They Don’t Believe Because Your God Isn’t Desirable

They Don’t Believe Because Your God Isn’t Desirable July 7, 2012

This post is by our friend Jeff Cook…

They Don’t Believe Because Your God Isn’t Desirable

I watched the recent debate between William Lane Craig, a Christian, and Sam Harris an Atheist. The debate (seen Here) was over the foundations of morality. The Christian addressed the philosophical question at hand with skill and insight. By the midway point the atheist struck me as seriously outmatched and overpowered.

Yet then things changed. Sam Harris began putting forth a set of arguments that had nothing to do with the topic at hand: the problem of religious diversity, the problem of pain, reflections on the character of God in the Bible. By the end I thought the Atheist won—not because he actually addressed the question at hand—on that front I thought he failed. But because I don’t recall anything the Christian said that made me want to believe in his God, yet I had a worthy list of things the Atheist said that made me think the Christian God distasteful.

Is the debate about what is rational or about desire? What do you think of Jeff Cook’s notion that desire needs to be addressed more in apologetics?

Such experiences are not uncommon. Despite solid, rational rebuttals from philosophers across the board, despite the fact that the “new atheist” clan seems hopelessly naïve about ethics and epistemology—their arguments continue to gain ground because they know something Christian apologist apparently don’t.

The debate about God in our culture is not about what’s rational.

Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, Penn Jillette, Richard Dawkins, etc, specialize—not in philosophical thought—but in ridicule. And that means the new atheists excel on the only evangelistically-effective playing field that matters—that of human emotion and desire. Most Christian apologists conversely seem content to surrender that ground in their preference for mere rationality. This is a tragic mistake and it’s the primary reason Christian belief is diminishing, marginalized and an easy target for nighttime comedians.

Blaise Pascal said, “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is” (Pensees 12).

All too often (especially online) those of us who like arguing for Christian Theism jump to the end of Pascal’s list. We think we have wiz-bang arguments to offer. Unfortunately, we don’t have a worthy foundation for showcasing such arguments. We have not established that Christianity should be revered, nor that it is attractive, nor that it is worthy of affection. We prefer to pull out our five proofs for its “truth” and argue our misguided interlocutors into the Kingdom cold. This is a mistake, for most of our audience see such arguments as power plays, as manipulation, as simply another advertisement out there trying to entice them to buy something.

Conversely, those arguing against Christian theism today have followed Pascal’s formula well. They begin by showing their audience that your God is blood-thirsty, arbitrary, and gains pleasure from the eternal conscious torment of large swaths of humanity to bring himself “glory”. Second, they have shown that Christian Theism is not attractive for it makes human beings into well-documented lunatics who start wars in the name of their god, who are irrational and condemnatory, and whose political preferences will destroy human freedom. And finally they put forth bland, non-curious, easily refutable arguments for the truth of Materialism (because unfortunately for them, those are the only kinds of arguments available for Materialism)—but by this point such arguments seem worthy and are easily swallowed.

Because, again, the debate about God today is not about what’s reasonable—it is almost entirely about preferences and desire.

One must want God to exist in order to become a follower of Jesus, and as such, it is time for a radical rethinking of apologetics that begins where nearly all of Jesus’ pitches for the Kingdom began—with human longing (consider, for example, the Beatitudes).

I will publish two more post on moving toward a more effective apologetic in days to come (or you may read a book I recently published which seeks to exemplify the strategy: here). But let us begin with this preliminary claim:

Has desire been overlooked by apologists? Have the intellectual battles been won at the expense of enticing seekers toward the risen Christ? Where do you see Christians effectively showcasing the desirability of God?

I look forward to dialoguing with you about this in the days to come.

Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). You can see his work at



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  • Bev Mitchell

    “One must want God to exist in order to become a follower of Jesus, and as such, it is time for a radical rethinking of apologetics that begins where nearly all of Jesus’ pitches for the Kingdom began—with human longing (consider, for example, the Beatitudes).”

    Jeff Cook and Scot,
    This is exactly what Haidt means in “The Righteous Mind” (recently discussed here) when he says things like:

    “The rider evolved to serve the elephant” and “If you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants.” and, beautifully, “You can’t make a dog happy by forcibly wagging its tail. And you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.”

    Translated, moral intuition is served by reason. People must be presented with something (someone) who down very deep they already know they need.

  • Patrick

    The atheist dialetic tactic is generally attacking fundamentalist ideas, so honestly, we shouldn’t be losing debates to Sam. Our Church is woefully pitiful if we’re losing debates based on ignorance and most objections to Yahweh as presented in the text are based on some level of historical/literary ignorance, including our’s.

  • Ben Wheaton

    Perhaps we could say that at times the new atheists are successful because they pander to one of the baser moral conceits of our culture: namely, that human beings are ultimately good and not deserving of real wrath. In that case, perhaps one of the duties of the Christian apologist is to educate his or her interlocutors as to the true wickedness of humanity.

    I remember that Peter Hitchens, in his book The Rage Against God, started on the path to conversion by looking at a painting of the Last Judgment, which made the full force of human sin at last come through to him.

  • This is a powerful post. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about Desire as I think there is something powerful there in its relationship to God (and perhaps you address this more fully in your book). I don’t know if this is related really but I read a book a few years ago called the “Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel” that addressed issues of the historical Jesus from a more faith based angle as opposed to focusing so exclusively on the rational. Again, I don’t think this is truly related but it flitted across my mind while reading this post.

  • Daniel

    I thiNk your article is off a bit. First, the Bible is clear that people already know that God exists (Rom 1-2).

  • Daniel

    Sorry, my smart phone acted l

  • Jim Fletcher

    Pascal was correct, men despise religion. Specifically, they despise Truth, Jesus Christ. I’m not sure this can be made attractive, for the biblical view is that we run from God. Unbelievers don’t pursue God.

    While I agree that the “new” atheists are using some of these arguments from the blog to great effect, I see their task being greatly assisted by the fact that man does not pursue God. He doesn’t find scriptural claims attractive. If people reject Truth because of feelings, emotions, experience or what-not, they are doing it because that is their nature. I still see classical apologetics as relevant and useful. Specifically, and this places me in the marginalized camp, the examples from predictive prophecy are helpful in explaining the Gospel. How sad that even the Evangelical community has largely abandoned that path.

  • Thomas

    I guess if truth is no defined by attacking straw men, making people feel good about themselves, and appealing to what people like, than yes this is a good point by Jeff.

    Personally I find what he is saying sad. That truth is not desirable and attractive. That many are not honest listeners trying to understand the world around them and follow the evidence. Even the overwhelming number of atheists who saw that debate say that Craig dominated Harris. Besides I found what William Lane Craig to be very desirable as he talked about Jesus.

  • Glenn J

    I believe the cards will always be stacked against Christians. How many debates have I heard where Christians cite the beauty, wonder, elegance and profound mystery of the universe and it’s creator only to be attacked with – “those aren’t rational arguments and proofs”. Yet let an athiest debate a Christian with these same concepts of preferences and desire and we say “why do we Christians continue to rely on rational arguments and proofs”.

  • neil

    i agree with thomas that it is sad that truth is not desirable and attractive. but the question is – why? i believe that, in far too many cases, truth has become undesirable and unnatactive, not in and of itself, but because of the behavior and attitudes of those who proclaim to know and live it.

    therefore, i eagerly look forward to further installments by jeff cook.

  • (1) Bev. Wonderful quotes. Love the dog image.
    (2) Patrick. True.
    (3) Ben. I’m not sure this is always true (that the atheist just think human beings are good and undeserving of any punishments). As I’ve argued in other posts, if one believes that eternal conscious torment or divinely mandated genocide are great goods because of human wickedness (must be since God has actualized a world with them on many Christians’ view), one must make a compelling case for why God thinks these are the best possible ways to deal with the wicked. I am not convinced by the arguments that human wickedness necessitates such actions, so perhaps you could start with your brothers and sisters in Christ. For example, why does human wickedness compel God to create eternal states of conscious torment for the wicked? Until that is answered well, the atheists have a point.
    (4) Lise. I have a few more post coming. Much love!
    (5-6) Daniel. Do post again. Looks like your post didn’t go through.

  • 7) Jim. Is the biblical view that we ALWAYS run from God? I think this is clearly false. Many people in the Bible run toward the God who is real. Many people I know have run toward the God who is real. I think your claim isn’t empirically verified and comes more from a presupposed theology.

    Second, why see classic apologetics as useful if people are wholly depraved? Their minds are obviously corrupt and such apologetics would be a waste of time.

  • (8) Thomas. Again, why think the emotions/passions/desires of human beings are not worthy of our efforts? So much of human life is desire based: who we marry, the phone we buy, the town we live in. Why think our God is somehow in a different category?

    You can make fun of my claims, but there’s no argument in your post, just newly constructed strawmen. My claim still (empirically) holds. Often people do not even consider your God because you have not shown that your God is worth of reverence and respect, nor that it would be good if your God exists.

  • (9) Glenn. I advocate a both/and approach. Both an appeal to rationality and emotions and the soul. That seems to be Jesus’ method.

    (10) Perhaps we could sight Paul here. “If I speak in human or angelic tongues [Rationality], but do not have love [An Emotively Important evidence], I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge [Truth], and if I have a faith that can move mountains [Power], but do not have love, I am nothing.”

  • Cal

    Some of my thoughts:

    First, why are we calling it “Christian theism” is there anything else? In this lies a problem of starting any argument outside of Christ. I’m not saying anyone here is doing that but it is a problem. We first start by proving God and then the Christian God when it is only possible to see the true God (though there are many gods) in Jesus. Nothing we can say about the Lord can be said outside of Christ, everything said before in the OT is pointing to the fullness of God.

    Whether it is suffering, justice, being whatever, every sentence should begin “Jesus..”

    In terms of apologetics, I think a bit of that wonderful film Ben Hur where the Roman soldier is ready to beat the unknown man who gives Ben Hur a cup of water (Jesus) accusing him of all sorts of things. Jesus says nothing but stares back and the compassion overwhelms the Roman and he backs away.

    Man may not always run from God, but they always come to Him undone, distraught, broken and in misery. Isaiah is a good type, who crumples up and doesn’t want to speak since his tongue is impure.

    Sometimes the abstract of “righteousness” and “glory” that we attribute to God creates this weird and odd selfish, brooding tyrant that Hitchens et al. pick on. I’d pick on that guy too, but the reality is the overwhelming Light of God is what makes us say “Son of David, Have Mercy on Me!”. That’s the cry of any honest heart, it is the cry that only comes by the Revelation of God as Himself through His Word, Christ JEsus.

  • I think you’re spot-on. Something I tell anybody who asks of my thoughts on the D’Souza/Hitchens debate at UCF 3 years ago is that Hitchens won, not by rationality or actually dealing with the philosophic arguments, but rather by appealing to emotion. Apologists need to start with Jesus and end with Jesus.

  • (15) Cal. “Christian Theism” is a name for a metaphysical position. If we say, we start with Christ that is all well and good as a tactic for encouraging others to see reality in a specific way: through faith or in the way the Bible seems to showcase reality—namely Christian theism.

    I think many people will not turn to “God” in the way you describe because they are not aware that that God will actually love them if they do. That is the challenge I am suggesting needs to be taken up with zeal.

  • Jeff,

    I highly recommend the approach Augustine and Aquinas used. In his consistently brilliant book, Engaging Unbelief, Curtis Chang shows how both the A’s sought to demonstrate that the Christian faith would better satisfy the longings of their respective non-Christian audiences. In other words, only the incarnation of Jesus could address the deepest yearnings of the human heart.


  • (17) Dave. Wonderful recommendation. I’m teaching a class on Aquinas in the Spring. I’ll get it.

  • (16) Daniel. Yup.

  • EricG

    Great post on desirability Jeff. In listening to the debate, I’d add:

    1. I find William Lane Craig unlikeable in his approach in this and other debates — he comes across as a win-at-all costs type who is not interested in dialogue or seeing and addressing the best in the opponents’ argument, but instead simply rhetorically defeating the opponent. Harris in contrast is a likeable guy who takes the opposite approach — compliments Craig, acknowledges where Craig makes points, actually appearing to dialogue. This feeds the problem of lack of desirability from the Christian approach.

    2. The arguments made also feed into the problem of lack of desirability. Harris defines morality based on well being for conscious creatures. Many people today, in contrast, see “religious morality” as oppression that is locked in based on the practices of cultures from thousands of years ago (whether it is morality in Islam, conservative Christianity, etc.) Based on the way some visible groups of Christians in the US act, there is some truth to this concern. Harris’s point about promoting well being has some appeal when contrasted with this common understanding of religious morality. There is a huge desirability issue here.

    3. I suspect, though, that in the US most people aren’t making decisions based on these sorts of atheist-Christian debates. From the studies I’ve seen, more people leaving the US church are “spiritual but not religious,” and not atheistic. This sort of atheist debate has less to do with where that group is coming from — although I think they are also motivated by the oppressive religious morality problem.

  • Excellent stuff Jeff. You appear to be connecting the Missiological imperitive of contextualiation with the Apologetic impulse for reasoned debate. I love it. M+

  • (21) Eric. Well said on all three points. I think #2 is particularly important. The debate really is about what is seen on stage. It is what is seen in the home and in communities and in the way people are treated. If Harris actually thought that Christianity was a major force for good in the world, he would;t waste his time writing letters to it (although he has made some cash off that practice, but that further proves the point. Apparently lots of people feel that Christianity is not a force for good in the world.)

    Martin Luther King Jr, in my mind, still stands as the best america apologist of the last century.

    (22) Mike. Thanks!

  • St. Augustine wrote, “my heart was restless until it found its rest in you, O God.” For him, our deepest desire is for God and God desires us as well. The problem, of course, is sin. For Augustine, all of our desires, all of them, are in some way misdirected desire for God. He also believed (along with most pre-moderns) that knowledge, true intellectual knowledge, was as much a matter of the will or love as it was of rational assent. If God is love, God is desirable.

  • AHH

    Seems like Harris is pointing to two related but distinct things:
    1) The purported ugliness of the Christian God.
    2) The ugliness of Christians, individually and collectively.

    Certainly #2 gets a lot of traction, not only pointing to the past but in the present where often Christians seem to be at the forefront of military aggression, exploitation of God’s creation, scientific ignorance, widening the gap between rich and poor, etc.
    Wasn’t it Brian McLaren who said something to the effect that “The best apologetic for the Gospel is, and has always been, a church that actually lives out the Gospel.”?

    Maybe we as a church need to do a better job on these things so that people won’t be so turned off as to not even listen to rational arguments and consider Jesus. Of course in many ways parts of the church are doing much better than that caricature, but those parts don’t tend to get any TV coverage.

  • (24) AHH. Yup. The best argument against Christianity is sinners, the best argument for is saints.

    Jesus said it early on: You will know them by their fruit.

    If we do not bear fruit, who is their to listen to?

  • Rob

    I saw an app in the app store today. It is an app that has quick answers to creationists. Kind of like apologetics to answer the apologists. Anyway, I honestly feel that this constant debating back and forth with atheists is not helping anything. If all we’re trying to do is “one up” each other and come up with the best come back line, what eternal value is that? And speaking of being desireable, since when is that our job anyway? Have we all completely forgotten about the Holy Spirit’s power to open the eyes of the blind? Has the church completely sold itself on trying to fit in with this pseudo-intellectual crowd so much that it has ceased to fall in love with Jesus and thus, ceased to be the sweet aroma of Christ in the earth? We will NEVER win an atheist to Christ by simply having a debate. We are called to be a people set apart. A people who believe what the Word of God says, without compromise and without trying to intellectualize it. Am I saying we should be ignorant? Absolutely not. We should be ready to give a defense when we are asked. We should be ready in season and out of season. But that is more defensive. If we want to actually win peolle to Christ, which should be what apologetics is all about anyway, then we need to BE the people God called us to be and shine like lights in this dark world. Will they always get it? Nope. Most of the time they won’t. The Bible says we’ll face ridicule and persecution. If we aren’t then we aren’t being who we ought to be. But God will open the eyes of some who are ready. And that’s what it’s all about.

  • Ben Wheaton


    I think this debate brought up between us has been hashed out already, and I believe our core assumptions about God/reality/humanity aren’t necessarily all that alike. However, two points why I believe that a true understanding of the Triune God includes his wrath against sinners that results in ECT and the conquest of Canaan:

    1) God’s infinite holiness is not offended with impunity; and 2) Man’s own power and responsibility is very great, and our revolt against God and malice towards him is correspondingly very terrible and worthy of a correspondingly terrible punishment.

  • Cal


    My point was, specifically, by calling it “Christian Theism” there is an implication that there is any truthful way of stating Theism that is not “Christian”. That is to say, we can join forces with other sorts of Theism against Atheism. Christianity, when properly articulated, should offend the sensibilities for ardent defenders of Theism, Deism and Atheism

    Thinking over what I wrote, I know that “Christian Theism” is a particular philosophical denomination when talking metaphysics or what have you. Our eccumenicalism should be based on love and understanding not on similarities.

    Yeah, exactly why we need to emphasize Jesus! That God looks is identical to what we see in Jesus. The radicalness of the Wholly Other, the Creator, breaks apart whereas that same Wholly Other’s radical love is what both separates and reunites. Jesus shatters the proud and binds up the humble and what does is that is the very foundational being of who God is, Love.

  • I believe your argument is spot on. Apologetics must be directed at its particular religio-cultural context, and at present in the West this includes the concerns of late modernity or postmodernity. While rationality is a consideration, increasingly questions of “Is it liveable?” as well as those areas that touch on the affective dimension are at the forefront. Too often evangelicals assume a modernist framework and are thus answering questions the world is not asking (but wishes it was). There is a place for a fresh apologetic, ancillary to contextualization of the gospel, that is (sbu)culturally relevant, winsome, and which leaves room for mystery and imagination. Only by painting this type of picture will we expand our canvas for a desirable God.

  • Tom


    Let’s be clear where the problem really lies, the points that Harris made in his debate with Craig were primarily aimed at various shibboleths of mainstream evangelical theology that evangelicals are loathe to change their minds about. For example, the idea that everyone who doesn’t explicitly turn to Christ in repentance and faith will experience eternal conscious torment in Hell following their deaths is downright offensive to our post-Christian world and perhaps also to any right-thinking person who wasn’t already raised in a culture that rendered them numb to such a horrific possibility, not to mention the cognitive dissonance it creates when juxtaposed with what evangelicals have to say about the love and mercy of God. How should apologists like Craig respond to this sort of thing? On the one hand they could try to defend what for many is now indefensible and invariably come up short in doing so, but on the other hand if they try to articulate a different theological point of view (e.g. that of universal reconciliation) they will have the wrath of their fellow evangelicals to contend with, which could very well mean the end of their public ministry. In my opinion, the problem is that evangelicals have painted themselves into a corner on certain theological issues and the likes of Harris will continue to successfully exploit these until evangelicals let go of certain shibboleths.

  • Rob – My point exactly.

    Ben – I’d suggesting selling it better-making it more desirable to believe in follow that God. I’ve heard cases made of that sort and that God strikes me as an easily agitated, blood thirsty tribal diety

  • Ben (cont) – I dont see that God and Jesus Christ lining up well. But to a point we have probably discussed already, it’s questionable to me whether that interpretation of God is worthy of worship. And that is part of the problem I’m outlining above.

  • Cal – Well put.

  • John – also, well said!

  • Bev Mitchell

    On a slightly different tack:

    We should be acutely aware that conflict sells. And, the best battles are usually those between folks who have lots in common, lots of areas of agreement. There is money to be made on conflict (I don’t need to provide a list of examples to this group). The fundamental similarities between the apologists who “argue” for God and atheists should also need little elaboration.

    Many writers/speakers/debaters absolutely need the battles they have become specialists in waging. The last thing they want is a win – unless that would set up an even more lucrative battle.

    I’ve purposely let the above drift toward the cynical side to make the point. There is so much tacit acceptance of conflict in our societies that we don’t take a stand against it often enough. So called Christian apologetics in debates like this is a good place to start. Christ-like ‘apologetics’ would be a more scriptural goal.

    Well done Jeff. Many here seem to be getting your good point. Few so well as John (30) when he says “There is a place for a fresh apologetic, ancillary to contextualization of the gospel, that is (sbu)culturally relevant, winsome, and which leaves room for mystery and imagination.” I wonder how the average atheist debater would react the first time they ran up against a well developed version of what John describes?

  • Dana Ames

    One of my longings in the past 10 or so years has been for a way to be Christian that would counter the ridicule, a way to live “against which there is no law”. Of course, that is love. I also started exploring the writings of Christians in the first 3 centuries who were recognized as orthodox, while I looked at the history of what made Christianity appealing to non-Christians.

    I could find no talk of God’s wrath – only that Christians were the ones who should be prepared for his judgment. I heard nothing of God’s holiness being offended – only that God had done everything possible by becoming incarnate in order to deliver humanity from death, because of his love for mankind. I heard nothing of “going to heaven when we die” – only of the belief of the earliest Christians that Jesus was and is the Lord of everything, the Church was organically one with him, that we entered into his death with baptism and that there was Life in the Eucharist and the sacramental view of Reality, a life which went on past death, looking for the Resurrection of the Body. I heard nothing of Morality – only that Jesus gave himself for the Life of the World.

    This was how the first Christian teachers interpreted the OT, and why the NT the Holy Spirit breathed through the Church sounds the way it does – if we have ears to hear.

    I recently heard Amy-Jill Levine say that the only thing that Jesus taught that was radically different from the Judaism of his day was that his followers were to love and do good to people who were not of their tribe – literally as well as figuratively. But what a significant thing that “only thing” was! As those followers worshiped on the Eighth Day, the Day of New Creation, they also cared for the sick and the suffering to whom they were not related. They held a sexual ethic of one man and one woman together for life, but did not impose that – or any other aspect of their ethos – on the people around them. They took in orphans and abandoned children, and cared for widows and other outcasts. They really tried to live as if Jesus were the one true Lord, and refused worship of the emperor, though they were willing to be peaceable citizens otherwise. And then they were willing to die, because they knew that in God’s universe they were safe, and the ultimate weapon of the tyrant – death – had been defeated by Jesus’ Resurrection. And since they failed sometimes in their loyalty to Jesus and their love for their fellowman – the Church was “messy” right from the start – they had the means by which they could be restored to fellowship: the pursuit of honest humility in a sacramental life of organic relationship with Christ in a one-storey, non-dualistic universe.

    Those Christians were ridiculed, too. And many of them were killed because of their witness – not a witness to a Christ of bare morality, but to a Jesus in union with whom, by his death and resurrection, each human Person is united to the Godhead and on the path to becoming a Fully Human Being, as part of the whole of humanity – whom we are told in scripture that God loves and desires to heal and restore to himself, along with all of creation.

    When we “go back to the future” and pursue becoming Christians – “little Christs” – in this way, then our God will be desirable.


  • Lac

    “One must want God to exist in order to become a follower of Jesus”…

    This doesn’t tell the whole story. I so much want to believe in God, Jesus, and Christianity. But this longing for God cannot counteract the intellectual and spiritual doubt.

    I’ve found that many apologetic books and online debates are not representative of the actual workings of people outside of fundamentalist Christianity, whether agnostic, spirtual but non-religious, atheist, or of another religion. Christians (particularly mainliners and “cultural” evangelicals) and non-Christians alike are not likely to be deliberating over faith, non faith etc. They don’t reject Christianity b/c of stubbornness or immorality. The new Atheists give a nuanced and extreme militant unbelief that is not widespread among non-Christians.

  • Ron Hunter Jr.

    Dinesh D’Souza, in his latest book GODFORSAKEN, argues that the problem of evil is only a problem in the light of the God of Christianity. All other religions and philosophy does not present a benevolent god identify. Take away the goodness of God claimed by Christianity, evil and malevolence of god(s) is the expectation. Should we expect of life the love and happiness that we pursue and find? The Nature of God invites us to this life, identifying the opposite as God’s appeal.

  • Thomas

    Jeff I did make an argument and I did not make fun of you. I said that truth is beautiful and attractive to many. I think you sell short to many people in thinking that is not the case.

    I would encourage you to listen to more WLC as it would show your argument is quite weak. He routinely appeals to the beauty, meaning, significance, and morality as all being evidences for God. That our souls deeply cling to these things and NEED them to be true, that we all live as if they are true, and that in itself is quite telling.

    I just find your argument to be less then persuasive that WLC does not appeal to desire as much of his debate presentation always centers around the person and work of Jesus…I don’t know anything that speaks more reverently about God and to the desires of the human soul. You make not like his style, or for that matter think style is more important than substance, but that is your error not Dr. Craig’s.

    Much of your point is just mushy post-modernism. I find that most people are more interested in arguments that explain reality, than what makes them happy.

  • neil

    (re 25) on one hand i agree, on the other hand – so much of what is offed as fruit is bitter.

  • neil

    (40) you say “postmodernism” as if it were nescessarily a bad thing.

  • neil

    (40) “Much of your point is just mushy post-modernism. I find that most people are more interested in arguments that explain reality, than what makes them happy.”

    people are definitely interested in an argument that explains reality… it’s not as is there are many people who deny the existence of truth. But i do not think the op opposed rational arguments that explain reality, if i understand jeff cook’s point, he is saying we should not stop with that… that we should add to that a desirability, or as others have said, allow for beauty and mystery and attractiveness as well.

    so, in his sense i think you are setting up a false-dichotomy.

  • (37) Dana. Amen.

    (40 Thomas. Good comment! Quick thoughts.

    First, I didn’t say you were making fun of me, I said you made fun of my claim through your opening in comment 8 — what else are seeking to do there but make a remark showing that what I’ve said is foolish? That’s a worthy tactic at some level, but I’m calling you on it, and inviting you to go further.

    Second, I’m familiar with most of William Lane Craig’s material. I teach it periodically at a state university. I studied under Wes Morriston and Michael Tooley, and have great respect for Dr. Craig.

    Third, you said, “[Craig] routinely appeals to the beauty, meaning, significance, and morality as all being evidences for God.” There’s a difference between pitching something propositionally and actually eliciting the desires of your audience. My opening is a personal reflection. I was not moved to desire Craig’s God through his presentation. That is simply a subjective observation, and I’m drawing a conclusion from it for those who would like to argue God’s existence to people like myself who are both skeptical and generally unimpressed by Christians.

    Fourth, you write, “That our souls deeply cling to these things and NEED them to be true, that we all live as if they are true, and that in itself is quite telling.” I agree fully. I think these are the best arguments for God-Belief–and when we say them we better have prepared the soil or else they are worthless.

    Fifth, You wrote, “I just find your argument to be less then persuasive that WLC does not appeal to desire as much of his debate presentation always centers around the person and work of Jesus…I don’t know anything that speaks more reverently about God and to the desires of the human soul. You make not like his style, or for that matter think style is more important than substance, but that is your error not Dr. Craig’s.”

    I’m just telling you my emotive response afterward. As a philosopher, I think Craig crushed Harris. Absolutely crushed Harris. But that is about the question at hand, rhetoric, and argument–but that’s the point of my post–there is far more going on in drawing someone toward Christ than rhetoric and argument.

    Finally, you write, “Much of your point is just mushy post-modernism. I find that most people are more interested in arguments that explain reality, than what makes them happy.” Show me one thing that I wrote that assumes postmodernism (whatever that is). And coming from someone who teaches five-hundred-some-odd non-belieiving college students philosophy each year, I think your final sentence is empirically false.

    Love the interchange!
    May all good things be yours!

  • Tom


    Any response to my remarks at comment number 31?

  • DRT

    Very good post Jeff. I am 15 minutes into the debate and thought I should post a quick note first.

    I find that I am a christian despite the religions that are out there and not because of them. I have yet to find a sect that seems to really believe that god is good, honest, loving etc etc. They all seem to negative images and that is greatly troublesome to me. My mission is to help change that and make a Christianity that we can all be proud of, one that Jesus wanted.

    I don’t know exactly where the debate will go, but I can easily argue that theism is not the right answer for the simple reason that we do not have a good picture of what this divine entity actually wants and it is too easily confused with the greed and lust of men. I believe that some sects, Calvinism in particular, are actually more about Satan than Jesus (I know that is harsh, but I believe it is true and as a Christian I feel it is my duty to actually say that when appropriate).

    We could all elect a world wide moral code that all will agree is the best picture of the best moral code for humanity and my bet is that code would be better than the example presented in most religions.

    I do have to note that I think Buddhism is the least bad of current religions.

  • If the church lived in love, peace, and unity and if the world saw the love of the Father by seeing the lives of the members of the body of Christ, there wouldn’t be any intellectual-based debates, because all debates would have been already “won” before they even started. Christians will not be able to present convincing intellectual arguments countering the “your God is cruel, mean, etc, etc.) if the life of the church isn’t giving an image that is consistent. However, they can present a convincing message of the gospel, if the gospel is being lived in the church. That would make all the “your God hates us” obviously silly and laughably wrong. If the church were really doing its job before the world, people wouldn’t care about hearing some “debate.” They would want to hear how to get what those Christians have. As it stands now, the church presents too little credibility behind its own intellectual arguments. It’s easier to talk about and define a changed life than it is to have one. When will we get real?

    “the least bad?” Bad isn’t intrinsic to the religion. “Good” or “bad” is what the people make of it in their lives. How are we doing with that one?

  • Kevin


    I really enjoyed your post as I am actually about to study under Craig and others known for this apologetic approach. While I am more interested in Philosophy as a whole, apologetics seems to be the go to for Christians when talking about their faith (by definition no doubt).

    I liked this debate. I agree that Craig won the debate and Harris won the emotional appeal. I do think (not making excuses) that a lot of it has to do with the education each man got. Craig received both PhD’s from colleges in England and Germany. This may explain his somewhat ‘cold’ style in comparison to Harris. The culture of top British and German universities seem to be more ‘heady’ and a debate style that dates back to parliamentary style debates.. This may need to be addressed.

    I think a good example of apologetics with a good appeal is Tim Keller. He often gives somewhat easy to rebut arguments but his willingness to listen, to show empathy, and to stand corrected gives him an appeal to the crowds.

    I think you have brought some great points to the metaphorical table of apologetics.


  • The problem I see with making God desirable is to whom are we making Him desirable? The unsaved whose heart is hardened towards God and at enmity with Him because of his sin? Our hearts desire to replace God with gods of our own makings – gods after the sinful desires of our hearts. Christians do this as well. So why should we go after the desires of the unsaved when they desire everything but God and His truth in Christ.

    We also have to realize that the unsaved are darkened in their sinfulness and are blind to the truth of the Gospel until the Holy Spirit moves in their hearts and minds.

  • Sam

    I’ve read the post but only skimmed the comments, so I apologize if the following has already been said.

    Jeff, this is a highly-relevant and interesting topic you bring up. I do think that, at least on some level, various people are convinced by atheistic, materialist arguments simply by virtue of the fact that the alternative(s) don’t satisfy them emotionally. I myself have often resisted materialist arguments on the sole basis that they suck all the meaning out of life and human experience.

    For those who feel that this ultimately makes us fickle creatures who only believe whatever suits our tastes, I think there is something else going on. I would say that a resistance to the idea of a hateful, vengeful God isn’t just the acting out of personal preference, but is instead the manifestation of a powerful intuition. On some deep, subconscious level we realize that life is good, joyous, beautiful, and full of abiding meaning. Whatever the ultimate reality is, we feel drawn toward the conclusion that it is good. When we are told that the God who made us encompasses no goodness, joy, beauty, or meaning at all, we sense that something is wrong and thus resist. The same can be said for those who sense the vacuity and emptiness that one discovers at the heart of arguments for reductionistic materialism/scientism.

    The point isn’t that people will only accept the Truth when Love is added; the point is that Love IS the Truth, the truth being that ‘God is Love’. Any truth lacking love will, even at its best, only amount to a half-truth.

  • DRT

    The problem in the debate is the question. If you believe Craig’s definition that an objective morality would exist outside of humans, then you pretty much are simply defining the answer to be something outside of humans that is capable of being true and correct. In other words, the whole debate begged the question.

    Harris simply elevated the debate and I feel that is appropriate.

    Yes, Craig won the debate of whether there is objective morality outside of god, but Harris won the bigger question as to whether people with holy books are the necessary arbitors of morality

  • MatthewS

    Reminds me of John Burke’s book, “No Perfect People Allowed” in which he writes that people often don’t ask “do I believe your arguments?” but rather “do I want to be like you?” Scot makes a point about trust on this blog occasionally, something to the effect that rarely does the force of one’s argument alone convince – often even the most skeptical of people are affected by whom they feel they can trust.

  • rupaul

    I’m a non Christian theist, and think the religious diversity argument is probably the strongest argument against Christian commitment. Probably very little of the atheist/Christian debate is relevant to most people these days. It is easy for me to imagine that God cares what I do, but very hard for me to imagine She cares about labels and dogma.

    The Qu’ran says that God created different religious communities, with different prophets, so that we compete in righteousness. That is not to say I think that individuals might not find a lot of insight from living out a particular denominations’ views: Marilynne Robinson and her relation to Calvinism comes to mind, or the social justice views of Catholics. But I think that the future lies in religious pluralism. There are dangers of self deception there of course, but that is true in orthodox Christianity or other traditional paths too.

  • EricG

    I had only heard the intro statements by Craig and Harris when I commented before, and have now listened to the remainder. The problem with “desirability” in Craig’s approach becomes even greater when you get into the rebuttals, with his reliance on Divine Command Theory etc., and I don’t even think he won the debate once you consider the rebuttals (this comes from someone who has won his share of debate tournaments).

    But the point DRT makes, and Jeff has been making, is the most important. Beginning with his 12 minute rebuttal, and until the end, Harris presents what I view as a strong, heartfelt version of the atheist argument, which has deep appeal to many people I come into contact with (and resonates with me too). Craig comes back with arguments that aren’t only weak analytically (I mean, c’mon, just referring to a weak book to answer a strong objection about the conduct of God in the OT? and others), but more importantly failed entirely to connect with the emotional or “desirability” side of what Harris was saying. Craig’s approach to arguments for theism could persuade me to be an atheist too; happily his version of god is not the only one.

    A number of people have commented above that Christianity should be expected to offend. The problem with this argument is that it could justify any version of theism, no matter how evil, obnoxious, etc. As D.B. Hart suggests in one of his books (the Doors of the Sea), the atheist moral objection to certain constructions of god, such as that by Ivan in the Bros. Karamosov, is actually at its core inherently Christian, for it is based on an objection to the conception of the divine that is inherently evil in the Christian tradition as well.

  • (31, 45) Tom. My fault. I was answering some of these on a smart phone and didn’t see it.

    You write, “The points that Harris made in his debate with Craig were primarily aimed at various shibboleths of mainstream evangelical theology that evangelicals are loathe to change their minds about … How should apologists like Craig respond to this sort of thing? … In my opinion, the problem is that evangelicals have painted themselves into a corner on certain theological issues and the likes of Harris will continue to successfully exploit these until evangelicals let go of certain shibboleths.”

    I see two ways forward, one is to show that doctrines like double predestination, eternal conscious torment, etc. are not only acceptable to a good God, but would be the praise-worthy choice of a good God (unfortunately it seems no one has been able to do this well).

    The second is to really look at the scriptures, the history of the church, the work of the Spirit in our world and in ourselves, and ask if such positions may have been misguided and if there are other worthy interpretations of the scripture (leading us to different theological convictions on what are truly secondary matters) that would be the choice of a very good God. I think there are all kinds of possibilities here, but going down such roads will be painful.

    The good thing is that men like Bill Craig, if they were convinced of a different position, would surely argue for it with class and conviction. I do not think that Craig is at all intimidated by pop Christian theology.

  • (46) DRT. On Buddhism. I find Buddhism dehumanizing because it asks us to strip so much of the good that we are. To purge ourselves of all desires–desires which I would argue are exceedingly health promoting and good. This is a real challenge for me when I consider Buddhism and the primary reason I reject it without considering the truth of other worldviews. Peace!

  • (47) Theophilus. What if we were able to convince others, not necessarily that Christianity was true, but that it was good. Would we get the push back we experience in our culture? Of course not.

    (48) Kevin. As an academic, I have yet to be impressed by Sam Harris. There are far more thoughtful atheists—lacking the zeal—but they can punch far harder intellectually that Dr. Harris has.

    In my opinion, William Lane Craig is a solid philosopher, and unlike many other thinkers, he is getting better. His arguments today have a much sharper blade then what he was using ten years ago. I listen to everything he puts out, and find it edifying. I would have loved to have heard Craig rabbit trail and quickly put down Harris’s tirades. Craig certainly has the ability. I am a fan of heady style at points, but knowing your audience, and what will truly shift a person’s life is also key—not simply debate points.

    I agree with your Tim Keller thoughts. He is not a philosopher but speaks well on a pop level that many can get into and he’s worth emulating. Peace!

    (49) Craig. You write, “The problem I see with making God desirable is to whom are we making Him desirable? The unsaved whose heart is hardened towards God and at enmity with Him because of his sin? … Why should we go after the desires of the unsaved when they desire everything but God and His truth in Christ?”

    Quite true. We should just let them all burn, sayz I. Arrrr.

    You write, “We also have to realize that the unsaved are darkened in their sinfulness and are blind to the truth of the Gospel until the Holy Spirit moves in their hearts and minds.”

    As such, no need for evangelism, instruction or apologetics, right?

  • (50) Sam. I agree. materialism, if true, sucks the meaning out of life (as well as personal identity, the existence of love, moral properties, and hope of any kind).

    You write, “I would say that a resistance to the idea of a hateful, vengeful God isn’t just the acting out of personal preference, but is instead the manifestation of a powerful intuition…Whatever the ultimate reality is, we feel drawn toward the conclusion that it is good. When we are told that the God who made us encompasses no goodness, joy, beauty, or meaning at all, we sense that something is wrong and thus resist.”

    Well put.

    On love: it seems the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13 has much to say about our apologetical approach.

  • (52) You write, “people often don’t ask “do I believe your arguments?” but rather “do I want to be like you?”


    (53) Rupaul. Is the future religious pluralism socially or metaphysically?

    If its socially, then perhaps. I don’t have a crystal ball.

    If its metaphysically, how can reality be structured in such a way that it pluralistically contradicts itself? Isn’t it easier to say, “Some peoples’ views of reality are simply false”?

  • (54) Eric G. I agree. Divine Command Theory is a weak place to go. Craigs metaethic seemed circular to me (which Harris pointed out kinda). Far more needed to be said by Craig about the Ontological grounding of morality in God’s nature and how that works and why one ought to label God’s character “The Good.”

    You write, “The problem with this argument is that it could justify any version of theism, no matter how evil, obnoxious, etc.”

    Exactly! Have we no standards, no intuitions, are we completely uncritical?

  • Craig Wright

    This debate reminds me of the one I attended at Biola U. where the same person (William Lane Craig) and Christopher Hitchens (now deceased) debated each other on the existence of God. After Craig got up for the third time, and like a robot, repeated a logical, philosophical argument for God, I realized that he missed the boat. Hitchens spoke from the heart about how he had trouble with a violent, whimsical god from the OT. Craig could not deal with it. He just repeated his cerebral arguments while Hitchens let his feelings show. We, as Christians, have to deal with people’s emotional reactions to the god presented in the Bible (especially OT).

  • Richard

    Ghandi is quoted as saying, “I like their Christ, but I don’t like their Christianity.” Such profound words! I’d have to say that we could say that in both the protestant and catholic churches today. I believe we must get back to the lesson at hand and that is to preach the message that Jesus preached and what was that? “Repent and believe for The Kingdom of God is at hand.” If an atheist or any other skeptic, brings up the point as Harris did, we must deliver an apologia that is right! And that by The Holy Spirit! While it is true there are/have been noxious atrocities committed in the name of God in Christendom past and Jesus today, those were not pregnant to the ideas of Christ! This is what we need focus on!

    I’d also like to add that in the bible there is nothing said about God or it being “desirable.” Jesus says take up your cross and follow me. Death is not desirable, and that is why Jesus came, to save us from death. Atheism is new age. Be that as it may, we still must preach with gentleness and grace, Christ the Savior, Passover Lamb. I believe if we start their, they’ll see their need for a Savior as they are face to face for the first time with their “sin.”

    The God of the old testament is The God of the new testament! He doesn’t change and their is no variation. God could not change one bit and still be God, God denotes perfection. Our job is to share through testimony and scripture and love, prayers and compassion and then get out of the way! As Charles Spurgeon once said :

    You defend the gospel the same way you defend a lion, let him out of his cage and he’ll take care of himself.”

    Just thoughts! God bless you all and may The Lord grant you fullness in Christ!

  • Brent

    Jeff, I think you offer a good point for consideration, but I’d like to throw out a few things

    First of all, we can never create an apologetic that will leave everyone going “Wow! Christianity wins hands down.” Let’s say you are able to convince a non-believer that the Christian God is desireable. But I doubt that this would lead many people to accept the Christian faith. Because it still requires sacrifice and surrender to self. And then I can see someone else saying “Christians are too concerned with showing that Christianity is rational and that God is wonderful and deserves to be served. But what wins arguments and market share in our culture is, is it any fun? Is it entertaining? Is it cooler than TV? Does it help me achieve my goals?” As much as I love apologetics and think it important, there are limits to what it can accomplish. It just can’t break down the heart of someone who doesn’t want to believe or change.

    That being said, however, I don’t think there is nothing we can do. Questions about God being a moral monster result from assumptions about right and wrong that our culture has. We can ask people why they believe these things. Indeed, people in some other cultures do not see the actions of God as immoral (Muslims wouldn’t, for example). So then, how do we know OUR assumptions are correct? And we ask questions in this regard – in order to get people to think, and question the moral impulses they have. Our assumptions just seem obvious to us when they really aren’t. This is not going to make someone immediately change how they feel towards about the desireability of God. But I think it can begin the process.

    Along these lines, I’d also like to talk a little postmordernism here as some posters have mentioned. Postmodernism is built on the despair that follows from modernist conclusions. Moral relativism results from modernism being played out to its own conclusion, so I don’t think apologetics that challenge modernist claims has no use in a post-modern culture. It is, once again, the assumtions that they’ve swallowed without realizing it. And even so, there are still plenty of modernists around who are interested in the questions classical apologetics addresses.

  • rupaul

    Jeff, well, I don’t have a crystal ball either. But people are aware there are lots of world religions with rich traditions, and it’s not clear that one particular religion has the answers. Metaphysically, they can’t all be right, of course. But most people, not the least Christians, aren’t looking for metaphysics, they are looking for ways to live their life, or to make sense of the suffering in their life.

    Christianity does have answers for that (multiple answers, since the pluralism outside Christianity is matched by the diversity inside Christianity).

    But the argument from diversity is more like arguing about which the “best” language. The one you grow up in is going to seem natural and obvious, but as you grow up and learn about others you realize that they all seem that way to people who grow up speaking them. This is really the challenge for orthodox Christianity; people “learn to speak” other religious forms. This started in the US with the transcendentalist movement, after Indian scriptures began to be translated into English.

    I’m sorry, I’m not sure if this speaks much to your original post. My only point maybe is that most people “outside” traditional religion, at least in North America, are likely to find debates about philosophy irrelevant, but that they would find messages about Christ’s love inspiring. So far I would agree with you about that, I just wouldn’t expect that to lead them to traditional Christian “belief”.

    “Love God and love your neighbor” is all God wants anyway, does it matter if a person also believes in, say, reincarnation? (Sikhs are monotheists but believe in reincarnation, and their tradition/metaphysics is every bit as sophisticated as Christian beliefs. They feed the poor, also.)
    Or if the God they love looks plural? (Wiccans, some Hindus, Shinto. Why shouldn’t God appear plural, if She can also appear as a Trinity in some religions? If She can incarnate as a person, why shouldn’t she incarnate in nature also?)

    Arguing for the particular Christian combination of dogmas just looks like arguing for English as the “best” language. That is where the challenge of pluralism lies.

  • Brent Reese

    Jeff, I appreciate your post. Too often issues such as this are polarized in an either/or fashion (as evidenced by some of the comments). You make a good case for both/and.

    In the first century, people were attracted to Jesus because he taught with authority and he demonstrated life-changing power (Luke 4:26). No less will be true in our day. We need to both speak an apologetic and live one. People want to know that Jesus has the power to changes lives and that his church has the power to transform communities and the world.

  • Brent Reese

    Correction – the reference is Luke 4:36

  • Bev Mitchell

    Some additional observations on arguing about God.

    The  heart comes before the head – the head will follow the heart. As in the old adage “first things first”, or to quote Haidt again (see #1) “The head can’t even do head stuff without the heart.” or “We need new intuitions, not new rationales.” and finally ” ……reason was designed to fit justification, not truth.” 

    “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” Women too! Prov. 23:7

    God reveals himself to us, we don’t find him by thinking hard. Going at this matter will only give you a headache – just ask the builders from Babel.

    Gloriously, if we allow God to reveal himself to us through Christ, then our head will have all kinds of great new things to think about, our mind will be renewed says Paul. And best of all, our mind will now be serving a new heart as we let the Holy Spirit do his good work in us. This is the message we need to live, then preach.

  • DRT

    Jeff Cook#56, I understand your point on stipping of desires with Buddhism but I do believe that there is a difference. Zen folk truly do appreciate and enjoy themselves, think of the famous arts they do. Its just that they don’t develop unhealthy attachments. I consider it very close to Jesus do not worry message and trust in god message.

  • Jeff: Hello! This is my first visit to your post. I’m author of one of the first rebuttals of Dawkins & Co, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, and a student of world religions, especially from the Chinese perspective.

    I like what you say in your OP. I have taken it, all along, that the Gnus make two arguments: (1) God does not exist; (2) Christianity is harmful. In several of my books (also, especially, Jesus and the Religions of Man), I concentrate most of my fire on the second assertion. I contend that nothing has transformed the world (and I mean pretty much ALL the world, including Inner Mongolia) for the better more than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Having challenged or debated many well-known Gnus on this topic frequently over the past several years, I don’t think they can really make a successful argument on these grounds, either. And I would love to debate Harris on the issue.

    Great to see Pascal’s beautiful words quoted here — He Whom Must Not Be Cited Accurately (sorry, I’ve been listening to Harry Potter on tape) in the Gnu apologetic.

  • Rupaul: One thing I agree with the New Atheists about, and that is that truth matters. This is so, not only in the sense that God gave us minds, and wants us to use them. It is also so, in the sense that what we believe, effects how we act. For instance, the Aztecs were wonderful polytheists. Only they believed that the gods required human blood to renew the universe, which is why they built pyramids and captured tens of thousands of enemy soldiers. (War was convenient for both, since their enemies and neighbors shared similiar ideas, from the Andes to St. Louis.)

    So I do care that reincarnation is false. I also care that after the idea arose in Indian civilization, so did the idea of karma, and with it, caste and gender discriminations as bad as anywhere in the world. And it is an objective historical fact that those practices were first challenged by Christian missionaries, like William Carey, and quasi-Hindu followers of Jesus, like Ram Mohan Roy.

    “Love” means, among other things, seeking and then teaching the truth. There is much truth in all the world’s great traditions, but I believe Jesus is the incarnation of the divine Logos, and the redeeming, often challenging focus of that Truth, by which people and peoples are saved. And I think a worldwide perspective has helped me to see that much more clearly, than I did as a boy in Sunday School.

  • Tom F.

    Is the debate about what is rational or about desire?

    It is both, of course. We are whole, united beings, body-mind-spirit, and so, absolutely, God desires to win over every part of us, not simply convince our minds and then obliterate our desires. To understand the sacrifice involved in conversion like this is simply to outright deny the original goodness of what God made humans to be. Why did C.S. Lewis convert- he found that God was behind the JOY in life.

    Yes, non-Christians are seeking things that are opposed to God. But Augustine, who had no cheery picture of the human heart, nonetheless believed that the end of all desire was in God. That God made us for himself, and that we would feel drawn to him because of that. The “rational” truth is that looking for ultimate satisfaction outside of God is useless and pointless, as God is the source of all good things. If you can’t preach/evangelize with this goodness clearly in view, than I would humbly suggest that you are doing more harm than good.

    Unfortunately, an approach like Craig’s still represents a Platonic, and not Christian view of human persons. By appealing to cool rationality, and by disdaining to “condescend” to emotion and desire, Craig implicitly reinforces that emotions are to be subordinated to rationality, rather than seeing both emotion and cognition as being integrated within a whole person who is subordinated to Christ. If we hope to change the way apologetic appeal is made, we should change the basic view of Christian discipleship; Craig would in fact be disingenuous to make an appeal based on emotions and then call people towards a discipleship that subordinates emotion.

    Apologists who work out of this Platonic view of persons (rationality over emotions) will continue to be defeated, as this is simply not an accurate view of human persons, and is not really even Christian anyway.

  • I think the author misses the point of why people disbelieve. Desirability has little to do with it. I can create a character with wonderful attributes… but why would that make anyone “believe” in him? I think many Christians have a hard time imagining disbelief, so they try to re-frame it as feigning disbelief or resisting belief – neither of which is accurate.

  • Andrew: I’ve been interacting with atheists for years, and am convinced that most atheists would absolutely hate for Christianity to be true. Desire has a great deal to do with it. This is not just my subjective opinion (based on much experience, and many explicit comments), but also an inference from studies in the sociology of religion by people like Rodney Stark. The last thing one can reasonably describe New Atheists as, is mean, lean, thinking machines.

  • To the degree that Christianity is complicit in alienating non-believers, it is because Christians today relish a repugnant God because believing in a God who’s arbitrary and cruel constitutes an intellectual sacrifice that provides a basis for earning your salvation. We are caught in an epidemic of doctrinal works-righteousness. The most extreme example are hyper-Calvinists like Marc Carpenter who are so in love with the wrath of their God that they don’t think John Calvin himself made it into the elect.

    It’s basically a radical extension of the Kantian understanding of objectivity. If I can prove that what I believe has nothing to do with my self-interest, then my beliefs are “objective” since nobody can say that I believe as a matter of convenience. If my God is arbitrary and cruel, then He can’t be my invention and must therefore be the real God. Calvinism is modernity enshrined as religion. Almost all of the comments in this thread exemplify this Kantian modernist self-legitimation tactic.

  • DRT

    What’s a Gnu? My dictionary says it is an antelope.

  • DRT

    Tom F. #71, I feel Craig was simply poor at adapting to the situation at hand. He prepared himself well (to a fault) for a sword fight but a gun fight broke out and he could not bring himself to reach for a gun. In the end he was still waving his sword around saying he won the sword fight but neglected to look at the mortal wound in his chest

    Craig is the Black Knight who does not realize when he is beaten. And now for something completely different

    BLACK KNIGHT: I move for no man.
    ARTHUR: So be it!
    ARTHUR and BLACK KNIGHT: Aaah!, hiyaah!, etc.

    [ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT’s left arm off]

    ARTHUR: Now stand aside, worthy adversary.
    BLACK KNIGHT: ‘Tis but a scratch.
    ARTHUR: A scratch? Your arm’s off!
    BLACK KNIGHT: No, it isn’t.
    ARTHUR: Well, what’s that, then?
    BLACK KNIGHT: I’ve had worse.
    ARTHUR: You liar!
    BLACK KNIGHT: Come on, you pansy!

    [ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT’s right arm off]

    ARTHUR: Victory is mine!
    We thank Thee Lord, that in Thy mer–
    BLACK KNIGHT: Hah! [kick] Come on, then.
    ARTHUR: What?
    BLACK KNIGHT: Have at you! [kick]
    ARTHUR: Eh. You are indeed brave, Sir Knight, but the fight is mine.
    BLACK KNIGHT: Oh, had enough, eh?
    ARTHUR: Look, you stupid bastard. You’ve got no arms left.
    BLACK KNIGHT: Yes, I have.
    ARTHUR: Look!
    BLACK KNIGHT:Just a flesh wound. [kick]
    ARTHUR: Look, stop that.
    BLACK KNIGHT: Chicken! [kick] Chickennn!
    ARTHUR: Look, I’ll have your leg. [kick] Right!

    [ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT’s right leg off]

    BLACK KNIGHT: Right. I’ll do you for that!
    ARTHUR: You’ll what?
    BLACK KNIGHT: Come here!
    ARTHUR: What are you going to do, bleed on me?
    BLACK KNIGHT:I’m invincible!
    ARTHUR: You’re a looney.
    BLACK KNIGHT: The Black Knight always triumphs! Have at you! Come on, then.

    [ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT’s last leg off]

    BLACK KNIGHT: Oh? All right, we’ll call it a draw.
    ARTHUR: Come, Patsy.
    BLACK KNIGHT: Oh. Oh, I see. Running away, eh? You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what’s coming to you. I’ll bite your legs off!

    For those who do not know this movie it is an absolute must see. Monte Python and the Holy Grail. One of the best.

  • Dianne P

    I found this to be an interesting original post. Then reading all the comments, I just felt the usual blah… blah… blah… I don’t mean to offend the people who have given great thoughts to their comments here, but for me, these evangelical-style back-and-forths have become a lot of monkey chatter. Emphasis on the “for me”, please.

    Then I hit Dana Ames comment at #37 and it stopped me in my tracks.
    “… the pursuit of honest humility in a sacramental life of organic relationship with Christ in a one-storey, non-dualistic universe.”
    Interestingly, this didn’t generate much commentary here. But I found it went to the very heart of the question posed, and, at the same time, straight to the answer. What is all this angst and “stuff” that we have created over time in the church? ECs are quick to criticize Catholics as having added so much extraneous stuff to the message of the Bible, but I see a lot of extraneous stuff added on by Protestants as well. Maybe this is why I’m moving away from protestant theology and toward the eastern orthodox. In its worship, it seems to live out the piece that I quoted from Dana above. This is the God that I encounter 24/7. !Gracias a Dios!

  • Dianne P

    And to DRT at #76, the 2nd most useful comment here, imho.

  • rupaul

    David Marshall, I agree that Christianity (and Unitarian Christianity, in the the case of Roy) has had a positive effect in India. Also, the millenarian New Religions in Japan often seem strongly influenced by Christian models. (Roy is especially interesting because he was part of transcendentalist Unitarian Christianity, which was itself strongly influenced by …. translations of the Upanishads into English.)

    Buddhism and Sikhism (and Islam!) all tried to destroy the caste system, before Christianity did. Arguably, Islam was the most successful at this. The metaphysics of these systems really didn’t come into it: Roy was successful at least partly because he had the British colonial government behind him. Both Buddhism and Sikhism have reincarnation, and they are both strongly opposed to caste. Karma is a problematic idea, that easily is abused, but so is Original Sin (and lower case sin, and guilt.)

    Does that mean I don’t care about truth? I care a lot about it: Christianity no longer can point to miracles as evidence of its truth, as was common as late as the 19th century, because people in general, in the West, care about evidence and truth.

    You are discussing “karma” as though social consequences are evidence of truth, a very American and classically pragmatic criterion for truth. (Otherwise India’s caste system wouldn’t be in question). I think that on these kind of grounds (“by their fruits you shall know them” I guess) it is easy to make a case for many other religions being equal to Christianity. Islam was an immense reformation for many cultures.

    On abstract philosophical issues, I think the problem of pluralism comes up again. Christian philosophy seems natural to you (and me) because we’ve grown up with those categories embedded in our whole culture. Now, naturalism is the default “setting” for our culture, and what seems obviously interesting to Christians just isn’t a “live” issue (to borrow William James for a second) any more.

  • DRT

    For those who do not believe that there are atheists who are turned off by what they see in Christianity and as a result do not believe, then I can give you my personal testimony and that of my kids. I was pretty much an atheist for many years, not so much because I did not believe in god or did not believe in Jesus but that I felt the religions did not represent anything that I could believe in. Exactly the point of this article. I finally decided that I don’t care what Christian religions actually believe and that I need to figure out what makes sense to believe. Most people are not so masochistic, so they either don’t bother or they simply accept something else (like no religion).

    All three of my kids are very turned off to religion because they go to a rural VA school where the christian kids all believe the Tea Party is god’s will and that Obama is the anti-christ. They would never, ever let people in High School know that they would even consider believing what those people believe.

    I don’t know how you all can say that people don’t believe because its hard to believe or they don’t want to put themselves under a god or they think they are better than whatever. That is simple and insulting to people like me.

    I did not believe because the god that I was presented with was less good than me. Why would I possibly want to follow that? And I have to clarify. I have always believed in Jesus, even when I was not a believer by most of your definitions. I could not believe in Christianity though.

  • rupaul

    Dianne P, thank you for that. I’ve found a lot of beauty in reading about Eastern Orthodox theology (my late father was very interested and left me books and icons). Thank you for pointing us back to Dana’s post.

  • DRT

    For the record, Christians also believe in reincarnation, but only believe it happens once.

  • DRT: Sorry for the jargon. “Gnu” = “New Atheist” = “people who think like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.”

  • Rupaul: I’m impressed that you’re familiar with these fellows. Roy described himself as Hindu, I believe, but was deeply influenced by the Gospels, and by his evangelical sometime colleague, William Carey. I don’t know of evidence that Buddhism tried to end caste (much of the worst came after Ashoka), but if you can point me to some, I’d be interested in learning something new.

    If anything, “social consequences are evidence of truth” would be more likely to come to me from Chinese thought, rather than American — I haven’t read Dewey, for instance. But I would only subscribe to a very nuanced version of that, perhaps something like Confucius “what is inhuman cannot last.” And even there, as human sacrifice shows, that need not be the case — rather, what is inhuman reveals an inhuman, and therefore a partly false, view of humanity, and probably of other things, as well. Hitler treated other races as subhuman, which genetically they are of course not: this reflected the shallowness of the Social Darwinism that fed into his ideology.

    I would caution you about guessing how I or others you haven’t met arrive at their views. Please see my rebuttal of John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith in the recent e-book, True Reason. How do you know what I find “natural?” Actually, if you had asked, I might say I find atheism natural to me. But I am not an atheist.

    Why can’t we use miracles as evidence for Christianity? I’ve heard a few different arguments along those lines; which are you assuming?

  • rupaul

    @DRT, I just was leafing through a Christian parenting magazine at the YMCA today, and it went to great lengths to say that environmentalism was just only sorta OK, you should teach your kids to recycle but BEWARE of those awful humanist secular environmentalists, who care about the next few hundred years of life instead of eternal life. (No examples at all were given of what particular issues Christians should ignore, but “individual rights” are in danger, apparently. I couldn’t help thinking that modern sanitation takes away individual rights too!)

    It’s really appalling that this is mainstream Evangelical Christianity. How on earth did that happen?

  • Hey all I have a church gig all day.

    I will post reflections on posts 60+ tonight by 10mst.


  • DRT


    I grew up in the shadow of the 60’s as one of the last years of the baby boomers. The societal narrative in my mind was that the world would become more and more liberal. While I like my fun as much as the next guy, I also felt that there were some limits and frankly was afraid of where we were going to go. But then the narrative changed and we have swung so far as to counteract the liberalism that had become mainstream and have a large group wanting to swing even further. I would never have imagined that would be the dynamic in the US.

    I have gone from being a Republican interested in a strong defense but also allowing things like legal pot etc. I also was not much of an environmentalist since I adopt a long range view and, heck, ice ages etc always happen, who cares if they are man made. And trickle down economics made sense to me in the 80s. We need progressive companies.

    But I now live in caricature of my former positions that loses the reason that each of these stances were appropriate.

    Defense was so important because we faced a threat that could destroy the world. Now we face a threat to our oil supply. There is a very big difference there.

    Environmental concerns were not as much of a concern until we realized the value of biodiversity and the impact on the poor of climate change. It is no longer even remotely appropriate to not place a priority on environmental preservation.

    Trickle down economics has been conclusively proven to be a wish for the rich and a detriment to an overall healthy economy. There is no longer doubt that it is a flawed approach.

    And companies have abandoned the social contract that we all believed existed. At one time we felt that they would honor the societal impacts, but our current understanding is that it is inappropriate for companies to be active in societal issues. If the investors want their money to be used for societal gains then they can do that outside of the company. Why should the company use my money for a use that I may not approve? And that has led to the role of the government changing so that we now have to rely on regulation to a level that we did not need to before. The days of the benevolent company are very long gone at this point.

    So people have some sort of warped view of the way things are and it is delusional, in my view. The world is different and always changing.

  • Rupaul: I like your challenges. To avoid clogging up this site with our side-show, I’ve just posted a fuller answer to your initial post on my blog. The post is called, “Does Christianity have all the answers?”

  • rupaul

    @David Marshall, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that my generalization applied to you.

    I might be overstating Roy’s transcendentalism: is there a good biography? I am trying to reconstruct what I remembered from Teach Yourself Hinduism, and from some Unitarian materials, and I also peeked at Wikipedia 🙂

    I’m not sure what to point at for Buddhism and caste.”Indian Philosophy: A very short introduction” in the Oxford series mentions the antagonism of Buddhist and the emerging caste system, at least the Brahman priestly caste privileges, and certainly the Sangha complete ignores caste. If early Buddhist scriptures mention caste and householders, I don’t know. But the caste system is built around the system of ritual sacrifices, and that is certainly irrelevant to Buddhist concerns.

    My point about miracles is that most people now don’t believe they occur, and that it matters to people that they don’t, so that “truth” comes into play in the sense of “fact” or “scientific fact” at least. I didn’t mean that one couldn’t argue from miracle -> Christianity, only that the argument is a non-starter for most people now, because they are not willing to accept a miracle as a “truth”.

    I like what you say about “inhuman” vs. “human”. The weakness of pragmatism I think is not having a criterion for saying when something “works” that doesn’t appeal to feelings outside the pragmatist framework.

    What you said about the Aztecs reminds a lot of Rene Girard’s apologetics; are you familiar with his writing? He views Christianity as destroying religion based on human sacrifice (in a generalized sense: scapegoating in general, not just literal sacrifice.) Scapegoating comes from envy and “coveting”: killing the scapegoat restores a kind of false social harmony. Buddhism tries to destroy this corrrupt system by attacking desire in general(according to Girard), but Christianity (in Girard’s view) gives us the choice to desire what we should, by imitating Christ.

  • rupaul

    @DRT, that is a good summary. My father taught me when I was growing up that if I worked for a company, I owed it loyalty. I’m not sure if that was fair, even back then, but it’s definitely true now that corporations show no loyalty to their employees any more. My own idea is that we need to go back to privately held companies, and smaller ones, but I don’t know how to get there.

  • rupaul, my daughter is writing her capstone thesis on Gender and Buddhism. There may be no caste system, unless women themselves are lower caste. There are Japanese Buddhists whom she is interviewing in ethnographic research conducted in Japan who are trying to pull out aspects within Buddhism which value women equally, but they’re not the norm as a Buddhist sect.

    Bev, (36) Yes, yes, thank you! There is so much tacit acceptance of conflict in our societies that we don’t take a stand against it often enough. So called Christian apologetics in debates like this is a good place to start. Christ-like ‘apologetics’ would be a more scriptural goal. Dana’s next comment was a wonderful follow-up, imho, to yours.

    Dana (37) My heart resonated with your post and the beauty of your description of Christ’s body witnessing by actions of loving those not of our “tribe”. This was so well said, I hope others don’t mind if I repaste your words: And since they failed sometimes in their loyalty to Jesus and their love for their fellowman – the Church was “messy” right from the start – they had the means by which they could be restored to fellowship: the pursuit of honest humility in a sacramental life of organic relationship with Christ in a one-storey, non-dualistic universe.
    Those Christians were ridiculed, too. And many of them were killed because of their witness – not a witness to a Christ of bare morality, but to a Jesus in union with whom, by his death and resurrection, each human Person is united to the Godhead and on the path to becoming a Fully Human Being, as part of the whole of humanity – whom we are told in scripture that God loves and desires to heal and restore to himself, along with all of creation.
    When we “go back to the future” and pursue becoming Christians – “little Christs” – in this way, then our God will be desirable.

    “Tribe” offers a comforting root of identity for many of us, but the root we have in God and God’s steadfast love, by the grace given us in Christ, is far stronger and deeper. We no longer need be confined to the tribe into which we were born, to be held safe and secure, even through death itself. Reaching out in love to our neighbors and enemies as God in Christ did to us is the beauty in action we all long to experience.

  • Paul D.

    @ 91 Ann F-R

    Soka Gakkai, though not really seen as a mainstream Buddhist sect globally, seems to be overwhelmingly dominant in Japan among devout Buddhists. My understanding is that it is quite progressive and even feminist, though I haven’t spent much time looking into it.

  • Check that. Unable to. I will post the next move in this argument soon.

    Much love all!

  • Paul D. (92), she’s interviewing women with the Rissho Kosei-kai organization (focusing on The Lotus Sutra). She’s mentored by 2 scholars in East Asian religions. If you’re interested, I can find out if she’s encountered Soka Gakkai, and their understanding of women. (You may contact me, via a post at my blog [pick any post & since I moderate the blog you can mention this & your email], and send me your email.)

  • Paul D.

    Ann F-R (94), I’m no expert on Japanese Buddhism — I just happen to live in Japan. I’m sure your daughter must be familiar with Soka Gakkai, since something like ten percent of Japanese belong to the organization, and it seems fairly evangelical compared to other types of Buddhism.

  • pastasauceror

    “Despite solid, rational rebuttals from philosophers across the board, despite the fact that the “new atheist” clan seems hopelessly naïve about ethics and epistemology”

    Ah yes, like the solid rational philosopher Plantinga whose amazing Ontological argument reads very much like a child’s fairy-story-fantasy. Imagine something so cool that it is the coolest thing you can possibly imagine, also if this thing is the coolest thing possible then it also must be the coolest possible thing in any other make-believe world you can think of. Now imagine if that really cool thing really existed! Wouldn’t that be so much cooler!! And because it is so much cooler, then that coolest possible thing must exist in this world too otherwise it wouldn’t be as cool as you think it is. Et voila!! It exists. How convincing…NOT!

  • I am late to this post and the conversation. I resonate with the appeal to desire as opposed to merely rationality. Here’s an example (that I have been ruminating on as to why I did what I did): I officiated a funeral the other day for a family I barely knew. It was a mixed crowd of some church-going folks, mostly non-Christians or former Christians, most of them working class or impoverished. In working out what to share about Jesus, the family shared a bit with me about the deceased. Some of the things they shared seemed reminiscent of the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when it came to loving enemies, forgiving, praying, generosity, materialism, and compassion. Not knowing my crowd well, but wanting to make a case for Jesus, I appealed to their desire for a better life now, to their desire to carry on the legacy of what was best about the deceased – which also happened to resonate with some of the teachings of Jesus. I tried to make the jump from what they valued about the deceased to what was valuable in the teachings of Jesus. Based on their attention, I think I made an attractive appeal to the desirability of the way of Jesus. But then I was trying my best to scatter seed, do some watering. I’ll have to let God make the Gospel grow.

    Thanks for the post, Jeff.

  • rupaul

    @pastasauceror, you seem rather annoyed by Plantinga’s argument. I remember encountering in 1979 (probably not long after he published it) and feeling as though I was completely convinced, against my will. But, I told myself, that has got to be *something* wrong with the argument, since it is so complex. And so, I ignored it (and it doesn’t convince me now.)

    Mocking the argument the way you do doesn’t make the argument go away though. Most philosophy of any type can be mocked that way (Dennett’s “skyhooks” or “brain in a vat”, Heidgger “the nothing nothings”). That is easier than refuting it. Why don’t you try reasoning through exactly where Plantinga goes wrong? I would be happy to (finally) know that.

  • Rupaul: I am familiar with Girard’s work; I often cite it, and have found it deeply revealing in many ways. (Though I’d hesitate to call myself a “Girardian.”) It might be interesting to apply his analysis to the more vicious Internet fora, like Pharyngula.

    I doubt it’s true that most people disbelieve in miracles, though that’s probably true in some circles. I think a surprisingly large percentage of people have actually experienced something of that sort; my own belief in miracles is partly based on related (nothing quite as dramatic as walking on water) experiences, and partly based on first-hand stories many apparently honest people have told me.

  • Ann: From what I know, Nichiren and the Soka Gakkai has historically been very much the exception, when it comes to Japanese perception of women. Other schools seem to agree that a woman had no hope of attaining enlightenment, until she had the good sense to be incarnated as a man, and should not darken a temple door. (Ironically, Catholic missionaries were quite shocked to find out how Buddhist monks were coping with their absence!) Nichiren was also one of the more theistic (and quarrelsome) forms of Japanese Buddhism; the latter a trait which apparently hasn’t entirely dissipated.

  • Steph

    I liked this post. It made me think of the trigger that led CS Lewis to belief: reading a fantasy by George MacDonald. Didn’t he write something like it “baptized his imagination”? Longing was very much a part of Tolkien’s theory of writing as well, to write a world into existence only to find it was true. I know that when I first read Tolkien’s masterpiece, it was intense longing that it awoke, longing for that world to be true, and it was the beauty and goodness of it that I loved, the honor, the friendship/fellowship, the wisdom, courage, hope, etc. Extrapolating back to faith, I think longing is key as well. Who wouldn’t long for a community of love and service?

    You can build a campaign of rational arguments for faith but how do you build a campaign for longing for truth, beauty, goodness, those things that will lead us to God?

  • Steph

    And then how do you show God as Truth, Beauty, Goodness, the source of everything we hold dear and all that makes life good?

  • Amy

    To portray Christianity as desirable, one must recognize that you have to pull away all the things that can fog up someone’s view of the whole thing.

    Instead of using the word to define the belief, let’s use *who* it is we are believing in.

    1) Recognize that it’s not like we can *make* God more desirable.
    He is already everything that is that.
    What we can do is to bring awareness to the areas that just scream how magnificently beautiful he is.

    Yet, we can only do that when WE get those things.
    When the church realizes how madly in love with the King she is, when she realizes that she is the Beloved and the Rescued One, and how she has been redeemed; when she is aware of how fun and clever and beautiful and human Jesus is, then she will be mighty in this present age.

    See, it’s not about “religion” and it’s not about “Christianity” and it’s not about which “God” — It’s about Jesus. Jesus is the physical manifestation of ALL of God.
    (Side note: if you like calling him God, that’s cool, but if your goal is to help people get it better, by putting it all on Jesus, then people aren’t as quick to write it off, because of all their baggage with the word “God”)

    Jesus is the one who made himself so known to his people, so all we need to do is realize who he is, and introduce people to him.

    If we kept the focus of the arguments we have with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc. on Jesus, instead of the problem of pain or “eternal” punishment, etc., then we’ll actually be getting somewhere.

    Why? Why does focusing on Jesus work? Why is that a powerful idea when dialoging about faith and belief and then not doing those things?
    Because Jesus can fight for himself.
    By his love and his life, he is a radical argument for the love and justice and beauty of God.
    If it becomes about anything other than Jesus, then we (the church, the one’s who are supposed to get it) have utterly missed the point.

    Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
    – So do you know him? Can you lead someone to known how utterly real and scandalously free and truly beautiful this guy is? ‘Cause if you can’t, go get some context while you read about Jesus, and talk to him (because we can, guys. 😉 about getting to know him better, because you can’t introduce someone to a person you’ve never encountered.

    Out of the abundance of knowing Jesus will flow the love and the life necessary to bring others into the knowledge and heart awareness of how desirable this whole Jesus-thing is.


  • Yes, Paul D, she’s told me that she’s familiar w/ Soka Gakkai, and that it’s considered a “new” religion along w/ Rissho Kosei-kai and Tenrikyo, and the Japanese feel comfortable with syncretism and have a historical heritage of it that extends over a millenium and a half. Shinto and Buddhist beliefs began being syncretized within the first couple of centuries after the introduction of Buddhism. (Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph – of Tokyo subway and sarin infamy – is considered a “new new religion”. It’s a syncretic blend of Buddhism, Hinduism and apocalyptic “Christianity”. Yes, their new name is intentionally the first letter of the Hebrew aleph-beth.)

    David (100), she told me:
    That’s true that Nichiren was very accommodating towards women, but his was a lay Buddhist movement, so that makes sense. D.T. Suzuki and the Zen movement (especially the Soto Zen movement) have become of great interest towards women recently (see Paula Arai’s books). Other more conservative Buddhist movements are moving more towards accepting women, but the new religions are the ones dealing the most with that it seems. I don’t expect Tendai Buddhism to affirm women any time soon, that’s for sure.

    So as not to stray too far on a tangent from Jeff’s post, though, and to relate more to Jeff’s question about Christianity, though, I can see some of the same forces toward making religion more “desirable” in her studies of Japanese Buddhism. Historically, women had been more involved in Japan, evidently, just as women had greater influence in the earlier church (per Scot’s Junia is Not Alone e-book, for example).
    Buddhism was brought to Japan via Korea in the 6th century. The first converts were nuns who took care of the Buddha and worshipped him, although they didn’t exactly know all of the traditions. Chinese Buddhism is much more mysogynistic though, so when China began exerting more influence on Japan, women got shoved to the side. When the Chinese first came to Japan, it’s believed the ruler [of Japan] was a shamaness queen.
    Tendai, from the Chinese Tien Tai branch of Buddhism, and other sects have the Blood Bowl Sutra which teaches that: the Blood Bowl Hell basically says women go straight to hell because of their gender and must be prayed for and given merit by the remaining family members after death to be saved.

    Jeff, as I read through the comments, and consider the historical developments of religions, might the valuation of women contribute to the tendency to argue more or less from rationality or beauty? Buddhism’s sutras are as complex as, or more complex than the writings of German scholastic theologians, from what she’s told and shown me! I’ve studied diligently to be able to follow dense argumentation, but when life intervenes much of that stuff can be really revealed to be extraneous at best, and hot air posturing at worst, on many levels. Frankly, many women can’t be bothered, I think, and a lot of folks find that kind of argumentation unappealing, if not repulsive.

  • Paul D (95), to your remark that 10% of Japanese were adherents of Soka Gakkai, my daughter said that she’d recently heard that if all the numbers claimed by the new religions in Japan were added up, the total was something along the lines of 300% of the population. oops!! 😀 Can we say “church growth” syndrome?? LOL

    Recent events have made many Japanese very distrustful of the new (and new new) religions, because Soka Gakkai was evidently caught in a cult-like scandal (not allowing adherents to leave the religion, bugging phones, etc.) following WWII, and then Aum Shinrikyo, of course, gassed citizens in the subway system in 1995.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Amy (103),
    Your words are a blessing!

    Throughout this entire conversation some idea has been flitting in, out, over under and around it, that for me was hard to pin down. After a lovely walk on a perfect day here in the far north-east, just beyond the border if the great state of Maine, it came to me. The idea can be summed up in the little verb “to bless”, in Spanish rendered “bendecir” as in the ubiquitous  “Que Dios le bendiga” or the more formal and lovely, “Que Dios le acompañe”.

    I wonder if Sam Harris felt blessed after that debate with William Lane Craig?

    Isn’t that one of the most important marks of a Christ follower? Especially when we talk about God things, should not our interlocutor walk away blessed? Do we not all know Christians who, almost regardless of the subject, we walk away from with a lighter step, actually blessed? 

  • pastasauceror

    Plantinga’s version of the Ontological Argument (with minor changes) is actually one of the best arguments for the NON-existence of God IMO. Just by changing the premise to “It is possible that there is NOT a being that has maximal greatness.” All you then have to do is show that there is ONE coherent possible world where no maximally great being need/can exist and the argument leads inexorably to the opposite conclusion to Plantinga’s.

    Unlike Plantinga’s argument where he effectively begs the question* by assuming (through modal logic) a possible world where God exists and then uses the same modal logic to draw his conclusion (yes Richard M Gale explains it better than me, I know). Instead we can quite easily point to a “naturalistic world”, a world where matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed and have therefore always existed, (remarkably similar to the world we live in, in fact) and then allow the modal logic to take us to the conclusion, that a maximally great being who doesn’t exist in every possible world CANNOT exist. Yes yes, I’m quite aware I’m no philosopher 😉 actually I despise philosophy because all through its history it has so often led to ridiculous arguments which have no bearing on the “real world”.

    *After I wrote this I found that the wiki page on the Ontological Argument says that Richard M Gale (in his book On the Nature and Existence of God) argues that “possibly necessarily” is in essence the same as “necessarily” making the premise invalid because the conclusion is embedded within it. I didn’t read the book, but my thoughts are in a similar vein. He also has a formally structured way of showing that there is a possible world where a maximally great being cannot exist, but I am using my own meagre thoughts in the post above.

  • Yes. This is exactly it. Thank you for writing this post.

    Dawkins says he is not interested in most readers of this blog who are “irredeemable” theists, but wrote

    “I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’€™t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt… We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.”

    It is *all* about making people uncomfortable. It isn’t about swaying people through intellectual argument but much more aimed simply by making religion distasteful.

    Throwing mud is a much, much, easier task than presenting a coherent argument. There’s a fundamental asymmetry: an atheist doesn’t have to intellectually win the argument, just leave people feeling uncomfortable either about God, Christianity or religion and that’s enough to discourage them from looking further. That’s not to say there aren’t serious arguments for and against theism – but it’s important to recognize that most of the time the actual facts and arguments are completely tangential to the social pressures being brought to bear.

    It’s a story that plays out every single day on Twitter, reddit and Facebook. And it’s a battle that we Christians are clearly losing.

  • rupaul

    @pastasauceror, thanks for going through the logic of that for me, at least as a sketch. I will go look at the wiki page you reference, and perhaps Gale’s book if I am still confused about it.

    I’m not sure why you brought Plantinga’s argument into this thread, though. Does Craig use it in debate?

    Would any kind of deity be attractive to you? Just as a thought experiment, suppose you were required to *add* a deity to the universe. Jehovah would be right out, I imagine, but what about the “friendly” kind of personal God? I’m not asking that you believe such a God exists, only what features you think a reasonable God should have.

  • pastasauceror

    In my original comment I quoted the part of the post that sparked my objection to it, and the reason for me bringing Plantinga into it, but really the whole post is way off with its claims and struck me as ridiculous.

    For instance it also says “new atheists excel on the only evangelistically-effective playing field that matters—that of human emotion and desire”. This is projection, plain and simple. Religious arguments are the ones grounded in human emotion and desire and whoever wrote this post is projecting what they wish they could do onto the (tacitly admitted) successful *rational* arguments that atheists/humanists use.

    All my (young) life I fell for the emotional arguments from the theistic side of things, and it was exactly those emotional factors that kept me from investigating with a truly open mind the rational and intellectual problems with theism…until recently. When I finally did, it was like blinders falling off, and the obvious weakness of the theistic position became clear to me…NOT from emotion or desire but from rational thought, preponderance of evidence showing a purely naturalistic world and the lack of any opposing evidence for a God or gods. Why would I *desire* for no God to exist? Why would I *emotionally* choose not to have an eternity of bliss in some promised afterlife? It makes no sense.

    In answer to your deity question, aside from the fact that a God is almost certainly unnecessary in the Universe as it exists, hypothetically if I were to “add” a God I would add one that recognizably shows up in the observable Universe, one that actually looks real, because He/She *is* real, like my Father is real, like my friends are real, like I am real. As for reasonable qualities: no choosing favourites, no secret revelations, no fuzzily-interpretable holy books, no one-off events only seen by a few, no threats, no ultimatums, maybe have Him/Her do something/anything in the last 2000 years. Lots more too, but, you get the idea. Fun question. 😀

  • Bev Mitchell

    Chucky (108)
    Read Jonathan Haidt’s book on moral psychology entitled the “The Righteous Mind” to understand why this appeal to intuition works so well. The anti-belief proponent simply has to encourage our gut-level intuition to do things our own way. The witness of Christ via the Holy Spirit (the message of Scripture) is directed at the same level of our being. However, the message is diametrically opposed to our basic intuition. Instead of “do it your way” Christ says, repent (let me become the centre of your being) then follow me (in Christian living which is sanctifying). 

    This is why an appeal by Christian apologists to the mind will always loose out over an atheistic appeal to the gut (the self). The Christian message only works as an appeal, by the Holy Spirit, to change our gut-level perspective, to unseat ourselves and to allow Christ to be our centre. So, as Christians who want to make a difference, we are left with, first and foremost, living in a Christ-like manner among those in need so as to encourage them to listen to the Spirit who ever calls.

  • rupaul

    @pastasauceror, OK, I see why you did that now.

    Your God proposal would make a lot theology etc. a lot easier for sure, though then new questions would arise; like, is that the real God, or is he/she/it just posing as the deity (the way people can pose as gods, or as possessed by gods).

    You might know the Rig-Veda (ancient Indian) creation hymn that ends:

    “Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
    The Gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
    He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
    Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.”

    So the questions wouldn’t go away, I think. But I’d be happy to have your proposed deity around, maybe if he/she/it does “know it”, we could get answers.
    Also I’m good with the “no threats” part, though moral nihilism seems a risk. Naturalism has answers to that risk, but the answers don’t seem to come any easier than they do for religious people (of any type: Buddhists worry about nihilism too.)

    I was justing reading about Max Stirner on wikipedia, an earlier, more sophisticated thinker but very similar to Ayn Rand pure egoism. I don’t think it is easy to answer Stirner on evo. psych. grounds for example. Anyway that would be another thread.

  • rupaul

    @Bev Mitchell, an appeal to abandon the self is not just a Christian ideal, but is found in most of the major religions (that are still alive now, anyway).

  • Bev Mitchell

    Yes indeed. But abandon our self to what is surely the question. There are various answers. Clearly our ‘self’ or selfisheness creates an unholy mess, on that we all agree. But, the crucial point is not the abandonment, per se, but who replaces the ‘me’ ? Jesus Christ makes a good case.

  • rupaul

    @Bev, I think that there is a strong case too, and I don’t have any quarrels with people who choose to follow Christ. But I think there are other paths to the top of the mountain (I know that’s a cliche), maybe there is a reason God made more than one path; atheism may be a path away from the wrong ideas of God we have built up too.

    (Jesus in John’s account appears to some Christians to rule out plural paths, but there is more than one way to interpret that passage, and anyway if one is not Christian that doesn’t carry any force. John is a problematic source anyway, late and farther away from Jesus’ life.)

  • Bev Mitchell

    I hear you. I have come to say, I’m not a universalist but I hope God is. One can also express this sentiment as “there are many ways to the Son, but one way to the Father”.

  • rupaul

    @Bev, I hope so too, for very personal reasons! 🙂

  • DRT

    rupaul and pastasauceror,

    I have not read all your comments yet (I go to get diagnosed for ADD tomorrow), I will offer that our universe may show that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, but the fact is that it seems that we could balance the whole universe out to zero. In other words, everything does seem to cancel out and it is the non-zero higgs field expectation that allows us to exist. The analogy I read about is like a big bowl with a small plateau in the bottom. As you start to fill the bowl you do not cover the plateau, and we sit on this plateau. So we are above zero, but there is a lot of territory below zero too. It just happens that we are stable in this universe. There is not something, there is a stability between something and not something that is protected from cancelling out.

    But I could be wrong…

  • DRT

    rupaul and Bev, just as there are many Christianities, there are many atheisms too. I feel many are actually closer to god than some Christianities. I am sure that I am partial, but my kids are all atheist. But they are atheist because they don’t want to buy into the Christianity that they have been shown, and when I tell them about my Christianity they tell me that they cannot join it because it is a church of 1. Seemingly no one else out there believes in the stuff I do and they cannot confess to be a Christian if it is meaningless to the hearer.

    I think they are quite close to god, and that is not a hope for universalism.

  • pastasauceror

    @DRT Your description sounds pretty close to a lot of the prevailing theories to me, it seems like a very interesting description of the Universe, though I’m sure not even its proposers would say it’s fait accompli. I wasn’t drilling down that deeply of course when I said matter/energy cannot be created or destroyed, I was just using it for the sake of the argument.

    @rupaul I will try to make my “added” God a bit clearer. As it stands in this world (without my “added god”) we have a number of supposed ‘revelations’ leading to a variety of ‘personal beliefs’ leading to a multitude of ‘religious practices’ leading to many disagreements and sometimes even internecine disputes. If my “added god” were to be installed as “the only true God” (just thinking that makes me laugh) then he would provide identical and simultaneous revelations to all people at all times, there would be no misunderstanding of his will because it could be quite easily checked with any and every one else on Earth. Also, this god would not shy away from publicly making known his will in settling any disputes. Without threats/ultimatums people would be free to choose to obey this god’s will purely on its own merits; people would easily see the consequences of following or refusing to follow this god’s will and (because that will is so obviously made known) eventually come to follow it by free choice (if that will is “good enough” to make following it the obvious way to go). Some people would think this was Utopia some people would think it was a thinly disguised Dictatorship, in my mind it’s the kind of benign dictatorship that is an impossible to straddle line without an all-powerful all-good ruler who can run it perfectly and in perpetuity. Though I actually think if an omni-benevolent, omni-potent and all-wise being existed (and was in any way interested in ruling this Earth) then this would be exactly what we would see in real life…now. After all, if I can think of it, I’d expect He/She’d be able to.

    As for your points, why is it any more likely that my “added god” is in danger of not being the “real god” but rather a possessed or poser god (I think my “added god” is less likely to have this problem as His/Her existence and will is so transparent and testable). Unfortunately, as your quote from the Rig Veda shows, all gods have the same appearance problem. After all Yahweh was thought by the Gnostics to just be a demi-urge (mainly because of his horrible qualities attested in the Jewish Scriptures, I’d assume). And, in my opinion Jesus is in even greater danger of being a possessed or fake “god” as there is no evidence that he existed before (or even after) his living as a man…what’s more likely is that he was a schizophreniac with paranoia and delusions of grandeur. But that is getting into another subject too. Haven’t read Ayn Rand or Max Stirner yet so I can’t really comment on that.

  • rupaul

    @DRT, I think you are right that some atheists are closer to God than some Christians (or other people with religion). I don’t think you need to worry about your children, they sound like they are good people.

    I can see why they wouldn’t want to joint a church with one member. Have you considered yourself joining a liberal congregation that allows a diversity of beliefs: the most liberal maybe being Unitarians and liberal Quakers; or Episcopalians and Church of Christ (which is liberal around here, not sure about everywhere.)

    @pastasauceror, your God leaves no room for doubt, then. Of course the traditional answer, making a virtue out of necessity perhaps, is that the difficulty of finding out about God is itself part of God’s plan, sort of like Life Level One: Difficulty – God’s Nature is Obscure. Imagine a computer game; it’s not so rewarding if all the stuff is easy and on the surface; better games have more complexity.

  • pastasauceror

    @rupaul My my, what a pitiable get out clause for a god to use, it won’t be rewarding enough if I don’t make it difficult for the humans, have to give ’em some doubt to spice things up! I don’t know about you but I refuse to play games where the computer cheats in order to make up for its lack of adequate AI, and I don’t accept cheating definitions of god(s) either. Perhaps you should just admit that my “added god” is actually better than the one most religions have, by necessity of His/Her never showing up in real life, been forced to rationalize excuses for to continue believing in. Each to their own I suppose…enjoy your “game” 😉

  • Bev Mitchell

    rupaul, DRT and pastasauceror

    DRT (119) is correct. There are better ways to address this than hoping God is a universalist. One would be to affirm that there is a wideness in God’s mercy that I surely do not understand.

    This is the 20th anniversary of the publication of Clark Pinnock’s wonderful little book “A Wideness in God’s Mercy” It was expected that this 1992 book would set off a decade of discussion. It did set off a decade of censure from predictable quarters. However, it’s theme, as this thread shows, is clearly open for discussion in 2012.

    Indulge me and check out this quote from Pinnock’s introduction. He is referring to his ideas on “exclusivism”, “restrictivism”, “pluralism” and “inclusivism”.

    “Using such terms, one could say that my proposal is exclusivist in affirming a decisive redemption in Jesus Christ, although it does not deny the possible salvation of non-Christian people. Similarly, it could be called inclusivist in refusing to limit the grace of God to the confines of the church, although it hesitates to regard other religions as salvific vehicles in their own right. It might even be called pluralist insofar as it acknowledges God’s gracious work in the lives of human beings everywhere and accepts real differences in what they believe, though not pluralist in the sense of eliminating the finality of Christ or falling into relativism.”

    In summary, I think Pinnock saw many ways to the Son but only one way to the Father – a loving wideness in God’s mercy.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Since I took Pinnock’s book off the shelf today for the quote above, I decided to reread at least part of it. If you haven’t read it (or haven’t done so in a while) have a look at least at Chapter 1. It’s amazing how well God’s call (past, present and future) outside Judeo-Christian thought can be supported from Scripture. Pinnock’s survey of this is a tour de force. And, his critique of limited grace is devastating.

  • rupaul

    @Bev Mitchell, thank you for suggesting Pinnock’s book, I will look for it.

    @pastasauceror, Well, we are both in whatever game this is, whether we like it or not! Perhaps it is just a simulation, in which case we had better keep the game interesting for whoever is running it. Thanks for the pointer to Gale’s book. (The internet is a machine for finding interesting stuff!)

    @DRT, we are right in the middle of a really interesting universe. I missed your post on energy, I don’t understand much about the Higgs boson but I’m glad I’m living during such an exciting time. My kids will know so much more than I do, too.

  • JamesB

    Late to the party as I just came across this. Apologies…

    “One must want God to exist in order to become a follower of Jesus, and as such, it is time for a radical rethinking of apologetics that begins where nearly all of Jesus’ pitches for the Kingdom began—with human longing (consider, for example, the Beatitudes).”

    As a longtime Christian who is now agnostic, I can tell you I very much wanted God to exist, especially in the final weeks and months of my Christianity. I get what you are saying here as a criticism of modern apologetics (and counter apologetics,) but in my personal experience, simply wanting God to exist – in nearly any form – wasn’t enough to keep me in the fold, so to speak. It’s not because my heart was darkened, or because I didn’t have the Holy Spirit or I loved darkness more than light as some commenters here may suggest. It is because, once I divorced myself from needing it to be true, I was able to consider all the evidence for and against Christianity and found it wholly insupportable.

    Secondly, what can you say about the truth of something if the first step in making an argument for it is that you have to make people want it? Sounds more like an advertising ploy to me.

  • rupaul

    @JamesB, as a non-Christian theist, I’m maybe not the person to be answering this question… but I think Jeff is saying that people are misrepresenting God, and so people don’t find this distorted image of God very desirable. This assumes that if people know what God is really like, they will find it natural to believe, or at least feel more open to it.

    Jeff Cook does worry in his post about non-Christians seeing rational arguments for God as just advertising ploys.

    I am not sure what to say to you, personally. I don’t think that belief/nonbelief matter very much, but you should find an ethic/practice that your conscience feels comfortable with. The Beatitudes that Jeff Cook suggests are a good place, though not the only good place, to start. My guess is that since you spent a lot of time thinking your way out of theism, that you have already have this covered, too.

    I hope that your journey out of religion wasn’t too personally painful (I mean things like family conflicts).

    On a completely different side of Jeff Cook’s post, I also think that the *usual* atheist debaters’ philosophical arguments are not very sophisticated, but I think he is wrong to imagine that a strong case for materialism can’t be made at all. (Materialism is not the only alternative to Christian Theism, either; though I wonder if Jeff is equating “naturalism” with “materialism”? They are not the same thing. I’d like to see Craig debate a Buddhist philosopher too!)

  • JamesB


    Thanks for taking the time to reply.

    As a non-Christian theist, what is your picture of God like? I’m just curious.

    My picture of God near the end was one of love. It was a God I wanted to believe in and I found many authors and bloggers who spoke of this God. I followed this version of God for a few years because it was much better than the one I had been taught about in most of my years prior. The problem was, however, that all the evidence offered for this particular God was subjective; one had to presuppose him and then look for evidence to back it up. I couldn’t keep that up. I was never in Christianity all those years for the subjective experience; I was in it because I thought the facts about it were true.

    I guess in a very real way, Jeff is right: people do have to *want* for God to exist before they can be a follower of Jesus. But as a living example of someone who very much wanted God to exist, I can tell you that since I quit believing I have found no good evidence to convince me he does. Wanting something to be real doesn’t make it so.

  • rupaul

    @JamesB, well, to start I should clarify that I’m an ex-Catholic, ex-atheist non-Christian Quaker theist 🙂 After all, there are an awful lot of kinds of non-Christian theists (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc.) with a wide variety of views to say the least. (And Quakers come in a lot of varieties too, mostly Christian by numbers, esp. outside the east coast of North America and the UK.)

    Yeah, I’m pretty much in the God-is-love camp, and I think the “subjective” part is really the only reason that works for me. I was moved to rethink how I felt when I saw a museum exhibit about prayer in India, though I think I had been pretty much operating on a theist level privately for a numbers of years (in a way that’s hard to verbalize; having to explain my life to God is the closest way I can put it; that was more gradual).

    “Belief” doesn’t come into it really, since I don’t think God cares what kind of opinions I have, only what kind of life I’m living, and would still love me tomorrow if I stopped believing, or even started acting up… though I would imagine Cosmic Disappointment with me :). Spinoza thought that it was rational to love God, but that it would be presumptuous to think that God should love us back. I am not sure I know how it feels to love God, I’m missing that part somehow, but I’m pretty sure God loves me, so kind of the opposite of Spinoza.

    Practically speaking, on a day to day level, it comes down to my reading books with a spiritual focus a lot (mostly Christian and Buddhist), and using them to try to be a better person, and trying to listen for insight during Quaker meeting. I don’t have a regular practice of prayer the way I think I should (especially considering the Indian prayer experience above.)

    Oh, and maybe not the least, I think it is hard, not impossible but hard, to maintain a pacifist view without a “God’s eye view” available. But that won’t mean much unless you are already a pacifist (I was a pacifist from a young age, while still Catholic).

    The Dalai Lama (who is certainly not a theist!) once was asked what the world was actually made of, and he answered “Compassion”. I am not exactly sure how literally he meant that, but I’d like to think that is true somehow; even if God doesn’t exist.

  • rupaul

    @JamesB, I think I didn’t answer your question of how I picture God. Is what I said close enough? I do have private notions I use to think about God, but I don’t have any philosophical confidence in them, just ideas that help me. I won’t get into that unless you want me to.

  • JamesB


    You answered my question well. Thank you.

  • Is this debate about winning the argument or winning souls? Jesus approached people with personal connection and love, and I believe that’s what we have to do from an evangelism standpoint. As far as debates with atheists, or even within the Christian community, I think we stray from the heart of things when we try to make God make sense from a human standpoint. I think God does not really care whether we humans think he is compassionate or a “meanie” to send unbelievers to hell. He is God, He is sovereign, and He is right. Unless a person doesn’t believe the Bible in its entirety, these things are fact, no matter how humanity wants to moan about how unfair it all is (see Job). I can reconcile intellectually the God who wipes out sinners with the God who shows grace to them; not everyone can. But even when one can’t, there is still comfort in knowing that God is good, that God loves His creations, and that there is great mystery in the way God works. That’s what faith is all about, after all.

  • JamesB


    As a former believer myself, I can tell you that the whole issue of God not making sense “from a human standpoint” a the thing that ultimately drives many people away, myself included; a human standpoint is all we have to go on. Why is there a “mystery in the way God works” when it comes to bad things yet when good things happen it is obviously his doing?

  • Kenton

    I’m astounded – in a negative way – by many of these Christian’s responses. They appear to say that life is an easy, black and white answer that “Not only God exists, but the specific God of Jesus is obviously deduced from simple argument, so unbelievers are just immoral sinners who need to be brought to the light.”

    But Blaise Pascal’s insight was brilliant: “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is” (Pensees 12).

    So many of the arguments here do exactly what Jeff warns against next: skips every step and jumps to the very last argument. How is it that we cannot see outside of ourselves, and the damage this brings to our cause? How can believers be so blind? There certainly may be a few that we will “argue into the Kingdom”… but how many more will be equally turned off by our thoughtlessness?

    I think this post offers a real hope of an apologetic approach that is a game-changer, instead of the traditional apologetic approach that actually is producing more “new atheists” than believers….

  • Andrew Torrance

    ” My son, give me thine heart,” says the book of Proverbs. “Repent, and be baptized” said St. Peter as he began his preaching. Christ and the Apostles spoke first to people’s hearts, and showed them that through repentance, their hearts could be cleansed of evil, and be blessed. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”.
    But do we really know what it means to repent nowadays? I recently read a book which makes me think that we don’t: “Repentance in Late Antiquity” by Alexis Torrance (Oxford University Press). In the first centuries of the Christian Era, repentance was not a one-off conversion moment, nor was it a series of penitential excercises, but a lifelong life-transforming process. Maybe all we apologists need to go back to the beginning and learn to repent as we should. If we were really pure in heart, we would see God, and that vision would give our words conviction.