menu
March 21, 2019

Catholic writer Mark Shea has recently written two posts (one / two) having to do with the beautiful African-American folk song, or spiritual, Kumbaya (which probably dates from the 1920s). His point (as usual), is to bash political conservatives, but (also as usual when he does that), he is dead-wrong and, I think, entirely misses the point. Here are two examples of his choice remarks:

I was somewhat taken aback with the surprisingly bitter contempt heaped on certain songs and, in particular, for the raging hatred so routinely poured out on ‘Kumbayah’. I’ve always kind of liked it and have been made to feel for 30 years as though sticking my neck out to say that was to invite the disgust of all Right-Thinking Catholics Everywhere.

We live in an age of ‘thoughts and prayers’ Christian conservatives who use words, empty piety, and respect for symbols as a prophylactic against the weightier matters of the law. The idea that one can heap contempt on kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, love, joy, peace, patience and any talk of social justice is now endemic among super-Catholics, right next to the idea that ritual or theological correctness is all that matters.  The idea that getting your words and rituals correct is the opposite of the fruits of the Spirit is utterly foreign to the New Testament.  May God heal the schism between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

He cites his friend, Catholic writer Sherry Weddell as well:

[I]in the Catholic world – especially online – I heard the term “Kumbaya” used over and over by white “conservative Catholics” as an expression of contemptuous disDain [sic] for any kind of Catholic practice associated with the honoring of kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, love, joy, peace, patience. Any talk of social justice and of repentance was also Kumbaya.

And again:

I refuse to waste another nanosecond of time hearing some culture war conservative heap scorn on “Kumbaya”. Don’t waste your breath around me.

As one of these dreadful, pitiable, ultra-compromised political conservatives (i.e., according to the Gospel of Mark, one of those who denies the gospel and Christ, idolatrously worships antichrist Trump as a cult follower, is not really pro-life, and is a “Christianist” rather than Catholic), I have nothing whatsoever against the song. I like it (as I love many folks songs): particularly the soul-moving Joan Baez recording of it.

We used to sing it at pro-life rescues in the late 1980s, along with other songs common among the civil rights protesters of the early 60s (such as Eyes on the Prize). Now, I can only speak for myself, and not for tens of millions of conservatives (who, no doubt, have many diverse opinions, just as any large social group does), but I think Mark is missing the mark (no pun intended) by a wide margin.

As far as I have seen (and of course, speaking generally), the sarcastic or contemptuous conservative reference to Kumbaya is not to the song itself, but rather, refers to the naivete and mindless utopianism of many liberals and leftists: symbolism over substance: “talking the talk but not walking the walk”; engaging in mere self-congratulatory verbal rhetoric, rather than actually doing something to help struggling people and to solve various social problems.

I know for sure that this is how I have heard Rush Limbaugh (no small conservative influence) reference the song, many times, when he talks about liberals getting together, “throwing Frisbees for peace, lighting candles, and singing Kumbaya” (in other words, doing the touchy-feely, warm fuzzy stuff — fine as far as it goes — but not acting upon these impulses, to actually bring about positive social change. Here is an altogether typical example of Rush referring to it in this way (I’ve listened to his show off and on for now almost thirty years):

In 2008, 2012, “Obama’s gonna make it all happen: Utopia, end climate change, promote love and peace, end racism, all of that!” In 2008: Nobel Peace Prize, on the come. Obama hadn’t done anything. But just his presence, just his aura, just his existence, was gonna cause the bad guys of the world to lay down their arms and join hands and sing kumbaya. But what really happened? President Obama went on to become a veritable warmonger. (5-22-18)

That is what conservatives are driving at in mentioning the song at all. But — I can’t emphasize enough, it’s not the song itself, or what its lyrics express, but rather, how it is used in these “rituals” of “do-nothing feel-good-ism”.

It reminds me of the way the John Lennon song Imagine is viewed (as this big anthem of love and peace and harmony). I’m a huge Beatles and John Lennon fan, and love the song itself (as a melody). I have a review of the remastered Sgt. Pepper album that is on the first page of the Amazon listing (out of 3,035 reviews!). But here, John failed lyrically, and delivered a disastrous message.

The song starts out with, “Imagine there’s no heaven . . .” and later he wishes for “no religion, too.” And I always think, “yes, that thought absolutely terrifies me.” The gist of the song is typical Marxist post-religious messianic utopianism: if only we could get Christianity out of the way, there would be peace and harmony everywhere.

Hogwash!  Nothing could be more opposite of the truth. John was in one of his always-temporary phases at the time: infatuation with Marxism. In fact, a few years later (after going through about four more phases) he seriously entertained becoming an evangelical Christian, till his wife put an end to it.

In that case, the words itself were objectionable. But the song has become a symbol (with an outrageously false premise), regardless of what its lyrics convey. Kumbaya has become a symbol, too, and its association with mindless utopianism is what we conservatives object to.

When I read Mark’s posts, I was curious about the specifics of my own references to Kumbaya. I knew that I had mentioned it in the fashion that I have described. With word-search capabilities, I easily found seven usages in my own articles on Patheos. Here they are, with brief present commentary in blue:

*****

1) The way to get beyond that is not to put our heads in the sand and go throw a Frisbee and sing Kumbaya around the fire, ending the night with a group hug. It’s talking it through: listening to each other; interacting with opposing arguments. That’s how adult Christians should be able to resolve things. But if some people want to manifest that they cannot engage in a discussion without getting angry and insulting, then it’s a free country. All I can do is delete the worst offenses. (The Preference of Receiving Holy Communion from a Priest, 12-18-13)

Here I was calling for mature, adult back-and-forth discussion of internal Catholic differences, rather than pretending we have some sort of “unity” when we do not in fact have it.

2) Catholics have community, precisely because we are united around this set of truths called “Catholicism.” It’s not just arbitrary: “hey, look, a billion people all believe thus-and-so, so I’m gonna go join in and throw Frisbees and sing Kumbaya!” It’s based on the finding of a real truth that really is there: “true truth,” as Francis Schaeffer called it. Thus, those of us who follow that ancient Christian tradition are classified as infantile nuts, because we are still so silly as to believe that we can know truth with certitude, in Christ, and in His Church. (Radically Unbiblical Protestant “Quest for Uncertainty”, 2-12-14)

True unity is found in the Catholic Church: grounded in its doctrines and moral teachings and tradition, not merely “a billion people” supposedly all agreeing on a relatively superficial level.

3) Once again, an atheist came onto my page, guns blazing, was banned, and now he is crying in his beer and gathering all his like-minded cronies about him, group hugging, with lots of warm fuzzies,  singing of Kumbaya (oops! atheists don’t sing that, do they?), and whining and crying about how nasty all the wicked Christians are (me foremost of all, of course), who deign to ban a person who violates their blog rules. This is the second time in the last ten days that an entire atheist “feeding frenzy” thread was devoted to how nasty, terrible and all-around unsavory and stinky I am. I’m Attila the Hun and Vlad the Impaler, all wrapped into one hideous beast. (I Actually Enforce My Discussion Policy (What a Novelty!), 10-31-15)

I was mocking an atheist whom I banned for uncivil behavior, noting that he went and surrounded himself with a bunch of fellow clones in a groupthink effort to “prove” what a nasty beast and all-around unsavory fellow I am for simply enforcing simple rules of moderation and constructive online discourse.

4) Obviously, we had to utterly defeat the Nazis. That was the existential threat to the world 75 years ago. Likewise, today, we have to utterly defeat ISIS. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be, and many more thousands will die as a result of our stupidity, cowardice, and appeasement. So we need to go and defeat them ASAP, and thereby eliminate the problem that is (largely) causing the refugees and the terrorist acts. That is more compassionate, because it saves exponentially many more lives of innocent people. When will we ever learn from history? It’s so absolutely frustrating. This ain’t rocket science. The problem won’t “dry up” and go away by means of our putting our heads in the sand and throwing Frisbees and singing Kumbaya. (Re Refugee & Terrorist Crises (My $00.02), 11-21-15)

I was making the point, again, that we had to do something about the refugee crisis, brought about in the Middle East by ISIS. Trump did exactly that, by virtually annihilating ISIS, while Obama had done nothing. So who cared more about the children and other innocent refigee victims?

5) Presidents Clinton and Obama, following Chamberlain’s noble lead, prevented nuclear conflict with North Korea all this time. Who does Trump think he is, to mess with all that peace? Trump needs to learn the wimpy, spineless jellyfish appeasing method of diplomacy, so we can be in a nuclear-free world. If only he does that, then Kim will tie all his nuclear missiles to a giant Frisbee and let them float up to orbit, while we all sing Kumbaya together and get back to agreeing about butchering preborn children: the one mass murder we all can agree is perfectly acceptable. (Trump’s Inadequate Rebukes of Rocket Man & Neo-Nazis, 8-13-17)

President Trump actually took concrete steps to get rid of the nuclear threat of North Korea, as opposed to the appeasing mentality of Neville Chamberlain (with Hitler) and Presidents Clinton and Obama. They were, as Trump says, “all talk and no action.” After the second attempt, when he walked away, even liberals praised his sensible realism and unwillingness to compromise on principle.

6) Then at length, the Protestants offered the world the spectacle of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), in which Calvinists anathematized the Arminians (a vast majority of today‘s Protestants) who dared to disagree with their extreme and false doctrines. This was no Kumbaya / “isn’t it great that we’re all one big happy family and not Catholics?!” lovefest among fellow Protestants who had honest disagreements, to be amiably worked out over ale or rum, with chicken legs, by a warm fire. (Critique of Ten Exaggerated Claims of the “Reformation”, 10-31-17)

Here I was sarcastically mocking the oft-heard Protestant claims of a broad unity amongst themselves, over against us wicked Catholics. When they actually met together formally and discussed doctrine, a hundred years after their Revolt began, the above was what occurred. Even the common contempt towards the Catholic Church didn’t suffice to create real, tangible doctrinal unity.

7) The “progressive” trend against this sort of outrage and in favor of “a common humanity” was, so [Richard] Dawkins informs us, derived from “deeply unbiblical ideas that come from biological science, especially evolution”(p. 271). Okay. Materialistic evolution (which forbids God to play any role in it at all, according to Dawkins and atheists generally) fosters respect for life and commonness among all humankind. Wonderful! Ah, but wait! Dawkins utterly contradicts all of this touchy-feely, warm fuzzy Kumbaya love for one and all in the following proclamation: [I cite his words] . . . This grotesque” “scientism” mentality then leads to the evil justifying of abortion, and for that matter, to the ritual human sacrifice of born children by the Incas, Aztecs, and many other cultures (though Dawkins seems utterly unaware of that logical consequence of his stated position). (Richard Dawkins’ Outrageous Hypocrisy on Abortion, 5-21-18)

Dawkins engages in touchy-feely mindless utopianism, based on the excess of scientism (which is not simply love of science, but making science the epistemological “be all and end all”): all the while ignoring the plight of the smallest and most helpless and innocent among mankind: the preborn child.

*****

Lo and behold (irony of ironies), I even found an example of Mark Shea himself referring to Kumbaya in a similar way to the above, in a post of his that I host on my own blog:

The Pope [Pope St. John Paul II], of all people, is almost uniquely aware of the difference between utopianism and Christian faith (he’s lived under two utopian systems). He’s written extensively on the impossibility of utopian schemes. . . . So I think it extremely unlikely that he now imagines that the goal is a secular utopia of religious leaders singing Kumbaya. Rather, I think it obvious he is acting on the sensible counsel of Lumen Gentium to work in common with people of good will for what can be achieved while, of course, not sacrificing the truth that the Church’s revelation is — alone — the fullness of God’s revelation. (Defense of 2nd Ecumenical Gathering at Assisi (Mark Shea), 2-6-02)

There you go, Mark. The way you referenced it is the way we lowly, contemptible conservatives also do. Not that you will correct yourself . . .

As we saw above, Mark’s ultimate concern (if we can look past his ubiquitous and wrongheaded insults) was a worthy one (but wrongly applied in a broad, prejudicial, most unfair way to conservatives). He wants to combine good works with faith: a thoroughly Catholic and biblical impulse. And so he wrote in his second article:

I’m working on a book on the creed. One of the things I’m realizing is that a considerable discussion needs to happen, centering around Jesus’ saying, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” He ends with the stark and terrifying warning that those who do this will be told “I never knew you.  Depart from me, you evildoers.”  There is no comparable warning to those who do as he says but do not call him Lord.  It’s almost as though he cares more about obedience than about empty words, “thoughts and prayers”. It’s the same lesson as the parable of the sheep and the goats. . . .

It’s also the same lesson as the parable of the two son who were asked to work in the vineyard by their Father.  The one son said ‘yes’ but did not go.  The other said ‘no’ and then went and worked.  Which did the will of his Father?

Yes! I totally agree. I write about this all the time: especially when I am refuting Protestant faith alone mentalities. And this, in fact, was my primary emphasis in my thoughts, in mentioning Kumbaya sarcastically or tongue-in-cheek. We have to do much more than simply engage in empty, shallow symbolic rhetoric and feel the warm fuzzies and good liberal Woodstock vibrations. And so, to sum up my seven instances in this particular regard:

1) We have to really solve Catholic internal difference by serious dialogue; not pretend they don’t exist.

2) Catholicism provides the basis and “glue” for a truly real and profound unity, not just a pretended commonality.

3) I noted how an atheist couldn’t be civil with us Christians, and as a result retreated into his clonelike enclave of back-slapping insulting atheists. I’m not saying that all atheists are that way, but this group was, and such cliquish tribalism is very common online among all belief-systems.

4) We can’t just talk about how much we want to help poor refugee children in the Middle East. We need to take concrete steps: in this instance, annihilate the ISIS monsters.

5) We had to do something concrete to alleviate or at least lessen the North Korean nuclear threat. Trump did that, while all the Presidents before him back to 1953 sat on their hands.

6) Protestants have not actually exhibited some supposed marvelous internal unity. One prime example of that was their synod in 1618-1619. Lots of utopian, vaguely or subliminally anti-Catholic, naive talk; no true unity.

7) Atheist Richard Dawkins talks a good game about human togetherness and “common humanity”: deriving from his religion of materialistic evolutionism: all the while hideously excluding children in their mother’s wombs.

I don’t see how Mark could or would disagree with any of this, save for my #5, in which The Abominable Beast Trump did a very good thing. That’s not possible, according to Mark, because he is the antichrist (just like Trump is not truly [wink wink] a pro-lifer, either. Right). So if we took out Trump and kept the other six examples, along with Mark’s own, we see that there is no hostility towards Kumbaya whatsoever: not one shred or iota.

The point I was making every time was that we need to act upon our expressed ideals; not just engage in empty words and sit on our butts, never intending to act upon them. This is precisely what Jesus calls us to do:

Matthew 7:21 (RSV) “Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

And so (whaddya know!) it turns out that the conservative impulse and motivation in this respect is precisely like the (proclaimed) best liberal intentions (not to mention biblical commands from our Lord Jesus and St. Paul): words must be merged with action: faith and works: walk and talk, not just talk alone (sola verbe?). Mark’s two posts are divisive and will separate Catholics and promote further mutual suspicion and hostility. But I write for the sake of better mutual understanding and unity.

I humbly inquire: which approach between these two (mine and Mark’s) is more biblical and Christlike? Is it better to be conciliatory and to seek unity among Catholics, or to misrepresent other Catholics in the effort to perpetuate yet more needless division and unbiblical, unethical tribalism?

***

Mark Shea chimed in about this article, after I announced it underneath one of his two:

No. It’s about Kumbaya. And a religious cult that spends its waking hours passionately defending a gutless coward who stays up till all hours tweeting his hatred of a dead man who was tortured for his country while the coward was lying about bone spurs and being treated for venereal disease as his ‘personal Vietnam’ has lost all right to pontificate about ‘mindless naivete’.

I haven’t analyzed the latest controversy regarding John McCain at all. I have stated in the past that Trump’s earlier remarks about McCain’s captivity in Vietnam were dumb and indefensible. So as usual, Mark is dead-wrong about me (assuming for a moment that this has any relevance at all to the topic at hand; it really doesn’t).

And this is what passes as “rational argument” from him. It’s equal parts pathetic and absurd and sad.

***

Photo credit: Joan Baez and Bob Dylan at the Civil Rights March on Washington, 8-28-63. Provided by the National Archives and Records Administration [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

March 11, 2019

I wrote the following on my old blog (1-7-11), to a Christian friend who was basically saying that we should ignore atheists:

I think we can be friends with atheists by stressing the many things that we still hold in common. I get along far better with them than I do with anti-Catholic Protestants (because the latter position is largely prejudice-based and immediately viciously self-contradictory). Not all of ’em, but ones like DagoodS (and there are a considerable number like him) who are able and willing to engage in normal discourse . . .

Within a friendship there can be friendly debate and back-and-forth (think of, e.g., Chesterton and Shaw, or Bertrand Russell and Fr. Copleston). I immensely enjoy it, myself. My apologetic, philosophical, inquiring mind tires of always talking with Christians I agree with. I want challenge and stimulation. I’m a Christian first but I am also a thinker, and the thinker likes stimulation and challenge and broadening of intellectual horizons.

Thirdly, I like to offer dialogues as a pedagogical, teaching method, to illustrate the faults and flaws (in this instance) of atheist thinking. I don’t expect to convince DagoodS (ain’t holding my breath), but I can show many hundreds, maybe eventually thousands of others that his reasoning doesn’t fly, when he attacks the Bible and/or Christianity. I do that by directly confronting and refuting it.

And who knows? DagoodS and other atheists and agnostics might be convinced in the long run, at least of some things. C. S. Lewis was an atheist. Tolkien and others didn’t ignore him. They befriended him, and he eventually came around. Many other cases have occurred. I used to be a “practical atheist” myself (living as if God’s existence makes no difference in life). I did that pretty much the first 18 years of my life. If Christians had ignored me I might still be in that place (though I highly doubt it).

Atheists almost certainly ain’t gonna come around if we shun and insult them and psychoanalyze their interior motivations. We can go after their arguments, though. And I do that vigorously!

DagoodS may have ill motives (just like anyone might). I don’t know that, and I would say it is very difficult to know. I prefer to stick to a man’s arguments and leave his soul to God and his closest friends: with whom he shares his deepest thoughts and motivations.

***

[added on 12-12-18] I did enjoy my debates with DagoodS [listed under his name on my Atheism web page]. Of course, I think I prevailed, but he gave it the old college try, and I admire his zeal, enthusiasm, and passion for what he feels to be the true and the good. I think inquisitive, thoughtful people can benefit from our dialogues, and be challenged one way or the other.

***

[the following dates from 7-21-10 and was entitled, “Why Atheists and Christians Should Talk to Each Other and Debate the Issues”]

I think a large part of the problem on both sides of the atheist-Christian discussion (to the extent that there actually is any at all) is that we too often call each other names and misrepresent each others’ positions. Atheists think Christians are dumbbells and that the Bible is filled with absurdities and makes no sense.

Christians, on the other hand, too often regard atheists as utterly rebellious, wicked folks who have no ethical principle. So it’s “‘stupid’ vs. ‘wicked.'” Political debates usually amount to largely the same dynamic. It gets very wearisome.

Both are ridiculous stereotypes, and if we try to get along together in this world and seek any common ground whatever, both sides need to get past that. I’m trying to do what little I can as one person to change the poisoned atmosphere.

People talking to each other and trying to understand each other as human beings is where it’s at. We have far more in common than I think most on either side realize.

Atheists will have to be with lots of Christians; especially in America, so it is in their interest to better understand them. Likewise, atheism is a growing movement, and Christians would do well to truly understand what makes atheists tick and what motivates them. Talk, talk, talk (and read the other guys’ stuff), is the only way to do that.

I respect anyone who makes an attempt to grapple with important issues that face all of us, and who uses reason to do so. That includes atheists.

I have far more intellectual respect for an honest atheist (and I think most are that) than I do for an anti-Catholic Protestant who says I (as a Catholic) am not a Christian or a liberal Christian who plays around with Christianity and hardly believes what he purports to believe in the first place, or a raving fundamentalist who thinks that Christianity and reason and common sense and higher culture are almost mutually exclusive.

Respect for thinking and for ethics is what we have in common, so sure, I can respect an atheist insofar as those things are concerned. I don’t have to take a position that they are all raving lunatics and simpletons (or wicked, etc.).

There are people like that in both camps, to be sure, but to put everyone in one box is absurd and profoundly intolerant as well. We don’t have to agree with a person to have a measure of respect for that person’s overall view and his or her person.

It takes a lot of patience on both sides to have the Christian-atheist discussion, and it can get very frustrating dealing with people who look at things very differently from the way we do. That works the same way whatever we believe.

I have my moments when I get fed up, too, believe me. But I think it’s a discussion worth having (i.e., the whole Christianity vs. atheism thing) as long as there is an atheist around who wants to keep talking and to keep it on a friendly level.

Some things bind most atheists together (as with any group). In other ways, they are different. Same thing with Christians. Atheists generalize about Christians every bit as much as Christians do about them. I have condemned lousy stereotypes on both sides.

The Dawkins / Hitchens mentality doesn’t do anyone any good (not even atheists, I would submit): anymore than the “angry feminist” or “angry Marxist” or “angry black man” or “[materialistic] evolutionists fighting the ID folks to the death” impress anyone who is truly interested in the world of ideas and actual dialogue. There has to be a certain rudimentary calmness, charity, and tolerance.

Both sides gotta chill out and talk to each other and establish friendships if possible. And we can learn from each other about various issues. The approach to discussion and tolerance for opposing views and respect for reasoning and science and dialogue in general is the common ground that we have.

It’s becoming a lost art in our society (assuming if it was ever “found”), and I am frequently disturbed by that, myself. Civil discussion and seeking greater understanding of other viewpoints is what it’s about. I like to be stimulated by opposition. I’ve made a whole apologetic career out of that. cool

People (of all stripes of belief) are so often reluctant to make any effort to understand a different viewpoint. That has to stop. Someone has to try to make an effort to change that in some fashion. Otherwise we are left with shouting matches, back-patting clubs, and mocking and belittling.

I argue my positions passionately, but I fully agree: it doesn’t have to be personal, and there is no need to demonize the other person and consider them a “bad” person just because of what they may believe.

Conversation in our society (and above all, on the Internet) has become so intolerant, trivial, or insubstantial, and often literally an insult to anyone with any intelligence or wits, that it’s like finding a needle in a haystack to stumble upon some solid challenging dialogue and people actually using their heads for a change.

***

Related Reading:

Secular Humanism & Christianity: Seeking Common Ground (with Sue Strandberg) [5-25-01]

Are Atheists “Evil”? Multiple Causes of Atheist Disbelief and the Possibility of Salvation [2-17-03]

16 Atheists / Agnostics & Me (At a Meeting) [11-24-10]

*
*
*
*

(originally  7-21-10 and 1-7-11 )

Photo credit: geralt [PublicDomainPictures.NetCC0 Public Domain]

***

February 18, 2019

Mini-Dialogue with an Atheist

*****

This is from my analysis of the deconversion story (i.e., from Christianity to atheism) of “Anthrotheist”: a very pleasant, enjoyable dialogue. I have slightly revised it and added many links. His words will be in blue.

*****

I honestly didn’t ever intend to claim that the Bible was meant to be a science textbook, but hasn’t it served at various points in history as exactly that?

Sometimes it is misunderstood as that, by less sophisticated and insufficiently educated Christians.

Wasn’t the position of the church for at least some time that the Earth must be the center of the universe exactly because of a passage about the Earth being set on its foundations and the sun and moon moving about it?

Yes. Later it was better understood that that was phenomenological language: the same sort that all of us use every day: “the sun comes up and goes down.” Or some of the language was poetic and not intended to be literal (as was done in describing God Himself too: what is called anthropomorphism and anthropopathism).

Without knowledge of heliocentrism (or any science at all), it’s perfectly logical (and not absurd) to assume or conclude that we are stationary and it’s the sun that is moving. And many great scientists did that, too (backed up also by Aristotle and other notable philosophers). At least one great scientist did even after Copernicus (Tycho Brahe).

I know that it describes the creation of the world, and that description counters many current understandings of the order in which things had to happen; literal readings of scripture aside, when a text says “First this, second this, third that,” and so on, that isn’t at all poetical or allegorical.

The ancient Hebrews had very different conceptions of chronology and time, and often, texts that we casually interpret as literally chronological, were not intended to be (I’ve written about the Hebrew conception of time). Early Genesis is a combination of symbolic language (trees and picking fruit, talking serpents) and some real, literal things (the earth did have a beginning — as science also tells us –; there was a primal human pair, who did “fall” and rebel against God).

The word for “day” (yom) was understood to not have to be literal, at least as far back as St. Augustine (d. 430). Nor do Catholics believe that the Flood was global. The language there was partially figurative or non-literal.

I suppose the point that I am trying to make is that it is all well and good to say in modernity, “the Bible isn’t a science textbook,” exactly because we now have science textbooks. Prior to that invention, far more stock was put in the Bible’s capacity to explain the world, and that stock has only receded in response to the epistemological successes of science.

Yeah; science (originating in a Christian worldview, not an atheist one; formulated in Christian and medieval minds) was a great advance in human knowledge about the material world, and even interpretation of the Bible was improved because of it. I think that’s great. It didn’t prove that the Bible was wrong; only that we interpreted it wrongly in some respects. Biblical interpretation is a human field of knowledge where we can improve and do better over time. The Bible itself didn’t change, but over time our understanding of it can improve.

That is the loss that I refer to. It isn’t that the church has tried to stymie science, just that by its own hand it has limited the Bible to spiritual matters (whether that amounts to a diminishing of the Bible’s stature is another matter, and I suspect that you don’t believe that it is at all).

The Bible is primarily about spiritual matters. When it touches upon matters that are scientific in nature it is not inconsistent with science. We believe that God created the universe ex nihilo. Science eventually figured out that it began in an instant with a Big Bang (the theory was formulated by a Catholic priest-scientist), which was not inconsistent with our existing view at all. It’s quite harmonious with it. Science came up with evolution (conceived in a then-theist — not atheist — mind, by Charles Darwin).

Nothing in the Bible requires us to believe that Adam was necessarily created in an instant. It says that God made Him from the dust (“the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground”: Gen 2:7, RSV). The “formed” could very well have been a process of millions of years, from matter. It’s interesting that it doesn’t say that God created man out of nothing, but rather, from the dust (matter). To me, that almost implies process itself.

Thus, there is no necessary contradiction. The real contradiction comes with materialistic science, that attempts (inconsistently, among some scientists) to rule out God as impossible in the whole process (even with regard to ultimate origins). That contradicts Catholicism and the Bible (and I would say, logic as well). But evolution itself does not, as long as God isn’t arbitrarily / dogmatically excluded from the process.

And so on and so forth. No unanswerable contradiction between Christianity and science has been demonstrated.

See my related papers:

Old Earth, Flood Geology, Local Flood, & Uniformitarianism (vs. Kevin Rice) [5-25-04; many defunct links removed and new ones added: 5-10-17]

Galileo: The Myths and the Facts [5-11-06]

Dialogue on the Galileo Fiasco and the State of Scientific and Astronomical Knowledge in 1633 (vs. Eric G.) [5-13-06]

Adam & Eve, Cain, Abel, & Noah: Historical Figures [2-20-08]

Richard Dawkins & Double Standards of the “Religion vs. Science” Mentality / Galileo Redux [3-20-08]

“No One’s Perfect”: Scientific Errors of Galileo and 16th-17th Century Cosmologies [7-29-10]

Christianity: Crucial to the Origin of Science [8-1-10]

Christian Influence on Science: Master List of Scores of Bibliographical and Internet Resources (Links) [8-4-10]

33 Empiricist Christian Thinkers Before 1000 AD [8-5-10]

Christians or Theists Founded 115 Scientific Fields [8-20-10]

Noah’s Flood & Catholicism: Basic Facts [8-18-15]

Do Carnivores on the Ark Disprove Christianity? [9-10-15]

Galileo, Bellarmine, & Scientific Method [10-20-15]

Science and Christianity (Copious Resources) [11-3-15]

Dialogue with an Agnostic on Catholicism and Science [9-12-16]

New Testament Evidence for Noah’s Existence [National Catholic Register, 3-11-18]

Modernism vs. History in Genesis & Biblical Inspiration [7-23-18]

***

(originally 8-14-18 on Facebook; rev. 2-18-19)

Photo credit: Noah’s Ark and the Flood [Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0 license]

***

August 23, 2018

This exchange took place on the ExChristian.Net site, in response to my critique of the webmaster Dave Van Allen’s “anti-testimony.” Dr. Arvo’s words will be in blue. My older cited words will be in green. Dave Van Allen’s words will be in brown.
* * * * *

Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

You start by responding to Dave’s comment “None of this proves or disproves Christianity…” with the statement “If such stories give no reason whatsoever to reject Christianity then (not to be insulting), I humbly submit: what good are they at all?”

You erroneously equate lack of “proof” with “no reason whatsoever to reject Christianity”. That is a gross misinterpretation. Dave is acknowledging what is manifestly true–that neither side can be PROVEN absolutely. However, proofs are not what we employ when deciding upon empirical matters; we marshal evidence. I submit to you (not to be insulting) that the difference is enormous, and that the weight of evidence is not on the side of Christianity.

That’s a good point, and it did cross my mind. However, in light of Dave’s later comments, I think I was justified in reading it the way I did, and not in the more technical epistemological sense you suggested. For example, Dave claims in the combox:

My mind was opened to reality, and is continuing to be opened to reality, as the myths and gods of my youth are abandoned to be replaced by reason.

Also: he describes Christianity as “primitive imaginings” and a “phony cult” that “enslave[s] the mind.” It is supposedly anti-science and (most ridiculous of all) allegedly “caused the Dark Ages.” To me this implies that somewhere along the line he assumes Christianity has been rationally disproven, or at least so discredited that he has justification to speak in such insulting and derogatory terms.

And that gets back to my point: either he thinks his deconversion story offers some of the reasons why he thinks Christianity is false or it doesn’t. If it does, where are they? I saw none as I examined it. If it doesn’t (as I interpreted), then what good is it? Frankly, who cares about horror stories of the ignorant, anti-intellectual fundamentalists he mostly associated with? It may tickle the fancy of former Christians who love to hear these things, but it doesn’t advance the discussion at all. It is merely anecdotes about fools.

And I would add that if he couldn’t extricate himself from such know-nothingism for 30 years, what does that say about his intellectual discernment? Does he mean to imply that he couldn’t find a single Christian congregation anywhere for 30 years, that respected the mind and science and philosophy, and had a thought-out view of culture, politics, the arts, etc.? I find that astounding. Catholicism (my group) certainly offers all that. And many Protestant groups and congregations do. I’ve been in them myself (as a former Protestant evangelical). But it doesn’t reflect well on his own judgment as a Christian.

In response to Dave’s story about asking difficult questions as a child, DA responded “I would ask the child back: ‘why do you presume to question God’s purposes for doing anything, or act as if we would or could or should understand everything that God does, in the first place?'”

What a terrible answer. You are, in effect, saying that the child must simply accept the story as given, without testing it against their own experience or their own notion of justice and compassion. While the latter ought not be the ultimate yard stick, it should certainly sound an alarm if a religious teaching proclaims compassion yet appears to lack it in its most basic teaching. I should think it far better to explain why we should accept that god’s actions appear less charitable than the child’s own would have been, and why the child should continue to seriously question actions that appear unkind or downright devious.

I didn’t say all that. You read that into what I said. My point was simply to note that we shouldn’t expect to know all about God’s deepest purposes, by the very nature of the case (or Being). Later I made analogies to the many deep mysteries of science (origins of life, DNA, why gravity acts as it does, etc.). I’m contending that if we can acknowledge mystery in science, why not also in theology? In that context I was presupposing belief in God. If you grant that, then given the traditional theistic / Jewish / Christian concept of a transcendent, monotheistic, omniscient, omnipotent God, it is foolish to think that we can figure all that out, since clearly such a Being is many magnitudes greater in thinking ability.

That was my point: not that one should render blind faith, or be a fideist. I have always opposed that. I would never urge that on anyone. Now, if people in your past or Dave’s taught that they were wrong, and I fully agree with your general critique of their mentality.

“…many atheists collapse Christianity into know-nothing fundamentalism, so that it can be dismissed as ‘anti-intellectual’ and ‘anti-science’…”

I don’t know who the “many” are that you speak of.

Isn’t it obvious even in this combox? For example:

rd:

. . . the total fallacy of religions is anyway? Your longing for a belief in the after life that you are willing to deny the obvious? The obvious truth being, that it’s all a lie.

Anytime you need faith in order to believe something, you are expected to go beyond your own intellectual honesty and accentually lie to yourself knowing full well deep down inside it could not possibly be true.

Kill the old self and lie to the new self, step beyond reality into mental delusions of psuedo [sic] grandeur.

. . . incredable [sic] imbecilic nonsense . . .

It was clear in Dave’s deconversion as well. Such rhetoric is very common among atheists / agnostics / skeptics / “freethinkers”. Look at Dawkins and Hitchens, for heaven’s sake. There are exceptions (you seem to be one of them and I know others personally from the Internet and in “real life”) but I stand by my generalization, based on many years of experience of debates and discussions. I used the word “many”; not “most” or “almost all.”

At exchristian.net there are hundreds of Christian visitors who zealously place themselves into this category by refusing to examine any of their beliefs and by attempting to discredit science in the large with childishly simplistic and fallacious arguments. We, as a rule, do not use such visitors as an excuse to dismiss anything (which is what you are apparently suggesting).

Why deal with them at all? If thinking Christians and ex-Christians agree that they shouldn’t be dealt with seriously, then why the obsession with them? It’s because (in my humble opinion) that is the easiest way for an ex-Christian to live with his or her decision to leave Christianity. It’s in their interest to caricature Christianity into the silly anti-intellectual wing of it, so it can be rejected (because even a Christian like myself would readily reject the same things insofar as they are stupid and mindless). You take the very worst, fringe aspects of something in order to reject it.

In fact, some sites, like Debunking Christianity, openly state as a matter of emphasis and policy that they are interested mainly if not solely, in dealing with fundamentalist Christianity. 95% or so of the remaining sectors of Christianity are ignored (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, more sophisticated brands of Presbyterianism and Calvinism in general: folks like Alvin Plantinga, Anglo-Catholicism, Methodism, etc.).

Serious analysis of a competing view will deal with the most respectable form of it, not the dumbest and least respectable.

However, they do get dismissed because they contribute nothing.

And then a serious Christian who comes along gets to deal with all their baggage and the latent hostile attitudes, as if they represented the sum of Christianity . . .

“…what makes him [Dave] think that he knows better than scholars who have studied these things for years? This is a common motif in atheist deconversions. They know better than everyone else.”

Tell me, which scholar should we all listen to?

I wasn’t talking about any particular one, but all of them as a class. Again, if one is to rationally dismiss a point of view, shouldn’t he at least seek out some of the better representatives of it?

Yes, of course. Do you imply that people here have not done that?

My replies had to do with Dave Van Allen, not all 473 skeptics at ExChristian.Net.

That was my point. I kept wondering if Dave had even tried to do that, or if he would ask a question of some pastor who wouldn’t have a clue, and then just give up, as if no Christian on the face of the earth could offer the slightest reply to his probing questions.

Many made a desperate effort to rescue their waning beliefs by pursuing a wide spectrum of apologetics, looking for something well-founded. The Webmaster himself went though this. 

If so, there was no indication of it whatsoever in his anti-testimony.

It sounds as though you chastise them for not having settled upon your particular brand of Christianity. Each sect could take the same stand (and to a degree, that’s what they do). 

My reply had nothing whatsoever to do with Catholic distinctives over against other brands of Christianity. I never defend Catholicism when debating atheists, but Christianity in general.

Not everybody thinks Catholicism is the most rational branch of Christianity–I’m sure you are aware of that. (To the regulars here: Please pardon my understatement.)

No kidding? I’m so shocked I think I’ll faint.

You know as well as I that 1) what some scholars have to say is not worthy of the name “scholarship”, and 2) there are legitimate scholars on both sides of practically any issue.

Sure, but that was irrelevant to my point, clarified above.

In the end, each of us must decide which line of reasoning is most coherent and has the greater force of evidence (thanks, in part, to the efforts of legitimate scholars).

Indeed. That’s what I’m saying: read the best of both sides, in any given debate, not the best of one and worst of the other, or only one side.

That’s what I’ve done for close to thirty years. Do you claim to have read the best on both sides?

I try to familiarize myself with the best arguments, yes (money- and time-permitting). I prefer one-on-one discussion with informed advocates, but it is rare to find such people.

* * *

Do I know better than everyone else? No, I don’t believe so, and I don’t claim to. But I have a well-thought-out position–one that is coherent, and has benefited from exposure to nimble minds on both sides (Plantinga, who you mention, is among them).

Good for you. I would say exactly the same about my own view. Looks like you and I, then, may be able to engage in some excellent, fruitful dialogue. It’s the love of truth and reason and dialogue that allows that to take place.

Bottom line: don’t dismiss all atheists as simply thinking they are smarter than anybody else.

Many clearly do think so. Again, I appeal to the rhetoric commonly seen here and in similar places, about how “imbecilic” and “obviously false” Christianity is. That is the language of condescension and a “know-it-all” mentality. You are an exception, apparently, but exceptions don’t disprove the rule, as they say.

Instead, I encourage you to address their arguments with the same dedication that they put into forming them.

I did my best with Dave’s anti-testimony, and am doing so presently. Thanks again for your thoughts. I enjoyed the discussion.

***

(originally 9-28-07)

Photo credit: WenPhotos (1-24-15) [Pixabay / CC0 public domain]

***

August 15, 2018

Atheist and anti-theist Bob Seidensticker 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: “In this blog, I’ve responded to many Christian arguments . . . Christians’ arguments are easy to refute.” 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.” I’m always one to oblige people’s wishes, 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 at the end, rest assured that he either hasn’t replied, or didn’t inform me that he did. Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, word-search “Seidensticker” on my atheist page or in my sidebar search (near the top).

*****

In his post, “God Creates Evil” (4-27-18; update of original post from 8-20-14), Bob stated: “God also has no problem with rape (Deuteronomy 22:28–9), . . .” Later in the article, Bob claims that God “advocated” rape. In another paper (originally 12-13-13), Bob opined: “The Bible . . . talks about when rape is okay.” And again on 6-17-15: “[T]he Bible says much about all sorts of embarrassing marriage customs and prohibitions sanctioned by God: . . . rape for fun and profit, . . .”Alright; let’s take a look at his passage and alleged “prooftext”:

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (RSV) “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, [29] then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her; he may not put her away all his days.”

First of all, that is not having “no problem” with rape, in the Mosaic law which we believe was given to Moses and the ancient Hebrews by God. Christian apologist Glenn Miller, who runs the wonderful Christian Thinktank website, dealt with the topic of rape in the Bible at extreme length. He commented on this passage as follows:

Here is a clear case in which the rapist has (1) stolen the girl’s ability to guarantee paternity, and by doing so has greatly limited her future options; and (2) has limited her father’s options of arranging a good marriage for her. The rapist is now forced to become what he has cheated the girl out of—a ‘well off’ husband. The fifty shekels bride-price (see below on the Exodus 22.16 passage) is five years worth of average wages, and is the price  paid by the Pharaoh Amenophis III for the women of Gezer destined for his harem! The girl’s future is now assured—she has a guaranteed support source (he cannot divorce her)—and she has a ‘big’ bride-price on deposit. The law has protected someone who was attempting to help the community, by preserving her virginity.

How all that is somehow deemed as God having “no problem” with rape is, I confess, beyond my rational capabilities to comprehend. Of course, Bob, in his rush to mock God and Christianity, neglects (for some odd reason) to also include the passage immediately preceding:

Deuteronomy 22:25-27 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. [26] But to the young woman you shall do nothing; in the young woman there is no offense punishable by death, for this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor; [27] because he came upon her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.” (cf. 22:23-24)

Does that sound like God is all gung-ho about rape? The rapist is to be executed. Nothing is to be done to the woman because she has done nothing wrong, and the rape is analogous to someone being murdered. The difference in the earlier case was the woman not being betrothed (the cultural difference of which was explained by Glenn Miller above).

In the article, “What does the Bible say about sexual assault?”, Southern Baptist Katie McCoy writes:

The Bible is not silent about rape. The accounts of sexual assault against women are heartbreaking, even gruesome. But they are not brushed under a rug or hushed up. In fact, of the three accounts describing a woman who was sexually assaulted, each of them precipitated civil war. When Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, was violated by the son of a neighboring ruler, Shechem, her brothers murdered him, his father, and the all of the men of his city in revenge (Gen. 34). After the Unnamed Concubine was gang-raped and left for dead by men in the tribe of Benjamin, the other tribes went to war against them upon hearing of her injustice (Jgs. 19-21). And after Tamar was raped by her half-brother, Amnon, her brother Absalom killed him, and incited a rebellion against his father, King David (2 Sam. 13). Rape was neither covered up nor ignored. Instead, it was answered and avenged. It was such a cultural convulsion that it was answered with outrage and further violence. The cases of rape in Scripture tell us something about the cases of rape we are hearing today: These women must be heard and they must be protected.

Christian apologist Kyle Butt, takes on another unsavory atheist tactic regarding the Bible and rape, in his article, “God did not condone rape”:

Militant atheists of the 21st century delight in accusing God of condoning the most heinous immoralities. They insist that the God of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament, was a murderous villain guilty of far worse than His human subjects. Richard Dawkins accused God of being a “misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (2006, p. 31 [The God Delusion] ).

One attempt that has been made to bolster these unfounded accusations is to suggest that in the Old Testament God condoned rape. Dan Barker commented: “If God told you to rape someone, would you do it? Some Christians, ignorant of biblical injunctions to rape, might answer, ‘God would never ask me to do that’” (Barker, 1992, p. 331, emp. added). If the honest truth seeker were to ask to see the “biblical injunctions to rape,” he would be struck by the fact that no such injunctions exist.

The passage that is most often used to “prove” that God condones rape is Numbers 31:25-40. In this passage, the young women who were taken captive after Moses destroyed the Midianites were divided between the Israelites and the priests. The priests were given responsibility for 32 of the women. Skeptics often suggest that these women were supplied so that the priests could abuse them sexually and rape them. But nothing could be further from the truth. The skeptic errs greatly in this regard either due to his ignorance of God’s instructions or willful dishonesty.

In Deuteronomy 21:10-14, Moses specifically stated what was to be done with female captives:

When you go out to war…and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife (emp. added).

It is important to understand that God has never condoned any type of sexual activity outside of a lawful marriage. The only way that an Israelite would be morally justified in having sexual intercourse with a female captive was if he made her his wife, granting to her the rights and privileges due to a wife. Notice that the Israelite male could not “go in to her” (a euphemism for sexual intercourse) until she had observed a period of mourning and cleansing, and he could only “go in to her” with the intent of being her husband.

When the skeptics’ allegations about God condoning rape are demolished by the very clear instructions in Deuteronomy 21, the attack is usually shifted, and God is accused of being unjust for allowing war prisoners or slavery of any kind, regardless of whether or not rape was permitted.  . . .

For the skeptic to imply that God condoned rape, using Numbers 31, without mentioning Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy 21, is unconscionable. It is simply another instance of dishonest propaganda designed to discredit God and the Bible.

***

Photo credit: The Rape of Tamar (c. 1640), by Eustache Le Sueur (1616-1655) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

***

August 8, 2018

Dr. Ted Drange is an atheist philosopher, renowned in atheist circles for his arguments against Christianity. Back around 2001, he started vigorously challenging me. At first I had no idea that he was a philosophy professor (which was a bit unfair, and should have been disclosed, but anyway . . .).  This particular argument was much ballyhooed on Jeffrey Jay Lowder’s Secular Web. He wrote there about it, and several papers along these lines; also about Dr. Drange in particular:

Philosopher Theodore Drange introduced a related but distinct argument for atheism in his 1998 book, Nonbelief and Evil. Drange calls his argument simply the “argument from nonbelief” and bases it upon all nonbelief, not just reasonable nonbelief. (In “Nonbelief as Support for Atheism,” Drange states he considers the distinction between culpable and inculpable nonbelief to be both unclear and irrelevant.)

Apparently the book was in part derived from a 1996 article, “The Arguments from Evil and Nonbelief .” It’s that article that I respond to below. It was from Dr. Drange that I learned (back in 2001 when I first encountered him) that otherwise intelligent atheists and academics like himself often don’t have the slightest clue what they are talking about when describing Christianity or the Bible.

Subsequently, I’ve seen countless examples of this ignorance and attempted “appearance of knowledge” where in fact there is little (and have numerous related posted dialogues to more than prove my assertion). Expertise and credentials in one area (philosophy or, oftentimes with atheists, science) doesn’t necessarily carry over into expertise in another (biblical exegesis and hermeneutics and the fine points of historic Christian doctrine). Credentials and book learning in completely separate fields can’t produce an “instant Bible scholar” or “Church historian” without the requisite study.

This trait was rather spectacularly exhibited by the famous atheist Richard Dawkins, in his (sadly) influential book, The God Delusion. I recently read it and critiqued it; particularly his outlandish pseudo-“arguments” regarding alleged biblical teachings.

Dr. Drange’s words will be in blue.

*****

According to this objection, which may be called “the Free-Will Defense” or FWD for short, premise (A3) of ANB is false because there is something that God wants even more strongly than situation S and that is the free formation of proper theistic belief.

It doesn’t follow that He wants it “more.” He wants both (as far as that goes), but both cannot (or often, or potentially cannot) exist together, and even an omnipotent being cannot make it so, if He creates and allows free will in human beings. I suspect that this misunderstanding will be the seed of further fallacious arguments . . . We’ll see.

God wants people to come to believe the propositions of set P freely and not as the result of any sort of coercion.

Indeed.

He knows that people would indeed believe those propositions if he were to directly implant the belief in their minds or else perform spectacular miracles before them.

In the first instance, yes, but that would be the coercion that God doesn’t desire. The second is untrue because it is known that whatever miracle occurs, many skeptics like you guys on this list will disbelieve it (see, e.g., Luke 16:30-31), because you either rule out the possibility of the miraculous beforehand (“define it away”) or make verification practically impossible, so that no miracle can occur, let alone a belief in God which oftentimes follows such a remarkable happening. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, who wouldn’t believe that he healed a blind man, when He did it right in front of them. They cared little about demonstrable fact (John 9:1-41 — all).

But for him to do that would interfere with their free will, which he definitely does not want to happen.

Miracles don’t interfere with free will, but people often refuse to believe them because of their false philosophical presuppositions or, e.g., unwillingness to accept the conclusion that the miracle suggests, about God, or about the difference that a God would make in their own life and responsibilities.

Since God’s desire that humans retain their free will outweighs his desire for situation S, it follows that premise (A3) is false, which makes ANB unsound.

It doesn’t “outweigh” anything in God’s desires; it is simply a state of affairs that makes sin and rebellion against God, and evil possible, and hence, human beings not believing in God, etc.

There are many objections to FWD. First and foremost, assuming that God wants to avoid interfering with people’s free will, it is not clear that that desire actually conflicts with his desire for situation S. Why should showing things to people interfere with their free will?

It doesn’t; I agree.

People want to know the truth.

Some do; not all, by a long shot. Of course all of us here are pure truth seekers who flee in horror from all falsehoods, no matter how minor. :-)

It would seem, then, that to show them things would not interfere with their will, but would conform to it. Even direct implantation of belief into a person’s mind need not interfere with his/her free will. If that person were to want true beliefs and not care how the beliefs are obtained, then for God to directly implant true beliefs into his/her mind would not interfere with, but would rather comply with, the person’s free will.

Only if he were free to change his mind. If not, it would interfere with his free will and free choice.

An analogy would be God making a large unexpected direct deposit into someone’s bank account. It would make the person quite pleased and would not at all interfere with his/her free will.

Sure, but this is irrelevant to the question at hand. The truly free person can now take that money and squander it in whatever fashion he likes. Likewise, free persons can reject God, even if they know that He is exactly what Christians claim Him to be, just as people rejected Jesus during His lifetime, even though He was an obviously and extraordinarily good person by virtually any criteria of ethics and behavior towards others.

Furthermore, as was explained previously in Section I, there are many different ways by which God might bring about situation S. It is not necessary for him to use either direct implantation or spectacular miracles. He could accomplish it through relatively ordinary means. It would be ludicrous to claim that free will has to be interfered with whenever anyone is shown anything.

Again, I agree. But this goes off into different ground from ANB proper (at least as Steve presented it). It’s really very simple: if people can freely choose, then that must include the possibility of a rejection of God. That’s utterly obvious, and is proven by the very beliefs of the folks on this list. You have all chosen to reject a belief in God. You claim there is no God to even reject.

Whether or not God actually exists is beside my current point. You have chosen to deny it. So if God exists, clearly there are people who reject Him and deny that He is the Supreme Being, worthy of a full allegiance, and so forth. If He does not exist, you still have freely made the choice. If you haven’t freely made it, then what is the point of having any discussions here at all, since we are all believing what we must believe and can do no other?

People have their beliefs affected every day by what they read and hear, and their free will remains intact. Finally, even the performance of spectacular miracles need not cause such interference. People want to know the truth. They particularly want to be shown how the world is really set up. To perform miracles for them would only conform to or comply with that desire. It would therefore not interfere with their free will. Hence, FWD fails to attack premise (A3) of ANB because it fails to present a desire on God’s part that conflicts with his desire for situation S. That failure makes the Free-Will Defense actually irrelevant to premise (A3).

What is irrelevant here is the shifting to this “spectacular miracles will prove to virtually every person that there is a God” approach. I suppose that is part of Ted’s overall argument (as I have heard him argue this before). But if so, it should have been a prominent part of the original presentation. I deny this new premise, and I deny that FWD rests on some alleged conflict between different desires of God. I am contending that FWD is true because there are certain things that even an omnipotent being cannot do, not because God desired one thing more than another.

Even if there were people whose free will would be interfered with by God showing them things, it would seem that such people would be benefited by coming to know how things really are. Quite apart from the issue of salvation, just being aware that there is a God who loves humanity and who has provided an afterlife for it would bring comfort and hope to people.

Sure it would. The Christian view is that all people know this without even a spectacular miracle before their eyes. And they know it by creation itself. The Apostle Paul makes the argument in Romans 1:18-32. He says that God’s “eternal power and divine nature” can be known by His creation (Romans 1:20). It’s a simple presentation of the Teleological Argument. Then he goes on to state that people reject truth even when they know full well what it is (Romans 1:18,21,25,28). The biblical and Christian view of human nature is far more pessimistic, and doesn’t see man as this objective truth machine who will inevitably follow truth whenever it is presented.

And again, that argument works and is fairly self-evident whether God exists or not. If He does, and if Christianity is true, then all of you disbelieve it. That shows both that you have the free will to do so, and that (granting our premises) truth can be rejected. If there is no God, on the other hand, then all of us Christians are rebelling against the obvious truth of atheism. You present your crystal-clear arguments to people like me and I reject them utterly. In that case, I am not seeking the truth you find to be so obvious and compelling. Either way, people are not truth-seekers by nature, and Ted’s point here fails, as clearly and demonstrably untrue, in both a theistic and an atheistic state of affairs in actuality.

A loving God would certainly want them to have such comfort and hope.

And He provides it, and all men know it, at least in outline form. We disagree on how much evidence is needed to establish that God exists. All anti-supernaturalists place the bar of “proof” so high that it will never be reached for most individuals in the world.

So, even if it were granted that showing things to some people interferes with their free will, FWD would still not work well, for it has not made clear why God should refrain from showing them things of which they ought to be aware. Such “interference with free will” seems to be just what such people need to get “straightened out”.

He has done so. There is creation itself; there is the law written upon our hearts” and conscience (Romans 2:15); there is widespread agreement across religions and cultures about basic moral tenets, and a religious awareness itself. And there is the Christian revelation and religious experience and miracles performed in history, and the life of Jesus, and (above all) His Resurrection, and on and on.

There are all kinds of evidences. It’s never enough for the atheist. That is the point, not that God should provide sufficient evidence and hasn’t done so. So again Ted is arguing in a circle. He assumes that this presentation of evidence is lacking, when in fact it is not. So that leads him to make silly arguments, such as, “it has not made clear why God should refrain from showing them things of which they ought to be aware.”

There is a further objection concerning God’s motivation. FWD seems to claim that God wants people to believe the propositions of set P in an irrational way, without good evidence.

I don’t see how, unless one accepts Ted’s straw man presentation of what both Christianity and FWD supposedly teach.

But why would he want that? Why would a rational being create people in his own image and then hope that they become irrational?

He doesn’t. It’s a straw man. Atheism is the irrational path, and it is chosen voluntarily.

Furthermore, it is not clear just how people are supposed to arrive at the propositions of set P in the absence of good evidence.

I agree.

Is picking the right religion just a matter of lucky guesswork? Is salvation a kind of cosmic lottery? Why would God want to be involved in such an operation?

Indeed. More non sequiturs . . .

Sometimes the claim is made that, according to the Bible, God really does want people to believe things without evidence. Usually cited for this are the words of the resurrected Christ to no-longer-doubting Thomas: “because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

This is not an encouragement of belief without evidence, and quite obviously so, as this very passage occurs when Jesus has appeared to Thomas after His Resurrection, telling Thomas to put his hands in his wounds. So, clearly, Jesus isn’t enjoining a blind, irrational, non-empirical faith, because He has just appeared, offering empirical proof in His own resurrected body! That might be enough even for Ted! If I fell into a tree shredder in front of Ted and came out hamburger, and then my body came back together and I was resurrected and came to Ted and had him feel all my shred-wounds, perhaps he would suspect that there was something to this afterlife business. Or he could convince himself that he had too many drinks, or was hallucinating, etc.

To reach such a conclusion of supposed “fideism” or “blind faith” in this passage, context has to be thrown to the wind, and literal absurdity adopted as “exegesis.” Jesus is not knocking evidences for faith at all; rather, He is simply praising those who can believe without having to have such miracles as a requirement before they will believe. And that is because there are many evidences of Christianity besides miracles.

Also, Peter praises those who believe in Jesus without seeing him (I Peter 1:8). But the message here may not be that God wants people to believe things without any evidence whatever. It may be, rather, that there are other forms of evidence than seeing, such as, for example, the testimony of friends. Perhaps God is simply indicating that he approves of belief based on the testimony of others.

Yes, much better. This is exactly what Peter is saying here. He is simply extolling their faith. But the same Peter appealed to empirical eyewitness testimony of the risen Jesus: his own (see, e.g., Acts 2:32, 2 Peter 1:16).

Note that, earlier, the resurrected Christ had upbraided some of his disciples for not trusting the testimony of other disciples (Mark 16:14). His words to Thomas may have been just a continuation of that theme.

Correct. And He rebuked them precisely because they were disciples and had seen enough miracles to know Who Jesus was. In other words, it is a special case, if one had walked with Jesus for three years and missed all His miracles, and wouldn’t even believe Him when He predicted that he would rise from the dead (see, e.g., John 10:17-18).

Thus, it is not clear that God desires irrational belief on the part of humans, nor is it clear why he should want that, if indeed he does.

Good; now you know that Christianity is not blind faith or fideism at all. Quite the opposite; we stake our claims on empirical evidence and eyewitness testimony.

As another objection to FWD, even if it were true that showing people things interferes with their free will, that seems not to have been a very important consideration for God. According to the Bible, he did many things, some of them quite spectacular, in order to cause observers to have certain beliefs. An advocate of the argument needs to explain why God was willing to do such things in the past but is no longer willing to do them in the present.

Again, Ted assumes that miracles no longer occur: more circular argument. For example, there was the miracle of the sun at Fatima, Portugal in 1917, connected with the Marian apparitions there. Thousands of people saw the sun spinning like a pinwheel; then all of a sudden everyone was dry, where before it was rainy and muddy. The ground was instantly dry too. This was a crowd of thousands, and is a miracle somewhat similar to Ted’s hypothetical of (if I remember correctly) “John 3:16 written on the stars.”

Here was something involving the sun (in some sense) and the elements (rain) and thousands of eyewitnesses. But will Ted accept that? Of course not; he will dismiss it as a fairy tale and nonsense. And if the same thing occurred tomorrow and Ted was there, I suspect that he would find some way to reject that, too, because his prior presuppositions do not allow such a thing.

My best guess as to the nature of the miracle at Fatima is that God simultaneously made everyone see the same thing, by changing something in their brains or eyes. The water and mud drying up is something else again. That would be a miracle where the thing itself changed, rather than perceptions of it. God could, of course, do the same thing with the stars, in Ted’s scenario. We could even look at it in a telescope, but if God performed some sort of galactic optical illusion, we wouldn’t know if the stars had actually moved, or if our perception was altered. None of that is logically impossible for God to do.

Something remarkable happened at Fatima, and all the skeptic can say is that there were thousands of nutcases there, or it was a communal acid trip or something (just as with all the implausible alternate “explanations” of Jesus’ Resurrection). The cavalier dismissals of strange happenings are often as ridiculous as the detractors of miracles claim alleged miracles are. How many people can be nuts at once, for heaven’s sake?

Finally, the claim that God has non-interference with human free will as a very high priority is not well supported in Scripture. According to the Bible, God killed millions of people.

Millions, huh? I am dying to know how you arrive at this description of “millions.”

***

Surely that interfered with their free will, considering that they did not want to die.

God is also judge and has the prerogative over life and death. He created it, so He can take the life away and judge human lives. This shouldn’t be a controversial notion for anyone who advocates abortion, where a human being who merely conceived (not created) a child has a so-called “right” to destroy it as they choose. I don’t think your average child in the womb (with a heartbeat at 18 days and brain waves at six weeks) “wants to die” either. And that wrecks their free will.

So one (who holds such a view on abortion) can hardly quibble with the notion that God has the power of life or death over those whom He created. But God’s judgment is perfectly just and righteous, whereas child-killing is not at all. And the Creator-creature gulf is much greater than the big person-little person distinction. God killed people because they deserved judgment. We kill our own because they are small and helpless and inconvenient. Yet we sit in judgment of God?

Furthermore, the Bible suggests that God knows the future and predestines people’s fates.

God predestines only to heaven, not to hell, as most Christians have believed (excluding Calvinists). And even that involves human cooperation. It is a paradox and one of the most mysterious elements in theology, but man is free in some sense, within the parameters that God sets, just as the fish freely chooses where to swim in its fish tank, not being very conscious of the limitations of the glass edges of the aquarium.

That, too, may interfere with human free will. In addition, there are many obstacles to free will in our present world (famine, mental retardation, grave diseases, premature death, etc.) and God does little or nothing to prevent them.

But He also takes into account how these would affect people’s choices, religion-wise. When there is an eternal afterlife, that vastly changes the perspective on suffering on this earth. All atheists have is this life, so suffering is a much greater difficulty in their position and attempt to find meaning in life, than in the Christian position. The atheist life on earth is analogous to the entire universe, whereas the Christian life on earth is but one atom of the entire universe. The rest of the universe is analogous to the relative amount of the afterlife in one’s existence.

This is not conclusive proof that God does not have human free will as a high priority, but it does count against it. It is at least another difficulty for the Free-Will Defense. Considering these many objections, the argument seems not to work very well. Let us turn to a different defense against ANB.

I disagree entirely, and have stated my reasons why. We are either free beings or we are not. The alternative is determinism, which would render this whole discussion meaningless, as it was not free, but only an inevitable playing-out of some molecular process. Why bother convincing someone when it is not in your power to do so because they can only do what they are programmed to do?

***

It is not that atheism is obviously true, but that ANB (which very few people know about) is obviously sound.

Rather, it is obviously false because it is built on fallacious premises, as I have already shown, and will continue to demonstrate as we proceed.

The concept is so very simple: If God were to exist then he would want people to be aware of the gospel message (what his son did for them) and could cause them to be aware of it. But most people on our planet do not even believe the gospel message. Hence, God does not exist.

Hogwash. If God were to exist then He would want people to be aware of Him, in order to obtain eschatological (a 50-cent word, meaning “last things,” or “in the end”) salvation. He does that in ways which are more than merely the proclamation of the gospel (as explained in Romans 1 and 2). Thus, every person has the opportunity to be saved, whether they hear the gospel or not.

Therefore, God has indeed made fair provision, and your argument crumbles to dust (insofar as it is directed at the internal inconsistency of some supposed Christian belief-system). The Christian view already anticipates this objection and has more than adequately provided a counter-response to it.

What you need is more knowledge about how Christianity views salvation, and the attainment of same. You argue against something that Christians don’t hold in the first place. Small minorities hold such a position, but I’m sure you don’t want your argument directed towards those folks, but towards mainstream Christianity.

You say that God refrains from enlightening people on the matter because for him to do so would interfere with their free will,

That is not my argument, as explained several times already.

but that assumes something false: that enlightening people interferes with their free will. It just ain’t so!

I agree! If only you guys could figure that out. This forms no part of my argument, correctly-understood. Maybe Alvin Plantinga has explained better than I did.

In fact, it’s the exact opposite: enlightening people (especially about matters of importance to their future) enhances their free will. It increases their options and makes them more free than they were before.

I agree again.

It is ignorance, not enlightenment, that interferes with free will.

I think it makes for a much less-informed free will. To that extent I agree.

Why is it that people who have heard ANB remain Christians? It is because Christianity, which has been drummed into their brains from very young, comforts them, and it is also, that they really have not thought ANB all the way through.

In other words, you opt for the traditional atheist/skeptical recourse to the ignorance of Christians, and infantile recourse to God-as-Father. That won’t work with me or any informed Christian, and the tables can be turned, too, as I have done here in the past, with my “psychology of atheism” posts.

They come up with unsound defenses, like FWD, and are not aware of the refutations of those defenses.

Feel free to overcome the arguments I have given. Bald, unsubstantiated claims are not impressive. Whether or not some Christians are ignorant or misinformed (as indeed some are) has no bearing on the truth or falsity of my arguments.

How could having free will interfere with everyone knowing a certain truth? People have free will and yet they all know that stars exist. Why couldn’t the proposition that God exists be as obvious to everyone as the proposition that stars exist? . . .

Indeed it is:

Romans 1:19-20 (RSV) . . . what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (

David Hume made a very similar argument:

Wherever I see order, I infer from experience that there, there hath been Design and Contrivance . . . the same principle obliges me to infer an infinitely perfect Architect from the Infinite Art and Contrivance which is displayed in the whole fabric of the universe. (Letters, 25-26)

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)

Or was Hume simply ignorant of ANB too, or was it because Hume had Christianity “drummed into his brain from very young,” which “comforted” him, leading him into a silly and false philosophy that had been expressed by St. Paul some 1700 years earlier?

***

(originally 2-26-03; new introduction added on 8-8-18)

Photo credit: StockSnap (uploaded on 8-6-17) [PixabayCC0 Creative Commons license]

***

August 8, 2018

His words will be in blue.

I had already established beyond all doubt from his own words — three months ago — that Seidensticker (who runs the popular Cross Examined blog at Patheos) is one of the distressingly common condescending atheists, who thinks Christians are (on the whole or generalizing) dishonest, hateful, infantile, anti-evidential (“Christians might sidestep that whole evidence and argument thing”: 7-31-18), anti-scientific, anti-intellectual fools and simpletons, who worship a morally atrocious “god.” I discuss the phenomenon of the “angry atheist” ad how this wrecks dialogue, at length in my Discussion Policy post.

He has proven it all the more with recent posts. In his latest post (yesterday), he wrote: “Christianity supports hateful social policy . . .” Like many atheists, he takes the epistemologically naive and stunted view of scientism: that science is the only legitimate means of knowledge. Hence he stated four days ago: “Science is the only discipline that tells us new things about reality.” He engages in the tired, slanderous “pie-in-the-sky” polemical schtick in a post from July 31st

[T]he Christian worldview is the one that devalues life. Of what value is tomorrow to the Christian when they imagine they’ll have a trillion tomorrows? What value are a few short years here on earth when they have eternity in heaven? . . . a shell of a life, with real life waiting for you in the hereafter . . . 

Christians are essentially dishonest and reality-denying (post of 7-27-18):

Apologists imagine God belief as this kind of obtuse puzzle, not because the evidence points that way but because they’re forced to. They have no choice, . . . Unwilling to give up their beliefs or to admit that they’ve been wrong, they assume Goddouble down on faith, and invent these bizarre rationalizations. . . . A loving creator god who desired a relationship with his creation would just make himself known. We have insufficient evidence to overcome the default hypothesis, that God is yet another made-up supernatural being.

Here’s an example of how he caricatures and savages God Himself: (7-25-18):

Consider the Mr. Hyde Christians make for their god and notice the childish dependency. . . . Let’s imagine that a child from a Christian household dies in an “act of God” sort of way. Maybe it’s leukemia or a birth defect or just an accident. If that family finds comfort in the belief that this was all part of God’s plan, they’ve now created a new problem: they’ve made God into a heartless jerk. This just turns one problem into another. Why can’t God get what he wants done without killing people? He’s morally perfect, so he’d want to avoid killing people, and he’s omnipotent, so he is able to achieve his purposes without killing people (more). And yet he still kills people. Is “My god is a jerk” really easier to live with  . . . 

In the same paper he pulls out the ancient, idiotic “Christians are gullible and infantile” card:

But as she becomes an adult, she must grow up. We leave behind wishing wells, Santa Claus, blankies, and other false comforts as we become independent. No longer are the necessities of life given to us; as adults, we must fend for ourselves—indeed, we want to fend for ourselves. Religion infantilizes adults and keeps them dependent. That’s a good thing for the 100-billion-dollar-a-year U.S. religion industry, but what is best for the individual—a pat on the head and an unevidenced promise of the supernatural, or reality? . . . 

Do people get a dose of some neuropeptide when they curl into a fetal position and have Mommy take care of them? . . . You don’t need to be born again; you need to grow up. Christianity infantilizes its devotees. Putting faith in God has never produced anything. [Dave: of course not!: only trifling things like colleges, hospitals, modern science, the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, most of the great art and music (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.) and a host of other things spearheaded by Christianity ]

He even sinks so low as to mock and lie about the Christian concern about legal childkilling (7-19-18):

Abortion makes baby Jesus cry, so apparently Christian voters must step into the breach since Jesus is just a baby and can’t do anything about it. But notice the irony: the last thing conservative politicians want is a society with no abortion because they thrive on anxiety about abortion. If they couldn’t claim that the sky is falling, these Chicken Littles wouldn’t know how to rally their base.

Examples are legion and could be multiplied like the loaves and the fish. All of the above occurred in just a 20-day period.

That established, let’s now discuss his blocking. He obviously wasn’t blocked merely for disagreeing with Christianity or being a manifest bigot against it and inveterate liar about All Things Christian, since he’s been allowed to rant and rave on my blog since at least May. It’s equally obvious that I am not “scared” and “terrified” of interacting with atheists (much less his own facile, inane arguments), since I have engaged in scores and scores of debates with them (often with professors) over the 37 years I’ve been doing apologetics.

Seidensticker was free as a bird to interact here, provided he simply observed the usual protocol of the Internet: exhibiting at least rudimentary respect for the views of the site where one is commenting. To not do so is to be a troll: defined by the Urban Dictionary as follows:

Trolling – (verb), as it relates to internet, is the deliberate act, (by a Troll – noun or adjective), of making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums with the intent to provoke an emotional knee jerk reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument[.]
*
Trolling on-line forums as described above is actually analogous to the fishing technique of “trolling”, where colorful baits and lures are pulled behind a slow moving boat, often with multiple fishing lines, covering a large bodies of water, such as a large lake or the ocean. The trolling lures attract unsuspecting fish, intriguing them with the way they move through the water, thus enticing these foolish fish to “take the bait”. Not unlike unsuspecting internet victims, once hooked, the fish are reeled in for the catch before they realize they have been duped by the Troll/Fisherman[.]
.
This guy made a really rude and off the wall comment about my You Tube video, I think he was just trolling for a response, but I ignored him[.]
More simply, I define a troll as one who isn’t serious about discussion: either out of apathy, or inconsideration and rudeness, or being so bigoted against a particular view that he or she cannot possibly fairly or constructively interact with it. Hence, the one who comes to a site with that hostile outlook is essentially a game-playing sophist. My blog isn’t a platform for various hostile opinions to be preached, minus legitimate discussion.
Hence in the present instance, Seidensticker wanted to talk about slavery, in a thread devoted to the killing of the Amalekites. Someone else introduced it first, and then Bob took it up, which was fine. But he soon showed that he wasn’t interested in open and honest discussion, even when I took up his challenge. I referred the first questioner to an extensive treatment of Slavery laws in the Old Testament from the very thorough Protestant apologist Glenn Miller. Seidensticker, true to form, blew that off, calling it “a thorough commentary” but then singling out one line and ignoring it otherwise.
So I thought (not wanting to get into the rather complex topic at that particular moment) I would offer him my own collection of links on slavery. The idea was to educate him on the relationship of Christianity to slavery, so that he can be disabused of his prejudices. But precisely because of those biases, he wasn’t interested. I made my intentions clear:

Not interested at the moment in a huge debate with an atheist about slavery. I’ll simply note that it just so happened that Christians were always or almost always in the forefront of banning it.

No matter, he went right on with a goading, provocative comment. I guess he hadn’t figured out that I don’t fall for that sort of baiting. I’m interested in serious discussion with open-minded opponents: not sophistry and one-way nonsense. Someone else chimed in and Bob answered with a longer comment. In it, he made a false statement about the ancient Hebrews:

What we know for certain is that “love your neighbor” covers a lot fewer subjects than you’d think at first. “Neighbor” only meant “fellow Israelite.”

This was something I had recently addressed (thus could easily reply to with a cut-and-paste without taking up too much of my time), so I responded:

You’re completely full of hot air. It so happens that I just refuted Richard Dawkins, spouting the same kind of inane, asinine biblically illiterate nonsense:

“Jesus limited his in-group of the saved strictly to Jews, in which respect he was following the Old Testament tradition, . . . ‘Thou shalt not kill’ . . . meant, very specifically, thou shalt not kill Jews. . . . ‘Neighbour’ means fellow Jew.” (The God Delusion, p. 254)

I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony. Where to begin?! This is an absurd, asinine, ignorant, completely false claim. Let’s see, for starters:

[then I cited a lengthy argument from my earlier paper against Dawkins, ending as follows]:

Once again, Dawkins flails away at the straw men of his own making. He does that throughout his whole book, as I have repeatedly shown in these four critiques. In a word, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about (hardly even has a clue), and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know. It’s sad and beyond pathetic that such an educated man (a scientist) — indeed, the most renowned atheist in the world — could exhibit so much disinformation and lack of comprehension of that which he professes to be intelligently critiquing.

Now, his response to this thorough treatment of the aspect of “neighbor” in the Old Testament was what proved to be his undoing (in terms of freedom to comment on my blog), because it demonstrated beyond doubt that he had not the slightest interest in the actual truth of the matter. He is the typical hostile atheist who thinks he’s an expert on the Bible, but approaches it as (I always like to say) a butcher approaches a hog. Rather than interact with my extensive presented reasoning (a direct reply to something he asserted), he ignored it and blew it off:

Oh, come now. We know each other well enough that you needn’t be coy. Drop the Christian charity and tell us what you really thought of his arguments. Dawkins is right—“neighbor” means fellow Jew. . . . This is how a courtroom lawyer makes a case–finding bits here and there and then cobbling together a case. Any contrary information he ignores. That’s how it works in the courtroom, but someone trying to find the truth looks at all the evidence.

After a few other exchanges that can be read on the thread, Bob stated:

What’s startling is that neither God nor Jesus set the world straight on slavery or even abolished the institution instantly. It’s almost like they didn’t see much wrong with it. Christians did their work against slavery and for civil rights 1800 years after Jesus in spite of the clear teachings in the Old Testament, not because of them.

I replied, knowing the game he was playing, and so resorting to some sarcasm:

It’s complex, which is why I gave you a bunch of links for you to explore, that deal with the issue in sufficient depth. I know how very concerned you are always to treat Christianity with the utmost fairness, so knock yourself out reading!

And he comes back with passive-aggressive BS:

Did you give me resources to help me out with my lack of understanding, or was that just a smokescreen? Sure, I could wade through all that. Given past history, however, I doubt I’d learn anything new relevant to my question: what do you think about God’s support for slavery for life in Lev. 25:44-46? If you can cut to the chase, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Or, if you don’t have time, that’s fine. [my emphasis]

This was the usual routine with atheists who don’t give a damn about truly learning the actual Christian position on things (rather than toying with mere caricatures of them that they can mock and dismiss, in an illusory show of alleged argumentative “strength”). I’ve seen it dozens of times. If you provide the typical hostile / angry / “know-it-all-about-the-Bible” atheist with serious material to actually learn something (after they inquire and start the discussion), they complain that they don’t have time, and only want to hear your opinion.

This is a dead giveaway that they are either engaged in sophistry or some other sort of trolling: not honest discussion. Otherwise they would offer thanks for the resources and get busy reading, so the discussion could advance to the next stage, with knowledge, not atheist talking-points and salivating “gotcha!” rhetoric only. Since his “anti-dialogue” motivation was utterly obvious by that point, I called him out:

If you don’t have time to do the necessary research on a complex topic, I don’t have the time to play your “gotcha” games. We know you’re a bigot against Christianity. That was already established from your own words on your site.

This was, of course, too much for him to handle, and he started in on the gratuitous insults (whereas my statement was purely based on documented facts of how he had acted; what he had written, per the above information). He pretended that the whole problem was with my approach, not his (i.e., the projection game):

You couldn’t just go with the “An interesting question, but this requires more time than I have at the moment, sorry” brushoff? You had to give me the Armstrong love bombing approach?

Tip: find a trusted friend who can read and summarize your comments–either for a week, or maybe just your interactions with antagonists, or maybe just this one brief conversation with me. Ask them how they think you come across to objective readers and see if there isn’t a little room for improvement in your approach.

I replied to someone else:

As I told Bob, it’s complex (and it’s also a matter of definition: slavery in the Bible is not identical to that in the South in the 1750s, etc.), which I why I provided all the links. This is much more complicated than mere fodder for yet more atheist “gotcha!” polemics.

Bob then basically accused me of one of his pet charges against Christians: intellectual dishonesty, then I responded:

Interact with the actual Christian argument for once and cease with the smart ass sound bites. I think you’re capable of it. I showed at length that you (just like Dawkins: another biblical “expert”) don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, with this “neighbor” business. The wise man learns when corrected. You were educated about how the ancient Hebrews viewed “neighbors.” And so you ignore it and go right on with your usual schtick. It just doesn’t work here. You’ll have to make actual on-topic arguments. I don’t play the hit-and-run games.

He replied: “You’re playing some kind of games.”

I wasn’t at all. I was trying in vain to have an honest, open discussion with him. He wasn’t interested, and we know why he wasn’t (his existing bigotry against Christianity). This was the final straw and so he was blocked. He flatly refused to have a real dialogue, so I decided to no longer allow his anti-Christian, anti-God, anti-Bible bilge on my Catholic site. That’s trolling, and is universally understood to be unethical.

I wrote this piece, because whenever I block a prominent atheist I catch hell either from the person involved, or his comrades, who then engage in tirades, lying about how I did so because I was scared or because I am an arbitrary censor who wants to shut down critiques of Christianity. The reason has nothing whatsoever to do with either of those bogus claims, and is exactly what I laid out above.

***

Photo credit: katutaide (7-1-09). Anti-Christian graffiti in Tampere, Finland [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license]

***

June 25, 2018

This exchange with Damien Priestly took place underneath my post, Dialogue with an Atheist on the Origin of the Universe. I’ve rearranged the order in order to make the dialogue flow back-and-forth per my usual custom). His words will be in blue.

*****

Wow, the post here so that narrow that the author cannot see his own old fashioned view of “matter” — that in fact, things that are not matter actually exist…e.g. energy in the radiation of electromagnetic theory which has no mass, also other forms of radiation. This radiation and associated particle wavelengths and interactions explain how changes in matter occur and how matter can be created…how chemistry comes into being, including the organic chemistry that forms life and our nervous systems and consciousness. Yet the post dismisses science and instead pushes an undefined God !!

According to theoretical physicist Matt Strassler, it is a false dichotomy to pit matter and energy against each other. He explains:

In reality, matter and energy don’t even belong to the same categories; it is like referring to apples and orangutans, or to heaven and earthworms, or to birds and beach balls. . . . energy is not itself stuff; it is something that all stuff has. . . . Photons should not be called `energy’, or `pure energy’, or anything similar. All particles are ripples in fields and have energy; photons are not special in this regard. Photons are stuff; energy is not. . . .

Energy is something which objects can have, and groups of objects can have — a property of objects that characterizes their behavior and their relationships to one another.

In other words, “energy” is about relations of things that are material. The same could be said about mathematics and logic. This is a non-issue, and irrelevant to my argument.

The theist would never deny that “things that are not matter actually exist.” That’s what we believe God is, remember? God the Father is an immaterial spirit. Anyone who is a philosophical dualist (include atheists in that category) believes there are things other than matter. Duh!

And this OP bashes science that has already answered questions far more sophisticated than this post presents. The author knows that non-living chemistry can be far more complex than living things, right? DNA is far less complex than other chemistry such as polymers, catalysts, other organic chains, etc.. Life may be simple enough to produce in a laboratory from non-living chemicals, stay tuned…

Yeah, I’m waiting. Let me know when that happens.

[Good _Samaritan later chimed in, in the combox:

Almost 10 years ago. [link]

That’s interesting. I should have made myself more clear, though. Doing this is still vastly different from explaining / proving how life as we know it actually evolved from non-life, all by itself (or how its precursors like DNA evolved). Of course this is a laboratory experiment, with human beings assuming certain things as “premises” and making other things happen as a result. I don’t think it’s worthless or insignificant, but it is a far cry from a full explanation in the sense that I describe.

One (BBC) article about it states:

The researchers copied an existing bacterial genome. They sequenced its genetic code and then used “synthesis machines” to chemically construct a copy. The scientists “decoded” the chromosome of an existing bacterial cell – using a computer to read each of the letters of genetic code.

That’s entirely different from explaining the process by which such DNA (and the life that comes from it) evolved in the first place, which is what I was really driving at. It tells us nothing whatever about that. They simply “copied an existing bacterial genome”: which is virtually cloning or something similar, but tells us nothing about originating evolution. ]

Does the author know that life may not have come into existence at any distinct time…that instead it formed in a continuum…just as there is not one day you suddenly become middle aged?

Not even considered here are answers provided by the broken symmetries that occurred after the Big-Bang which we know about — described by Weinberg, Higgs, Gerardus ‘t Hooft, Glashow, and others have provided? — That formed subatomic particles from unified energy of various bosonic forces. No, the OP just says some magical God likely did everything. Injecting A god(s) into ontology solves nothing…it is just a Band-Aid for the faithful.

How and when did this God come into being? 

He never did. He’s eternal.

Answer that before bashing real science.

Just did. I haven’t bashed science (real or not) at all. I’ve simply noted some of its inherent epistemological (and theoretical) limitations.

Demonstrate that?

That’s not what you originally asked, which was: “How and when did this God come into being?” Anyone who knows anything about theology knows that that is a meaningless question, since what is believed about God is that He is eternal, and hence, never came into being. So either you were ignorant enough to not know that (which I don’t believe for a second) or you were just doing the usual, provocative atheist garden variety question schtick (Richard Dawkins played the same silly game, asking the same silly question, in his God Delusion: which I recently extensively critiqued).

Or are you just sheepishly removing yourself from any serious discussion?

I don’t see how (let alone supposedly “sheepishly”). You obviously don’t know a thing about me, my writings, or my 800+ online debates, including scores and scores with atheists. You asked a dumb question and I answered it straight.

One could just as easily say all the matter and energy in the universe(s) are eternal

You could say it, but it carries little weight, since that hasn’t been established as plausible, based on the scientific data. Matter and energy are subject to scientific laws; God is not. I was just dealing with that topic yesterday in my Dialogue w Atheist on the Origin of the Universe.

God(s) then are a redundant complication

He is in your view because you have ruled Him out from the outset. You’re in an impenetrable and arbitrary epistemological bubble of your own making.

but scientists, and nobody else, should speculate.

Bull hockey! Scientists don’t possess the sum of all knowledge. This is a self-defeating statement, since you imply that all other knowledge is useless; yet science itself is but a form of philosophy (empiricism). Therefore, philosophy must also be a valid form of knowledge (else science isn’t, being philosophy at bottom and in its starting premises).

***

You must have flunked out of Sunday School.

A pejorative, typical.

Misunderstood mild sarcasm, as usual . . .

Anyhow, all the intelligent, inquisitive kids flunk Sunday school — the gullible pass with flying colors!

Like I said, you missed the humorous sarcasm, and so you make this dumb comment.

***

God of the gaps never goes away does it?

See my Dialogue with an Atheist on “God of the Gaps”.

Atheist derision and grandiose unproven claims never go away, do they?

The author of this post should be embarrassed…Get a physics, micro-biology or chemistry PhD…then study up on real science, particle physics, chemistry and genetics before pushing any speculative God as an answer.

You’ve offered no answer to the many serious objections you raise there. All you’ve shown is that you know a lot of details about science (as, presumably a scientist). Congratulations! But that has nothing to do with the questions I raise. You can know ten trillion different facts and scientific bits of information (I’m mightily impressed by what you’ve already expressed in that regard!), while still failing to explain how life and consciousness evolved and how the universe originated (what caused it, etc.). I think science is great, wonderful, one of the biggest blessings in life. But I don’t think it explains everything (that seems to be your self-delusion). It’s not the sum of all possible knowledge.

And it hasn’t wiped out God: much as you would love for that to be the case.

All you have done here is show how afraid theists are of science…I understand why!

You don’t understand anything about me, and quite obviously so. I wrote (mostly edited) an entire book about science. And I have an extensive web page on it.

Far from being “afraid” of science, I absolutely love it, and have yet to be shown how it disproves God or Christianity in the slightest. If anyone should be said to be “afraid”: that would be you. You seem to be afraid of any sort of knowledge besides science. You appear to have made it your religion. Scientism . . .

***

No, it was fair question! And you won’t answer.

You assert something is eternal, and then you cannot demonstrate or support that assertion. You just say it is a meaningless question. Again, as I previously stated, you just remove yourself from any serious discussion.

It does not matter how may debates you have been in or how many blogs or web pages you have…You can’t just define an eternal being into existence and exempt it from any laws…then claim others must use laws that you avoid, scientific or otherwise. That is not the way epistemology works. It is the way children argue.

At least, just admit up front that you are exempting yourself from any need to justify or demonstrate claims you make…that is only for your opponents to do. Scientists don’t claim to have the sum of all knowledge and will say “I don’t know” when it is the appropriate answer. Theists who can’t do that — Yes, they live in fear, rightfully so.

I assumed you weren’t utterly ignorant of the history of philosophy, the theistic arguments for God’s existence, and philosophy of religion. But it looks like you are, or else you wouldn’t ask such stupid questions.

Once again you misrepresent what even happened. I didn’t say that the assertion of God’s eternal existence and reasons we would give for that is “meaningless” or that we can offer no evidence suggesting it. I said in reply to your original question, “How and when did this God come into being?” that “Anyone who knows anything about theology knows that that is a meaningless question, since what is believed about God is that He is eternal, and hence, never came into being.”

Then you started into the personal attacks and juvenile mind-reading, because I refused to play your game of topic-switching and inane “gotcha” silliness. You say I remove myself from “serious discussion” while at the same time making it manifestly obvious that you have no interest in that in the first place (not with Christians, anyway). This is obvious in your comments elsewhere (six days ago), where you write that “The Bible is incoherent and immoral” and “Jesus, if real, was often a ranting whiner” and refer to “these idiotic old holy books.”

If you want to know the reasons we would give, from philosophy and philosophy of science for why we believe God is eternal (which is revealed most fully in the Bible), then we refer you to the cosmological and teleological arguments. I have compiled a great many articles by scholars on those topics. Knock yourself out!

***

Photo credit: [PublicDomainPictures.Net / CC0 Public Domain license]

***

June 24, 2018

“Anthrotheist” commented in the combox of my post, Dialogue w Atheist on the Origin of the Universe. His words will be in blue.

*****

I can’t help but feel like there is still a “God of the gaps” in effect here.

Of course. I think it’s because that is the stock response of lots of atheists, whenever we dare bring up God at all. Since you guys think He is nonexistent and belief in Him the equivalent of belief in leprechauns and Santa Claus, if we mention Him there has to be some way to dismiss it altogether, and that is usually good ol’ “God of the gaps.” You don’t acknowledge that belief in God can explain anything.

Because theism is not a scientific explanation, you assume it is somehow “anti-science”: thus, the knee-jerk “God of the gaps” objection, which basically is intended to shut down further discussion, since the theist is wrongly thought to be relying on mere silliness and an anti-scientific attitude (which in turn precludes serious discussion, for the materialistic, science-only-sort of person). But honing in on the limitations of science is not anti-science at all.

We could just as easily say that you guys simply substitute the goddess of Time (give it enough time and anything whatever can occur) or  the atom-gods: which possess all the remarkable creative and organizational abilities that we ascribe to God, and for no more discernible scientifically established reason than we can attribute to God. I don’t see all that much difference, in an epistemological sense. Both sides must appeal (for lack of any better idea) to notions that are outside of the scientific purview. And that’s okay, and fully to be expected, because science is not the entire sum of human knowledge in the first place.

And in that context of equally nonexistent answers and reasons (from a strictly scientific, empirical  perspective), we think God is more plausible as the candidate for having godlike qualities than the atom (or, sub-atomic particles, as it were). That’s not merely “god of the gaps”; rather, it is part and parcel of the serious, respectable philosophical worldview of theism.

It is true that there is no current scientific theory that explains either how life can originate from non-life, or how life did originate from non-life.

I don’t see why there cannot be an understood “yet” at the end of this statement.

There could be, but the problem is that it seems to be an indefinite “yet.” Oftentimes, this mindset is of the danging a carrot: always there, but inevitably out of reach. I often think of scientists, say, 50 years ago, in 1968 and a scenario in which they were asked, “do you think that, 50 years from now, we will have a plausible explanation of a materialistic evolution of life from non-life, and/or proof of extraterrestrial life?” I would venture to guess that some 90% of them would say that one or both of those things would surely have occurred by now. It’s obvious in scientific rhetoric that the explanation or discovery is often widely assumed to be just around the corner.

So it  becomes a technique itself (and not a particularly impressive one). They casually assume that science can, or one day will, be able to explain anything whatever (which is a very questionable assumption), because they think matter and time and chance / probability can explain anything (making those three things gods), and because they rule out any possible theistic explanation or the possibility that maybe God didn’t want life anywhere but on earth: that life and human beings indeed are unique in the universe.

On the other hand, if such life is discovered, it doesn’t disprove God in the slightest (even though many will say that it does, just as they have fallaciously done with evolution for over 150 years. Christians like C. S. Lewis have already written about this possibility (as I have myself). Life somewhere else doesn’t “prove” that it could come about through solely materialistic processes, anymore than life on earth has proven that. Scientists don’t have the slightest clue how it supposedly happened. But they will!, they will!, they will! ad infinitum . . .

We didn’t have a scientific theory of most diseases before germ theory, nor any scientific explanation for the diversity of life before the theory of evolution.

The problem is not simply admitting that we don’t know something (scientifically). The problem is that God can never be proposed as the explanation for anything. I agree that Christians have been quick to credit God with what was merely natural; but atheists have also been quick to deny that God could do anything. I find both things equally closed-minded and unreasonable.

This to me is the larger point: looking at a difficult question, one that seems insurmountable, and saying “God did it” doesn’t get you anywhere.

It doesn’t scientifically, because that’s not scientific method. But it can go quite a ways in philosophy and theology: which don’t have the pretense of claiming that their own field of knowledge is the only one that exists.

At best, it pushes the quest for knowledge to the fringes of society to be conducted in secluded and cloistered institutions in relative obscurity (and only indirectly funded by organizations with resources to spare);

If that’s what you call philosophy and theology (mathematics and logic are not empirical, either) . . . I don’t. I think they are fields just as valuable and productive and worthy of respect as science. And once again you simply exhibit your extreme bias and prejudice against non-scientific (not unscientific or anti-scientific! )thinking.

at worst, it produces an attempt at an epistemology derived from forgone conclusions like “Intelligent Design” (i.e., re-branded Creationism).

Intelligent design is not necessarily creationism. Richard Dawkins stated in his book that microbiologist Michael Behe was a creationist. He’s not. He is a theistic evolutionist, as he has clearly stated. But he thinks that materialistic processes cannot adequately explain the complexity of even microbiology alone. He thinks a Designer is required. So do I. And so have great philosophical minds like David Hume (who was not an atheist, and believed in a form of the teleological argument). Einstein was not a theist, but he thought it self-evident that there was a wonder and beauty and (if you will) design to the universe that atheism couldn’t come close to explaining. He didn’t try to explain it by science alone, because he knew that was foolish. And this sense was what he called his own “religion.”

You want to talk about “foregone conclusions”? I have already noted some of your own:

1) Life must have evolved from non-life, by materialistic processes.

2) The universe must have come about by purely materialistic processes, based on the potentialities of matter, which originated who knows how?

3) God and His attributes couldn’t possibly have been the explanation of either of those origins.

We have our beliefs (and reasons for them): “God did it.” You have yours (and no good or plausible reasons for them, that I can see): “God could not possibly have done it.” I don’t see a helluva lot of difference between the two belief-system in this regard. We both accept axioms that have not been demonstrated and quite likely could not be explained or will not ever in fact be fully explained.

I’ve been contemplating a thought experiment for a little while now, maybe a charitable reader of these conversations could provide some feedback.

I will do so (at least partially) myself!

The premise is simple enough: to the degree which it is possible, describe what you would expect a universe to look like if you accept the assumption that the opposite to your belief were true. If you believe in God, imagine a purely material universe;

I think it would be chaotic and that the laws of science would not be what we now observe, because they never would have evolved. Life wouldn’t have evolved because there seems to be no way (by our present knowledge) for it to do so. It’s simply too wonderful and complex to be explained solely by matter, time, and chance. Or, perhaps more likely (since we still have to explain the origin of mater itself), there would be nothing at all.

if you believe in no god, imagine a universe created by God.

I look forward to seeing what atheists say to that. It could be quite entertaining. If they said, “it would look like the world we live in now” then they would have to immediately become a theist. :-)

If possible, accept that there are human beings in the imagined world; that is, by some means human beings have managed to come into existence and survived to the point where this conversation is taking place. How similar could the universe be to your understanding of our actual world and what would have to be different?

I think in that world, the human beings would have no final purpose or meaning to life; no ethics. It would be a terrible world, much like the “worlds” we see in societies that tried to reject Christianity and/or God altogether (Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China; Hitler’s Germany). I think the good things ultimately derive from a good God, whether folks are aware of it or not.

What would have to be true for it to exist opposite to your beliefs, and what would have to be true for us to exist here as we sit?

That’s the far more interesting question. I would have to be shown that 1) the world can possibly be explained solely through materialistic processes, and 2) that all the arguments for God clearly fail, and 3) that Jesus didn’t exist and the Bible was just a sham.

Since none of those things have remotely been done, I don’t think I’m in any danger of forsaking Christianity or God anytime soon.

I shall end with Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s observation that “God-of-the-gaps theology” is not a thing which many serious, thinking Christians would ever adopt in the first place (i.e., it’s a caricature of what Christians believe, and so a straw man):

God-of-the-gaps theology. . . is at best a kind of anemic and watered-down semideism that inserts God’s activity into the gaps in scientific knowledge; it is associated, furthermore, with a weak and pallid apologetics according to which perhaps the main source or motivation for belief in God is that there are some things science cannot presently explain. A far cry indeed from what the Scriptures teach! God-of-the-gaps theology is worlds apart from serious Christian theism. This is evident at (at least) the following points. First and most important, according to serious theism, God is constantly, immediately, intimately, and directly active in his creation: he constantly upholds it in existence and providentially governs it. He is immediately and directly active in everything from the Big Bang to the sparrow’s fall. Literally nothing happens without his upholding hand.

Second, natural laws are not in any way independent of God, and are perhaps best thought of as regularities in the ways in which he treats the stuff he has made, or perhaps as counterfactuals of divine freedom. (Hence there is nothing in the least untoward in the thought that on some occasions God might do something in a way different from his usual way- e.g., raise someone from the dead or change water into wine.) Indeed, the whole interventionist terminology- speaking of God as intervening in nature, or intruding into it, or interfering with it, or violating natural law- all this goes with God-of-the-gaps theology, not with serious theism. According to the latter, God is already and always intimately acting in nature, which depends from moment to moment for its existence upon immediate divine activity; there is not and could not be any such thing as his intervening in nature.

These are broadly speaking metaphysical differences between Christian theism and God-of-the-gaps thought; but there are equally significant epistemological differences. First, the thought that there is such a person as God is not, according to Christian theism, a hypothesis postulated to explain something or other, nor is the main reason for believing that there is such a person as God the fact that there are phenomena that elude the best efforts of current science. Rather, our knowledge of God comes by way of general revelation, which involves something like Aquinas’s general knowledge of God or Calvin’s sensus divinitatis, and also, and more importantly, by way of God’s special revelation, in the Scriptures and through the church, of his plan for dealing with our fall into sin. . . .

Serious Christians should indeed resolutely reject this way of thinking. The Christian community knows that God is constantly active in his creation, that natural laws, if there are any, are not independent of God, and that the existence of God is certainly not a hypothesis designed to explain what science cannot. Furthermore, the Christian community begins the scientific enterprise already believing in God; it does not (or at any rate need not) engage in it for apologetic reasons, either with respect to itself or with respect to non-Christians.  (“Methodological Naturalism”: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 49 [September 1997]: 143-154)

*****

Photo credit: “Big Bang” image [Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0. license]

*****

June 23, 2018

Grimlock is an atheist from Norway. He made a response to my initial provocative questions (see the whole thing). This is my counter-reply. Due to his length I can’t reply to absolutely everything (that would make this post way too long). His words will be in blue.

*****

One thing I habitually ask atheists is to explain how matter could obtain the qualities it has, including evolving into living organisms. I don’t see that science (at least to my knowledge) has yet explained that, but you guys object when we suggest that a God might be the explanation of the universe and its marvels. You in turn call that “god of the gaps.”

But I don’t see that whatever explanation you come up with is all that more explanatory or plausible than our “answer.” I see it as atheists having even more faith, and a much more blind faith, in the inherent capabilities of matter, than we Christians exercise in believing in God. At least we have (love or despise them) some 25 theistic “proofs” for God, while we await even one plausible materialistic scientific explanation of matter evolving into life and everything we see in the universe: all starting from a chaotic explosion that itself has no good explanation as to prior cause.

Do you know that feeling when your comment ends up being a 2700 word essay? 

I do very well! :-)

I interpret these issues as dealing with the matter of providing explanations. Different types of explanations, to different types of questions, but still; explanations. Consequently, I’ll endeavour to provide my view on a view different questions, and also how I see my view compared to the theistic view. The following are the different questions.

1) Why is there stuff? (Also phrased as why is there something rather than nothing?)
2) Given that there are stuff, why is there is particular stuff?
3) Given that there are this particular stuff, how can these particular events come to pass?

Throughout pondering these questions I shall also consider that if we take it as given that these events came to pass, what is the most plausible explanation for these events; theism or naturalism?

Good start!

[for the sake of space, I have passed over his self-described “digression” regarding what he thinks “makes something a good explanation.” See it at the original posting]

1) Why is there stuff? (Also phrased as why is there something rather than nothing?)

I have no idea. It might be that there not being anything at all is utterly incoherent and impossible. But perhaps not.

It might be thought that the theist has an edge here — after all, a common claim is to say that God is necessary, that He had to exist. But I find this unconvincing. It is far too easy to simply inquire, why is it so that God is necessary?

Instead, one ought to concede that at some point you just have to say that this is simply how it is. A brute fact, if you will. My intuition (admittedly hopelessly useless in this context) is inclined towards this view. A bit of epistemic humility, and a concession that I don’t think the mere existence of anything at all provides neither the naturalist nor the theist with an edge.

As a quick note, the two criteria that I laid out for what makes a good explanation is futile here. I have no idea how to explain existence of stuff in a way that existence must follow, nor do I see how existence — everything that is — can be explained in terms of something else.

I greatly appreciate your honesty and “epistemic humility.” I think , right off the bat, this gets to the heart of the matter and the question of relative explanatory value of theism and atheism for these grand cosmological / material mysteries. You ask, why is it so that God is necessary?”  The answer is simple: something has to explain why the universe is here, and why it is so unbelievably marvelous and extraordinary.

This “something” is what Einstein called his own religion (a sort of pantheism or panentheism). He recognized that straight atheism was woefully inadequate to explain what we observe; especially all the more so, as we learn more and more about physics. His religion was very different from ours as theists; yet on the other hand, it is far more like our cosmological answers and religion than your answer (or “epistemologically humble” non-answer, as the case may be) and non-religion.

I found a site called Brief Answers to Cosmic Questions (run by NASA / Harvard / Smithsonian Institute). It made the fascinating observation (one of many):

Was the Big Bang the origin of the universe?

It is a common misconception that the Big Bang was the origin of the universe. In reality, the Big Bang scenario is completely silent about how the universe came into existence in the first place. In fact, the closer we look to time “zero,” the less certain we are about what actually happened, because our current description of physical laws do not yet apply to such extremes of nature.

The Big Bang scenario simply assumes that space, time, and energy already existed. But it tells us nothing about where they came from – or why the universe was born hot and dense to begin with.

I just did a series of critiques of Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. He complained about an “infinite regress” where the theist appeals to God and then Dawkins asks (thinking he is spoiling the party), “well, where did God come from?” He came from nowhere. He was always there, by definition. He’s not subject to the laws of science. We can’t prove about matter (at least according to our present knowledge), what theists attribute to God: self-existence, self-sufficiency, and eternality.

But in the quotation above, “space, time, and energy already existed” before the Big Bang, and moreover, we know “nothing about where they came from” (my emphasis). Well, isn’t that something?  Science is awful ignorant about some very important things, isn’t it? Theists are mocked and looked down on all the time for “god of the gaps.”

But how is the above scenario any different? How is it not “matter of the gaps” or making matter god: as I have mercilessly satirized, to the consternation of many atheists (oooh: you should have seen the insults, in the attempt to shut me up!)? Matter was just there; we know not how — don’t have a clue — but we will believe it anyway, if we are materialists, because, what choice is there (minus God)? This is truly a faith-filled belief in something with no evidence: precisely as theists and Christians are constantly criticized (and I would say it is a bum rap in our case).

You say, this is simply how it is.” Okay, that’s fine.  Matter’s here; the universe is here. We have no inkling how or why, but “it’s simply how it is.” There’s no evidence there. My problem with this is that we are always forbidden (under pain of being called irrational, gullible, superstitious, followers of the tooth fairy and leprechauns, et al) to posit that God was the Prime Mover and First Cause. At least we can provide many reasonable arguments for His existence. Science offers none for the universe before the Big Bang (not according to its own methodology of relentless cause and effect). We just saw that above. So why is that view supposedly so much more reasonable and plausible than ours? I don’t buy it! It’s simply not. I think our view is far more reasonable and plausible.

2) Given that there are stuff, why is there is particular stuff?

To this, I think one ought to be rather more specific. I don’t know if it is meaningful to ask why this particular stuff exists. It might be some if one limits the scope, for instance as is done in the fine-tuning argument. Or, as you ask, why does matter act in the way that it does?

Yes I would, but not only that; also, how is it that it came to evolve and become what it now is?

Yet, once again, I must admit that I don’t know. I am not surprised that the stuff that exists has some regularity at some level. After all, what would be the alternative? Sheer randomness?

I don’t see how that could be conceived without the randomness having some probability distribution. But then you see regularities at some aggregated level, and you’re once again given some regularities. So I am not surprised that the stuff that exists behaves in some way with regularity.

It’s perfectly conceivable that the universe could be a chaotic, random, senseless place that simply didn’t have all these laws and regularities of nature that we observe (uniformitarianism, etc.). In reality it has extraordinary order, and so we must ask why? From whence did such amazing things derive?

At some limited level, one could explain the stuff that exists by appealing to other existing stuff. For instance, certain of our so-called laws of nature (which I tend to think of as descriptive rather than normative) appear to be emergent from other underlying regularities. But as for explaining these regularities, I don’t know.

How does theism do in this regard? Not particularly well, I think. One might be tempted to claim that God made it so that things are as they are. But as with (1), one always seem justified in asking why stuff is so that God is the ontologically non-contingent part of existence. Note also the criteria that I set for explanations; It is hard to see why this particular type of stuff would follow from God, and as an appeal to an entity whose existence is not an immediate part of our ontology, it utterly fails at appealing to established ontologies.

Yeah, you simply rule out the possibility of God from the outset, or (perhaps more accurately) rule out that God as an explanation or First Cause can never be more plausible than your explanation. Death by preconceived category . . . But since your explanation of these fundamental questions so far is nothing; that’s not a very high bar to surpass, is it? 

Now, another digression might be appropriate. I believe there is one way we could look at our stuff, what we perceive to exist, and give either theism or naturalism the edge.

[see another “digression” comment in Grimlock’s original posting at this point, that provides relevant context]

Consider the universe as a whole, or on a general level. We observe that physical stuff exists and changes. The mental that we observe (animals, including humans) appear to be dependent on the physical. This seems to correspond better with naturalism than with supernaturalism, and as such, the stuff that we do observe seems, on a very general level, to provide some evidence for naturalism.

Nature does suggest naturalism, I agree, but that’s only after the “wheels have been set in motion.” Observational cause and effect are fine; no one disagrees with that.  How things came to be in the first place is what I am interested in, in this discussion. I deny that everything mental is dependent on the physical, but that’s a completely different discussion.

3) Given that there are this particular stuff, how can these particular events come to pass?

Now we come to, I think, at least three points that you make in the quote above.

3a) You appeal to life originating from non-life. Abiogenesis, as I believe it is called. It is true that there is no current scientific theory that explains either how life can originate from non-life, or how life did originate from non-life. (If anyone knows differently, I’d love to be corrected.)

Exactly. So once again, materialistic science has no clue; not even the hint of one.

I expect that it would be tempting to here, once again, appeal to God as an explanation.

Not only tempting, but equally as reasonable, and (I say) more plausible than matter coming from nothing for who knows what reason, or having some sort of supposed faux-eternality, and somehow organizing itself into ever more complex forms, up to and including life and consciousness.

As a contrast, I will appeal to the following: Saying the word “chemistry” while doing a vaguely circular gesture with my hand. Let us now compare these explanations, based on the criteria that I appealed to above.

Do either of these explanations make it so that the life originating from non-life is a reasonable consequence? I don’t see how. Neither provides sufficient details, and while one could always add ad-hoc premises to either explanation, that seems… well, ad-hoc. So in terms of (i), neither is particularly successful.

How about in terms of (ii)? Well, as this is used as an appeal to increase God’s plausibility, I fail to see how one can contend that God is an entity that exists in our ontology without being circular. Whereas chemistry is something we know to exist. Thus, my vague explanation is superior to the God-explanation of terms of (ii). This is what I tend to think characterizes a god-of-the-gaps argument; A phenomena that is not currently understood, where God has little to no explanatory power, and where we have a promising venue in terms of stuff that we already possess in our ontology.

Well, that’s just it. You and atheists say “God isn’t in our ontology; we can’t comprehend him, or understand why anyone else believes in him.” Or if theists do offer reasons they are circular or inconsistent, or incoherent, or non-empirical / evidential. But atheists have always been in a small minority. Most of mankind is religious, believing in some sort of superior power or Supreme Being. So the facts on the ground suggest an existing ontology that does indeed include God or at least some sense of an organizing, creative force (if it is deemed as non-personal).

Here we get into the waters of “properly basic belief.” Alvin Plantinga explored that in a famous paper. I’ll quote a good chunk of it:

[T]he believer is entirely within his intellectual rights in believing as he does even if he doesn’t know of any good theistic argument (deductive or inductive), even if he doesn’t believe that there is any such argument, and even if in fact no such argument exists. . . . it is perfectly rational to accept belief in God without accepting it on the basis of any other beliefs or propositions at all.

The evidentialist objector holds that one who accepts theistic belief is in some way irrational or noetically substandard.

Typically this objection has been rooted in some form of classical foundationalism, according to which a proposition p is properly basic for a person S if and only if p is either self-evident or incorrigible for S (modern foundationalism) or either self-evident or ‘evident to the senses’ for S (ancient and medieval foundationalism). [ElsewhereI argued that both forms of foundationalism are self referentially incoherent and must therefore be rejected. Insofar as the evidentialist objection is rooted in classical foundationalism, it is poorly rooted indeed: and so far as I know, no one has developed and articulated any other reason for supposing that belief in God is not properly basic. Of course it doesn’t follow that it is properly basic; perhaps the class of properly basic propositions is broader than classical foundationalists think, but still not broad enough to admit belief in God. But why think so?

I’ve heard it argued that if I have no evidence for the existence of God, then if I accept that proposition, my belief will be groundless, or gratuitous, or arbitrary. I think this is an error; let me explain. Suppose we consider perceptual beliefs, memory beliefs, and be liefs which ascribe mental states to other persons: such beliefs as

(1)  I see a tree,

(2)  I had breakfast this morning, and

(3)  That person is angry.

Although beliefs of this sort are typically and properly taken as basic, it would be a mistake to describe them as groundless.

[ . . . ]

By way of conclusion then: being self-evident, or incorrigible, or evident to the senses is not a necessary condition of proper basicality. Furthermore, one who holds that belief in God is properly basic is not thereby committed to the idea that belief in God is groundless or gratuitous or without justifying circumstances. And even if he lacks a general criterion of proper basicality, he is not obliged to suppose that just any or nearly any belief — belief in the Great Pumpkin, for example — is   properly basic.

The takeaway here is that appeals to abiogenesis hardly gives the theist an advantage, but rather the opposite.

Really? You yourself freely (and admirably) admitted above:It is true that there is no current scientific theory that explains either how life can originate from non-life, or how life did originate from non-life.” Yet despite that big zero explanation-wise, you continue to believe that an exclusively natural explanation (what explanation?!) is superior to a Christian believing that “God created life” (which may, of course, have been through the means of evolution). Once again you have nothing, but you regard it as a superior explanation (nothing!) to simple Christian belief in a God Who created the universe.

3b) You also appeal to the universe’s alleged cause, and more broadly its origin. But in terms of explanations, let us once again make a comparison.

This time, we once again appeal to God as an explanation. One could, I suppose, add more speculative details, if one is so inclined. I would undoubtedly make a muddle of that, so I shall leave it be.

Compare this with this model by Anthony Aguirre and Steven Gratton.

The latter, entirely naturalistic, explanation provides an expectation of our universe. So in terms of (i) above, it is rather successful.

What is the proof and evidence that they offer, beyond being just a speculation from their own brains? You tell me. Most of the article is way over my head (far too technical for a non-physicist or non-mathematician). If it’s mere speculation, with no solid scientific evidence, then of course it is ultimately on the same epistemological ground as our belief in God.

These guys think matter has all these amazing inherent capabilities. We believe God does. I fail to see how your scenario is superior to ours. Yours is self-contradicting when it claims to be superior in terms of explanation, yet offers no compelling evidence from its own supposedly self-sufficient scientific paradigm.

This is the heart of my ultra-controversial, feather-ruffling, sacred cow-busting satire of atheist “atomism”:

Matter essentially “becomes god” in the atheist / materialist view; it has the inherent ability to do everything by itself: a power that Christians believe God caused, by putting these potentialities and actual characteristics into matter and natural laws, as their ultimate Creator and ongoing Preserver and Sustainer.

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. . . . 

The polytheistic materialist . . . 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). The Atomist openly and unreservedly worships his trillions of gods, with the most perfect, trusting, non-rational faith imaginable. He or she is what sociologists call a “true believer.”

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. The time-goddess is the highest in the ranks of the Atomist’s wonderfully varied hierarchy of gods (sort of the “Zeus” of Atomism). One might call this belief Temporalism.

Atomism is a strong, fortress-like faith. It is often said that it “must be” what it is. The Atomist reverses the error of the Gnostic heretics. They thought spirit was great and that matter was evil. Atomists think matter is great (and god) and spirit is not only “evil” (metaphorically speaking), but beyond that: non-existent.

Is God as successful an explanation in terms of (i)? Not really. God could easily create other types of universes, not to mention eternal ones, or create a universe mid-existence in such a way that its current laws of nature does not explain its history.

I have found one vigorous critique of a similar paper by them. The great theistic apologist William Lane Craig criticizes their theory:

For the two models mentioned (Aguirre-Gratton and Carroll-Chen) were specifically addressed by name by Vilenkin in the paper from the Cambridge conference which I quoted in my opening speech. These models were comprised in Vilenkin’s conclusion, “None of these scenarios can actually be past-eternal.” So when Vilenkin says that they afford a “possible loophole,” the idea must be that because they deny the single assumption of the theorem, maybe that’s a way to avoid the beginning of the universe. But in his paper Vilenkin proceeds to close this loophole by showing that these models cannot be past-eternal for other reasons.  . . . 

To my delight [Alexander] Vilenkin furnished the unabridged version of his letter to [Lawrence] Krauss. . . .

Any theorem is only as good as its assumptions. The BGV theorem says that if the universe is on average expanding along a given worldline, this worldline cannot be infinite to the past.

A possible loophole is that there might be an epoch of contraction prior to the expansion. Models of this sort have been discussed by Aguirre & Gratton and by Carroll & Chen. They had to assume though that the minimum of entropy was reached at the bounce and offered no mechanism to enforce this condition. It seems to me that it is essentially equivalent to a beginning. . . . 

Dr. Craig cited a letter from theoretical physicist and cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin to himself:

The Aguirre-Gratton model can avoid singularities by postulating a small “initial” closed universe and then allowing it to evolve in both directions of time. I put “initial” in quotation marks, because Aguirre and Gratton do not think of it that way. But this model requires that a very special condition is enforced at some moment in the history of the universe. At that moment, the universe should be very small and have very low entropy. Aguirre and Gratton do not specify a physical mechanism that could enforce such a condition. . . . 

Whatever it’s worth, my view is that the BGV theorem does not say anything about the existence of God one way or the other. In particular, the beginning of the universe could be a natural event, described by quantum cosmology.

So Vilenkin is not some Christian apologist. He’s an agnostic, and is saying that his own theory doesn’t address the issue (which I think is proper). On the other hand, he doesn’t dogmatically rule out God either. I think this is the better, more open-minded scientific approach. Similarly, Dr. Craig opines:

As for Vilenkin’s theological views, while I would never rejoice that someone is not a Christian, I find his agnosticism to be helpful in that no one can accuse him of having a theological axe to grind in his defense of the universe’s beginning. 

How about existing ontology? I believe the model by Aguirre and Gratton contains some speculative physics, and some appeals to existing physics. So it’s moderately successful in terms of (ii), while God – as mentioned before – fails in terms of (ii).

Dr. Craig debated atheist Dr. Sean Carroll (on You Tube), in February 2014. Dr. Carroll in the debate was an advocate of the Aguirre/Gratton thesis. He wrote in a post-debate reflection:

In contrast, I wanted to talk about a model developed by Anthony Aguirre and Stephen Gratton. They have a very simple and physically transparent model that (unlike my theory with Chen) imposes a low-entropy boundary condition at a mid-universe “bounce.” It’s a straightforward example of a perfectly well-defined theory that is clearly eternal, one that doesn’t have a beginning, and does so without invoking any hand-waving about quantum gravity. I challenged Craig to explain why this wasn’t a sensible example of an eternal universe, one that was in perfect accord with the BGV theorem, but he didn’t respond. 

Dr. Craig may not have responded, but Dr. Vilenkin (the “V” in “BGV”) did. I showed above how he does not think Aguirre/Gratton is “in perfect accord” with his own. He thinks it does not show an eternal universe (let alone a “clearly eternal” one), but rather, one with essentially a “beginning.” See also a related video by Dr. Vilenkin, who stated in 2012, “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”

Dr. Craig, with Paul Copan, offered further fundamental critiques of Aguirre/Gratton, in the book, The Kalam Cosmological Argument, Volume 2: Scientific Evidence for the Beginning of the Universe (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017, p. 133):

A matter of some importance is that there is no communication; no causality by definition from one region to the other. Thus one can say that there is no eternal past that evolved into our present. . . . What one really has in this model are two separate universes that trace their origins to a past boundary (the very singularity that Borde, Guth, and Vilenkin have demonstrated). . . . if they are right, then a beginning of time has been demonstrated. Rather than a past eternal universe, one has a past finite multiverse.

3c) As a more general view, you appeal to at least 25 theistic arguments of proofs. I assume you consider these to be 25 strong theistic arguments, as I suspect there are far more actual arguments. I’d say that both (3a) and (3b) are instances of such theistic arguments, though not phrased particularly precisely.

I said nothing about relative strength. I would consider some fairly strong (e.g., cosmological, teleological) and some pretty weak (e.g., ontological, argument from beauty). I don’t consider any of them strictly a proof. Five days ago, I summarized my precise view of theistic proofs as follows:

My view remains what it has been for many years: nothing strictly / absolutely “proves” God’s existence. But . . .

I think His existence is exponentially more probable and plausible than atheism, based on the cumulative effect of a multitude of good and different types of (rational) theistic arguments, and the utter implausibility, incoherence, irrationality, and unacceptable level of blind faith of alternatives.

As a counter, one should note that there are many arguments against various forms of theism. A handful, primarily aimed at looking for contradictions or tensions in the concept of God, can be found in this compilation.

Of course there are. The question is (just as with our proofs): how good and convincing and reasonable are they?

Others can be found, for instance, at the Secular Outpost here on Patheos.

Since we’re trading lists, here are some of mine:

*
*
*
*
*
*

While I cannot claim to be familiar with all theistic arguments, my impression is that they can be put in a rough shape along the following lines:

P1: Phenomena A exists (e.g. the universe’s alleged beginning or ontologically real moral values)
P2: Phenomena B is more probable on theism than on atheism

C: Theism is more probable than atheism

In other words, the arguments appeal to some observed phenomena (concrete or abstract), and argue that this is more easily explained in terms of theism. (There are exceptions, obviously.) Without going into detail, the ones that I have encountered appear to me to fail to establish their conclusion with a high degree of certainty. As you don’t refer to any particular arguments, I shall respond with some general observations.

No particular beef, except to say that obviously I think they are stronger arguments than you do.

3c-1) I am deeply skeptical to the proposition that a person can coherently defend all such ‘strong’ arguments, as they rely on a variety of underlying premises and conceptions, all of which might not be compatible. My impression is also that most Christian philosophers criticise several arguments. (To name a couple of examples off the top of my head, I believe Swinburne has criticized EAAN, and that van Inwagen has criticized the argument from contingency. Though I might be mistaken about these specific examples.)

That’s true. They are of variable strength.

3c-2) I believe that Paul Draper has made the point that while some phenomena might support theism (e.g. the existence of minds), details of this fact (e.g. that minds seem to be dependent upon the physical) often provides evidence against theism.

Dependence on the physical (in Plantinga’s argument from other minds) is, I believe, irrelevant, because he’s looking at our “basic” belief that other minds exist, before we get to the specifics of the other minds or the mind-body question.

3c-3) When the arguments gets turned around a bit, there is usually a sense in which God in some way is supposed to be an explanation for some phenomena. But as we have seen, God tends to be a bad explanation in terms of (i) and (ii). One can improve upon the sense in which God fulfills (i), but only by adding further auxiliary propositions to the God hypothesis. This has the consequence of decreasing the modesty of God as an explanation, and thus increasing the burden of evidence on the theist.

Meanwhile, you have given me zero compelling scientific evidence for a purely materialistic explanation of the origin of the universe or for life. That is not any kind of appearance of strength for your position.

I believe that this provides a fairly thorough account of why appeals to specific phenomena in our universe is hard to credit to theism, but rather plays nicely along with naturalism.

As I said, it does for current processes (which we believe God set in motion and sustains in some sense). When we get to origins, it is exponentially more difficult to explain by materialism / naturalism alone.

Some final thoughts

Let me close by making some final remarks to a somewhat long comment. I find it vital to specify the scope of one’s explanations when comparing two explanatory models. In our case, we compare theism to naturalism. If we try to answer how life originated from non-life, we need to compare the respective explanations. I find that when one is careful with comparing like explanations with like, theism comes up short compared to naturalism.

Since you have given me no explanation, I fail to see how yours is better than ours! Our explanation is essentially the cosmological argument. You don’t like it, but I think most people would agree that at least a serious attempt at explanation, made by many great philosophers through the centuries, is superior to no explanation at all. 

While there are some instances of what we observe that fit better with theism than with naturalism, on the whole, naturalism as the upper hand.

A takeaway is, I think, that appealing to questions such as the ones you raise does not, as I see it, provide challenges to naturalism that is not also shared by theism. I have tried to stay reasonably on point, and only include the digressions that I find pertinent.

Thank you for what I thought was an enjoyable and constructive exchange.

***

Photo credit: photograph of physicist Alexander Vilenkin from a You Tube video [You Tube / standard You Tube license]

***

 




Browse Our Archives