February 15, 2022

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 added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.”

For over three years, we have had (shall we say) rather difficult relations, with mutual bannings (while I have replied to his posts 79 times: all as of yet unanswered), but when Bob moved to his new location online at the OnlySky super-site, he (surprisingly to me) decided to allow me to comment. As a conciliatory gesture in return, I removed his ban on my blog.  He even stated on 1-21-22 in the same combox thread, replying to me: “There are a few new posts here. (Or, if you haven’t been to my blog for a while, lots of new posts here.) Have at ’em. Let me know what you think.”

Delighted to oblige his wishes . . . Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

The following “exchanges” (shall we call them?) took place in the combox of Bob’s article, “Christians weaponizing scholars’ quotes: Jastrow, Darwin, and Dawkins” (2-9-22). This is what passes in Bob’s mind as “discussion” or “conversation.” It’s mockery and condescending dismissal all the way.

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“ORAXX”: No discovery of science has ever pointed to the truth of ANY religious doctrine.

No discovery of science has ever proven that atheism is the true state of affairs.

True. And irrelevant. Someone is confused about who has the burden of proof. When you’ve proven that God exists, let us know.

No proof is ever sufficient to overcome a will that refuses to believe. It’s quite sufficient for us.

That you keep using “proof” is hilarious. And tragic. I’m sure it’s all been explained to you, so I won’t waste my time.

I was kinda hoping that you’d respond by saying, “OK, you’re right–the burden of proof is mine. It was a slip of the pen to insist that the atheist has the burden of proof to show that God doesn’t exist.” Silly me.

Kidding! All you know how to do is double down.

I was referring to epistemology. Science neither proves nor disproves God. But it is the atheist’s religion, so they often absurdly act as if the study of matter rules out an immaterial Being.

I defend Christianity and the Bible against your attacks (78 times as of this writing). I give both sides and let readers decide which case is more plausible. You ignore all my critiques (which you have actually challenged me to do). Which approach do you think suggests more intellectual confidence in one’s own belief?

“atheist’s religion”? Fascinating. You’ll have to share with us how religion without belief in the supernatural works.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, members of Humanist organizations have disagreed as to whether Humanism is a religion. They categorize themselves in one of three ways. Religious (or ethical) humanism, in the tradition of the earliest humanist organizations in the UK and US, attempts to fulfil the traditional social role of religion. . . . 

Greg M. Epstein states that, ‘modern, organized Humanism began, in the minds of its founders, as nothing more nor less than a religion without a God’. (Wikipedia, “Secular Humanism”)

Some Buddhists would say that Buddhism can be construed and/or practiced without supernatural elements.

Humanism starts with an H, and atheism with an A. That’s how I keep them apart in my mind.

Non sequitur. I was responding to your statement: “You’ll have to share with us how religion without belief in the supernatural works.” My counter-examples were humanism and some forms of Buddhism, as construed by the followers of same.

Not the point. Every involved conversation with you turns out to be a waste of time. I’ve had WLC [William Lane Craig], Koukl, Jim Wallace, and probably others respond to my articles, and I’ve usually responded.

Of course, your view of William Lane Craig is scarcely different from your view of me. In one article, you wrote about him [on 7-21-14; updated on 3-23-18]:

[He has an] unhealthy relationship with facts and evidence.

dark and tangled recesses of the thinking

. . . Craig’s bizarre reply

Craig once again vomits onto thoughtful discourse. He ignores the problem, assumes that he is right, and then shapes the facts to fit.

The mental masturbation continues.

Yes, he really said that. It’d be a pain to have to, y’know, do all that research and stuff. I mean, who’s got the time? Using reason would be inconvenient, so let’s not.

Follow the drunken reasoning . . .

Craig tells us that relying on reason would be inconvenient, so let’s not.

So much for apologetics to raise the intellectual content of the conversation.

You’re the only one I ignore.

It must be a new definition of “ignore” that I am unaware of, seeing that eight of your last nine comments [i.e., on his OnlySky blog, as can be verified by clicking on his name in the combox] were replies to me. What is this: doublethink?

In the last fifteen days on this (or any OnlySky) blog, as anyone can see, looking at your profile on OnlySky, you have made nine comments. Eight of those were responding to me. So in fifteen days, you have responded exactly once to someone other than me.

But now you are saying that you completely ignore me. Right. I do agree that you never make a sustained rational, thoughtful, non-mocking response . . .

Good point. I’ll try to ignore you better in the future.

If the above is the level of your “argumentation”, please do!

***

Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,000+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.

Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.

PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: apologistdave@gmail.com. You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing, including 100% tax deduction, etc., see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!

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Photo credit: William Kentridge, In Mockery of Progress. Image courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York. [Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.o license]

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Summary: Bob Seidensticker again provides a textbook / playbook demonstration of the mentality & folly of anti-theist polemicists, in a ridiculous non-“conversation” with me.

 

February 9, 2022

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 added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.”

For over three years, we have had (shall we say) rather difficult relations, with mutual bannings (while I have replied to his posts 78 times: all as of yet unanswered), but when Bob moved to his new location online at the OnlySky super-site, he (surprisingly to me) decided to allow me to comment. As a conciliatory gesture in return, I removed his ban on my blog.  He even stated on 1-21-22 in the same combox thread, replying to me: “There are a few new posts here. (Or, if you haven’t been to my blog for a while, lots of new posts here.) Have at ’em. Let me know what you think.”

Delighted to oblige his wishes . . . Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

I am responding to Bob’s post entitled, “Christians weaponizing scholars’ quotes: 9 examples” (2-7-22).

Some Christian apologists like to find a scientist or celebrity atheist who supports some bit of Christianity. They reveal this turncoat in the atheist ranks, tell us that this person is one of our own, and insist we follow their lead. . . . 

Of course, atheists do a variation of this all the time. Your buddy Jonathan Pearce does it constantly. He will cite liberal / skeptical / radical “Bible scholars” who hardly believe in Christianity at all (ones who deny that Jesus was God, yet who still want to claim the “Christian” label) and make out as if they represent mainstream Christian scholarship or historic, orthodox Christianity.

Both sides do this. But there is an honest way and a dishonest way to go about it. We can cite people in partial agreement, which is actually an effective argument: sort of like the “hostile witness” in legal thought.

What follows is nine more examples of quotes taken out of context, of misquoting, of Christians celebrating atheists they think they can manipulate, and of quotes that don’t mean what Christians think they mean. Let’s see if they provide any stronger support for Christianity.

1. Arno Penzias, physicist and astronomer

Penzias said,

My argument is that the best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted, had I had nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole. (New York Times, March 12, 1978, page 1)

Penzias is exactly right, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong or dishonest at all in citing him saying this. I’ve been making this same argument for forty years. Current cosmology tells us that the universe had a beginning-point. Atheists don’t know anymore than anyone else about what “preceded” that. All we know (and can agree upon) is that there was a beginning and an origin, and that the universe is not eternal, as used to be the consensus position in science (“steady state”).

Given the beginning, Penzias is correct: science hasn’t explained what caused the Big Bang; nor has it (or can it) rule out that God may have done that.

The Bible taught that God created the universe out of nothing (“creatio ex nihilo”). This is perfectly consistent with the Big Bang. To put it another way, we are just as rationally or epistemologically justified in saying “God created” as atheists are in saying “something brought this about; we have no idea what did . . .”, or playing games of talking about multiverses and what not.

That’s surprising, because I don’t remember anything like that in the Bible. Does the Bible tell you that the universe is open rather than closed (that is, that it will keep expanding)? That this expansion is accelerating? That the universe is 13.8 billion years old? That it started from a tiny point? Presumably black holes, gravitational waves, dark energy and dark matter, and more are in there as well. An eager world awaits the relevant Bible verses.

But of course we don’t get that. Penzias is simply declaring “Oh, yeah—I knew that” without evidence.

Does the Bible resolve cosmologists’ unanswered questions, too? I’m thinking of questions like what created the universe (or was it uncaused?), if there’s a multiverse, if the zero-energy universe hypothesis is correct, if string theory is correct, how to unify Relativity and quantum physics, and more.

The Bible doesn’t claim to be a technical science textbook; so all the examples mocking the Bible for lacking such elements (“Does the Bible tell you that . . . the universe is 13.8 billion years old? That it started from a tiny point? Presumably black holes, gravitational waves, dark energy and dark matter, and more are in there as well”) are a completely irrelevant non sequiturs.

But the Bible does, however, say something very close to the universe starting from a tiny point. It asserts that it began from nothing. And that was undeniably closer to the truth than the steady state, which was held by virtually all scientists before the 1950s, including Einstein.

But it’s highly amusing that the first example Bob gives of an “atheist” being quoted out of context by Christians, is a conservative Jew and theist, Arno Penzias. He believes something very much like the traditional teleological argument (argument from design):

I think the word ‘god’ is meaningful in that I would like to believe in a purposeful world. Purpose implies an ‘owner’ of that purpose and I think that god is the owner of the purpose of the world. By looking at the creation one can infer purpose. Nature, blind nature, is driven by chance, by the laws of probability which revolve around what one would call the second law of thermodynamics. For example, if you were to put a pinch of salt in one part of a boiling kettle of soup, sooner or later that salt would end up dispersed throughout. In other words, it would reach the most disordered possible state. Nature, through random chance, seeks disorder. Life, on the other hand, somehow works against that; it organizes, makes things orderly. If we go out and we see a forest of trees and all of a sudden the trees are plated in a row of equal spaces, we would see purpose. Order implies purpose. Once we look at the purpose, we can, then, go one step further, and say something about the engine of that purpose and the owner of that purpose. If there are a bunch of fruit trees, one can say that whoever created these fruit trees wanted some apples. In other words, by looking at the order in the world, we can infer purpose and from purpose we begin to get some knowledge of the creator, the planner of all this. This is, then, how I look at god. I look at god through the works of god’s hands and from those works imply intentions. From these intentions, I receive an impression of the almighty.” (1994: response to question about the meaning of the world ‘god’, to him, as a concept or mathematical formula)

That sure ain’t atheist talk, is it? See much more proof of his theistic beliefs elsewhere. I should think that in an article chiding Christians for wrongly citing atheists, Bob would make sure his very first example was an example of same. But it isn’t. How ironic that is, because he wrongly cites a believing Jewish theist, in seeking to make the point that Christians habitually do the same with atheists.

Bob cited Penzias as an “atheist” when in fact he is a believing Jew: a theist, who appears to accept the validity of the teleological argument for God’s existence. Certainly Bob can find some real atheists who are being cited in a dishonest way.

Bob’s second example given, of an “atheist” being unethically or foolishly misquoted by Christians, David Gelernter, is also not an atheist at all. He was raised as a Reform Jew and is now (and was at the time of the words cited from him), an Orthodox Jew.

At least Flew actually was an atheist, who rejected it. But so far, two of three examples of supposed “atheists” were not. And this, in an article complaining about how Christians wrongly cite atheists.

Thanks for the amusement, Bob. It’s precious.

***

Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,000+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.

Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.

PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: apologistdave@gmail.com. You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing, including 100% tax deduction, etc., see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!

***

Photo credit: [minutehack.com / The Good Governance Academy]

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Summary: Atheist anti-theist Bob Seidensticker complains about Christians misquoting atheists. Yet (amusingly) two of his three examples of “misused” atheists are actually Jewish theists.

 

January 27, 2022

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 added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.”

For over three years, we have had (shall we say) rather difficult relations, with mutual bannings (while I have replied to his posts 77 times: all as of yet unanswered), but when Bob moved to his new location online at the OnlySky super-site, he (surprisingly to me) decided to allow me to comment. As a conciliatory gesture in return, I removed his ban on my blog.  He even stated on 1-21-22 in the same combox thread, replying to me: “There are a few new posts here. (Or, if you haven’t been to my blog for a while, lots of new posts here.) Have at ’em. Let me know what you think.”

Delighted to oblige his wishes . . . Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

I am responding to specific portions of two of Bob’s posts entitled, “Problem of Evil: the Free Will defense” (1-24-22) and “Problem of Evil: the Soul-Making defense” (1-26-22). I will also include a few of the related combox comments.

I am unable to post a comment on Bob’s site, due to technical problems with the ridiculously inadequate and frustrating comments-system, called Viafoura. Everyone’s complaining about it and it’s a huge mess. I wrote for assistance and they still haven’t resolved the problem after a day-and-a-half. I have given up. Even if I could comment again, there are so many limitations and un-user-friendly features that it’s far more trouble than it’s worth.

I will continue to reply to Bob as necessary with blog articles: to defend Christianity and the Bible, when he attacks and misrepresents either or both. He can see what I write, and he’s not banned on my blog anymore, so he can counter-reply there or on his blog, as he wishes. But of course, thus far, he has universally not “wished” not to respond at all. Go figure . . .

I dealt with the evil that human beings commit against each other and with the issue of free will in my previous reply to Bob. Here I am dealing strictly with what is called “natural evil”: all the calamities that come about via nature, whether hurricanes or droughts or plagues or volcanoes and earthquakes, etc. Is it reasonable to posit that God could have made a world without such things, or that He should massively intervene so that no one is hurt by them?

Millions are sick or hungry, and the world is a carousel that spins from one natural disaster to another—hurricanes, drought, wildfires, and of course pandemics like covid. But on the other hand, how can a loving and omnipotent God have created such an inept rough draft? . . . 

If Creation is screwed up, blame the Creator who created it. 

And in comments (for the article dated 1-24-22):

Smallpox wasn’t [created in a lab like COVID]. The Black Death wasn’t. God’s fault. . . . And natural disasters give plenty of examples where God did it.

I posted in reply a portion of an old article that I will reproduce below. It was removed: either by Bob or the hapless Viafour folks. In his second article cited above, Bob seemed to reply to my now-deleted reply (or — as so often in his pathetic polemics — at least a straw man version of it):

But first, a palate cleanser. Here are two final points made to support the free-will defense, which says that God allows free will so that we can freely love him, despite the bad that free will brings with it. (The Christian argument is in italics below.)

God’s creation needs to be regular so we can depend on it, good or bad. A hot stove will burn you, without exception. A boulder falling down a mountain will hurt you if you’re in its path, without exception. God capriciously nudging boulders out of the way (but only sometimes) creates a world we can’t depend on.

So your argument is that if we had lots of miracles, the world would be confusing and undependable, so God does pretty much no miracles. Yeah, I’m sure the rape victim would’ve hated to have been confused, so I guess that’s a net good.

But it still seems that a god who is omniscient could’ve created a pain-free world.

This “response” was then elaborated upon by two commenters:

ericc: Problem 1: this argument is inconsistent with any standard reading of either the OT or NT. One can’t consistently argue that (a) the world NEEDs to be perfectly regular, and (b) the Bible portrays a world that ISN’T perfectly regular, and (c) the Bible is accurate. A, B, and C form a contradictory set.

Problem 2: once again, Christians seem not to grasp the implications of total omnipotence. Saying God needed the place to be regular for us implies that God was impotent to create beings who could grow and prosper under inconsistency.

larry parker: According to the bible, God often is “capriciously nudging boulders”. So much for the first assertion (“creation needs to be regular”).

Although I should be used to it by now, it still amazes me that religious apologists can contradict themselves in such a short paragraph.

None of this gibberish deals with my own particular argument, which (in a nutshell) has to do with the absolute necessity of uniformitarianism: if indeed science is to be possible (and also the corresponding implausibility of God massively doing miraculous acts to help everyone who would be hurt by “natural evil”). First of all, let me present a solid definition of uniformitarianism (a key notion in my argument). Wikipedia does a good job:

Uniformitarianism, also known as the Doctrine of Uniformity or the Uniformitarian Principle, is the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in our present-day scientific observations have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. It refers to invariance in the metaphysical principles underpinning science, such as the constancy of cause and effect throughout space-time, but has also been used to describe spatiotemporal invariance of physical laws. Though an unprovable postulate that cannot be verified using the scientific method, some consider that uniformitarianism should be a required first principle in scientific research.

Here is my argument in a slightly abridged form, from my article, originally titled, “Christian Replies to the Argument From Evil (Free Will Defense): Is God Malevolent, Weak, or Non-Existent Because of the Existence of Evil and Suffering?” It was itself drawn from a chapter of my 2002 book, Christian Worldview vs. Postmodernism:

II. NATURAL EVIL AND NATURAL LAWS

Critics object that the free will defense (FWD) doesn’t address natural evils (things such as disease, earthquakes, famine, falling off a mountain, etc.), thus it is insufficient, and fails. This isn’t true at all. FWD doesn’t have to address natural evils because these are a necessary consequence of natural laws themselves. For example:

1. Rocks are hard.

2. Gravity exists.

3. Human faces, after a significant fall due to gravity, do not mix very well with rocks (assuming they happen to sit at the bottom of the fall).

4. The “natural evil” of a crushed skull or broken nose and severe scrapes may, therefore, occur.

Logical conclusion(s):

A. #1-3 are all natural laws (physics, chemistry, and biochemistry).

B. Natural laws are such (by their very nature, and given physical objects) that “injuries” and “annihilations” will inevitably occur.

C. Therefore, “natural evil” (insofar as the term makes any sense at all – it simply reduces to “unfortunate natural events”) is a necessary result of natural laws.

D. Therefore, to eliminate so-called “natural evil” is tantamount to the elimination of natural laws of matter, energy, etc. themselves.

E. Ergo: since elimination of natural laws would produce a chaotic, utterly unpredictable and formless world, this cannot be a possibility in the natural world as we know it; therefore the entire objection to this “absence” in FWD fails utterly.

Natural disasters are a necessary result of natural laws as we currently know them, and this is the real world, not one of the fantasy worlds atheists sometimes invent in order to maintain their rejection of theism, on these grounds. God could have changed these laws and made them operate some other way. But He didn’t.

Unfortunately, natural laws as we know them involve decay and death. Everyone dies; we all get a “disease” in that sense. To have no disease and illness would mean being immortal and never having to age, decay or die. But cells, unfortunately, degenerate. Galaxies, stars, and universes all eventually “die.” So does biological life (much more quickly). That’s just how it is. The universe is winding down, and so is every one of us.

It is said that God could and should have performed many more miracles than Christians say He performs, to alleviate “unnecessary” suffering. But this is precisely what a natural world with laws and a uniformitarian principle precludes from the outset. How is it that the atheist can (in their hypothetical theories and arguments against Christianity) imagine all sorts of miracles and supernatural events that God should have done when it comes to evil and the FWD? “God should do this,” “He should have done that,” “I could have done much better than God did,” . . .

Yet when it comes to natural science (which is precisely what we are talking about, in terms of ”natural evil”), all of a sudden none of this is plausible (barely even possible) at all. Why is that? Legions of materialistic, naturalistic, and/or atheist scientists and their intellectual followers won’t allow the slightest miracle or direct divine intervention (not even in terms of intelligent design within the evolutionary hypothesis) with regard to the origin of life or DNA or mammals, or the human brain or eye, or even unique psychological/mental traits which humans possess.

Why would this be? I submit that it is because they have an extreme reluctance to introduce the miraculous when the natural can conceivably explain anything. They will resist any supernatural intervention into biological processes till their dying breath.

Yet when we switch the conversation over to FWD all of a sudden atheists — almost in spite of themselves – are introducing “superior” supernatural options for God to exercise, right and left. God is supposed to eliminate all disease, even though they are inevitable (even “normative”) according to the laws of biology as we know them. God is supposed to transform the entire structure of the laws of physics, so no one will ever get a scratch on their face. He is supposed to suspend a bullet in mid-air so it won’t kill its intended target, or make a knife turn to liquid before it rips into the flesh of yet another murder victim.

In the world these atheist critics demand of God, if He is to be a “good” God, or to exist at all, according to their exalted criteria, no one should ever have to get a corn on their toe, or a pimple, or have to blow their nose, or have chapped lips. God should turn rocks into Jello every time a child is to fall on one. Cars should turn into silly putty or steam or cellophane when they are about to crash. The sexually promiscuous should have their sexual diseases immediately healed so that no one else will catch them, and so that they can go on their merry way, etc.

Clearly, these sorts of critics find “plausible” whatever opposes theism and Christianity, no matter what the subject is; no matter how contradictory and far-fetched such arguments are, compared to their attacks against other portions of the Christian apologetic or theistic philosophical defenses. Otherwise, they would argue consistently and accept the natural world as it is, rather than adopting a desperate, glaring logical double standard.

In effect, then, if we follow their reasoning, the entire universe becomes an Alice in Wonderland fantasy-land where man is at the center. This is the Anthropic Principle! Atheists then in effect demand from God the very things they claim to loathe when they are arguing against theism on other grounds. Man must be at the center of the universe and suffer no harm, in order for theism to be true. Miracles must take place here, there, and everywhere, if theism is to be accepted as a plausible or superior alternative to atheism.

The same atheists will argue till they’re blue in the face against demonstrable miracles such as Jesus’ Resurrection. What they demand in order to accept Christianity they are never willing to accept when in fact it occurs to any degree (say, e.g., the healings performed by Jesus). God is not bound by human whims and fancies and demands. The proofs and evidences He has already provided are summarily rejected by atheists, one-by-one, as never “good enough.”

Atheists and other skeptics seem to want to go to any lengths of intellectual inconsistency and hostility in order to preserve their skepticism. They refuse to bow down to God unless He creates an entirely different world, in order to conform to their ultimately illogical imaginings and excessive, absurd requests for what He should have done. They’re consistent in their inconsistency.

By definition, the natural world entails suffering. One doesn’t eliminate that “difficulty” simply by resorting to a hypothetical fantasy-world where God eliminates every suffering by recourse to miracle and suspension of the natural laws He put into place.

The natural world can’t modify itself every time someone stubs their toe or gets a sunburn. That would require infinitely more miracles than any Christian claims have occurred. With a natural world and natural laws, any number of diseases are bound to occur. One could stay out in the cold too long and get pneumonia. Oh, so atheists want God – if He exists – to immediately cure every disease that comes about?

Again, the miraculous, by definition, is not the normative. It is the extraordinary, rare event. I might stay underwater too long, swallow water, and damage my lungs. I could fall while ice skating, bump my head severely and damage my brain. I might eat a poisonous mushroom, or get stung by a poisonous snake, etc., etc. That’s how the world works. It is not God’s fault; it is the nature of things, and the things of nature.

In an orderly, uniformitarian, largely predictable natural world which makes any sense at all, there will be diseases, torn ligaments, colds, and so forth. The question then becomes: “how much is too much suffering?” or “how many miracles is God required to perform to be a good and just God?” At that point the atheist can, of course, give no substantive, non-arbitrary answer, and his outlook is reduced to wishful thinking and pipe dreams.

Materialistic evolutionists resist miraculous creation at all costs precisely because they think miracles are exceedingly rare. Christians apply the same outlook to reality-at-large. We say that miracles will be very infrequent, by their very nature (“SUPERnatural”). And that must be the case so that the world is orderly and predictable enough to comfortably live in, in the first place.

The many atheists with whom I discussed this subject (I was on a list with some 40-60 atheists or agnostics) didn’t really deal at all with the difficulties inherent in making a world where there is not even any “natural evil.” All they did was imagine a world in which there was no suffering (which is easy enough for anyone to do, but extremely simplistic and not exactly a rigorously philosophical approach). They did not ponder all the logical – even physical – conundrums such a world would entail.

A small child could opine that the world ought not to have any suffering whatever. But an adult has the responsibility to properly think through all the ramifications of that. He no longer has the luxury of the child, to create fairy-tales at his whim and fancy, about reality.

[end of article]

Bottom line: if science, which has brought about tremendous benefits for mankind, is to be possible in the first place, one must adopt the notion of uniformitarianism. But once one does that, then the argument within the problem of evil question that demands God alleviate all suffering and every individual instance of it (lest He be either weak or non-loving) falls flat.

Put another way: if we want science, we have to have a predictable, uniformitarian natural world. And if we have that, it’s virtually impossible to imagine that all the suffering brought about by “natural evil” can be eliminated by massive, constant miracles brought about by God.

***

Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 3,900+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.

Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.

PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: apologistdave@gmail.com. You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing, including 100% tax deduction, etc., see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!

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Photo credit: aebopleidingen (11-11-15) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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Summary: Atheists argue that God should eliminate all suffering: even that caused by natural laws & events. But the principle of uniformitarianism makes this implausible.

 

January 25, 2022

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 added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.”

For over three years, we have had (shall we say) rather difficult relations, with mutual bannings (while I have replied to his posts 76 times: all as of yet unanswered), but when Bob moved to his new location online at the OnlySky super-site, he (surprisingly to me) decided to allow me to comment. As a conciliatory gesture in return, I removed his ban on my blog.  He even stated on 1-21-22 in the same combox thread, replying to me: “There are a few new posts here. (Or, if you haven’t been to my blog for a while, lots of new posts here.) Have at ’em. Let me know what you think.”

Delighted to oblige his wishes . . . Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

I am responding to Bob’s post entitled, “Problem of Evil: the Free Will defense” (1-24-22).

Why would God want to create robots, who have no free will and no free choice? It makes no sense. If indeed He exists and is a loving God and wants what is best for us (as Christians believe, and as the Bible teaches), He would want us to enjoy freedom and determining our own destinies: not just parroting His at every turn (because we must). It’s just common sense on a very basic level, I would say. If God exists, He clearly allows human free will; or else He doesn’t exist. To me, those are the only two viable choices.

Secondly, I always get a chuckle how human beings want to blame God for what they clearly are responsible for doing. Why is that? It’s particularly amusing when atheists go on and on and appear to be “angry” at a God they don’t even believe exists. If you don’t believe in Him, just go merrily on your way and let us Christians and other theists live our lives. But instead you offer us endless polemics.

Usually the Holocaust is brought up in these contexts. I commend you for not doing so! You bring up instead, COVID and 9/11. In all three cases, it is clearly the follies or evil of men that brought them about:

1. The Holocaust could easily have been entirely prevented by simply disallowing the German military build-up. Winston Churchill warned throughout much of the 1930s about this very thing, and was mocked and ignored. We allowed this mega-tragedy to happen; it’s our fault for allowing the Nazis to build up their arsenal, and theirs for taking the evil course they chose. Yet we somehow want to blame God for it. It’s absurd and outrageous in equal parts.

2. COVID, more and more evidence clearly shows, originated (I’m not saying by choice, in a conspiratorial way) in the Wuhan lab in China (which was actually funded and encouraged in its research by Dr. Fauci and other Americans). They were doing research on viruses — literally trying to create new ones — and as a result COVID came about, escaped the lab, and has devastated the world for now two years. How is that God’s fault? One could argue that these scientists were “playing God” and messing around with things at a biological level that they never should have done.

3. 9/11 also could have been prevented had President Bill Clinton killed Osama Bin-Laden when he had a golden opportunity to do so (the same thing that President Obama later did). He chose not to. And choices (like ideas) have consequences. Over 3,000 people died as a result. How is this God’s fault? Please explain that to me. Some Muslims decide to become extreme, fanatical, and evil, going against even their own religion, correctly understood, and that is God’s fault?

I have refuted the “God hardening hearts” bit long since.

“Free will” appears in the Bible exactly zero times. Not even the Bible supports the idea that free will is a big deal.

Really? To the contrary, the very phrase is present:

2 Corinthians 8:1-3 (RSV) We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedo’nia, [2] for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. [3] For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will,

Philemon 1:14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.

There is also the word “freely”: obviously used to convey the notion of free will / free action / choice:

Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;

Deuteronomy 15:10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him; . . .

1 Chronicles 29:1, 17 Then the people rejoiced because these had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the LORD; David the king also rejoiced greatly. . . . [17] I know, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness; in the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen thy people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to thee.

Ezra 7:15 . . . silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel . . . (cf. 7:13; 1:6)

Someone else in the thread noted that “free will” wasn’t present in the KJV. It’s correct that the phrase is not in the 1611 KJV. Instead, at 2 Corinthians 8:3 it has “willing of themselves”: the same notion in different words, and at Philemon 1:14 it renders the concept as “that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly” (also, the same idea as “free will”).

Should anyone think that RSV is a rare translation, there are at least ten others that have the same for 2 Corinthians 8:3. But other renderings clearly express the same idea: “of their own accord”; “voluntarily”; “they wanted to”; “freely willing”; “willing to”; “willingness”, etc. [source one / source two]. Sixteen Bible translations have “free will” at Philemon 1:14, too [source].

The concept clearly and unarguably appears dozens of times in other ways in the Bible, as I have proven, above and below. You will get in trouble when you try to assert universal negatives (especially about the Bible, when with someone familiar with it). Here’s much more in the Bible, expressing the concept of free will, free choice, personal autonomy, voluntarism:

Deuteronomy 13:19 . . . I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live,

Joshua 24:15 . . . choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Job 34:4 Let us choose what is right; let us determine among ourselves what is good.

Proverbs 1:29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,

Proverbs 3:31 Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways;

Isaiah 7:15-16 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. [16] For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Isaiah 56:4 . . . the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant,

Psalm 86:5 For thou, O Lord, art good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on thee.

Isaiah 55:1 Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; . . . (cf. 45:22; Joel 2:32)

Acts 2:21 And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (cf. Rom 10:13)

1 Timothy 2:3-4 . . . God our Savior, [4] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

There are also the “if . . . then . . . ” conditional prophecies / warnings, which presuppose the free will of human beings to choose to obey God’s commands or to disobey them. It’s their choice.

Leviticus 26:3-4If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, [4] then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. [followed by more predicted blessings in 26:5-13]

Leviticus 26:14-16 “But if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all these commandments, [15] if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my ordinances, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, [16] I will do this to you: I will appoint over you sudden terror, consumption, and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it; [followed by more “curses” or calamities in 26:17-39]

Deuteronomy 11:27-28 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day, [28] and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods which you have not known.

Deuteronomy 28:15 But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. [cf. Deut 13:17-18; 28:2, 9]

A few others in the thread cluelessly argued that the Bible supposedly portrays God as punishing folks for the sins of others; not their own. I answered that with one Bible passage:

Ezekiel 18:19-24 “Yet you say, `Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. [20] The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. [21] “But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. [22] None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. [23] Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? [24] But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die.

Bob hasn’t yet replied. If he does, assuredly I will add it to this post and counter-respond. If you see nothing further here from him, then that means that he chose not to reply. I receive notice if someone responds to my posts on his blog, so I won’t miss it if he does.

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2. Who cares whether covid was tweaked in a lab? Smallpox wasn’t. The Black Death wasn’t. God’s fault.

3. Yes, 9/11 was caused by people, but apparently that was insignificant when a 9/11’s worth of deaths happen daily due to covid, and anti-vaxxers aren’t moved by the comparison enough to get vaxxed. And natural disasters give plenty of examples where God did it.

[I replied by posting relevant sections of my article, “Problem of Evil: Treatise on the Most Serious Objection“: which was removed. See my Addendum below]

ADDENDUM: As of late Tuesday, 1-26-22, I am unable to comment on either Bob’s or Jonathan Pearce’s blogs (the two atheists I regularly interact with). I contacted the OnlySky people and am awaiting word, after about 14 hours of this frustration. My only guess is that the cause was one of my posts that was flagged. All that I can figure was “objectionable” to them about it, was that it had two links: to material that was a direct reply to a query (prior to that I had posted single links without a problem). So perhaps I am — irrationally — considered a “spammer” or troll and have to endure some sort of temporary (?) ban.

I’m not assuming nefarious or censorious motivations; only either an incompetent new system or one with the usual glitches and bugs (OnlySky commenced just in the last week). So it’s “wait and see” right now.

Just as I was writing this, Bob put up a snarky comment:

Let me know if Dave gets out of line (or more out of line, anyway). I’m trying to figure out how to see all the comments. So far, just those comments in reply to me come as email.

I signed up for email notification for Dave’s posts, and the first one was “Seidensticker’s Folly # a billion” and cancelled.

“Oh, yeah …” has sprung to mind several times in reading his comments.

Of course, the “Seidensticker Folly” series is in reply to his relentless anti-theist articles: something he requested me to do back in 2018 (and reiterated five days ago by writing to me on his blog, “lots of new posts here. Have at ’em. Let me know what you think.” I have now made 77 replies, with not a single peep in counter-reply back from him. I was hoping for better, since he let me comment on his site again. Apparently, it is the height of arrogance and insult to refer to his endless atheist shots at Christianity and the Bible as “folly.” I won’t even get into all the rank insults he regularly sends our way (and God’s way). But the harmless, tweaking word “folly” is the ultimate insult and proof that I am Attila the Hun!

Thus (most disappointingly), there continues to be not the slightest hint of an actual attempted dialogue from Bob. Hope springs eternal, though.

***

Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 3,900+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.

Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.

PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: apologistdave@gmail.com. You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing, including 100% tax deduction, etc., see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!

***

Photo credit: revzack (2-14-21) [public domain / Openclipart]

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Summary: Influential atheist & anti-theist Bob Seidensticker claimed that “free will” wasn’t in the Bible. Not only is the phrase there, but also the concept, as I proved.

December 7, 2021

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 added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.”

For over three years, we have had (shall we say) rather difficult relations, with mutual bannings, but when Bob moved to his new location online at the OnlySky super-site, he (surprisingly to me) decided to allow me to comment. As a conciliatory gesture in return, I removed his ban on my blog.  He even stated on 1-21-22 in the same combox thread, replying to me: “There are a few new posts here. (Or, if you haven’t been to my blog for a while, lots of new posts here.) Have at ’em. Let me know what you think.”

Delighted to oblige his wishes . . . Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

I am responding to Bob’s post entitled, The Bible defeats its own Resurrection story (12-2-21; update of a post from 8-16-17).

Many Christian apologists insist that the resurrection was documented by eyewitnesses.

Yes they do, because that is the biblical claim.

Their motivation makes sense—the resurrection is the punch line of the Jesus story, and the authors can’t simply be passing along a popular yarn. Only eyewitness authors could be credible.

Indeed. I would just add that the person documenting need not be an eyewitness. Having talked to a credible eyewitness is sufficient to pass along what that eyewitness saw: just as we see regarding eyewitness testimony in court cases, which is judged to be credible (based on the person’s character) or not. It’s sufficient to convict persons of having committed a crime, based on the criterion of “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

We must start by agreeing on what it means to witness a man’s resurrection from the dead. You must (1) see him alive, then (2) see him dead, then (3) see him alive again. This is obvious, I realize, but you’ll soon see where this is missing in the gospels.

This reasoning is not “obvious.” One need not either see a person alive (not having yet died) or see the same person lying dead, in order to witness the same person in a resurrected state. One need only know that a given person X 1) existed, and 2) died; yet said person X is now somehow alive again (resurrected). One could also have known person X, but happened not to see X dead (before burial), or vice versa. So, for example, I know that there was a person named Abraham Lincoln, who lived on the earth, became the President of the United States, and was killed in 1865.

Now, if I witness him walking around my back yard with his distinctive face and beard, top hat, and 6’4″ height, and I go shake his hand, and talk about how he wrote the Gettysburg Address, and eat lunch with him, I am a witness to his resurrection. It is irrelevant whether I saw him alive (before he died) or saw him lying in state. I only have to know that he existed and died, from credible and reasonable information of various types. Thus, Bible-Basher Bob starts his argument with a demonstrably false premise.

We’ll start with the crucifixion story in Matthew. For this to be an eyewitness account, one of the disciples must author Matthew. This requires that the author personally experience the three elements of any resurrection above.

Again, it does not require that, as just argued. It requires the author having consulted credible eyewitnesses to the crucifixion. The author didn’t claim to be a witness to the crucifixion. He does claim that Mary Magdalene and Mary wife of Clopas saw the risen Jesus (Mt 28:1-10) and that the eleven disciples, minus Judas, later did as well (Mt 28:16-20). What’s actually required is that Matthew (if not there himself) reports credible eyewitness testimony.

That could have come from a number of sources: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary, wife of Clopas, the disciple John, and possibly many other followers of Jesus (by then numbering in the multiple thousands) who were present. As for the traditional Christian view that the disciple Matthew wrote the Gospel that bears his name, see:

“Who Wrote the Gospel of Matthew?” (Brian Chilton, 6-11-17)

“Did Matthew Really Write the Gospel Attributed to Him?” (Erik Manning, 3-25-19)

“Who Wrote the Gospel of Matthew?” (John Sanidopoulos, 11-16-09)

“Was Matthew Written Before A.D. 70?” (Jimmy Akin, 11-29-18)

“Who Wrote the Gospel according to Matthew?” (Aaron Mead, 8-10-18)

“Authoritative Testimony in Matthew’s Gospel” (James M. Arlandson, 4-21-08)

Regarding the authorship and reliability of all four Gospels, see:

“Historical Reliability of the Gospels” (James M. Arlandson, 2-2-09)

“Who Wrote the Gospels, and How Do We Know for Sure?” (Mark Strauss, 9-20-17)

“Apologetics: Who Wrote the Gospels?” (Timothy Paul Jones, 7-17-20)

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (book by Richard Bauckham, Eerdmans, 2006)

Next we read, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled” (Matthew 26:56b). The next day Jesus was crucified, and “Many women were there, watching from a distance” (Matt. 27:55) including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph. There were men present—Roman guards and passersby who insulted Jesus—but no disciples.

We don’t know for sure that there were “no disciples at all.” Matthew doesn’t mention it one way or another. But if the word “disciples” is viewed in its larger sense (Jn 6:66: “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” / Lk 10:1, 17: “seventy” / Mt 27:57: “Joseph [of Arimathea], who also was a disciple of Jesus”), then it’s possible that some of those disciples were there; and the book of John records that John himself was present.

Since Matthew doesn’t deny any of those possibilities, it’s not a contradiction. Moreover, Luke 8:1-3 implies that Jesus had several women disciples, too, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, “and many others”.

With no male disciples to observe the crucifixion,

This hasn’t been definitively established, per the above argumentation.

this eyewitness claim fails in point 2 above: you must see him dead if you want to later claim a resurrection.

This is erroneous and a false premise, as also explained above.

Matthew doesn’t even claim any disciples at the empty tomb. 

Nor does he deny it.

Note also that it’s modern Christians who claim that Matthew was an eyewitness; that gospel never makes that claim.

Protestant apologist Greg Koukl accurately observed:

Matthew makes no direct claim in his narrative to being an eyewitness. However, he establishes himself as an eyewitness based on the internal evidence of his account. Though he doesn’t name himself, the author reports in the first person about events that he sees and participates in.

John does make direct claims of being an eyewitness (Jn 21:24; 1 Jn 1:1-3).

But what about the women? They were there. The two Marys saw the crucifixion, they saw Jesus die, they saw the burial in the stone tomb, they saw the empty tomb, and they saw the risen Jesus. They were part of the inner circle, and surely their word was good enough.

Yes, surely it was. They often showed themselves more faithful, loyal, and courageous than the male disciples.

The first problem is that the author of Matthew is still not an eyewitness. At best, he simply reported a story he’d been told.

So what? In most criminal court cases, there is only one or two eyewitnesses. Conviction depends on whether their testimony is credible, and whether their character suggests a truthful report, and no known motivations to lie about what they claim to have seen.

[A]pologists insist that women were seen as unreliable witnesses. This means that they can’t argue that while the author of Matthew wasn’t technically an eyewitness, that’s unimportant because he trusted the women’s report. They’ve left Matthew with no authority from which to document the most important (and least believable) part of the gospel.

How the ancient world may have regarded women’s testimony is irrelevant to whether their reports were true or not (this would be an instance of the genetic fallacy). I agree with the apologists cited, that the Gospels (in a highly patriarchal culture and time) would almost certainly not have recorded that women first saw the risen Jesus (and saw the crucifixion) if they were deliberately lying / making up a story out of whole cloth. Therefore, this element is a strong indication of the truthfulness of the Gospel accounts. It can’t be breezily dismissed.

Another reason to discount Matthew as an eyewitness is that that book liberally copies from Mark, the first gospel. More than half of Matthew comes from Mark. Why would an eyewitness account copy from someone else rather than give his own version . . . unless it wasn’t an eyewitness account?

Well, it’s not nearly so simple as this. Seidensticker is wading into the extraordinarily complex “synoptic problem”, which has to do with the precise relationship of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But first I should note that a rather free borrowing from other written works was a very common feature of ancient literature. Hence, the entry: “Plagiarism, Greek” from the Oxford Classical Dictionary explains:

The more sophisticated ancient critics distinguished ‘imitation’ of earlier writers (Gk. mimēsis, Lat. *imitatio) from ‘theft’ (Gk. klopē, Lat. furtum). ‘Theft’ involves derivative copying and is condemned: this, and only this, is plagiarism. ‘Imitation’ is an acceptable, even normal, re-use (in part, relatable to the modern structuralist’s notion of ‘intertextuality’; see literary theory and classical studies), such that the ‘borrowed’ material is recreated as the borrower’s ‘own property’ (‘privati iuris’, Hor.Ars. 131) and (perhaps because the original is well known and informs the new context) the relationship between new and old is acknowledged rather than concealed. When L. *Annaeus Seneca (1) suggests that *Ovid imitates *Virgil ‘not as pilferer but as open appropriator’ (‘non subripiendi causa sed palam mutuandi’, Suas. 3. 7), the distinction is clear; so too when ‘Longinus’ (Subl. 13) praises a whole tradition of writers, from *Archilochus to *Plato (1), for their re-use of *Homer. [italics added]

While it is true that 56% of Matthew’s content is shared with Mark, it is also true that 20% of the Gospel of Matthew is unique to itself, and another 24% is shared with Luke but not with Mark (see the helpful chart near the top on this web page). So although it shares a lot with Mark, it is a unique presentation in its own right. This is true of Luke to a greater extent, as it has 35% unique material and 23% shared with Matthew, which is almost three-fifths of the book (42% shared with Mark.

The predominant theory of origins of the Gospels have Matthew and Luke derived from jointly from Mark and “Q”: a possibly oral and undocumented source. But this is not certain, and there are other theories, which have recently (especially since the 1990s) attained a growing consensus among Bible scholars. One of these is the Griesbach Hypothesis, explained by Wikipedia:

According to Griesbach, the historical order of the gospels was, first, Matthew; second, Luke, making use of Matthew and other non-Matthaean tradition; and third, Mark, making use of both Matthew and Luke. In proposing this hypothesis, Griesbach maintained Matthaean priority, as had Augustine before him, along with every other scholar in the church prior to the late eighteenth century. Griesbach’s main support for his thesis lies in passages where Matthew and Luke agree over and against Mark (e.g. Matthew 26:68; Luke 22:64; Mark 14:65), the so-called Minor Agreements.

The Orchard Hypothesis is a more recent variation of the Greisbach Hypothesis. But in any event, no one can claim to know for sure who borrowed from whom, who did so first, who wrote first, etc. It’s all (fascinating but non-definitive) speculation. Seidensticker, with his pathetic record of pathetic disinformation and deliberate ignorance and refusal to be corrected (as seen in my 75 previous critiques of his abysmal polemics) is almost the last person on earth who is qualified to make the sweeping claims that he  — undaunted and blissfully free of fact and logic alike –, constantly makes, posing as some sort of (relentlessly cynical and skeptical) biblical expert. It’s a joke.

Mark also shares the problems of Matthew. The author wasn’t an eyewitness to the death or resurrection, . . . 

That’s correct. But according to a position held by many throughout the centuries (which if correct, would overcome this objection), he drew from Peter, who was an eyewitness. This view came originally from Papias, who lived from c. 60 – c. 130. That is actual objective historical evidence, as opposed to largely abstract, subjective theories made up in the minds of men 18-20 centuries after Christ. See:

“Mark’s Gospel Through the Eyes of St. Peter” (Thomas L. McDonald, 4-25-19)

“Eyewitness Testimony in Mark’s Gospel” (James M. Arlandson, 5-13-08)

“Is Peter Really Behind Mark’s Gospel?” (Dr. Fred Baltz, 7-23-21)

“Did Mark base his Gospel on Matthew and Luke?” (Jimmy Akin, 4-25-15)

“Is Mark a Transcript of Peter’s Lectures on Matthew and Luke?” (Jimmy Akin, 9-16-16)

[T]he book itself makes clear that neither Peter nor any disciple was an eyewitness to the death, so no disciple could claim to be an eyewitness to the resurrection.

This is the same old canard again, presented as if mere repetition makes a falsehood magically become true. Mark doesn’t say, “John was not present at the crucifixion.” Therefore, The Gospel of John’s report that he was (Jn 19:26), is not contradicted. And there is also the issue of a larger category of disciples, already noted above.

Luke doesn’t have the disciples run away at the arrest of Jesus.

He neither affirms nor denies it, so it’s not contradictory compared to other Gospels.

At the crucifixion, “All those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching,” so the men were presumably there.

“All” in the Bible often means merely “many” and not literally “absolutely every one, without exception”, as I have written about elsewhere. It’s like how we refer to a big party or family reunion by saying, “everyone was there!” It’s understood that this is not an absolute statement with no exceptions. So this is not a contradiction to Matthew’s and Mark’s descriptions of disciples having fled in terror (Mt 26:31-35, 56; Mk 14:50), and not being present (with the exception of John) at the crucifixion.

With Luke and John, Christians have a better argument for disciples witnessing Jesus alive, then dead, then alive again,

Which is not required . . . 

but they can only do so after admitting a worse problem, that the gospel stories are contradictory.

Nonsense. No contradiction between the Gospels has been established beyond all doubt in this slanted, twisted presentation. As usual, anti-theist atheists invent (with utter disdain of logic) various pseudo- and mythical so-called “contradictions” that in fact are not ones at all.

According to John, when Jesus is on the cross, he sees his mother and “the disciple whom he loved.” [i.e., John] Presumably concerned about who would care for Mary after his death, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26–7). But Mary already had another son! Why would Jesus do this when James the Just was his brother?

James is specifically said to be the son of (by deductive cross-referencing) Mary, wife of Clopas (Mt 27:56; Mk 15:40; 16:1). For more on this, and the persons named James in the NT see my papers, Were Simon & Jude Jesus’ Literal Siblings, or Cousins? and James the Lord’s “Brother” (i.e., Cousin) + Who Wrote the Book of James? Jesus had no siblings.

The resurrection is a ridiculous claim that needs a mountain of evidence to support it.

There were plenty of eyewitnesses to it and the evidence is strong. My present purpose is not to present all that (others have done so far better than I ever could). I am strictly showing, I think, that none of Bible-Basher Bob’s “arguments” have the slightest force (defeating alleged “defeaters” of the Gospels). Nothing here refutes the notion of Jesus rising from the dead, and many people seeing Him risen. None of his individual arguments succeed or prove that they are beyond serious dispute.

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ADDENDUM: Clarifications of My Positions

OverlappingMagisteria” offered some criticisms in my combox, which afforded me an excellent opportunity to clarify in more depth my own expressed opinions on these matters.

I’ll agree that if someone writes down an account from another person who was an eyewitness, then this is close enough. But it seems that you are just assuming that the author of Matthew is reporting an eyewitness account. Nowhere does it say that he talked to the women, or to any apostles that were present. It just tells the story. Perhaps he interviewed eyewitnesses, but perhaps he did not.

And if you’re going to ding Bob for using the Two-source hypothesis (that Matt is based off of Mark and Q) because it is not certain, then I gotta ding you for saying that St. Matthew is the author of the Gospel of Matthew. The two-source hypothesis at least has the majority view among scholars, while Matthean authorship is very much the minority view. Same with Luke using Pete as a source. This is a very much contested view.

We are not 100% sure of who wrote the four gospels. I believe we can conclude with virtually 100% certainty that Luke wrote Luke and that John wrote John. Even these cannot ever be “proven.” As for Matthew and Mark, these two gospels have been attributed to the apostle Matthew and the disciple Mark (John Mark of Acts and of Paul’s letters) since the very earliest time in the history of the church. The church fathers unanimously attributed these books to Matthew and to Mark from the earliest time. Does this prove that these two wrote the books? The answer is that it does not. However, it is far more likely that early church fathers such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus would know who wrote these books than scholars writing today. These faithful disciples, both of whom knew disciples of Jesus who actually met the Apostle John, would be in an excellent position to tell us who wrote these books. Is this proof? I would say that we can be virtually certain that Luke wrote Luke and John wrote John, and fairly confident (but not certain) that Matthew wrote Matthew and Mark wrote Mark. (John Oakes)

You need to be accurate, first of all, as to what I have argued and what I have not asserted. Nowhere did I say that it was my opinion that Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, in two places I referred to the “author” of Matthew, thus implying that it is not a settled issue. I provided articles that took this view, but I introduced them with: “As for the traditional Christian view that the disciple Matthew wrote the Gospel that bears his name, see: . . .”. Note that I didn’t say it was necessarily my view.

My opinion would be precisely what Oakes expressed above: we can be “fairly confident (but not certain)” that he was the author (a view that presupposes a high view of the testimony of early Church fathers: which I would be expected to have as a Catholic who holds sacred tradition and apostolic succession in high regard). But this is not claimed certainty, and I am not asserting with no doubt whatever that he was the author. I still hold it provisionally (though it is my view that it is more likely than not).

It’s also perfectly possible that some unknown scribe wrote Matthew utilizing either firsthand accounts from Matthew himself or oral traditions purported to be largely from him (+ possibly Peter, etc.). That would be no different from what Luke expressly states that he did, and from the view held by many that Mark (or whomever wrote that Gospel) drew largely from Peter. The bottom line is that these documents are inspired revelation, which we believe in faith (and which cannot be proven under a microscope).

You also greatly misunderstand my argumentation regarding the synoptic problem. I never “ding[ed]” Bob for taking the two-source view. I never took any position at all on that whole issue. What I was specifically objecting to was his usual ignorant, dogmatic, cynical view:

Another reason to discount Matthew as an eyewitness is that that book liberally copies from Mark, the first gospel. More than half of Matthew comes from Mark. Why would an eyewitness account copy from someone else rather than give his own version . . . unless it wasn’t an eyewitness account?

This is just stupid, and doesn’t follow at all. Not taking any particular view myself on the synoptic problem, I merely presented different options and opinions (including the ancient common practice of liberally borrowing from earlier literature), stating that it was “not nearly so simple” and “extraordinarily complex”; that the standard two-source theory was “not certain, and [that] there are other theories.” I stated very clearly: “no one can claim to know for sure who borrowed from whom, who did so first, who wrote first, etc. It’s all (fascinating but non-definitive) speculation.” The upshot of all that is that Bob’s take is ignorant and clueless, not that one theory is true and the others manifestly false. It’s Bob’s brain-dead skeptical dogmatism and faux-certainty (which I have observed over and over in my 75 unanswered critiques of his “work”) that I went after.

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Photo credit: Cadetgray (3-7-11). The Resurrected Jesus and the Two Marys window in St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Charleston, South Carolina. Attributed to the Quaker City Glass Company of Philadelphia, 1912. [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]

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Summary: Anti-theist polemicist Bob Seidensticker vainly tries to prove that the Gospel writers were not Resurrection eyewitnesses, but rather, a bunch of mythmaking liars.

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November 5, 2021

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 added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . .

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 74 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 12-21-20: “I love people who can make cogent arguments against mine or point out data I hadn’t considered before. What I dislike (and ban) are $#&*%@s who . . . refuse to learn/adapt . . . ignore compelling arguments against their position, and so on.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

Words of atheist Jonathan MS Pearce will be in green and atheist Geoff Benson‘s in brown.

*****

I am responding to a portion of Bob’s post entitled, 8 reasons why “God” is always the worst answer (11-4-21; update — like so many of Bob’s — of a post from 7-8-17).

For the answer to any of life’s big questions—questions such as “Why are we here?” or “What is the meaning of life?”—anything with God in it is always the worst guess. Super-smart aliens would be better. Fairies would be better. “I dunno, but there’s gotta be something better” would be better.

“God did it” is perhaps the most remarkable claim possible since it assumes, without compelling evidence, that a supernatural being created everything.

Let’s explore why God is the worst explanation for anything.

1. “God did it” is unfalsifiable. It explains too much.

“God did it” is the ready answer apologists can use to explain any scientific puzzle—what caused abiogenesis (the first life, which allowed evolution to begin), what caused the Big Bang, what explains consciousness, and so on. Of course, science keeps answering those puzzles, meaning that those applications of “God did it” were both wrong and premature, but apologists never seem to learn that lesson.

I can never prove that “God did it” is not the explanation for anything. What about a tsunami that kills hundreds of thousands of people, God’s hiddenness despite earnest prayers, or anything else within Christianity that confounds us? The Christian can always say that God might have his own reasons that we simply aren’t entitled to know or aren’t smart enough to understand. . . . 

The problem is that “God did it” can never be falsified, which makes it useless. By explaining anything, it explains nothing.

I’ve been through this [non-]argument many times. It’s quite obvious that (naturalistic) science and (secular) philosophy and atheism offer no more compelling answers or solutions to the age-old question: “why is there something rather than nothing?” than Christianity or other religious faiths. I’ve already replied directly to Bob along these lines six times (and of course he never replies to any critique I write). and at least eight other times, generally speaking, as well:

Seidensticker Folly #14: Something Rather Than Nothing [9-3-18]

Seidensticker Folly #38: Eternal Universe vs. an Eternal God [4-16-20]

Seidensticker Folly #41: Argument from Design [8-25-20]

Seidensticker Folly #42: Creation “Ex Nihilo” [8-28-20]

Seidensticker Folly #71: Spirit-God “Magic”; 68% Dark Energy Isn’t? [2-2-21]

Seidensticker Folly #73: Philosophy & “Who Created God?” [7-12-21]

Exchanges with Atheists on Ultimate Origins [11-19-15]

Cause of the Big Bang: Atheist Geologist Challenged [4-21-17]

Atheists & Inherent “Omnipotent” Creative Qualities of Godless Matter [7-26-17]

Dialogue w Atheist on the Origin of the Universe [6-23-18]

Dialogue with an Atheist on “God of the Gaps” [6-24-18]

God the Designer?: Dialogue with an Atheist [8-27-20]

“Quantum Entanglement” & the “Upholding” Power of God [10-20-20]

Dialogue with an Agnostic: God as a “Properly Basic Belief” [10-5-15]

But let’s give it another crack. Bottom line: science and philosophy have not answered this key question, and most scientists and philosophers readily admit it. The closest they come is the Big Bang Theory (first developed by the Catholic priest-scientist Georges Lemaître). That’s all well and good, and most Christians and theists today readily agree, but the problem for them is the next obvious question” “what [or Who] caused the Big Bang?” Christians, of course, believes that God did, and we have various philosophical and religious arguments for believing in God’s existence. But the atheist has . . . well, usually nothing to say to this further basic question.

I have satirized (but at the same time seriously analyzed and critiqued) atheist cosmology in my article, Atheism: A Remarkably Strong, Impervious Faith in “Atomism” (8-19-15). Here is the heart and essence of my argument (minus the satirical elements):

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 . . . materialist . . . thinks that trillions of [atoms] . . . 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. . . .

Trillions of . . . atoms can do absolutely everything that the Christian God can do, and for little or no reason that anyone can understand . . . [how they] came to possess such powers in the first place . . .

The above is what amounts to a logical reduction of the atheist “answer” to this fundamental question. Anyone can see that it requires at least as much pure faith as the Christian answer. Bob Seidensticker can sit there and mock Christianity by saying that “Fairies would be better” (than God as an explanation for existence and the Ultimate Questions) and that “God is the worst explanation for anything.” But then when we examine what he and atheists propose as an alternative, it inevitably boils down to the above scenario or something not far from it.

Much better, I think, is the transparent intellectual humility shown by another atheist “sparring partner” of mine: Jonathan MS Pearce (one who actually does reply to at least some of my critiques), in his article, “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?” (11-5-21). He is honest and fair enough to state:

I readily admit that this is the one question that keeps me up at night, it is also just as pertinent and applicable if one believes in God as if one doesn’t. I don’t see this as a problem for atheists and not for theists, or vice versa, this is something to think about no matter what your worldview is. . . . 

But can matter be just as brute a fact as God? And it is, perhaps, just inexplicable. . . . 

Roy Sorenson, in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, seems closest to the mark, in my humblest of opinions: . . . 

If the explanation cannot begin with some entity, then it is hard to see how any explanation is feasible. Some philosophers conclude ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ is unanswerable. They think the question stumps us by imposing an impossible explanatory demand, namely, Deduce the existence of something without using any existential premises. Logicians should feel no more ashamed of their inability to perform this deduction than geometers should feel ashamed at being unable to square the circle.

He then cites philosopher Lloyd Strickland:

Or, then again, you could argue that there just should be a universe:

The most novel answer to Leibniz’s great question is to say that our universe exists because it should. The thinking here is that all possible universes have an innate tendency to exist, but that some have a greater tendency to exist than others. . . .

[T]he idea of a virtual struggle among possible universes has appealed to some modern philosophers, who have followed it to its logical conclusion and claimed that the possible universe with the greatest tendency to exist – which might be because it is the best, or because it contains some important feature such as the conditions that permit life to arise – will actually bring itself into existence.

According to this theory, our universe becomes actual not because God or anything else made it so but because it literally lifted itself out of non-existence and made itself actual. Weird? Yes. But we shouldn’t let that put us off. After all, an extraordinary philosophical question might just require an extraordinary answer. [my bolding]

It’s the ultimate head-scratcher, for sure.

It sure is, for the atheist. Again, I sincerely appreciate Jonathan’s intellectual humility and his refraining from mocking the Christian reply to this question. We readily observe in his presentation that atheism’s “answer” is not a whit more rational or unfalsifiable than the Christian one. We say God created the universe, and believe He exists on many independent religious and philosophical grounds. The atheist explanations of the existence of the universe, on the other hand, are (take your pick):

1) the remarkable inherent and eternal (?) qualities of initially non-living matter that they in effect place their limitless “faith” in, as agents of the creation of the universe.

2) “our universe exists because it should“. Now how is that assertion falsifiable or able to be rationally examined at all? How is it epistemologically superior to “God exists because He should and must” or even to the classic theistic ontological argument?

3) The universe “literally lifted itself out of non-existence and made itself actual.” This is what might be called the ‘lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps” approach. It makes no rational or logical sense whatsoever and is almost impossible to rationally accept or even to grasp at all.

There you have it folks. I challenge any atheist reading this to defend any of those three propositions as more plausible, believable, falsifiable, and rational than the traditional theistic explanations for the existence of the universe. I’d love to have that conversation. In fact, there are very few things I would find more fascinating to discuss with an atheist (or anyone else) than this.

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Dave, your article does nothing, in my opinion, to alter the dynamic of the atheist position, which is one of ‘don’t know’. Reading your article you, quite rightly, point out that invoking God as a creator of all existence is little different to simply leaving God out of the discussion altogether. Ultimately, your case is that God must have done it because it’s too hard to imagine anything else. I might say that the proposition you mention

“According to this theory, our universe becomes actual not because God or anything else made it so but because it literally lifted itself out of non-existence and made itself actual.”

is not one I’ve previously seen, nor pay great heed to. I prefer the simplest view, that ‘nothing’ is an incoherent concept and that even asking the question (which admittedly I will continue to do) misses the point, that it’s impossible to have non-existence.

Ultimately, natural explanations for existence are likely to founder simply because the question doesn’t lend itself to being answered. Regardless, science and philosophy will keep hunting down the natural explanations because that’s all we can do. There are some pretty wild theories out there that may never be testable, and hence unfalsifiable, but these can often lead to ideas in other areas that give very tangible results. The insertion of God into the equation doesn’t help move things forward in any way.

Thanks for your comment (non-insulting as always: a rare thing around here to be sure!).

There are over fifty philosophical theistic arguments. How many philosophical arguments are there that defend the notion of “the universe exists because it should” or “the universe lifted itself out of non-existence and made itself actual”?

Those two positions are absolutely irrational, are immediately perceived as such, can scarcely be developed or expanded upon at all (let alone falsified), have nothing to do with either science or philosophy, and require the most extraordinary blind faith. Theism is quite different from this nonsense, because it has such a rich philosophical history of thought behind it, including scores and scores of the greatest philosophers and scientists who ever lived.

God is “inserted” into the equation because that makes the most sense of any of the “explanations.” I would submit that it is the only explanation that exists since “the universe lifted itself out of non-existence” and suchlike are not explanations at all. They are simply proclamations of fairy tales that have no substantiation whatsoever and only exist at all because atheists are so desperate to explain a universe without God.

It’s best to simply say you have no idea, as you have essentially done. Theists do have an idea, and we have many philosophical and scientific arguments for why we think an immaterial God is the initial Cause and Creator of this universe. We prefer to keep thinking and speculating about origins (both scientifically and philosophically, as well as theologically), rather than yield the question up to nonsensical absurdities and fairy tales.

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Photo credit: Gerd Altmann [PublicDomainPictures.Net]
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Summary: “Why a universe at all?” or the more famous “why is there something rather than nothing?” are fascinating questions. Atheists offer some rather awkward answers.
September 17, 2021

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 added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . .

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 73 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 12-21-20: “I love people who can make cogent arguments against mine or point out data I hadn’t considered before. What I dislike (and ban) are $#&*%@s who . . . refuse to learn/adapt . . . ignore compelling arguments against their position, and so on.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

I am responding to Bob’s post entitled, God’s life is hell (9-16-21; update of a post from 4-3-17).

We see problems as bad things because most of us have too many, but what if you have none? 

God has problems. He has to figure out how to save as many stubborn, unrepentant, rebellious, obstinate, stiff-necked, sin-loving, ignorance-obsessed humans with free will (like Bob) as possible, since we know from the Bible (His revelation) that He desires that none perish.

God could never be perplexed by anything,

That’s true.

and there’s nothing to exercise creativity on. There’s no pleasure in solving a problem, no thrill of an Aha! insight.

This is untrue. He does all He can to save every one of us, but because He gave us free will, the possibility always remains that we will reject His free offer of forgiveness, grace, and heaven. Hence, God’s challenge, and it still is one, even though He is all-powerful (i.e., to do all that is logically possible) and all-knowing. When anyone goes to hell, God knows (and knew from all eternity) that He did everything He could to save him or her: that sufficient grace and understanding was granted for that person’ to be saved, but they chose to reject God and spend eternity away from union with Him.

Not only does God have no problems, he doesn’t even have surprises. No matter what it is, he saw it coming. 

The first thing is false, the second true.

No matter what it is, the correct response is not only obvious but foreseen billions of years earlier. 

That is, from all eternity. And it wasn’t “foreseen”, because for God it wasn’t future; it was the eternal Now, outside of all time.

Not only can’t God wrestle with a problem, he can’t think a new thought or plan or regret or be surprised or get a joke or make a decision.

He doesn’t need to, because He’s not like us in that respect. Those things are good for us precisely because of our inherent limitations as finite creatures.

God’s ways are a heckuva lot more unlike our ways that you may have thought.

Yes, and a lot more different than Bob has thought, too, as I will show as I proceed.

But God’s calendar is packed, right? He’s granting prayers, weighing the consequences of people’s actions, satisfy his agenda by performing undetectable [only for Bob and atheists] miracles, tweaking evolution so it goes in the right direction, and so on. 

One might say He is busy, but since He has “all the ‘time’ in the world” to deal with any particular at all, He has no sense of being “busy” or “burdened”.  To follow C. S. Lewis’ analogy, He’s (somewhat) like the author who can take an entire week to come up with one great sentence from the mouth of one of his or her characters in a book, that will most effectively serve the plot.

God’s omniscience has consequences, and the God Christians have invented is as personable as a machine.

We couldn’t possibly have invented such a marvelous, benevolent Being (we’re neither that smart, nor creative). He had to reveal Himself to us; and He did. Bob sees Him as a “machine” (we who know Him don’t) because he is misinfortmed and carnal-minded, and doesn’t seek to learn and to be set free from his intellectual and spiritual bondage.

He knows every request and every human problem, now and in the future. Knowing the future, God could list his every action like this: “At time T1, do action A1; at T2, do A2,” and so on.

God experiences no “future” or “past” because He is entirely outside of time.

God is nothing more than that. Not only could he mindlessly carry out these actions, but God could be replaced by a universal wish-granting machine.

He could not, because He is free in a way that a machine can never be. It’s the same with people. We are essentially different from any machine because we have a soul, made in God’s image, and we are free to make our own decisions: up to and including acceptance or rejection of God. It’s Bob’s “god”: imagined out of an arbitrary, atheist mindset: constructed only to mock and deride. Well, that’s fine if Bob gets a charge out of  making up fairy-takes and then making fun of his own imaginary nonsense, but it forms no intellectual (let alone persuasive) argument at all.

We can imagine a conversation with God, but he couldn’t see it like we do. A conversation for him would be like stating lines in a play, all of which he’s memorized.

He makes Himself accessible to us, so that it’s possible to talk (and of course came to earth as a man to make it even easier). This is the common biblical theme of anthropopathism and anthropomorphism that I have brought up a hundred times in replying to Bob; but since he never reads my replies — or if he ever does, utterly ignores them — he never learns, and so keeps saying the same stupid and clueless things about God and Christianity over and over.

It’s true that God in the Old Testament has original conversations, gets surprised (example: he regretted making humanity before the flood), gets angry (such as his response to the golden calf), and so on, all of which makes sense only if he’s not omniscient. But how is this possible? God would’ve seen it all coming for 13.7 billion years.

That’s not true. It makes perfect sense once one understands anthropopathism and anthropomorphism. He at least has heard of one or both of these fifty-cent words because he actually mentioned the second word in one article (the first one, never). But he obviously never understands that these concepts answer his supposed “gotcha” questions for Christians that he specializes in and takes special glee in tossing out every day.

Christians have changed the properties of their unchanging God over time.

Monotheism has developed since Abraham, which is a self-consistent change of greater understanding, not the changing of one thing into something else entirely different.

What did God do all day before he created the universe? 

There was no such “day” for Him because He is outside of time. Everything He has done was done from all eternity and has no sense (in God’s “eyes”) of before or after.

If he created the universe, that admits that things weren’t perfect beforehand—if they were, changing things would make them less perfect. 

God is perfect, because He is self-existent and self-sufficient, and always has been. The universe isn’t perfect by virtue of being a created rather than eternal thing. But creation was good.

And if things were perfect after creating the universe, why wait so long for creating it?

God doesn’t wait for anything.

(And who’s going to say that this mess of a world is perfect?)

As we saw above, I didn’t say that. But the question is: what has caused all of the evident imperfections of the universe (chiefly, suffering and evil): God or human beings and demons?

Fourth-century church father Augustine told of someone who was asked what God was doing before he created the universe. The answer: “He was preparing hell for those prying into such deep subjects.”

Well, that’s Christian humor (and rather good at that!).

But pry we must. A popular Christian answer is to say that the Big Bang theory has a beginning for the universe (more precisely, this theory says that there’s a point in time before which science can’t take us yet). Therefore, God lived timelessly before he created the universe.

The Big Bang theory is what it is, and is perfectly consistent with creation ex nihilo, as taught in the Bible.

No, a timelessness God doesn’t solve anything. 

That’s right. It simply is. It’s “eternal reality.”

How could God create the universe if he’s outside time?

By willing it.

How could anyone create anything if you’re outside of time?!

By being inherently omnipotent. What He desires, comes to be, as long as it’s logically possible.

Creation is a process that can only operate within time.

According to whom? If the timeless Being can create time, then He can create a physical universe at the same “time” He creates time.

That’s also true for the decision to create.

How does that follow? It doesn’t.

A timeless god is a frozen, unchanging, and inert god. He makes no decisions, sees nothing, decides nothing, initiates nothing, and loves nothing.

Well, this is simply Bob’s imaginary “god”: that he pretends is the Christian / monotheistic God, but it isn’t. Neither the philosophical theistic God nor the biblical Jewish / Christian one is of this nature. He’s indeed timeless and unchanging, but none of the other listed things.

Christians have created a God who’s inert (when outside of time) and a soul-less robot whose hands are tied by his own omniscience (when time is proceeding). Christians should rethink the properties they invent for God.

Nonsense. We created nothing with regard to God. We accepted His revelation of Himself, either directly (Moses, Abraham et al and in each believer’s own experience of Him, and in Jesus, the incarnate God) or through His revelation, the Bible. Human theistic philosophy helped us to further grasp this one true God. But Bob’s tweaking, petulant silliness simply comes from his own vain and futile imaginings and has nothing to do with the Christian understanding of God.

Can you imagine anything more absurd
than an infinite intelligence in infinite nothing
wasting an eternity?
— Robert Ingersoll

I can’t. Blessedly, this is not the God we believe exists, so it has nothing to do with Christian belief. Great straw man, though! That’s been the atheist specialty from the beginning.

***

Photo credit: EvgeniT (8-20-19) [Pixabay / Pixabay License]

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Summary: Anti-theist atheist Bob Seidensticker, addressing the issue of an omniscient God, creates an imaginary “god” & then proceeds to shoot the straw man down, thinking he is refuting Christianity.

July 12, 2021

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 added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . .

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 72 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 12-21-20: “I love people who can make cogent arguments against mine or point out data I hadn’t considered before. What I dislike (and ban) are $#&*%@s who . . . refuse to learn/adapt . . . ignore compelling arguments against their position, and so on.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

I am responding to Bob’s post entitled, “But Who Created God?” an Atheist Fallacy? (7-6-21; recycled from a paper dated 12-10-16). I made a similar response in my article, Seidensticker Folly #38: Eternal Universe vs. an Eternal God (4-16-20). Here I will be applying a different angle: the establishment of the notion of an eternal non-material entity (in some cases very much like God) strictly from non-Christian, and even non-theistic classic philosophy. If we can establish that, then we have a ready non-biblical answer to supply to atheists who are gleefully seeking to embarrass Christians with the (rather silly) “gotcha!” question of “Who created God?! Huh? Tell me!”

And the short answer is: “no one or nothing. And we don’t have to explain (on the spot, under the usual atheist polemical “pressure”) how God can exist eternally if indeed there are respectable philosophical analyses many hundreds of years old that establish the notion of an eternal immaterial entity that always existed. We say that the theistic, biblical God is such an entity and that He has a non-biblical philosophical justification, or at the very least a philosophical rationale that analogically goes a long way towards establishing the existence of such a God.”

In other words, “it ain’t just fairy tales or religion / theology, from the Bible.” It’s secular philosophy. And I would add, this view is significantly more rational, plausible, and sensible than the atheist view of “the universe began from no discernible cause out of nothing, for no known reason.” Now there is a view that is neither scientific, philosophical, plausible, or rational. Christians can easily turn the tables with regard to this sort of discussion. The atheist has far more to explain than we do. And (believe me) they usually take a pass when challenged in this way.

Bob wrote:

Sure, we can define God as “the uncreated creator of the universe” (or indeed anything) but if that definition is supposed to be an argument for this God, then you’re as disconnected from reality as the physicist.

Don’t pretend that you can sit back with your arms crossed as if you’ve justified your position in any way. Your religion may say that God was uncreated, but that is no answer in the real world. If “Who created God?” exposes an unsupported part of your argument, then come back after you have justified the claim that God was uncreated. Make it a conclusion, not a presupposition.

And before you say that the Bible confirms that God is eternal (for example, “The hope of eternal life, which God . . . promised before the beginning of time” from Titus 1:2), remember that “the Bible says so” is theology, not evidence.

Expert on Plato and Neoplatonism Bernard Suzanne described Plato’s religious views:

“God” with a capital G . . . doesn’t exist in Plato, . . . Plato speaks of “the gods (hoi theoi), or “the god (ho theos)”, in some cases of “god”, but then in the same way we would talk of “man”, using the word as a generic name. He also speaks of “the divine (to theion)”.

Thus, if by “God” you mean the god of Christianity, Yahweh, the Holy Trinity and the like, there is none of it in Plato or Aristotle. However, if you are looking for “traces” in Plato and Aristotle of a concept that somehow anticipates this god, or if you want to know what is their stand as regards what we are used to call “religion”, this is another matter. . . .

I think Plato knew perfectly well that on such matters, it is impossible to give complete answers with human words. Thus, he tried to approach the question from different angles and give partial complementary (and not contradictory) answers, both negative (what gods are not, what we should not believe) and positive (what we may safely believe about gods and the divine, and questions of “origins” and “ends”).

In that respect, the answers he gives in the Timæus have to be “qualified” by the purpose of this dialogue: it purports to show man how he should look at the kosmos, that is “theorize” it (from theorein, which means in Greek “contemplate”), to find in it traces of an organizing “intelligence” . . . Plato himself repeats time and again that he does not state definite truths but tells only “likely myths”.

In it, you will find not “God”, but a “demiourgos“, that is a “worker” (etymologically, demiourgos means “one who works for the demos, that is for the people”), which is immortal by nature but works from a model and has to deal with anagkè, necessity. Though he does not seem to be the maker of “place (chôra)” and matter, he is the maker of time, “a moving image of eternity”, and of “lower” gods, that are only immortal by his will. These gods represent the immortal living creatures that are needed to have all sorts of creatures in the kosmos. They are the makers of man as the “host” of a divine soul (the logos) handed them by the demiourgos. But you will also read that the kosmos is often referred to as a “god”, endowed with a soul.

Plato (bet. 423-428-c. 347 BC), the ancient Greek philosopher, was not a theist (at least not in the way philosophers habitually use the term); he’s more like a pantheist or panentheist (in many respects like the view of Einstein and David Hume). R. Hackworth, in his paper, “Plato’s Theism” (The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan., 1936), Cambridge University Press) shows why Plato (even if a theist) believes things that Christian theists do not believe:

The problem is complicated at the outset by Plato’s very wide application of Theos [Greek for “God”] . . . many things are called ‘Gods’ or ‘divine’: the Demiurge is a Theos, so is the created Universe (Tim. 34B, 92C), so are the stars and planets (Tim. 40D) and the gods of popular theology (Tim. 40E), and the (possible) plurality of good souls in Laws X; the adjective Theios is commonly applied to the Forms . . .

S. Marc Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Washington, wrote in a course syllabus about Plato’s theory of forms:

  1. Characteristics of Forms

    1. A general metaphysical and epistemological theory. Central to all of Plato’s thought, but nowhere systematically argued for. Not stated in any one dialogue; we must cull from several (but principally Phaedo and Republic).
    2. A theory of postulated abstract objects, deriving from the Socratic “What is X?” question, which presupposes that there is a single correct answer to the “What is X?” question.
      1. The correct answer is not a matter of convention, of what we all (or most of us) think.
      2. What makes such an answer correct: it is an accurate description of an independent entity, a Form.
      3. Forms are thus mind-independent entities: their existence and nature is independent of our beliefs and judgments about them.
    3. The Phaedo contains an extended description of the characteristics and functions of the forms:
      • Unchangeable (78c10-d9)
      • Eternal (79d2)
      • Intelligible, not perceptible (79a1-5)
      • Divine (80a3, b1)
      • Incorporeal (passim)
      • Causes of being (“The one over the many”) (100c)
      • Are unqualifiedly what their instances are only with qualification (75b)
    4. Other dialogues fill out the picture: non-temporal (Tim. 37e-38a); non-spatial (Phaedr. 247c); they do not become, they simply are (Tim. 27d3-28a3).
    5. Phaedo 80b provides a good summary, listing all the attributes of Forms that souls also have: “divine, deathless, intelligible, uniform, indissoluble, always the same as itself.”

Thus, we have the notion of an eternal and unchangeable ideas, forms, immaterial entities (call them what we will) from one of the greatest philosophers of all time, who lived three-and-a-half centuries before Christ. This represents a philosophical basis for many Christian notions about God, but particularly His eternity, which is the topic under immediate consideration.

As a second example of a great philosopher who argues for eternal immaterial entities without reference to either theism per se or Christianity, I submit the founder of Neoplatonism: Plotinus (c. 205-270 AD). He never, by the way, made mention of Christianity in any of his writings. His views (i.e., having to do with our subject) are summed up by atheist and former Catholic Professor of Philosophy John Messerly:

The One – Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, godlike, totally transcendent One containing no division, multiplicity or distinction. The One is beyond all categories of being and non-being. The One isn’t a thing or a person; it isn’t the sum of all things; and it isn’t sentient or self-aware. But the One is the first principle; it is good; and nothing could exist without it. The One is the source of the world, but it doesn’t create the world by willful action. Instead, reality emanates from the One, as an outpouring or overflowing of its nature in an ongoing temporal process. In other words, the One reflects itself onto lower planes, but these reflections represent limits on the One’s perfection.

Nous – The first emanation from the One is Nous (Divine Mind, Logos, Thought, Reason, Intelligence.) This intelligence contemplates both the One, as well as its own thoughts, and Plotinus identifies Nous with the Platonic Forms (eide).

Soul – The second emanation brings soul, the creative power of which is divided into the upper aspect, World Soul, which remains in contact with Nous, and the lower aspect, identified with nature, which allows for individual human souls.

Matter – The third emanation results in matter, the lowest level of being, and is thus the least perfected level of the cosmos.

Mystical Experience – To experience the One is to be in an ecstatic union with it, a union Porphyry says that Plotinus achieved multiple times in his life. This union with the One is probably related to enlightenment and other concepts of mystical union common to many Eastern and Western traditions.

This Metaphysics – The concept of the One is similar to the concept of Brahman in Hinduism. It also has much in common with pantheism, the view that god and reality are identical. The idea that all reality is divine shows up throughout the history of philosophy and religion—most notably in the pantheism of Spinoza. The idea that nous contemplates Platonic ideas finds echoes in St. Augustine. And, no doubt, other parallels could be drawn between Plotinian metaphysics and other thinkers.

Here is another description of Plotinus’ idea of “the One”, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (“Plotinus”): written by Lloyd P. Gerson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto:

The One is the absolutely simple first principle of all. It is both ‘self-caused’ and the cause of being for everything else in the universe. There are, according to Plotinus, various ways of showing the necessity of positing such a principle. These are all rooted in the Pre-Socratic philosophical/scientific tradition. A central axiom of that tradition was the connecting of explanation with reductionism or the derivation of the complex from the simple. That is, ultimate explanations of phenomena and of contingent entities can only rest in what itself requires no explanation. If what is actually sought is the explanation for something that is in one way or another complex, what grounds the explanation will be simple relative to the observed complexity. Thus, what grounds an explanation must be different from the sorts of things explained by it. According to this line of reasoning, explanantia that are themselves complex, perhaps in some way different from the sort of complexity of the explananda, will be in need of other types of explanation. In addition, a plethora of explanatory principles will themselves be in need of explanation. Taken to its logical conclusion, the explanatory path must finally lead to that which is unique and absolutely uncomplex.

The One is such a principle. Plotinus found it in Plato’s Republic where it is named ‘the Idea of the Good’ and in his Parmenides where it is the subject of a series of deductions (137c ff.). The One or the Good, owing to its simplicity, is indescribable directly. We can only grasp it indirectly by deducing what it is not (see V 3. 14; VI 8; VI 9. 3). Even the names ‘One’ and ‘Good’ are fautes de mieux. Therefore, it is wrong to see the One as a principle of oneness or goodness, in the sense in which these are intelligible attributes. The name ‘One’ is least inappropriate because it best suggests absolute simplicity.

If the One is absolutely simple, how can it be the cause of the being of anything much less the cause of everything? The One is such a cause in the sense that it is virtually everything else (see III 8. 1; V 1. 7, 9; V 3. 15, 33; VI 9. 5, 36). This means that it stands to everything else as, for example, white light stands to the colors of the rainbow, or the way in which a properly functioning calculator may be said to contain all the answers to the questions that can be legitimately put to it. Similarly, an omniscient simple deity may be said to know virtually all that is knowable. In general, if A is virtually B, then A is both simpler in its existence than B and able to produce B.

Now, it’s not my present purpose to present (or even summarize) all the arguments that Plato and Plotinus made for their views under consideration. Readers may follow the “lead” of this article and pursue those as they wish. I’m simply trying to establish that serious, solid (non-Christian / non-theist) philosophical arguments exist — and certainly from many more renowned philosophers than just these two — for both the notion of eternity itself and eternal uncreated immaterial entities (analogous in many ways to the theistic and biblical God).

Some other famous philosophers who may be considered Platonists are Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), and Simone Weil (1909-1943).

Under the category of “Neoplatonist” we might classify the following eminent philosophers: Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Henri Bergson (1859-1941), W. V. O. Quine (1908-2000), Saul Kripke (1940- ), Alvin Plantinga (1932- ), Peter van Inwagen (1942- ), Nicholas Wolterstorff (1932- ), Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) (1927- ), Boethius (c. 477-524), St. Augustine (354-430), St. Anselm (c. 1034-1109), Origen (c. 184-c. 253), and St. Bonaventure (1221-1274).

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Photo credit: adonesFAO (8-4-17) [PixabayPixabay License]

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Summary: I construct an argument designed to answer the atheists’ polemical “gotcha!” question, “Who created God?” from secular, non-theist philosophy; in particular: Plato and Plotinus.

March 3, 2021

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 added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . .

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 71 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 12-21-20: “I love people who can make cogent arguments against mine or point out data I hadn’t considered before. What I dislike (and ban) are $#&*%@s who . . . refuse to learn/adapt . . . ignore compelling arguments against their position, and so on.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blueTo find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

I am responding to Bob’s post entitled, “Why a Single Human Cell is Not a Baby” (3-1-21; recycled from a post of 9-14-16). The entire post consists of the graphic chart above, followed by “Any questions?”

The first thing one notices (well, if one is pro-life), is (for inexplicable reasons) the absence of DNA on this list of features of human beings (and non-features of a newly fertilized cell of a human being). There is, I submit, a very good reason for that. The DNA that a human being will utilize for his or her entire life is already present in this fertilized cell. And it seems to me that that, too, is a key element of the human and personal identity of a human being / person. It makes us unique and is our “code” or ultimate identifying mark. Science verifies this:

Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…. The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity. [Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29.]

Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual. [Bruce M. Carlson, Patten’s Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3]

This is why pro-lifers believe that the newly fertilized egg or zygote is already (in essence) the person they will develop into after birth. The DNA (which determines so much) is present, and secondly, there is no other starting-point that isn’t completely arbitrary (and, I would add, scientifically and philosophically ludicrous, before we even get to religious belief and legal / societal “rights”). It’s the same person in the sense of inexorable development; just as an acorn may be said to not be an oak tree; yet every oak tree was once an acorn. In that sense, the acorn is an oak tree: just at a very early stage of development (a “baby oak tree” so to speak). Yet Seidensticker completely ignores DNA as any sort of important identifying human characteristic, which is immediately absurd.

The argument above is, “look at all these things that a single-cell human doesn’t possess! Therefore, how could anyone call this a human being? We do based on what I just explained: the only rational beginning-point of a new unique human being, and DNA, as well as the fact that all that this single cell needs is time to become everything that born human beings are or will be. It’s all there.

So people (perhaps knowing these things, at least upon reflection or being confronted with them), pivot over to an argument from viability: “it has to be able to live on its own.” But lots of born human beings can’t do that without help from other human beings. In fact, a born baby cannot, for a very long time (maybe two, three years old). Others are dependent on medicine or kidney dialysis, and so forth. Yet we don’t say they cease to be human beings because of that.

My central point in writing this article is to note that all of these traits in the chart above do apply to an eight-week-old embryo. So, even if we can’t convince the person who favors legal abortion that the single-celled human is a human being, entitled to the right to life, we ought to be able to convince them that (at least) an eight-week-old fetus is identifiably human and a person: by the same means that the chart above utilizes in order to argue that the single-celled fertilized zygote is not

The usual means of determining the end of life are heartbeat and brain waves, right? (especially the first, which can be immediately detected). Human embryos have beating hearts “four weeks after conception,” (28 days) according to the Mayo Clinic: “Pregnancy week by week“. According to neuroscientist Katrina Furth, “Fetal EEGs: Signals from the Dawn of Life”, brain waves have been detected at “45 days after conception” (just seven weeks and three days). So by the early 8th week from conception (which is usually called the tenth week of a pregnancy), both these features that determine death in hospitals and ambulances, are present in the human embryo.

By eight weeks after conception, as the pictures in the Mayo Clinic article demonstrate, a human embryo possesses all the outward characteristics from Seidensticker’s chart: arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, and skin (as well as nose, mouth, fingers, toes, elbows, and knees). So when do the internal systems (apart form the brain and heart, which we’ve covered above) begin?:

Liver: As far as I can make out from a very technical scientific description, this seems to be completely developed by eight weeks.

Stomach: the same resource on embryology [in a separate article] places the origin of the stomach in the “4th week”.

Intestines: the same article holds that the intestines also are present by the 4th week.

Nervous system: the article from Embryology.med on this topic states that this system is in place by the 8th week.

Circulatory system: the article, “Development of Blood Vessels and Fetal Circulation” states: “Circulation patterns are clearly established by the fourth week of embryonic life.”

That means that every characteristic in the above developmental chart is present in human embryos by eight weeks after conception. So the relevant and obvious question to ask Bob (who has ignored — in his intellectual profundity and glory and self-evident courage — my 71 previous critiques) and those who think like him is: “Why isn’t an eight-week-old human embryo a person (or a “baby”)?” If the chart supposedly proves that a single-celled human being right after fertilization is not a “baby” at that stage (lacking all those characteristics), then our analysis (using exactly the same criteria) proves that an eight-week-old fetus is a “baby”: since it has all of them: most notably, a heartbeat and brain waves: present at four weeks and 7 1/2 weeks.

***

Photo credit: Bob Seidensticker / Cross Examined [source page]

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Summary: Atheist and advocate of legal abortion Bob Seidensticker produced 14 characteristics (omitting DNA) that a newly fertilized single-cell lacks. All are, however, present by eight weeks.

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February 2, 2021

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 added in June 2017 in a combox“If I’ve misunderstood the Christian position or Christian arguments, point that out. Show me where I’ve mischaracterized them.” Delighted to oblige his wishes . . .

Bob (for the record) virtually begged and pleaded with me to dialogue with him in May 2018, via email. But by 10-3-18, following massive, childish name-calling attacks against me,  encouraged by Bob on his blog, he banned me from commenting there. I also banned him for violation of my rules for discussion, but (unlike him) provided detailed reasons for why it was justified.

Bob’s cowardly hypocrisy knows no bounds. On 6-30-19, he was chiding someone for something very much like his own behavior: “Spoken like a true weasel trying to run away from a previous argument. You know, you could just say, ‘Let me retract my previous statement of X’ or something like that.” Yeah, Bob could!  He still hasn’t yet uttered one peep in reply to — now — 70 of my critiques of his atrocious reasoning.

Bible-Basher Bob reiterated and rationalized his intellectual cowardice yet again on 12-21-20: “I love people who can make cogent arguments against mine or point out data I hadn’t considered before. What I dislike (and ban) are $#&*%@s who . . . refuse to learn/adapt . . . ignore compelling arguments against their position, and so on.”

Bible-Basher Bob’s words will be in blue. To find these posts, follow this link: “Seidensticker Folly #” or see all of them linked under his own section on my Atheism page.

*****

In his post, Defending 10 Atheist Arguments (4 of 5) (2-1-21), Bob opines:

*

7. What is God made of?

Atheist argument: “There is no evidence that spiritual energy exists, so we can conclude that psychics, ghosts, and gods are non-existent. Otherwise, God has nothing to be made of.”

Christian response: “Not this again. An immaterial being, by definition, is not made of material.”

My response: Not this again. You can’t just magic something into existence with a definition. Do you think “God is an immaterial being” is a spell that will create such a being?

Don’t waste our time with, “Well, God might exist” or “You haven’t proven he doesn’t exist.” God’s existence is the topic here, and you need to show it. Yes, I realize that the atheist is making the argument and you’re responding, but responses need evidence, too. Your response is no more compelling than “Because I said so.”

“I’m not going too quickly here, am I? God is not made of anything. God is spirit. God is spirit, but he’s not made of spiritual energy. He’s immaterial, so this is a straw man.”

God is not made of anything, least of all spiritual energy, but he’s made of spirit? Or he is spirit? Or something?

“Not made of anything”—that sounds like your rhetorical weapons. And it sounds like they’re loaded with not-evidence. This is the problem with just handwaving stuff into existence. Your embarrassing ad hoc arguments will mean you’ll no longer be able to sit at the adult table.

So God is not made of matter or (heaven forbid!) spiritual energy . . . but he’s made of something, right? You’re the expert—if not “spiritual energy,” then what? Don’t play Simon Says, just tell us. And whatever you say God is made of, show us that it exists. One atheist responded, “Can someone tell me what the word ‘spirit’ means without saying what it is not?”

How intensely ironic (the last sentence)! It’s our beloved atheist critics who are constantly informing us lowly, ignorant Christians that atheism itself is, alas, not a formulated position, but only the absence of a position (belief in God). It’s not a worldview, etc. I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that. It’s not true (see just one reason of many, why I think it isn’t), but we hear it all the time.

Yet lo and behold, now we are immensely privileged enough to witness an atheist complain that we can’t define spirit in a way other than what it is not (matter). It’s precious and a double standard for the ages, for sure. We are “embarrassing” and can’t “sit at the adult table”: so sez Bible-Basher Bob (ever the charitable and fair-minded one), but atheists making the exact same sorts of arguments somehow are not. Maybe one day, some kind atheist will deign to explain to me what the profound logical difference is. Or some logically consistent one can save my sanity and patience alike by conceding that these “arguments” (i.e., actually, bald assertions) are dead wrong.

It’s one thing to challenge theists with producing arguments in favor of the existence of God (we’ve produced dozens; none are ever good enough for hard-core atheists); quite another to make the “argument” that a spiritual being (the very category or notion or hypothetical) is absurd. The latter is what is taking place above, but Bob, logically clueless as usual, couldn’t resist inappropriately mixing in a little of the first question, too (“You can’t just magic something into existence with a definition” / “God’s existence is the topic here” / “And whatever you say God is made of, show us that it exists”). The initial argument, that Bob himself framed (see above), had the following logical structure:

1) Spiritual energy is nonexistent.

2) Gods as well as ghosts consist of such spiritual energy.

3) Therefore, God cannot exist, since he is said to consist of a thing which itself doesn’t exist.

Or, more broadly, as a purely logical thought-experiment:

1) X is non-existent.

2) Y is allegedly entirely composed of X.

3) Therefore Y doesn’t exist.

One thing at a time . . . I am dealing with the question of spirit and the above formulation of Bob’s, not God’s existence per se. He may not be able to comprehend the difference, but I trust that the vast bulk of my readers can. I won’t play the game of bouncing back-and-forth between entirely distinct topics. That’s child’s play and not serious philosophical / theological / scientific discussion.

As usual, the atheist is merely assuming that certain things aren’t true; can’t possibly be true. They habitually do this with miracles and the supernatural. But this is blind faith and not reason. They also do it with the question of whether there is something other than matter. They are philosophical materialists and physicalists, as opposed to dualists. Well, most of them are. Some atheists (and in my opinion, the sharper and more thoughtful ones) are actually dualists. I always mention the brilliant atheist philosopher David Chalmers (four books with Oxford University Press and one with MIT) — who looks like he ought to be the lead singer of a rock band — as one prominent example. His Wikipedia page states about him:

Chalmers argues for an “explanatory gap” from the objective to the subjective, and criticizes physicalist explanations of mental experience, making him a dualist. Chalmers characterizes his view as “naturalistic dualism”: naturalistic because he believes mental states supervene “naturally” on physical systems (such as brains); dualist because he believes mental states are ontologically distinct from and not reducible to physical systems.

But now to the heart of my objection. I shall turn the table by using a scientific analogy (I love doing both things in my apologetics, so I’m having a grand ol’ time). Bob had a field day mocking Christians for believing that God is a spirit, immaterial, composed of spirit, which isn’t a physical thing (with atoms, etc.). Once again, Christians are made out to be anti-scientific ignoramuses, dummies, and imbeciles. It’s Bob’s constant methodology and what motivates him (and his legions of rah-rahing sycophants in his ranting, pathetic comboxes) to get out of bed every morning. I hope he had his fun. Now we shall have ours.

Please keep the above in mind as I make my argument now (as my entire argument is an analogy). Scientists are currently quite excited about new phenomena called dark energy and dark matter. The very notions have only made their appearance over the last 25-30 years or so. The term dark energy was coined by cosmologist Michael Turner in 1998: which is more recent than the life of this blog (1997). But — recent or not — it’s now widely accepted and represents the cutting edge and most fascinating field of study in cosmology and astronomy (superseding black holes). A NASA web page comments upon it as follows:

What Is Dark Energy? More is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the universe’s expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest – everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn’t be called “normal” matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the universe.

One explanation for dark energy is that it is a property of space. Albert Einstein was the first person to realize that empty space is not nothing. Space has amazing properties, many of which are just beginning to be understood. The first property that Einstein discovered is that it is possible for more space to come into existence. Then one version of Einstein’s gravity theory, the version that contains a cosmological constant, makes a second prediction: “empty space” can possess its own energy. Because this energy is a property of space itself, it would not be diluted as space expands. As more space comes into existence, more of this energy-of-space would appear. . . .

Another explanation for how space acquires energy comes from the quantum theory of matter. In this theory, “empty space” is actually full of temporary (“virtual”) particles that continually form and then disappear. . . .

Another explanation for dark energy is that it is a new kind of dynamical energy fluid or field, something that fills all of space but something whose effect on the expansion of the universe is the opposite of that of matter and normal energy. Some theorists have named this “quintessence,” after the fifth element of the Greek philosophers. But, if quintessence is the answer, we still don’t know what it is like, what it interacts with, or why it exists. So the mystery continues. (“Dark Energy, Dark Matter”, no date)

A similar National Geographic page adds in befuddlement:

Now that we see the expansion of the universe is accelerating, adding in dark energy as a cosmological constant could neatly explain how space-time is being stretched apart. But that explanation still leaves scientists clueless as to why the strange force exists in the first place.

So it’s considered to be 68% of the universe, yet it is almost a complete “mystery” and scientists are “clueless” about its origin. And “everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the universe.” So if this is true, it turns out that science in all its glory (the atheist’s epistemological “god” and religion) has been dealing with a mere 1/20th of all that there is in the universe.

Likewise, dark matter (thought to make up 27% of the universe) is “completely invisible to light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation, making dark matter impossible to detect with current instruments” (National Geographic). The EarthSky site adds to the collection of “duh!” comments from science on dark energy:

In this case, dark means unknown rather than literally dark, as is the case with dark matter. . . . Dark energy is one of the great unsolved mysteries of cosmology. . . . Dark energy does behave like Einstein’s anti-gravity force, but its nature and origin remain unknown. One of its greatest mysteries is why dark energy started to dominate the rate of expansion of the universe at a particular point in time billions of years after the Big Bang. If it exists now, why wasn’t it there all along?

And yet science is to be regarded as our final appeal, authority-wise? Some think dark energy is “a property of space.” Others think space is “full of temporary (‘virtual’) particles that continually form and then disappear.” Some appeal to Greek philosophy and call the mystery “quintessence.” How interesting. So we have this phenomenon, and it is serious science (which I am not doubting at all; sure, bring it on!). The admitted ignorance is extraordinary.

Yet all that is fine and dandy, while Christians are mocked and derided and considered simpletons simply because we have believed all along that God is an eternal spirit, Who created the world? What is the difference? I’d love for some atheist to tell me and come dialogue, but I know they are very averse to that: having just been banned again from Debunking Christianity because I had the gall to ask someone in the combox if Dr. David Madison (the big cheese on that site, along with John Loftus, who has ignored 23 of my critiques) should or would make any attempt to answer my 44 critiques of his anti-theist bilge, posing as supposed “arguments.”

Moreover, we see that Bob Seidensticker — after directly challenging me to make them — has ignored 70 (yes: seventy!) of my counter-replies, and that Jonathan MS Pearce has just decided to start ignoring my critiques (five or six unanswered now) as well, whereas just a few weeks ago he was gung-ho in debating me. How the mighty have fallen . . .  All four of these men are very prominent, influential, and “vocal” anti-theist atheists online. So any serious, point-by-point reply to this paper is highly unlikely, but it would be nice to engage in serious interaction on a matter like this (pun half-intended).

Lastly: if there is any reply at all, we’ll almost certainly be told that “dark energy is just now being investigated by science. Give it time; science always discovers and explains things in due course.” I don’t disagree all that much. Science does do that: though not as completely as the average atheist would make out (it being his or her religion and idol and [usually] sole epistemological guide).

But even if dark energy and dark matter are adequately, plausibly explained and much better understood by science in the near future, it makes no difference at all as to my present argument. The fact remains that conventionally understood matter makes up only 5% of the universe: so they tell us. Science has had up till very recently, literally nothing to tell us about 95% of the universe: all of which is other (spirit? energy?) than what we have known up till now as “matter”: with protons and neutrons and the whole nine yards.

And yet Christians (along with many reputable philosophers through the centuries, and virtually all religious views) are faulted for having believed that there is such a thing as a non-material Spirit-Creator, for 2000 years: following the ancient Israelites, who believed it for some 18 or more centuries before we did? Obviously, non-material entities or whatever we call them, have been a far more important aspect of the universe than we (least of all materialist atheists) had ever imagined.

And so God fits into this “new” schema very well, just as He fit into Big Bang cosmology, and even quantum mechanics, examined more closely, as well as something like irreducible complexity. Present-day scientific consensus is perfectly consistent with the biblical teaching of creation out of nothing too.  I think the Bible and Christianity are doing pretty darn good, in terms of being consistent with science, as the latter advances. It seems that Christianity understood things (derived from revelation, communicated by God) for 2000 years that science has only recently come to figure out.

Albert Einstein and most scientists in the 1940s believed in an eternal universe (steady state). Einstein initially opposed the findings of the originator of the Big Bang theory: a Catholic priest. Now virtually no scientist denies that the present universe had a beginning (although some posit prior universes, with no hard evidence). Christians had said that the universe came into existence (by God) from nothing all along. And now science seems to be confirming that non-material spirit or “energy” is awfully important in the scheme of the universe as well: to the tune of 68% of all that exists. Better late than never . . .

In closing, I’ll mention another debate that was going on long before dark energy was posited: the nature of light: is it a particle or a wave? This has to do with the question of possible non-physical entities as well (the very thing that Bob mercilessly mocked above). And so a scientific web page dealt with this question, throwing out several competing theories as to what light even is (all bolding in original):

Answer 1

[ . . .]

I’m not sure if I would call light matter or not, however. Certainly it can do some of the things you would think only traditional matter can do – like carry momentum and transfer it in a collision. But it certainly has some properties that are fundamentally different than the stuff that makes up traditional matter (things that are made of atoms).

Answer 2 Light is not matter. Light is just light — it has its own qualities. Light is made up of “things” called photons, and these photons can possess some of the properties of matter. For example, they are always moving, and when they move, they can exert a (usually very small) force on an object (just like moving matter can). But most of the time, light is just light. It is not matter as much as it is energy.

[Dave: how is this a whit different from Christians saying, “God is not matter. God is just God — He has His own qualities”?]

Answer 3

Light is a form of energy, not matter. Matter is made up of atoms. Light is actually electromagnetic radiation. . . .

Answer 4

This is a fun question. There are two main theories of thought about light. The first is that light is a photon and the second is that light is a wave. Neither theory has been proven wrong. It would seem that photons would be matter whereas the waves wouldn’t. It turns out that for both theories light isn’t matter. A photon is not matter because it has no mass. This is different from matter such as electrons and neutrons which have masses. I hope this helps.

Yep. Light ain’t matter, it seems pretty clear. Nor is 95% of the universe matter as we have known and loved it from our chemistry and physics classes (me, I had a chemistry set when I was 12). So the notion of a merely spiritual, immaterial God seems all the more possible and even likely, doesn’t it?: just based on what science tells us: before we even get to philosophy and religion.

Why then is Bob prattling on as if matter (good old-fashioned matter before we get to dark matter and dark energy) is all there is? He needs to crack open any scientific textbook written since Einstein and get up to speed before embarrassing himself (and atheists along with him) further. Who’s against science? Christians have nothing to fear from it at all. It has always confirmed — or has at least been harmonious with — our views, and today it is doing so more than ever.

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Photo credit: AnandKz (8-11-17) [PixabayPixabay License]

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