’s a feast for Bible students, and perhaps at least some challenge and food for thought for skeptics like Bob.

Suffice it to say in summary that several of the theories do not entail stopping the earth’s rotation or  movement around the sun, etc., and posit far less “cosmologically dramatic” events. This is common in biblical interpretation: reasonable folks can have honest disagreements. But what Christians have in common is an approach to the Bible of high respect, rather than the goal to mock and ridicule, distort and dismiss it: as seen over and over in Bob’s endless anti-Christian, anti-biblical rhetoric and sophistry.

Christian apologist Glenn Miller in the aforementioned treatise, describes the view held by “most long-day advocates”:

A distortion of light. In this scenario, the sun and earth moved perfectly normally, but the light from the sun was subjected to abnormal reflective/refractive forces, so that daylight (diffused) continued for a longer period of time than normal. . . . [It] has an advantage of being a standard “manner of operation” of God; He routinely uses light and optical effects (cf. the cloud in Exodus 14.19-20).

Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm wrote a classic work, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1954). It’s a masterpiece of a non-fundamentalist, “thinking man’s” evangelical Protestant perspective on science (much or most of which a Catholic could readily agree with). He devotes 5 1/2 pages to “the long day of Joshua” and prominently mentions the above “refraction / mirage” interpretation:

Another alternative we may adopt, if we wish to maintain that the need of Joshua was for more daylight, is to assert that the sun and moon kept on their way, but through a miracle of refraction or through a supernaturally given mirage the sun and moon appeared to be out of their regular places. Such an interpretation allows for the solar system to keep on its way, yet provides Joshua with the needed light, and maintains the supernatural character of the record. . . . In a most fascinating article Butler reviews for us the various types of mirages, gives some examples, and the scientific explanations. His own interpretation is that it was a supernaturally given mirage.

[It was] a special and rare mirage in the Earth’s atmosphere which is similar to one or more of the natural mirages, but is of a magnitude, altitude, and character that would be the result of a divine miracle only, and therefore produced for some important purpose. [J. Lowell Butler, “Mirages are Light Benders,” JASA, 3: 1-18, December, 1951] (p. 158)

He offers a second plausible interpretation as well (the one he himself favors):

Maunder has argued that the request of Joshua was not for more time but for release from the heat of the day. He has set forth his theory in considerable detail in ISBE, “The Battle of Beth-Horon” (I: 446-449), and in JTVT, “Joshua’s Long Day” (53: 120-148, 1921; reprinted JASA, 3: 1-20, Dec., 1951). He attempts to prove that Joshua did not ask the sun to stand still but to be silent, i.e. keep from shining. What Joshua’s men needed was refreshment from a burning sun. Maunder claims that the sun was overhead at noontime heat and that the moon was on the horizon. In answer to Joshua’s petition God sends a hailstorm which has the double effect of refreshing his own soldiers and harming the enemy. Under such refreshment the soldiers of Joshua did a day’s march in half a day and so reasoned that the day had been prolonged. The march of thirty miles to Makkedah was one day’s march and, having covered it in half a day, they reasoned they had been on the road a whole day. Maunder undergirds his argument with various astronomical, geographical, exegetical, and historical data, the details of which will be found in the articles cited.

A. L. Shute in a remarkable article agrees with this interpretation of Maunder. He believes the miracle was not a prolongation of light, but a cessation of light for the refreshment of the soldiers. But he differs in what the expression “ hasted not to go down for a whole day” means. Maunder took it to mean that the soldiers were so refreshed they did a day’s march in half a day and so they figured the day had been lengthened. But Shute argues from the etymology of the words of the text that the expression means that the sun did not come out from the clouds till very late in the afternoon. It was cloudy all afternoon and then, just before setting, the sun burst forth again and shone upon the battlefield. (pp. 159-160)

[Footnote: Robert Dick Wilson accepts the view of Maunder apparently with no knowledge of Maunder’s view. Wilson shows that the words used in the Joshua account are technical astronomical words in their Babylonian counterparts. The root DM in Babylonian astronomy meant “to darken/’ and “in the midst” meant “in the half of.” The prayer of Joshua was a prayer for darkness, not for the prolongation of the day. He concludes: “I confess to a feeling of relief, as far as I myself am concerned, that I shall no longer feel myself forced by a strict exegesis to believe that the Scriptures teach that there actually occurred a miracle that involves so tremendous a reversal of all the laws of gravitation.” “What Docs ‘The Sun Stood Still’ Mean?” Moody Monthly, 21:67, October, 1920. (p. 161)]

Ramm suggests that a poetic interpretation is also possible, even for the traditional, orthodox Christian, not given to “allegorizing away” biblical texts:

Cooke writes:

It is better to recognize frankly that the verses are poetry and must be understood as poetry. A literal interpretation cannot avoid forcing an unnatural sense on the language.

It is argued that the people of those days wove astronomy into their speech far more than we do as exhibited by (i) the reference in Judges 5:20 when Deborah and Barak sing that the stars fought against Sisera, and (ii) the presence of astronomical pictures in prophetic passages as for example in Joel 2:10, 30-31. The cry of Joshua was then a cry for help and strength. His cry was answered with renewed vigour in his soldiers who then fought so valiantly and were so refreshed that they did a day’s work in half a day, and it seemed to them that the day had actually been lengthened. (p. 156)

He thus explains in summary that there are three possible and plausible non-literal but still miraculous explanations that do not entail the sun literally stopping (and/or the earth to stop rotating), or any disbelief in the divine inspiration of the text:

There are then, in summary, three live possibilities as to the interpretation of Joshua’s long day. Either the language was poetic and the miracle was the physical invigoration of Joshua’s soldiers; or it was a supernatural refraction of the rays of the sun and moon, thus giving the soldiers more time (by refraction or mirage); or it was a supernaturally induced thunderstorm giving the soldiers relief from the burning heat. The details may be found in the literature cited. All we need assert is that evangelicalism is not embarrassed for want of a rationale of the long day of Joshua, and even though the author sides with Maunder he would not feel embarrassed if any of the other interpretations was proved to be correct. (p. 161)

Bob’s fundamental mistake, then, is to assume (as atheist polemicists — humorously — almost always do), that the only possible interpretation of the text must be hyper-literal (i.e., God stopped the rotation of the earth). This is often because their own childhood backgrounds were fundamentalist (which is only one tiny, fringe portion of Christianity as a whole). He doesn’t realize that Christians have long held other possible views of the text (the Ramm book I cited was written in 1954, and cited passages at least as far back as 1920).

Thus, it is not the case that this Bible passage absolutely requires a view that is completely and indisputably at odds with modern astronomy. There are at least three “miraculous” interpretations that do not entail such a thing at all. If Bob would trouble himself even a little and take the time to do a survey of Christian exegesis (of this passage and all the other countless ones he savages), then he would know this, and wouldn’t come off looking like an uninformed bigoted simpleton, for the umpteenth time. His polemic is only effective against fundamentalist Christianity, which isn’t saying much. But his purpose is not to accurately portray Christianity (before offering, say, actually an intellectually honest critique); only to mock and deride it.

It’s as if a person made an argument that he claimed applied to every person in Europe (741 million), but in fact was only applicable to those who lived in Germany (83 million, or 11% of the whole). Ever heard of the “broad brush”? No one would be impressed by such a failed, supposedly “sweeping” argument. Likewise, no non-fundamentalist Christian should be given the slightest pause by these arguments from Bob, which have no relevance to the beliefs of the vast majority of Christians who are not fundamentalist / hostile to modern science types; who love and respect the findings of science as much as any atheist does.

***

Photo credit: Joshua Stopping the Sun by Pauwels Casteels (c. 1649-1677) [public domain / source page]

***

April 16, 2020

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker, who was “raised Presbyterian”, runs the influential Cross Examined blog. He asked me there, on 8-11-18“I’ve got 1000+ posts here attacking your worldview. You just going to let that stand? Or could you present a helpful new perspective that I’ve ignored on one or two of those posts?” He also made a general statement on 6-22-17“Christians’ arguments are easy to refute . . . I’ve heard the good stuff, and it’s not very good.” He added in the combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” 

Such confusion would indeed be predictable, seeing that Bob himself admitted (2-13-16): “My study of the Bible has been haphazard, and I jump around based on whatever I’m researching at the moment.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes if I am able, so I decided to do a series of posts in reply. It’s also been said, “be careful what you wish for.”  If Bob responds to this post, and makes me aware of it, his reply will be added to the end along with my counter-reply. If you don’t see that, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. But don’t hold your breath.

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog (just prior to his banning me from it), his opinion was as follows: “Dave Armstrong . . . made it clear that a thoughtful intellectual conversation wasn’t his goal. . . . [I] have no interest in what he’s writing about.”

And on 10-25-18, utterly oblivious to the ludicrous irony of his making the statement, Bob wrote in a combox on his blog: “The problem, it seems to me, is when someone gets these clues, like you, but ignores them. I suppose the act of ignoring could be deliberate or just out of apathy, but someone who’s not a little bit driven to investigate cognitive dissonance will just stay a Christian, fat ‘n sassy and ignorant.” Again, Bob mocks some Christian in his combox on 10-27-18“You can’t explain it to us, you can’t defend it, you can’t even defend it to yourself. Defend your position or shut up about it. It’s clear you have nothing.” And again on the same day“If you can’t answer the question, man up and say so.” And on 10-26-18: “you refuse to defend it, after being asked over and over again.” And againYou’re the one playing games, equivocating, and being unable to answer the challenges.”

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. Again, on 6-30-19, he was chiding someone who (very much like he himself) was (to hear him tell it) not backing up his position: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 36 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning. As of 7-9-19, this is how Bob absurdly rationalizes his non-response: “He’s written several blog posts titled, in effect, ‘In Which Bob Seidensticker Was Mean to Me.’ Normally, I’d enjoy a semi-thoughtful debate, but I’m sure they weren’t.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or search “Seidensticker Folly #” in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

Bob’s article, “BSR [Bite-Sized Reply] 4: Who Created God?” (3-25-20) is yet another display of Our Hero being out to sea without a life raft. Let’s take a closer look at it, shall we?

Challenge to the Christian: Who created God?

Christian response #1: This question is nonsensical. God is uncreated by definition.

Give God whatever properties you want—zero calories, organic, lemon scented, made of soap bubbles, whatever. You still must justify those claims. Some Bible verses suggest that God is eternal, but that’s not evidence. You can start by showing that God exists.

Folks who study the issue at all know that there are many philosophically serious theistic proofs. I have collected a great deal of them in these papers:

*
*
*
*
*
We’ve seen this trick before, . . . where the apologist tries to disqualify an argument to avoid having to address it. “Who created God?” is a reasonable question that follows naturally from the apologist saying, “Everything must have a creator, and in the case of the universe, God is that creator.” Or if the argument is, “Everything but God has a creator,” then justify that.
*
We’re happy to justify our beliefs through reason and have been doing so for nearly 2000 years. The main point I’d like to make in this treatment of mine is to emphasize that everyone is pretty much in the same “epistemological boat”. Whether atheist or Christian or whatever, every person has to explain how the universe got here; and it seems (intuitively, at least) that something was eternal: either matter or some sort of immaterial — and eternal — spirit that we call “God” (with different definitions in different religions or philosophical systems: but generally a Spirit that created matter and what we see).
*
As anyone who has learned / followed science at all knows, the current accepted cosmological model is the Big Bang Theory: whereby the universe began 13.8 billion years ago (according to the latest scientific reckoning). The universe is, therefore, not eternal; matter is not eternal. It had a beginning-point. Now how or what caused the big bang is the $64,000 question. Christians believe, as we always have, that God created the universe ex nihilo (from nothing). This is perfectly consistent with the Big Bang cosmology and (I submit) as good and rational and plausible an explanation as any other for the cause of the big bang. The alternative is the ludicrous notion that matter created itself out of nothing. Think about that for a moment, if you are bored and have run out of things to do. Try to wrap your brain around it.
*
Belief in an eternal God is a tenet of religious faith and/or philosophical speculation. It can’t be absolutely proven (in the way that atheists invariably demand), but then very little can be. It can be shown to be — in many different ways — rational and plausible. What has been demonstrated through science is the Big Bang Theory. As far as we can tell, it happened. The atheist is just as much in the realm of faith and speculation as the Christian, when he or she sets out to explain how this could happen apart from some non-material entity or force, if you will, that “preceded” it. When Christians assert God’s eternal existence, they stand on the shoulders of hundreds of eminent philosophers throughout history (i.e., the belief is not merely one of religious faith): even some whom atheists erroneously pretend to be on their side, like David Hume, who wrote:

The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion . . .

Were men led into the apprehension of invisible, intelligent power by a contemplation of the works of nature, they could never possibly entertain any conception but of one single being, who bestowed existence and order on this vast machine, and adjusted all its parts, according to one regular plan or connected system . . .

All things of the universe are evidently of a piece. Every thing is adjusted to every thing. One design prevails throughout the whole. And this uniformity leads the mind to acknowledge one author. (Natural History of Religion, 1757, edited by H. E. Root, London: 1956, 21, 26)

Notice how Bob offers us a nothing burger when he “discusses” (if we can even call it that) these very perplexing questions. He has no more basis for his position than the Christian does, yet he has to try to change the subject, according to time-honored polemical atheist methodological tradition, and mock Christianity (which is his purpose in virtually ever article he writes):

Christian response #2: Everyone believes in something eternal—if not the universe, then what caused it. Christians just believe that cause was personal, which explains the personal attributes of existence.

Christians believe? “I believe” here is in the same category as “I have faith,” but it’s better to let belief follow from sufficient evidence. Let’s rely on evidence-driven science, the discipline that has taught us what we reliably know so far about reality.

Science doesn’t call the universe eternal. Time in our universe had a beginning, though there’s likely more to be discovered. Science has unanswered questions about the universe, but it has the track record of providing reliable answers. Religion also has answers, but each religion’s origin story is incompatible with the next, making none worth believing in.

Pointing out the gaps in scientific knowledge does nothing to bolster religion’s claims (for example, undercutting evolution does nothing to strengthen Creationism). If Christianity wants to provide answers to science’s unanswered questions, it needs to do the heavy lifting itself. “But science doesn’t have an answer!” is no argument.

Yeah, science has explained a lot of stuff. It’s wonderful. Modern science developed in an overwhelmingly Christian milieu during the late Renaissance, and was unquestionably dominated by Christian scientists until the mid-19th century. But it has not and cannot explain everything. It (like also mathematics and logic) starts with unfalsifiable axioms, just as religion does. Any honest scientists will concede that point in a second. By definition, it can only explain matter and the laws that determine how it behaves. It has nothing to say about spirit. But philosophy and religion do.

Science is not the sum total of all knowledge (much as so many atheists would love that to be true, since it has become their religion. Materialism (i.e., matter being all there is) is itself a belief-system that has not been absolutely proven, either. To hold that there could not possibly be such a thing as spirit is every bit a proposition of unprovable faith as the converse view that there couldn’t possibly not be.

At the point of origins, atheism has no solid answers in explanation: even of the most self-understood speculative sense. It ends up actually looking quite absurd, if scrutinized closely enough. I did a scathing satire some years ago, of what belief in atheist materialism entails. It was probably my most controversial online paper ever (out of now 2800+): certainly the most controversial according to atheists.

Almost to a person (perhaps literally every atheist who objected), they couldn’t even grasp the nature of the satire / parody, and the sarcasm employed. Targets of satire often do not comprehend it, because they are too blind to see what an outsider observes in them. So I wrote an explanatory post, which accomplished exactly nothing. They still couldn’t understand my entire point. But if you (reading this) are not an atheist, I think you will see what I was getting at. Here are some lengthy excerpts:

Matter essentially “becomes god” in the atheist / materialist view; it has the inherent ability to do everything by itself: . . .

The atheist places extraordinary faith in matter – arguably far more faith than we place in God, because it is much more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone. . . .

Indeed, this is a faith of the utmost non-rational, childlike kind. . . .

Atheist belief is a kind of polytheistic idolatry of the crudest, most primitive sort, putting to shame the colorful worship of the ancient Babylonians, Philistines, Aztecs, and other groups. They believed that their silver amulets and wooden idols could make the sun shine or defeat an enemy or cause crops to flourish.

The polytheistic materialist, on the other hand, is far more religious than that. He thinks that trillions of his atom-gods and their distant relatives, the cell-gods, can make absolutely everything in the universe occur, by their own power, possessed eternally either in full or (who knows how?) in inevitably unfolding potentiality.

One might call this (to coin a phrase) Atomism (“belief that the atom is God”). Trillions of omnipotent, omniscient atoms can do absolutely everything that the Christian God can do, and for little or no reason that anyone can understand (i.e., why and how the atom-god came to possess such powers in the first place). . . .

Oh, and we mustn’t forget the time-goddess. She is often invoked in worshipful, reverential, awe-inspiring terms as the be-all, end-all explanation for things inexplicable, as if by magic her very incantation rises to an explanatory level sufficient to shut up any silly Christian, who is foolish enough to believe in one God rather than trillions. . . .

Atomists may and do differ on secondary issues, just as the various ancient polytheistic cultures differed on quibbling details (which god could do what, which material made for a better idol, etc.), but despite all, they inevitably came out on the side of polytheistic idolatry, with crude material gods, and against spiritual monotheism. . . .

“Why” questions in the context of Atomism are senseless, because they can’t overcome the Impenetrable Fortress of blind faith that the Atomist possesses. The question, “Why do the atom-gods and cell-gods and the time-goddess exist and possess the extraordinary powers that they do?” is meaningless and ought not be put forth. It’s bad form, and impolite. We know how sensitive overly religious folk are. . . .

Yet we can’t help — almost despite ourselves — recalling with fondness the wonders and fancies and fairy-tales of childhood. Atomists seek very hard to maintain those marvels, and perhaps that’s not all bad. We must be tolerant and open-minded.

That is one way to approach it, and if you wanna see atheists foaming at the mouth and utterly unable to rationally defend what they believe, show them this. Be sure to be adequately prepared for the firestorm and tremendous fuss. Atheists like ntng less than this sort of turning-the-tables on them.

As I have contended above: belief in an eternal Creator-God is perfectly compatible with the Big Bang model, though not itself a scientific proposition. We have centuries of theistic philosophy on our side, too. There are only so many alternatives. If the atheist wants to mock our view then they are duty-bound in intellectual honesty to choose the other two main options (that I can see): an eternal universe (which is precisely what the Big Bang and present science has disproven) or the crazy notion that the universe created itself out of nothing.

Let’s take a brief look at these two options and see how plausible they look. Bob throws out more “nothing” in his attempt to evade his intellectual responsibility:

[R]elying on common sense at the frontier of science is to bring a knife to a gunfight. The Big Bang, the event that brought the universe as we know it into existence 14 billion years ago, might’ve been a quantum event, and quantum physics throws common sense out the window. It is completely counterintuitive—events without causes, virtual particles popping into existence, quantum entanglement, quantum tunneling, quantum superposition, and so on.

Before you hypothesize a Being that is the source of existence, show that natural explanations are insufficient. That is, don’t simply say that science has unanswered questions about the origin of the universe (yes, it does). You must show that no natural explanation is possible. Otherwise, the consistent record of failure of supernatural explanations means that we have no reason to expect such a thing.

Notice how he never for a second argues for a positive atheist viewpoint of how the universe got here. All he can do is endlessly throw it back to the Christians to explain. But we’ve made our explanations a million times. Science supports our view of creatio ex nihilo from God in a stronger way than it ever has before. It’s the atheists who have never remotely explained the plausibility of either an eternal universe or a universe from nothing.

I fully understand their reluctance. I sure wouldn’t want to have to explain and defend such scientifically, logically, and philosophically ridiculous things. Yet it seems clear and obvious that they must, in order to set forth atheism once and for all as the superior worldview, over against the despised Christianity (which is their raison d’etre [i.e., justification for their existence]).

Bob Seidensticker would never let Christians off so easily: without answering any challenge he outs out. Hence he wrote:

A word to the wise: whenever you read an apologetic article, make sure the Christian actually answers the question. Don’t be swayed with bluster and confidence so that you overlook them running from the question. . . . 

 That the question might make them uncomfortable isn’t the issue. They want to get the challenge dismissed on a technicality so they don’t have to answer it. Don’t let them. (11-19-19)

The late famous atheist scientist Stephen Hawking asserted in his 2010 book, The Grand Design: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing . . .  Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” Scientist John Lennox responded to this claim:

[C]ontrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions. . . .

[T]he laws of physics could never have actually built the universe. Some agency must have been involved.

To use a simple analogy, Isaac Newton’s laws of motion in themselves never sent a snooker ball racing across the green baize. That can only be done by people using a snooker cue and the actions of their own arms.

Hawking’s argument appears to me even more illogical when he says the existence of gravity means the creation of the universe was inevitable. But how did gravity exist in the first place? Who put it there? And what was the creative force behind its birth? . . .

For me, as a Christian believer, the beauty of the scientific laws only reinforces my faith in an intelligent, divine creative force at work. The more I understand science, the more I believe in God because of my wonder at the breadth, sophistication and integrity of his creation.

The very reason science flourished so vigorously in the 16th and 17th centuries was precisely because of the belief that the laws of nature which were then being discovered and defined reflected the influence of a divine law-giver. . . .

Some years ago, the scientist Joseph Needham made an epic study of technological development in China. He wanted to find out why China, for all its early gifts of innovation, had fallen so far behind Europe in the advancement of science.

He reluctantly came to the conclusion that European science had been spurred on by the widespread belief in a rational creative force, known as God, which made all scientific laws comprehensible.

Here are several more similar ludicrous utterances from atheists or agnostics:

It is now becoming clear that everything can—and probably did—come from nothing. (Robert A. J. Matthews, physicist, Ashton University, England)

Even if we don’t have a precise idea of exactly what took place at the beginning, we can at least see that the origin of the universe from nothing need not be unlawful or unnatural or unscientific. (Paul Davies, physicist, Arizona State University)

Assuming the universe came from nothing, it is empty to begin with . . . The fact that we have something is just what we would expect if there is no God. (Victor J. Stenger, Prof. of Physics, University of Hawaii; author of God: The Failed Hypothesis)

Few people are aware of the fact that many modern physicists claim that things—perhaps even the entire universe—can indeed arise from nothing via natural processes. (Mark I. Vuletic, Creation Ex Nihilo—Without God)

It is rather fantastic to realize that the laws of physics can describe how everything was created in a random quantum fluctuation out of nothing . . . (Alan Harvey Guth, theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Discover Magazine)

The fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some 10 billion years after the universe evolved out of literally nothing is a fact so staggering that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice. (Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale)

[T]he most reasonable belief is that we came from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing. (philosopher Quinton Smith)

The one thing that always seems to be missing from these bizarre statements, is how and why this supposed process ever happened. And why is that? Well, because no one has a clue. There is no scientific experiment that could even suggest, let alone prove such a thing. So at best it is implausible philosophy, and at worst, fideistic religion: believed in by blind faith. Have you observed the high irony yet?: isn’t that the very thing that Christians are blasted for believing (and made out to be unsophisticated, anti-science troglodytes): in a God Who created everything and set the universe in motion — without ironclad, indisputable proof?

All of a sudden atheists find themselves having to explain origins just as they always challenge us to do, and they offer either more nothing or else they have to admit they have no more (I would say, a lot less) reason to believe as they do than we do (which is what I’ve been maintaining now for forty years, in my philosophically and scientifically informed Christian apologetics).
*
It’s not just me saying this (although I think it is an utterly obvious conclusion). David Darling is an English astronomer who has written many books about science, and  maintains the online Internet Encyclopedia of Science. He wrote in NewScientist magazine on 9-14-96:

What is a big deal—the biggest deal of all—is how you get something out of nothing.

Don’t let the cosmologists try to kid you on this one. They have not got a clue either—despite the fact that they are doing a pretty good job of convincing themselves and others that this is really not a problem. “In the beginning,” they will say, “there was nothing—no time, space, matter or energy. Then there was a quantum fluctuation from which . . . ” Whoa! Stop right there. You see what I mean? First there is nothing, then there is something. And the cosmologists try to bridge the two with a quantum flutter, a tremor of
uncertainty that sparks it all off. Then they are away and before you know it, they have pulled a hundred billion galaxies out of their quantum hats.

I don’t have a problem with this scenario from the quantum fluctuation onward. Why shouldn’t human beings build a theory of how the Universe evolved from a simple to a complex state. But there is a very real problem in explaining how it got started in the first place. You cannot fudge this by appealing to quantum mechanics. Either there is nothing to begin with, in which case there is no quantum vacuum, no pre-geometric dust, no time in which anything can happen, no physical laws that can effect a change from nothingness into somethingness; or there is something, in which case that needs explaining. . . .

No, I’m sorry, I may not have been born in Yorkshire but I’m a firm believer that you cannot get owt for nowt. Not a Universe from a nothing-verse, nor consciousness from a thinking brain. I suspect that mainstream science may go on for a few more years before it bumps so hard against these problems that it is forced to recognise that something is wrong. And then? Let me guess: if you cannot get something for nothing then that must mean there has always been something. Hmmm.

Likewise, philosopher of science and physicist David Albert, stated:

[I]f what we formerly took for nothing turns out, on closer examination, to have the makings of protons and neutrons and tables and chairs and planets and solar systems and galaxies and universes in it, then it wasn’t nothing, and it couldn’t have been nothing, in the first place. And the history of science — if we understand it correctly — gives us no hint of how it might be possible to imagine otherwise. (“On the Origin of Everything,”The New York Times, 3-23-12)

The agnostic Ron Rosenbaum wrote with remarkable candor and far-mindedness:

Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.)

Faced with the fundamental question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” atheists have faith that science will tell us eventually. Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing. (“An Agnostic Manifesto,”Slate, 6-28-10)

The other alternative is an eternal universe (which, of course, flies directly in the face of much scientific evidence for the Big Bang and a finite universe with a starting-point; and all that has to be overcome in order to believe it). Helge Kragh, in a paper on historic cosmology with regard to the universe’s origins, described Aristotle’s view:

He argued that the universe as a whole, apart from being unique (no other universes), was spatially finite but temporally infinite in both directions. In other words, it was eternal and hence uncreated as well as indestructible.

Albert Einstein, at the time of his theory of general relativity in 1917, following Newton, believed in an eternal, static universe. Helge Kragh describes his views:

The model presupposed that the universe as a whole was uniform and spatially closed corresponding to a positive curvature of space; it was finite yet with no boundary and therefore contained but a finite number of stars. Importantly, it was also static in the sense that the curvature of space and the mean density of matter remained constant. To maintain a static universe in accordance with astronomical observations Einstein had to introduce a new term in his cosmological field equations, the later so famous cosmological constant. Being static his universe had no temporal dimension but was eternal in both past and future time. For this reason alone the question of the origin of the universe did not enter Einstein’s mind. Nor did it enter the minds of the few other physicists and astronomers occupying themselves with his mathematically and conceptually abstruse theory.

Kragh chronicles the initial origin of the Big Bang Theory in 1931:

What became known as the big bang universe in a realistic sense was first proposed on 9 May 1931 in a brief note in the journal Nature. The author was Georges Lemaître, a 36-year-old Belgian astrophysicist and cosmologist who was also trained as a Catholic priest. “We could conceive,” Lemaître wrote in his 1931 paper, “the beginning of the universe in the form of a unique atom, the atomic weight of which is the total mass of the universe … [and which] would divide in smaller and smaller atoms by a kind of super-radioactive process.”

Einstein opposed his view at first (originally describing aspects of it as “abominable”), but was eventually won over in 1933 and stated: “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of the creation of the universe I’ve heard. “See more about their scientific relationship.

After the Big Bang Theory gained widespread and then nearly universal scientific acceptance from 1964, with the discovery of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). But in 1948, there had been an attempt to go back to the antiquated aristotelian eternal / static universe, with the “steady state” theory. Kragh provides a capsule history:

Finite-age models of the type proposed by Lemaître and Gamow were challenged by the fundamentally different steady state theory of the universe introduced by Fred Hoyle, Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold in 1948. According to this theory the universe had existed in an eternity of time and would continue existing eternally. . . .

What matters is that by assuming an infinite age of the universe the steady state theorists avoided the thorny question of a beginning. It was in this context that Hoyle, on 28 March 1949, gave a BBC broadcast in which he coined the name “big bang” for the kind of cosmological theory which assumed an origin of the universe in an explosive event. The following year he characterized “the big bang assumption [as] an irrational process that cannot be described in scientific terms.” What he had in mind was the old objection that there can be no causal explanation, indeed no explanation of any kind, for the beginning of the universe. At more than one occasion he associated the big bang theory with theism, suggesting that a temporal beginning of the universe implied divine creation and was therefore unscientific. For example: “The passionate frenzy with which the big-bang cosmology is clutched to the corporate scientific bosom evidently arises from a deep-rooted attachment to the first page of Genesis, religious fundamentalism at its strongest.”

Virtually no astronomer, physicist, or any kind of scientist continues to accept the steady-state theory today.

***

Photo credit: Albert Einstein with Fr. Georges Lemaître, formulator of the Big Bang Theory (1932) [public domain / Reddit]

***

April 14, 2020

Studies in Flew’s Justification of His Change of Mind and the Predictable Reaction of Atheists

[Antony Flew’s words will be in blue]

***

For a prior overview about Flew’s importance in the world of philosophy and the resurgence of theism in those circles, see Dr. Phillip Blosser’s blog article (filled with links to interesting related materials), Former atheist, Antony Flew, now believes in God. See also his page on infidels.org, which gives several links to older papers.

The flurry of stories on this topic which were prevalent in the media around 9 December 2004, were typified by the following, in the Guardian Unlimited:

Famous Atheist Now Believes in God [link from The Guardian now defunct]Thursday December 9, 2004 10:01 PM

By Richard N. Ostling

AP Religion Writer

NEW YORK (AP) – A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God – more or less – based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

Flew said he’s best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people’s lives.

“I’m thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins,” he said. “It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose.”

Flew first made his mark with the 1950 article “Theology and Falsification,” based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by writer and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis.

. . . biologists’ investigation of DNA “has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved,” Flew says in the new video, “Has Science Discovered God?” . . .

The first hint of Flew’s turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain’s Philosophy Now magazine . . .

[Here is what he wrote, in his now-online letter“Probably Darwin himself believed that life was miraculously breathed into that primordial form of not always consistently reproducing life by God, though not the revealed God of then contemporary Christianity, who had predestined so many of Darwin’s friends and family to an eternity of extreme torture.“But the evidential situation of natural (as opposed to revealed) theology has been transformed in the more than fifty years since Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism.”]

. . . if his belief upsets people, well “that’s too bad,’‘ Flew said. “My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.”. . . Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American “intelligent design” theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe. He accepts Darwinian evolution but doubts it can explain the ultimate origins of life.

The Sunday Times of Britain (12-12-04) took a similar view, in its article, Sorry, says atheist-in-chief, I do believe in God after all, by Stuart Wavell and Will Iredale:

One of the most renowned atheists of the past half century has changed his mind and decided that there is a God after all . . . Flew, the son of a Methodist minister, is keen to repent. “As people have certainly been influenced by me, I want to try and correct the enormous damage I may have done,” he said yesterday.But he is unlikely to proclaim his faith from a pulpit. He is still not a Christian and dismisses the conventional forms of divinity as “the monstrous oriental despots of the religions of Christianity and Islam”. He also stands by his rejection of an afterlife.

. . . Darwin’s theory of evolution does not explain the origin and development of life to Flew’s satisfaction. “I have been persuaded that it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinarily complicated creature,” he said.

Flew finds the conventional explanation that life arose out of a complex chemical brew or primordial soup “improbable”. So he is emulating Socrates and “following the argument wherever it leads. The conclusion is — there must have been some intelligence”.

His volte face is all the more remarkable given his vehement denial of internet rumours in 2001 that he had renounced his atheism. His response was entitled: “Sorry To Disappoint, but I’m Still an Atheist!”

The latter article (8-31-01), however, reproduced on The Secular Web, contains fascinating tidbits that go far beyond the usual atheist party line. For Flew wrote:

[I]t can be entirely rational for believers and negative atheists to respond in quite different ways to the same scientific developments.We negative atheists are bound to see the Big Bang cosmology as requiring a physical explanation; and that one which, in the nature of the case, may nevertheless be forever inaccessible to human beings. But believers may, equally reasonably, welcome the Big Bang cosmology as tending to confirm their prior belief that “in the beginning” the Universe was created by God.

Again, negative atheists meeting the argument that the fundamental constants of physics would seem to have been ‘fine tuned’ to make the emergence of mankind possible will first object to the application of either the frequency or the propensity theory of probability ‘outside’ the Universe, and then go on to ask why omnipotence should have been satisfied to produce a Universe in which the origin and rise of the human race was merely possible rather than absolutely inevitable. But believers are equally bound and, on their opposite assumptions, equally justified in seeing the Fine Tuning Argument as providing impressive confirmation of a fundamental belief shared by all the three great systems of revealed theistic religion – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

. . . In short, I recognize that developments in physics coming on the last twenty or thirty years can reasonably be seen as in some degree confirmatory of a previously faith-based belief in god, even though they still provide no sufficient reason for unbelievers to change their minds. They certainly have not persuaded me.

I’ve been contending for years that theism is at least as reasonable a position as atheism, particularly in the context of attempts to interpret Big Bang cosmology. It is very nice to observe one of the world’s leading atheists “concede” or agree with this (when he was still a card-carrying atheist). Many atheists have no toleration whatever for the eminently reasonable (and, I think, rather obvious) position which holds that theists (not Christians: one subset of the larger group, involving many more tenets and presuppositions) are at least as reasonable and epistemically justified as atheists — wholly apart from the opposite conclusions that each party arrives at.

For them, Christians and even theistic philosophers must be seen as simpletons and ignoramuses (or reasonable facsimile thereof), caught in a medieval belief-system and hopelessly behind the times. Not so, said Flew, over three years ago.

The best source at present to learn about Flew’s newly-adopted opinion (from his own words), seems to be an interview by evangelical Protestant philosopher Gary R. Habermas; subsequently published in the Winter 2004 issue of Philosophia Christi: the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, considered one of the best journals of philosophy of religion in the world. The article notes that Habermas “has debated Flew several times.

They have maintained a friendship despite their years of disagreement on the existence of God . . . Over the next twenty years, Flew and Habermas developed a friendship, writing dozens of letters, talking often . . .” Furthermore, the introduction states that the interview “took place in early 2004 and was subsequently modified by both participants throughout the year.” Habermas’ words will be in green; Flew’s still in blue:

. . . I don’t believe in the God of any revelatory system, although I am open to that. But it seems to me that the case for an Aristotelian God who has the characteristics of power and also intelligence, is now much stronger than it ever was before.Once you mentioned to me that your view might be called Deism. Do you think that would be a fair designation?

Yes, absolutely right. What Deists, such as the Mr. Jefferson who drafted the American Declaration of Independence, believed was that, while reason, mainly in the form of arguments to design, assures us that there is a God, there is no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God or for any transactions between that God and individual human beings.

Then, would you comment on your “openness” to the notion of theistic revelation?

Yes. I am open to it, but not enthusiastic about potential revelation from God. On the positive side, for example, I am very much impressed with physicist Gerald Schroeder’s comments on Genesis 1. That this biblical account might be scientifically accurate raises the possibility that it is revelation.

. . . [you commented] that naturalistic efforts have never succeeded in producing “a plausible conjecture as to how any of these complex molecules might have evolved from simple entities.” . . . You mention a number of trends in theistic argumentation that you find convincing, like big bang cosmology, fine tuning and Intelligent Design arguments. Which arguments for God’s existence did you find most persuasive?

I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries. I’ve never been much impressed by the kalam cosmological argument, and I don’t think it has gotten any stronger recently. However, I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.

So you like arguments such as those that proceed from big bang cosmology and fine tuning arguments?

Yes.

. . . when I was in college, I attended fairly regularly the weekly meetings of C. S. Lewis’s Socratic Club. In all my time at Oxford these meetings were chaired by Lewis. I think he was by far the most powerful of Christian apologists for the sixty or more years following his founding of that club.

Although you disagreed with him, did you find him to be a very reasonable sort of fellow?

Oh yes, very much so, an eminently reasonable man.

. . . So of the major theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological, the only really impressive ones that you take to be decisive are the scientific forms of teleology?

Absolutely. It seems to me that Richard Dawkins constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself, in the fourteenth chapter of The Origin of Species, pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers. This is the creature the evolution of which a truly comprehensive theory of evolution must give some account. Darwin himself was well aware that he had not produced such an account. It now seems to me that the findings of more than fifty years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument to design.

. . . If God is the First Cause, what about omniscience, or omnipotence?

Well, the First Cause, if there was a First Cause, has very clearly produced everything that is going on. I suppose that does imply creation “in the beginning.”

. . . In your view, then, God hasn’t done anything about evil.

No, not at all, other than producing a lot of it.

. . . I still hope and believe there’s no possibility of an afterlife.

. . . you have also written to me that these near death experiences “certainly constitute impressive evidence for the possibility of the occurrence of human consciousness independent of any occurrences in the human brain.”. . . Elsewhere, you again very kindly noted my influence on your thinking here, regarding these data being decent evidence for human consciousness independent of “electrical activity in the brain.” If some near death experiences are evidenced, independently confirmed experiences during a near death state, even in persons whose heart or brain may not be functioning, isn’t that is quite impressive evidence? Are near death experiences, then, the best evidence for an afterlife?

Oh, yes, certainly. They are basically the only evidence.

. . . So you think that, for a miracle, the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is better than other miracle claims?

Oh yes, I think so. It’s much better, for example, than that for most if not of the, so to speak, run of the mill Roman Catholic miracles.

. . . You have made numerous comments over the years that Christians are justified in their beliefs such as Jesus’ resurrection or other major tenants of their faith. In our last two dialogues I think you even remarked that for someone who is already a Christian there are many good reasons to believe Jesus’ resurrection. Would you comment on that?

Yes, certainly. This is an important matter about rationality which I have fairly recently come to appreciate. What it is rational for any individual to believe about some matter which is fresh to that individual’s consideration depends on what he or she rationally believed before they were confronted with this fresh situation. For suppose they rationally believed in the existence of a God of any revelation, then it would be entirely reasonable for them to see the fine tuning argument as providing substantial confirmation of their belief in the existence of that God.

. . . What do you think that Bertrand Russell, J. L. Mackie, and A. J. Ayer would have thought about these theistic developments, had they still been alive today?

I think Russell certainly would have had to notice these things. I’m sure Mackie would have been interested, too. I never knew Ayer very well, beyond meeting him once or twice.

Do you think any of them would have been impressed in the direction of theism? I’m thinking here, for instance, about Russell’s famous comments that God hasn’t produced sufficient evidence of his existence.

Consistent with Russell’s comments that you mention, Russell would have regarded these developments as evidence. I think we can be sure that Russell would have been impressed too, precisely because of his comments to which you refer. This would have produced an interesting second dialogue between him and that distinguished Catholic philosopher, Frederick Copleston.

In recent years you’ve been called the world’s most influential philosophical atheist. Do you think Russell, Mackie, or Ayer would have been bothered or even angered by your conversion to theism? Or do you think that they would have at least understood your reasons for changing your mind?

I’m not sure how much any of them knew about Aristotle. But I am almost certain that they never had in mind the idea of a God who was not the God of any revealed religion. But we can be sure that they would have examined these new scientific arguments.

C. S. Lewis explained in his autobiography that he moved first from atheism to theism and only later from theism to Christianity. Given your great respect for Christianity, do you think that there is any chance that you might in the end move from theism to Christianity?

I think it’s very unlikely, due to the problem of evil. But, if it did happen, I think it would be in some eccentric fit and doubtfully orthodox form: regular religious practice perhaps but without belief.

I ask this last question with a smile, Tony. But just think what would happen if one day you were pleasantly disposed toward Christianity and all of a sudden the resurrection of Jesus looked pretty good to you?

Well, one thing I’ll say in this comparison is that, for goodness sake, Jesus is an enormously attractive charismatic figure, which the Prophet of Islam most emphatically is not.

In his review of Christian Roy Varghese’s book, The Wonder of the World: A Journey from Modern Science to the Mind of God, Flew wrote:

I pointed out, after quoting a significant sentence from the fourteenth and final chapter of The Origin of Species, that one place where, until a satisfactory naturalistic explanation has been developed, there would appear to be room for an Argument to Design is at the first emergence of living from non-living matter. And, unless that first living matter already possessed the capacity to reproduce itself genetically, there will still be room for a second argument to Design until a satisfactory explanation is found for its acquisition of that capacity. You have in your book deployed abundant evidence indicating that it is likely to be a very long time before such naturalistic explanations are developed, if indeed there ever could be.Our disagreements begin with any shift from the God of natural theology to the God of a Revelation.

In a December 2004 phone conversation with humanist Duncan Crary [link defunct], Flew stated:

We must follow the argument wherever it leads. I’ve never thought I knew that there was no God. I merely thought there is no sufficient reason that there is . . . I’m quite happy to believe in an inoffensive inactive god.

The Sunday Times article of 19 December 2004: In the beginning there was something (an interview by Stuart Wavell; link now defunct]) offers more fascinating information:

I’ve never thrown my weight about as an unbeliever. I’ve joined unbelieving organisations but I haven’t attacked belief.. . . My positive belief is in an Aristotelian God. Aristotle never produced a definition, but his God was not interested in human beings. He would have said that if God had really been concerned with human behaviour he would have made us behave according to his own way . . . On the Aristotelian view, the question doesn’t arise about the nature of God.

. . . I don’t want a future life. I want to be dead when I’m dead and that’s an end to it. I don’t want an unending life. I don’t want anything without end.

. . . there’s a world of difference between finding that there’s some very powerful, intelligent being in the background and finding that what you’ve discovered is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.

. . . Darwin saw that there was a problem with the origin of life. It had to begin with a creature capable of producing creatures that are not always identical to their parents. It is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinary, complicated creature of which we have no examples. There must have been some intelligence.

. . . I don’t consider the question of God is definitively proved. All Schroeder is saying is that all the chemical complexities that have to be dealt with are such an enormous improbability. This is not a proof but it will do until a proof comes along.

Now that we have a basic understanding of Antony Flew’s thinking, I thought it would be fun and interesting to briefly examine how atheists and agnostics are reacting to it. I am as interested in the psychology and sociology of unbelief as in the philosophy of it. I immediately predicted in my mind when I heard about Flew’s change of opinion, that many in the community of atheists and secularists and skeptics, and so forth, would immediately start to (more or less irrationally and emotionally) minimize and dismiss both his thinking process and he himself.

They would be willing, so I thought (based on my own significant experience in dialogue with them), to cast him to the wind just as quickly as they formerly thought he was an able and worthy representative of their position.

In fact, the entrenched, knee-jerk, almost intellectually reactionary position that many atheists have assumed almost requires this. A search on the Internet tonight quickly confirmed my strong suspicions. In fact, the article just cited reports the hysterical atheist reaction. Wavell writes:

With equal alacrity, the wrath of unbelievers has rebounded on Antony Flew, the philosophy professor responsible for this heresy, leaving him shaken and not very philosophical.

Flew himself complains:

I have been denounced by my fellow unbelievers for stupidity, betrayal, senility and everything you could think of. And none of them have read a word that I have ever written.

Richard Carrier, a frequent contributor to The Secular Web, in his article, Antony Flew Considers God…Sort Of (10-10-04), provides a good insight into atheist / agnostic reaction:

Antony Flew is considering the possibility that there might be a God. Sort of. Flew is one of the most renowned atheists of the 20th century, even making the shortlist of “Contemporary Atheists” at About.com. So if he has changed his mind to any degree, whatever you may think of his reasons, the event itself is certainly newsworthy. After hearing of this, I contacted Antony directly to discuss it, . . . Antony and I exchanged letters on the issue recently, and what I report here about his current views comes from him directly.. . . he is increasingly persuaded that some sort of Deity brought about this universe, though it does not intervene in human affairs, nor does it provide any postmortem salvation. He says he has in mind something like the God of Aristotle, a distant, impersonal “prime mover.” It might not even be conscious, but a mere force. In formal terms, he regards the existence of this minimal God as a hypothesis that, at present, is perhaps the best explanation for why a universe exists that can produce complex life.

. . . Flew’s tentative, mechanistic Deism is not based on any logical proofs, but solely on physical, scientific evidence, or the lack thereof, . . .

. . . Flew took great care to emphasize repeatedly to me that:

My one and only piece of relevant evidence [for an Aristotelian God] is the apparent impossibility of providing a naturalistic theory of the origin from DNA of the first reproducing species … [In fact] the only reason which I have for beginning to think of believing in a First Cause god is the impossibility of providing a naturalistic account of the origin of the first reproducing organisms. [letter of 19 October 2004]

After presenting a fairly accurate picture of Flew’s opinions, Carrier then assumes the usual (almost obligatory) “smarter-than-thou” atheist routine and belittles Flew:

. . . he confesses he has not been able to keep up with the relevant literature in science and theology, which means we should no longer treat him as an expert on this subject . . .. . . there is much to criticize in his rationale even for considering Aristotelian Deism.

Flew has thus abandoned the very standards of inquiry that led the rest of us to atheism. It would seem the only way to God is to jettison responsible scholarship.

This would appear to be his excuse for everything: he won’t investigate the evidence because it’s too hard. Yet he will declare beliefs in the absence of proper inquiry. Theists would do well to drop the example of Flew. Because his willfully sloppy scholarship can only help to make belief look ridiculous.

This comes as no surprise at all, to anyone familiar with the dripping atheist disdain of theism and especially Christianity. Yet, to be fair to Carrier, he does present some late information (less than three weeks’ old, as of this writing) from Flew which shows that he thought some of his earlier rationale for the adoption of deism (while not sufficient to reverse his newfound belief) was flawed:

I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction.. . . I have been mistaught by Gerald Schroeder . . . it was precisely because he appeared to be so well qualified as a physicist (which I am not) that I was never inclined to question what he said about physics. (Letter to Richard Carrier, of 29 December 2004)

Carrier has a field day with this information:

Apart from his unreasonable plan of trusting a physicist on the subject of biochemistry (after all, the relevant field is biochemistry, not physics–yet it would seem Flew does not recognize the difference), this attitude seems to pervade Flew’s method of truthseeking, of looking to a single author for authoritative information and never checking their claims (or, as in the case of Dawkins, presumed lack of claims).

But he concedes: “Despite all this, Flew has not retracted his belief in God, as far as I can tell.”

For another subtle, but definite dig at Flew’s reasoning processes, see “Flew’s Flawed Science,” by Victor J. Stenger (Professor of Physics and Astronomy). The unproven and gratuitous atheist assumptions here are legion. But then, what choice does a materialistic scientist have? The universe could only have come about by other physical processes, as matter is all that there is. God and spirit are ruled out beforehand, so the materialist is confined within his own self-created box of epistemological and metaphysical premises and possibilities (and non-possibilities). Flew dared to try to step outside the “orthodox box” of scientific and philosophical materialism, so he is quickly becoming anathema.

One Internet Infidels Discussion Board will provide a representative (I’m quite sure, typical) example of atheist / agnostic spin on former hero Flew (“how the mighty have fallen”).

“JSWilkins” starts in on the ridicule, right on December 9th, when the story was breaking:

. . . his reason is surprisingly weak – he cannot conceive how DNA got going . . . the conclusion is based on an argumentum ad ignoratium. There is no logical conundrum here. It concerns me that Flew does not see this, but then he is only following the standard opinion of hard selectionists like Dawkins. But his argument is an argument from ignorance. He may find it compelling personally, but it is not compelling logically.

Jeff Lawson gives us the patented materialist circular argument:

Well, I have news for Flew: this is not science! I hate to have to espouse the scientific method, so I won’t. Suffice to say, Flew is proffering macro-level conjecture in place of sound theory. In this day and age, rational interpretation of observations must be encoded in productive theories, i.e. theories that are not only entirely consistent with a precise subset of reality but that tell us more than we knew before. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics do this in spades. In comparison, Flew’s ideas are little better than the utterances of the religious: someone who claims to have ‘scientific evidence’ for his creationist ideas but in reality is about as far removed from science as it is possible for an academic to be; I suppose, after all, he’s only a philosopher.

Vinnie provides us with sanctimonious atheist dogmatism:

. . . we have to ask, is Flew a deist or does he subscribe to the absurdity presented by supernatural theism?The last argument raises the issue of an “immaterial being” (in the sense of being non-universal!) interacting with a material world. How is this notion even meaningful?

[i.e., “how could anything possibly be true in any possible world, but materialism? Nothng else can even have meaning, let alone be true”]

E. Garrett (of presumably agnostic persuasion) is one ray of light in this sad spectacle:

Carrier is all too willing to write off one of the brightest minds for our cause. Carrier has devoted his life to studying the origins of life, which those of us who have only spent 50 or so years at should strongly consider. Carrier’s comments of how Flew is forgetful, is petty at best. We all are forgetful and that doesn’t make us any less intelligent.Being that we are capable of higher thinking, let us exercise our brains. Rather than writing off such a smart man, let us spend time studying what he has to say. Read what Flew has read so that we can be a little better informed than the man that would rather insult a great thinker than to do his homework and study for himself.

mike a. is also quite refreshing:

I suggest the secularists force naturalism to either come up with a better story (good luck), or take the lead in opening the door to “other than natural” sources of intelligence (maybe this is the “metaphysical naturalism” your moderator speaks to?)–no “G” word required. The train is going in that direction anyway, as Anthony Flew recognizes. It is possible that, like religious fundamentalists, no amount of evidence will allow secularists to consider forces acting outside the observable space-time framework. Just remember that if that is the case, you don’t have an opinion–you have a dogma.

Then the “true believers” start in again with the condescension. Jehanne opines:

Flew’s “conversion” should not be surprising to those who are true materialists. It just means that “his genes” have finally conquered “his intellect”.

Vinnie concurs with what is now becoming the fashionable spin:

Flew still accepts that “neo-Darwinian evolution” occured to the best of my knowledge as well. I don’t know what the hell he is thinking. I think his genes may have finally caught up….

“macula2020” shows a bit more sophistication and suggests that the whole thing is a plot to sell books, because Flew could not be so stupid as to believe in any sort of God;

I’ll preface my syllogism with the reminder that it represents my opinion only.Although it may at first appear to be an ad hominen attack on Flew, it is not. It is simply a rational hypothesis that illuminates less transparent aspects of Flew’s announcement.

Premise 1. Flew, as an expert in critical thinking and atheistic philosophy, would not commit the fallacy of using a God of the Gaps argument to conclude that God existsPremise 2. Flew, as an expert in critical thinking and atheistic philosophy, would stimulate widespread public attention and interest by announcing his personal belief that God exists

Conclusion: Flew has announced his belief that God exists in order to generate attention and controversy.

Evidence:-Flew or his agent contacted the Associated Press newswire and NBC News via press release with this “story” on or around the same day that his new video, “Has Science Discovered God?” was released.

-every publisher and author knows that controversy sells books; not only has his video just been released, but the new edition of “God and Philosophy” is scheduled for upcoming release.

Administrator DM (former evangelical Christian) feels a need to go after C.S. Lewis, because Flew spoke so highly of him:

Lewis was, in my opinion, both a weak atheist and a weak theist in the sense that he has an extremely poor understanding of correct reasoning (as demonstrated in his book “Mere Christianity,” for example, where he commits one reasoning error after another) . . . Lewis and McDowell–especially–are lightweights when it comes to the quality of their reasoning.

Dominic Milioto brings strict ad hominem to the table:

Flew is a cop-out that’s what. Sounds to me like an old man, confronted by the end of life, making one final desparate attempt at salvation. He has little faith in future generations separating the chaff from the wheat: explaining what now is not.

“tw1tch,” on the other hand, gives us the fair-minded, charitable approach:

Huh…just read Richard Carrier’s updated article on Anthony Flew’s change of viewpoint.I must admit that I am disappointed in the tone of Carrier’s article. Here, in front of God (pardon the expression) and man, the perennial atheist…indeed the foremost thinker of modern atheism…in his twilight years simply changes his mind. Flew has probably done more for atheism, its philosophy and furtherment than any living person. In all probability, he has done more for atheism than infidels.org ever will.

That’s quite a sobering thought. Even more sobering is how, Carrier, in an almost unbelievably comical display…nonchalantly dismisses Flew’s reasoning as ‘willfully sloppy’ and levels charges against Flew of intellectual laziness. Sigh. Intellectually laziness….again, this is a man who has written more books on the subject of athiesm than Mr. Carrier most likely ever will.

Sour grapes are natural fellas. I can’t hold this against you. However, I can’t help but to think that this sheepish (and rightfully so) dismissal of Flews reasoning is more pychological defense mechanism than honest, unbiased assessment.

Perhaps he just changed his mind…no need get ugly about it.

Y.B nevertheless chimes in with more patronizing snobbery:

Erm? Sorry, but I and many others would have been like “Anthony who?” until the ID camp started spinning his “conversion”.

Richard Carrier then sophomorically responds:

Flew’s actual impact on contemporary atheism is virtually nil . . . by his own admission, Flew’s methods have sunk beneath even that of college freshmen.

So what’s the fuss about, since this is a “nobody” we’re dealing with? These guys are quick; you gotta give ’em that . . .

Nothing the least bit surprising here, to those of us who have dealt with the hyper-polemical brand of “Internet atheists.” Many atheists “in real life” (even on the Internet) are fine people, with great integrity (I have atheist friends, and have greatly enjoyed dialogues with several of them), but unfortunately, when they mass together online, the sort of insulting snobbery seen above usually predominates (even, alas, against one from their own camp until about two months ago).

But then, I hasten to add that the same sort of thing occurs in Christian circles, too, so one might say that original sin (along with huge shortcomings in both charity and logic) has been amply proven in the observation of both camps.

Atheist prejudice and condescension is far more likely to usher Flew into Christianity than any arguments by (apologist) folks like myself. You learn all sorts of fascinating things when undergoing a conversion from one thing to another . . .

***

(originally posted on 1-18-05)

Photo credit: photo of Flew’s 2008 book on Amazon.com.

***

September 9, 2019

I first ran across former Christian minister and atheist John W. Loftus back in 2006. We dialogued about the problem of evil, and whether God was in time. During that period I also replied to an online version of his deconversion: which (like my arguments about God and time) he didn’t care for at all. I’ve critiqued many atheist deconversion stories, and maintain a very extensive web page about atheism. In 2007 I critiqued his “Outsider Test of Faith” series: to which he gave no response. Loftus’ biggest objection to my critique of his descent into atheism was that I responded to what he called a “brief testimony.” He wrote in December 2006 (his words in blue henceforth):

Deconversion stories are piecemeal. They cannot give a full explanation for why someone left the faith. They only give hints at why they left the faith. It requires writing a whole book about why someone left the faith to understand why they did, and few people do that. I did. If you truly want to critique my deconversion story then critique my book. . . . I challenge you to really critique the one deconversion story that has been published in a book. . . . Do you accept my challenge?

I declined at that time, mainly (but not solely) for the following stated reason:

If you send me your book in an e-file for free, I’d be more than happy to critique it. I won’t buy it, and I refuse to type long portions of it when it is possible to cut-and-paste. That is an important factor since my methodology is Socratic and point-by-point. . . . You railed against that, saying that it was a “handout.” I responded that you could have any of my (14 completed) books in e-book form for free.

Throughout August 2019, I critiqued Dr. David Madison, a prominent contributor to Loftus’ website, Debunking Christianity, no less than 35 times. As of this writing, they remain completely unanswered. I was simply providing (as a courtesy) links to my critiques underneath each article of Dr. Madison’s, till Loftus decided I couldn’t do that (after having claimed that I “hate” atheists and indeed, everyone I disagree with). I replied at length regarding his censorship on his website. Loftus’ explanation for the complete non-reply to my 35 critiques was this: “We know we can respond. It’s just that we don’t have the time to do so. Plus, it’s pretty clear our time would be better spent doing something else than wrestling in the mud with you.” He also claimed that Dr. Madison was “planning to write something about one or more of these links in the near future.” Meanwhile, I discovered that Dr. Madison wrote glowingly about Loftus on 1-23-17:

When the history of Christianity’s demise is written (it will fade eventually away, as do all religions), your name will feature prominently as one who helped bring the world to its senses. Your legacy is secure and is much appreciated.

This was underneath an article where Loftus claimed: “I’ve kicked this dead rodent of the Christian faith into a lifeless blob so many times there is nothing left of it.” I hadn’t realized that Loftus had single-handedly managed to accomplish the stupendous feat of vanquishing the Hideous Beast of Christianity (something the Roman Empire, Muslims, Communists, and many others all miserably failed to do). Loftus waxed humbly and modestly ten days later: “I cannot resist the supposition that my books are among the best. . . . Every one of my books is unique, doing what few other atheist books have done, if any of them.”

These last three cited statements put me “over the edge” and I decided to buy a used copy of his book, Why I Became an Atheist (revised version, 2012, 536 pages) and critique it, as he wanted me to do in 2006. Moreover, on 8-27-07 he made a blanket challenge about the original version of this book: “I challenge someone to try this with my book. I might learn a few things, and that’s always a goal of mine. Pick it up and deal with as many arguments in it that you can. Deal with them all if you can.” His wish is granted (I think he will at length regret it), and this will be my primary project (as a professional apologist) in the coming weeks.

Despite all his confident bluster, I fully expect him to ignore my critiques. It’s what he’s always done with me (along with endless personal insults). I’m well used to empty (direct) challenges from atheists, based on my experience with Madison and “Bible Basher” Bob Seidensticker, who also has ignored 35 of my critiques (that he requested I do). If Loftus (for a change) decides to actually defend his views, I’m here; always have been. And I won’t flee for the hills, like atheists habitually do, when faced with substantive criticism.

The words of John Loftus will be in blue.

*****

John Loftus’ chapter 4 is entitled, “Does God Exist” (pp. 79-102)

The atheist maintains that the material universe either popped into existence out of nothing, has always existed, is self-caused, or is just a natural brute fact arising form the laws of physics. . . . Atheist philosopher Quentin Smith claims that our universe came “from nothing, by nothing, and for nothing.” He argues that the universe caused itself to exist. (p. 79)

This is one of the very best arguments against atheism (simple and elegant). Even Loftus concedes on the same page that this view is “extremely unlikely — or possibly absurd.” Granted, he also thinks the view that “Something — anything — has always existed” (which would include an eternal God) can be described in the same way. But it’s quite notable and in my opinion, a huge concession in holding that atheist explanations of the existence of the universe are no more plausible or likely than the traditional Christian belief in creation of the universe (all things) by God.

Thanks, John! I’ve been making the same argument for at least 30 years: contending that both competing views of the origin of the universe (theistic and atheistic) cannot be absolutely proven, and require axioms: in effect, “faith.” Atheists routinely claim falsely and groundlessly that their view of ultimate origins is rational, “scientific,” and requires no faith, whereas ours (here it comes!) is irrational, anti-scientific (or at least non-scientific / non-empirical) and requires unsupported blind faith. Loftus cuts through that pretense, and I appreciate it. It’s a breath of fresh air. Both sides necessarily entail unproven axioms and non-empirical (purely philosophical and/or religious) starting-points.

[the classic ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments (dealt with in pp. 81-97) are far too involved to delve into for my purposes, and others do a far better job, anyway, so I will leave the defenses of these three classic arguments up to them. Loftus mostly summarizes both espousals of these arguments and criticisms of them (i.e., he does little more than “survey the literature” from a thoroughly biased atheist perspective). I agree that none of them absolutely prove God’s existence. But considered together, I think they raise many troubling objections for the atheist to consider, and that the cumulative evidences suggest that God’s existence is far more probable and plausible than His non-existence]

I’m not certain some kind of god doesn’t exist. I just don’t think so. (p. 97)

Fair enough. There is still a little door open to convince him of God’s existence, then.

[T]his [the teleological / design argument] was the same argument that convinced a possibly stroke-affected Antony Flew to become a deist before he died, after being possibly the leading atheist thinker of the last century. (p. 97)

I’ve been looking and looking, with all the search capabilities of the modern Internet, and I can’t find anything about Flew having had a stroke at all: let alone one that would affect his reasoning, so that he would become a deist. I’d love to know where Loftus discovered this alleged bit of information, and how verified it is. The closest I got was a reference in the Wikipedia article about Flew, that referenced “an article in The New York Times Magazine alleging that Flew’s intellect had declined due to senility,  . . .”

Following the link to the article (dated 4 November 2007), I see that the words “senility” or “senile” never appear in it; nor does “dementia.” It makes passing references to his “memory failing” / “his powers in decline” / “halting” diction and a mind “in decline” (he was  then 84). But all this — even if true — is far, far from alleging the serious claim that a stroke affected his philosophical reasoning ability. So where did Loftus acquire such a belief: even if it is only speculative?

The same article notes that well-known atheist Richard Carrier wrote to Flew in 2001, and that Flew replied on the 3rd of September:  “I have for a long time been inclined to believe in an Aristotelian God who (or which) does not intervene in the Universe.” He was at that time 78, so whatever “a long time” means, it is clear that the essence of his change of mind was not “before he died” (implied: right before; stroke or no). Nice try!

Thus, to uphold this hypothesis, one would have to establish that Flew suffered a stroke before whatever year his “Aristotelian god” inclination began (a “long time” before he reached age 78: so he himself stated). It doesn’t look very hopeful. But  atheists had to come up with something to discredit Flew’s newfound belief (I documented a good deal of this at the time in a discontinued paper of mine), and so Loftus gives us this nothing burger.

[following an argument from Richard Dawkins] Of course, if evolution is unguided, then God doesn’t exist.” (p. 97)

This doesn’t follow at all, and is a strikingly weak argument to make. There is no necessity that I can see for God (if He exists) to be compelled to “guide evolution.” If God is only a deist-type god, a la the “late period Flew” or David Hume (who accepted a form of the teleological argument), then by definition He would not guide it, since deism posits a God Who creates and then withdraws from any governance or supervision of His creation (His providence and sovereignty are denied). But even a full theistic and biblical God wouldn’t have to literally guide evolution (however such a thing is construed). He could simply have put the potentialities into matter that would enable it to evolve and bring about all that we see today. St. Augustine was pondering that live possibility 1600 years ago.

This God . . . had a body that needed to rest on the seventh day and was found walking in the “cool of the day” in the Garden of Eden . . . Still later, the God of the Bible was stripped of physical characteristics and became known as a spiritual being (John 4:21-24), although he may have been thought of as an embodied God when impregnating Mary . . . (p. 102)

Loftus, like probably 50 other atheists I’ve interacted with, doesn’t have a clue about biblical anthropomorphism and anthropopathism. This is part of the profoundly ignorant (almost universal) atheist misunderstanding of the many biblical literary genres and ways of expression. It’s all the more case if an atheist came out of fundamentalism, since they never understood or fully understood these factors even as a Christian.

This also gets into the related involved topics of theophanies and the angel of the Lord [see section II, part 3 in the link, and see also a second article] as God’s representative, which I have written about. It’s not likely that Loftus has much of an understanding of these matters, and the standard Christian / biblical view that God the Father is invisible: at least not from these particular out-to-sea “parting shot” statements in this chapter. We’ll see if he exhibits any better understanding of these more advanced matters in theology, as we proceed through the book.

It’s beyond ludicrous to claim that Christians ever believed that a supposedly physical God the Father impregnated Mary (best I can tell, this is what Loftus meant). In Christian belief from the start, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18: “she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit”: RSV): and a spirit is what it is. The Holy Spirit is immaterial and He has no body. So this is truly beyond the pale. Bringing about a miraculous pregnancy in Mary no more requires a “physical” God the Father or Holy Spirit than creation does. Loftus is just pulling these things out of a hat.

Lastly, Loftus is getting way ahead of himself in bringing up trinitarianism in a chapter about the theistic arguments, since virtually all Christians would readily agree that those arguments do not establish a trinitarian God (though they are consistent with that). Rather, the Holy Trinity is revealed in God’s inspired revelation: the Bible. It’s not the conclusion of a philosophical argument.

***

Photo credit: John Loftus at SASHAcon 2016 at the University of Missouri; Mark Schierbecker (3-19-16) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

***

May 26, 2019

This is a follow-up discussion: brought about by an atheist’s response to my article, “Atheist vs. Christian Ignorance of the Bible: A Brief Observation.” The words of gusbovona will be in blue.

*****

Atheist here.

1. Part of the problem atheists have with the Bible is that they suspect its god doesn’t care about communication with humans precisely because one must work to figure out exactly what the Bible means. Presumably the god of the Bible would know what would communicate effectively without the danger of mis-interpretation. And, a Bible that requires interpretation looks too much like a Bible with no deity behind it.

All books require interpretation, so why would it be the case, according to you, that somehow the Bible, granting for the sake of argument that it is inspired revelation from God, would be the simplest book in the world? I think that is actually the last thing we would reasonably expect in such a book. If the Bible were so simplistic that any young child could immediately grasp it, we can be assured that it would be roundly mocked by atheists even more than it is now. They would say, “you expect us to believe that this tripe was written by an infinitely intelligent, omniscient God?!” See my article: Why We Should Fully Expect Many “Bible Difficulties”.

It’s not so much a question of simplicity (although an argument can be made for the simpler, the better) as it is of the need for interpretation.

I grant that all writings need interpretation, but some need more than others, and the difference can be vast; the less interpretive difficulty, the better, in general, would you agree?; and the vast amount of interpretive difficulty with the Bible argues for a lack of divine influence.

There is a certain middle ground. I believe that the main doctrines of the Bible are indeed clear, once one attains a fair amount of familiarity with it (learns the basics of hermeneutics and exegesis and systematic theology). Then it’s relatively easy to interpret it. But history shows that folks, generally speaking, need guidance in terms of having definite answers: “the Bible / Christian faith teaches thus-and-so.” That is the role of an authoritative Church and tradition, which the Bible itself teaches the necessity of (I wrote four books about the topic of biblical and Church authority), and which is one of the strongest rationales for Catholicism and Orthodoxy, over against Protestantism.

Theological truth also entails complexities, the more one gets into it, just as science and philosophy do. Philosophers and logicians talk about elegant simplicity, but that doesn’t always hold. Relativity and quantum mechanics and black holes are very complex and counter-intuitive, but they are considered to be profoundly established in physics and astronomy, more so than Newtonian physics, which is simpler and far more intuitive.

The Bible also teaches that men do not understand the Bible and spiritual truths because of their own corruption and rebellion. Hence the Apostle Paul writes: “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14, RSV). And Jesus taught the same:

Matthew 13:10-13 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” [11] And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. [12] For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. [13] This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

This “spiritual” factor understood, it then becomes a causative factor in the ability to interpret Scripture properly. One has to be open to the things of God. If not, they won’t “get it.” And this is what I consistently see in atheist attempts to interpret the Bible. There is no willingness to properly learn (very little intellectual humility), and there is outright hostility. This is why I compare the atheist view of the Bible to a butcher’s view of a hog. The Christian views it as “Shakespeare from God” or as a wonderful painting, that has to be unpacked and revealed to be the marvel that it is. This takes some significant effort and labor, but it’s not at all impossible.

You are still conflating simplicity/complexity and interpretation. My point was about interpretation. Something very simple can still need to be interpreted correctly, and something complex can require very little interpretation.

Yeah, I agree. As I have argued, there are both simple and complex aspects to understanding the Bible and interpreting it.

***

2. Can you give an example of someone disrespecting the Bible?

I provided many in the links in the above paper. Here is one of my personal favorites, though, because of the astonishing and amusing ignorance of the view set forth: Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching? (vs. Ed Babinski).

It’s difficult for me to guess exactly what statement in the link you provided that was disrespectful. Can you just quote a single sentence or a paragraph? Or do you mean that mis-interpreting the Bible to contain an absurd cosmology is the disrespect itself?

The latter. But broadly speaking, to ask an apologist like me to list the ways in which atheists disrespect the Bible and Christianity is like asking me what I love about my wife (I’m very happily married). It’s very difficult to answer, because it’s a thousand things. So I provided a list of my articles that deal with this topic. The evidence is ample therein, and in many other dialogues of mine with atheists. Bob Seidensticker is Classic / Textbook Exhibit #1 of atheist biblical ignorance and hubris. And he challenged me to defend the Bible. Once I started doing so and refuting his nonsense, he fell off the face of the earth. What a coincidence . . . Please tell him “hello” from me if you ever talk to him, and let him know I’m still alive and kickin’. :-)

I didn’t ask you to list the ways that atheists disrespect the Bible. I asked you for an example. I can take the example of Biblical cosmology, but I didn’t want you think I was asking for a list, or even an exhaustive list.

***

3. You appear to trust your “long experience in dialogue” over a scientific study. Are you aware of the dangers of accepting one’s long experience in an empirical matter?

The topic is very complex. As I noted: “People have differing levels of understanding in all human groups.” It would highly depend on how the research was conducted (unfortunately, the link I thought I made to the study is not there), but, as with any large group, one has to take into account differing degrees of education. Thus, if we surveyed “Christians” completely at random, sure, we would see a lot of ignorance, since most Christians (to our shame) are poorly educated in theology: which is a large reason why I became a professional apologist.

The comparison needs to be between educated Christians, who understand Christian doctrine, and atheists who also have a fair degree of biblical knowledge (or claim to, anyway). This is where my experience in dialogue becomes quite relevant, because I think I have demonstrated over and over, that many atheists who make out that they are such experts on the Bible, are far from it. So, for instance, one could consider my 32 refutations of one atheist who makes these claims: Bob Seidensticker (I see that you follow his blog). He shows himself to be biblically and theologically ignorant (in matters of simple fact) and out to sea again and again.

Or one could observe how abominably ignorant Richard Dawkins: one of the most renowned atheists, is about Bible matters, in my paper on that: Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion”.

In other words, what we need to do is compare the most knowledgeable in each camp, not take some survey of Joe Blow Christian on the street vs. the typical atheist, who is usually relatively more educated (because they are usually persuaded to be an atheist in hyper-secularized academic settings).

I think you misunderstand my comment. I wasn’t talking about you disagreeing with atheists like Seidensticker, I was talking about you reaching a conclusion based on your personal experience even though it differed from a scientific study:

Grimlock: 

If the average atheist’s knowledge of the Bible is abominable, the average Christian seems to be even worse off. (At least in the US.) [source from Pew Research]

You: 

So I reject a view that holds that they are more ignorant of the Bible (as an entire class) than atheists. It’s a joke. And I know so for certain, from my own long experience in dialogue.

The two things are not mutually exclusive. As I have explained my view in much greater depth, it is seen, I think, that it’s perfectly complimentary to any of these studies. I freely grant that Christians en masse are scandalously ignorant of theology, too. So it is necessary to compare the “cream of the crop” of both camps, to make a penetrating, insightful comparison. You have to get a theologian or apologist like myself up against a proclaimed atheist “expert” on the Bible, to see how each party fares.

It seems to me that a survey that says that Christians know less about the Bible than atheists do is mutually exclusive with a conclusion (in your case, drawn on personal experience) that rejects the idea that Christians are more ignorant of the Bible than atheists.

***

 

Photo credit: Tobias Van Der Elst (7-16-17): Morteratsch, Canton of Graubunden, Switzerland [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]

***

May 24, 2019

I made a statement: “Atheist knowledge of the Bible and exegesis (generally speaking) is abominable.”

Atheist “Grimlock” replied: Fun fact: If the average atheist’s knowledge of the Bible is abominable, the average Christian seems to be even worse off. (At least in the US.) [source from Pew Research]

I do love me some empiricism.

This is a major reason why I do what I do: I’m an educator. But at least Christians approach the Bible with respect, which makes it a lot more likely that they will figure out its true meaning: a lot more than those who approach it like a butcher approaches a hog, or a lumberjack, a tree. So I reject a view that holds that they are more ignorant of the Bible (as an entire class) than atheists. It’s a joke. And I know so for certain, from my own long experience in dialogue.

People have differing levels of understanding in all human groups. What is objectionable is the atheist who comes in, guns blazing, thinking they know so much more about the Bible than Christians do. Atheists generally pride themselves for being the “rational” and “scientific” people and constantly imply that Christians are neither. Hundreds of examples of that exist in my own dialogues alone.

Lastly, many atheists (especially the ones who love to pick at and mock the Bible and claim that it is filled with alleged “contradictions”) come from fundamentalist Christian backgrounds (I never did, myself). Invariably, when they attempt to interpret the Bible, they do it with that inherited fallacious and ignorant way of doing so, from fundamentalism (hyper-literalism and virtual ignoring of linguistic, contextual, cultural, and literary genre factors). Thus, they generally make two major mistakes:

1) They assume that all Christians are anti-intellectual fundamentalists, as they once were.

2) They assume that anti-intellectual hyper-literal, “wooden” biblical interpretation is the only sort that exists, or is the “mainline” approach.

Related Reading:

Atheist Bible “Scholarship” & “Exegesis” [3-18-03]

Flat Earth: Biblical Teaching? (vs. Ed Babinski) [9-17-06]

“Former Christian” Atheists & Theological Ignorance [7-21-10]

Dialogue w Atheist: Joseph of Arimathea “Contradictions” (??) (Lousy Atheist Exegesis Example #5672) [1-7-11]

Reply to Atheists: Defining a [Biblical] “Contradiction” [1-7-11]

The Census, Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem, & History: Reply to Atheist John W. Loftus’ Irrational Criticisms of the Biblical Accounts [2-3-11]

“Butcher & Hog”: On Relentless Biblical Skepticism [9-21-15]

Genesis Contradictory (?) Creation Accounts & Hebrew Time: Refutation of a Clueless Atheist “Biblical Contradiction” [5-11-17]

Alleged “Bible Contradictions”: Most Are Actually Not So [6-8-17]

Atheist “Refutes” Sermon on the Mount (Or Does He?) [National Catholic Register, 7-23-17]

Reason, Science, & Logic Not the Exclusive Possessions of Atheists (+ Double Standards in How Christian Conversions are Treated, Compared to the Often Chilly Reception of Critiques of Atheist Deconversion Stories / Atheist “Exegesis” of the “Doubting Thomas” Passage) [7-24-17]

Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion” [5-25-18]

Atheist Botched Biblical Exegesis: Example #4,974 [7-23-17; expanded on 7-3-18]

Atheist Inventions of Many Bogus “Bible Contradictions” [National Catholic Register, 9-4-18]

Seidensticker Folly #21: Atheist “Bible Science” Absurdities [9-25-18]

Seidensticker Folly #23: Atheist “Bible Science” Inanities, Pt. 2 [10-2-18]

Seidensticker Folly #25: Jesus’ Alleged Mustard Seed Error [10-8-18]

Bible “Contradictions” & Plausibility (Dialogue w Atheist) [12-17-18]

Biblical Knowledge of Atheist “DagoodS” as a Christian (Specifically, the Biblical [and Patristic] Teaching on Abortion) [12-13-10; expanded on 3-14-19]

Reply to Flimsy Atheist Biblical “Exegesis” #145,298 [4-5-19]

Seidensticker Folly #32: Sophistically Redefining “Contradiction” [4-20-19]

***

(originally on Facebook, 7-5-18)

Photo credit: The Dunce (1886), by Harold Copping (1863-1932) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***




Browse Our Archives