The Cult-Like Anti-Intellectualism of Christian Bashing

The Cult-Like Anti-Intellectualism of Christian Bashing August 8, 2013

Let’s look at the arguments we’ve seen against the faith here on Public Catholic. They tend to fall into categories.

By far the largest category is the Dawkins without attribution crowd. These people repeat arguments Dr Richard Dawkins has made in his popular books, usually without adding a single thought of their own. But they don’t attribute them to Dr Dawkins. There are so many of these it would be worthless to try to list them. Here is one recent example.

A reader made the statement (I’m paraphrasing) that the reason we live in a universe that appears to be tuned for life, at least life here on Earth, is that, well, however improbable, that’s the universe we live in. This is from Dr Dawkins’ runaway best seller The God Delusion.

Obviously, this doesn’t answer anything. It simply sidesteps it. Also obviously, it wasn’t the reader’s own thought.

There are a large number of pretend Dawkins commenters on this blog. Except for one time, I’ve let every single one of them pass through without calling them on their failure to say that they are quoting someone else.

What is interesting is that they don’t seem to be able to think past quoting Dawkins without attribution. I don’t remember one of these people adding anything to Dr Dawkins’ thinking when they slap these things down in the combox.

I don’t know for sure of course, but I’m guessing most of them haven’t thought all that deeply about what they’re quoting. If they had, they would probably have decided it isn’t worth repeating, as it doesn’t hold water.

God-is-evil commenters are another large group. They have picked up out-of-context Bible verses and stories, sometimes from Dawkins, but I think mostly from Christian-bashing blogs. They come swooping in here with their Bible verse or story and throw it down with an almost audible There! Take that!

I’ve noticed that Public Catholic readers aren’t so good at answering this tripe. Our religious education has not taught us to look at the Bible from a viewpoint of defending God Himself in disputation.

Protestants are good at seeing specific verses because that is the way they have been taught. They are much more adept than Catholics at picking out a verse anywhere. I know Protestants who can recite whole chapters of the Bible. I can give them a word or two of a verse and they will tell me immediately where it is in the Bible by Chapter and verse.

Catholics are good at seeing the overarching story of the Scriptures, because that is the way they have been taught. Every Sunday we hear an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a reading from an Epistle and a reading from the Gospels. Catholics who go to daily mass will hear almost the whole Bible read to them this way in a three year cycle. These readings are chosen so that New Testament fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy or foreshadowing is placed side by side, along with an Apostolic interpretation of these same things from one of the Epistles.

Catholics come away from this with a good understanding of how the Bible fits together to tell one, single story of our salvation.

However, neither Protestants nor Catholics have been trained to deal with the dubious “scholarship” of highly aggressive Christian bashers. These people are cult-like followers of leaders who earn their living by attacking Christ, Christianity, the Church and God. Many of the Christian-bashing blogs are over the top with followers. Hate expressed in anti-intellectual shibboleths is popular with certain types of people. It always has been.

These leaders comb the Scriptures looking for stories or single verses that they can manipulate to support their contentions. They studiously overlook the vast bulk of Scripture that abrogates their prejudices so clearly that even they cannot twist it into meaning something else. They then reinterpret their gleanings according to their own malice in order to judge both God and Christians by the obnoxious standards of 21st century self-righteous nihilism.

This whole practice of pulling things out of context and ignoring all scholarship to reframe them according to your propaganda is intellectually bogus. It is not a sign of intelligence, especially since the people who come on this blog to throw these things down are just parroting what someone else has said or written without any real understanding.

I haven’t been trained in dealing with this. So far as I know, nobody has. After all, those of us who follow Christ are more intent on learning what the Bible actually teaches than mining it for gotcha verses and stories to use against God.

However, a lot of dumb clucks are buying it as if it meant something. I don’t mean Public Catholic readers. I mean your friends and mine. I mean our kids and the family we see once a year at Thanksgiving. People who have not studied the Bible in an intelligent and informed way are sitting ducks for this sort of anti-intellectual approach to Scripture.

From what little I have read and seen in this area, every single one of these accusations is answered by simply learning why and what the Scriptures are actually saying. I haven’t read one attack on the faith from Scripture that didn’t fall down dead by simply knowing what the Scriptures actually mean.

The problem is that these understandings don’t fit in a combox. In fact, they would only fit in a full post if you take them one at a time, and that would be an entire blog of its own. They require what these anti-intellectual propagandists claim for themselves but don’t demonstrate: A certain amount of intellectual gravitas.

In this post Christian world, we’re all going to have to become apologists, each in our own little world. The time when we could devote our studies to personal piety has ended. We are in a battle and we must, as St Paul said, “take on the whole armor of faith.” That includes an understanding of how and why these attacks on Christians and on God Himself through Scripture are both anti-intellectual in their methodology and untrue in their facts.

The result for us as individuals will be a greatly strengthened faith that “needs not be ashamed.”

Faith grows when you step out on it, and that’s a fact.

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80 responses to “The Cult-Like Anti-Intellectualism of Christian Bashing”

  1. “the reason we live in a universe that appears to be tuned for life, at least life here on Earth, is that, well, however improbable, that’s the universe we live in.”

    In my early new atheist days, I made this argument. I still buy it a little bit. Regardless of how improbable it is that all the conditions are right for our being here, we are here because they are and we wouldn’t be here to note it if they weren’t right for us, right here and right now. It seems like a circular argument, but it isn’t really. That we are here is just a fact. It is what it is. Who cares how improbable it is. It happened somewhere at sometime and that somewhere and sometime are here and now.

    But I am becoming weak and susceptible to the notion of Intelligent Design, once I could separate it from Creationism, a separation that did not occur in the Dover, PA trial. There is fine tuning of the laws and physical constants, irreducible complexity in microscopic molecular machines like the bacteria flagellum, the origin of life that science has yet to explain, genetic coding of DNA, the Cambrian explosion where multiple species suddenly appear in the fossil record, etc.

    In any case, there would be no correlation between, say, an Intelligent Designer (ID) and the Catholic concept of God. The ID is not our Father. The ID is not the Word, through whom all things were made, who was born to a virgin, died for our sins, rose from the dead, is seated at the right side of the Father, etc. The ID does not send a Holy Spirit to counsel and guide us. If there is an ID, I would not call it God.

  2. You think the anthropic principle originates with Dawkins and that is the only place anyone would get that from?

    You might be looking in the wrong place for cult-like anti-intellectualism and some introspection may do you good.

  3. As frustrating as many of the r/atheism crowd can be i count them as a blessing. They are doing some of our own evangelization for us. as they bring up issues of God and they cause people to think critically about their own beliefs.

    Thoughtless atheism will eventually fade and more authentic searches for truth will emerge. People will eventually need to grapple with these issues on their own.

    As the “new atheists” demolish the straw men of bad theology we are able to till the soil with the true word of God without so much of the bramble left to contend with.

  4. Hey Bill, good to see that you are still thinking independently, and that may eventually lead you back to God. You are right that ID is a lot different than Creationism, and makes a lot more sense. You are also right that an “Intelligent Designer” does not necessarily mean God as the Church proclaims. However, it COULD be that this intelligent designer actually does love us, and didn’t just set the universe in motion and then went on to some other project. Keep searching, Bill. Take care!

  5. I hope being an atheist doesn’t prevent me from posting, but I’m curious as to where the “theme” of the text is derived if not the specific passages interpreted to display a continuum. As a Christian (Wesleyan sry) I used to assume that this theme existed. One where the loving creator of the universe revealed himself in steps over time leading to his full revelation in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and the establishment of his Kingdom on earth for his glory, as well as the restoration of relationship to God. I hope I didn’t miss anything.

    I grant that many atheists love to rip stuff out of context in an attempt to score quick points. But often in the text we find passages, which indicate God commanding his followers, or at least the followers claimed that God commanded them to commit genocide. Even if the text was exaggerated e.g. only kill the combatants or destroy the religious infrastructure. The fact remains that the “people of God” waged a physical sword and shield war against their neighbors at the behest of their God. These aren’t isolated events in the various texts of the cannon. If the wars were only supposed to be metaphorical or spiritual in nature, then we wouldn’t have a problem with it being used as an example of God asking for obedience, but the fact that this obedience involved things like obliterating the Amekalites, (which Saul failed to do and lost the kingship for it) makes us wonder how “Just” this God is.

    We often get accused of misinterpreting the text. But there is no guide, no explicit framework outlined in the text for interpreting it. It all comes from the assertions and assumptions of previous authorities, like Augustine or the teachings laid out in the Catechism. Why is it that I my understanding of the text is so “flawed” or “cherry picked” in your opinion? Especially when my understanding came as a Christian, praying to God to reveal himself through the text while studying it as best I could.

    _retracted part of statement due to hostile tone_ – Davis

  6. To be clear, there is no necessary correlation between an Intelligent Designer and the Catholic notion of God, which is to say that proving an ID does not immediately prove Christianity. There are other theologies that could include an ID (so far as I understand it).

    However, the Catholic understanding of God includes everything included in an ID, and contradicts no part of an ID. So the Catholic understanding of God is one possibility for an ID. Moreover, it is reasonable to start with principles (such as Intelligent and Designer) and ask what logically follows if they are true, and thereby discover further attributes of such a divinity.

    So, given an ID, it is possible that the ID is the Father, the Word through whom all things were made, the Holy Spirit given to us. It’s just not a certain conclusion.

    Finally, you’re correct that “This is the world we live in” is not an argument so much as a bare fact. The question is, how did this world that we live in come to be as it is? It is when the fact is reasserted as if it were an answer to the question that a debater reasonably calls foul.

  7. Quite true, unfortunately many of us believers tend to turn the other cheak and pray for the culprits than to have to create a confrontational situation with someone. But we need to stand up for our GOD and faith and not allow our fears, ignorance, shyness, or embarrassment, nor anything else to keep us from defending HIM. Like you said, we have to educate ourselves and arm ourselves with faith and scripture as best we can because these attacks are not going to go away they will only increase in intensity. The evil is out there and is attacking viciously, especially the Catholic Faith with such ferocity that it wants to destroy all. We must stand firm and hold on to our faith and not allow it to be maligned! May GOD Bless us all!

  8. Actually, the commenter I’m referring to came close to quoting Dawkins, and not just in this one instance.

    If memory serves, Dr Dawkins didn’t say ANYTHING original in any of his books about faith. His thinking is derivative.

  9. “Catholics who go to daily mass will hear almost the whole of the Bible read to them this way in a three year cycle.”

    Actually, the daily attendees would hear only about a quarter of the Bible. And the weekly attendees, only an eighth.

    (But most Catholics have the same misunderstanding that you do.)

    The three-year cycle of readings, based on Lectionary Statistics
    from the Catholic Lectionary Website
    , only covers 27.4% of the
    Catholic Bible (based on their word count. (13.5% of the Old Testament and
    71.5% of the New Testament).

    The comparable numbers for mass readings on Sundays and Major Feasts are: 12.7% overall, 3.7% of OT (with 0% from 13 books), and 40.8% of NT. And this is much more comprehensive than pre-Vatican II, when it was only 4.7% overall, 1.0% of OT and 16.5% of NT.

    This is not to underestimate the value of daily mass or any daily commitment to a spiritual or psychological practice.

    EDIT: Fixed the link per TheodoreSeeber — Thanks!

  10. One other quick question. You’re saying you believe in Saul, but you don’t believe in Jesus. Is that right?

  11. Thanks for the responses, apologies for my next long winded response, but here goes.

    To Rebecca, my question isn’t who it is why. A divine source of a command still wouldn’t answer the question as to why it is wrong, it simply asserts that it is. I would argue that murder is wrong on the basis that suffering is a measurable experience that human beings go through, collectively or individually. The personal gauge of that suffering is of course subjective but the presence of the possibility of suffering is very real. Pain is a real experience (agnostic to whether it is good or bad) Sadness in response to external stimuli is a very real experience. You don’t need a divine command to determine whether or not you yourself experience pain, sadness or suffering. You on your own can determine the source of those things.

    If the divine commands line up with our understanding we are apt to accept them as true statements. But for instances where we find the commands abhorrent (e.g. the stoning of women for adultery, or rapists getting to keep the woman as his bride if they pay a fine) they get written off and we don’t follow them and I question the “consistency” of the Tradition.

    I would posit that the words “good” or “bad” are merely descriptions pertaining to observable stimuli which can cause us either harm or happiness. I wouldn’t argue that there is some ultimate good or ultimate bad, or source for either. I would instead say we independently judge stimuli, or actions on our part based on their measurable results.

    Ken, One of the problems I see in assuming that the Amekalites were evil is that we have no basis in the text for assuming that. (feel free to correct me if I missed something in the text) We know from extra Biblical sources that child sacrifice was practiced in that region, but the Bible (again correct me if I missed something) records God’s command to kill the Amekalites for the purpose of expanding their territorial holdings per previously provided divine promise to Abraham. Side note: What is interesting about this is that, they would basically be killing their distant cousins, whose ancestors Abraham shared before moving out of the region.

    But even if you can confidently say that the reason that the Amekalites were to be killed was because of child sacrifice, you still don’t address why the sacrifice of a child is wrong. If the Amekalites sacrificed children because their God demanded it, is their logic no different from yours? I would say child sacrifice IS wrong, because it harms the child who did not consent to be sacrificed and causes immense pain. I would say it is wrong because the absence of children reduces the possibility of our species growing and continue to learn and develop (which genetically speaking is a core function of any species survival). One could of course infer that I am against abortion but although I identify as pro choice, that is a far more nuanced discussion though still relevant to the concept of morality.

    As for the nature of authority, you are still faced with the source of that authority whether it be revelation to the individual, the recording of that revelation (scripture) or the interpretation of that scripture (tradition). The problem arises when “We consistently interpret the text” is used as a basis for adherence to tradition given that all major religions in one way or another claim that same consistency, a consistency not sourced in the text itself mind you, but provided by whoever first decided to interpret the text. Though we may have access to the logic and reasoning used, it still remains that that reasoning is human. No different from my reasoning. And as I mention, If I have attempted with my whole heart (and I say that will full sincerity) to ask God for guidance in understanding his word, while also relying on the tradition provided by my upbringing, how could I come to such a different conclusion? Why did not God reveal His “truth” to my innermost being?

  12. For the sake of argument yes, but I didn’t say I didn’t believe in Jesus. I no longer believe he rose from the dead of course but I believe he was a living breathing man. I based my questions on application assuming that the text speaks truly of God’s commands and the recorded history in the text. I personally believe that there are flaws in that history. e.g. no global flood, or Exodus, or original human pair (Adam or Eve) based on evolutionary and geological observation, but, the subject of the post seemed to address questions of God’s character raised by Atheists on the pure assumption that the Bible speaks true, so I granted that assumption and based my questions around that.

    FYI when I cite problems with the text, my knowledge of this comes almost exclusively from Peter Enns, an evangelical blogger on this site who does his best to provide a reconciliation between faith and observed fact (if you grant him that his arguments about history and evolution are true). I don’t agree with him on the faith part, but at the core, I didn’t leave the faith based on “well reasoned arguments” (though I formulated those later) I left the faith, because I asked God to reveal himself to me, and was left wanting. Feel free to blame the evangelicals for their strong emphasis on the expectations of personal relationship. 🙂

  13. I would say bloggers like Rebecca are also quite a blessing for us non-believers, iron sharpens Iron right? but in all seriousness, I couldn’t live with myself, if I didn’t attempt to keep questioning my firmly held convictions, against the arguments of the faithful. I used to be a Christian and now find myself not one. I hopefully being honest with myself to acknowledge the possibility that I could convert back.

    All that to say, I’m not proud of my fellow man in general who resorts to unkind or careless application of their questions and assumptions. It is frustrating to see both Christians and non wave the flag of war and bring violence, in either word or other to each other.

  14. Hm, I don’t know. My main reason for atheism is that the concept of ‘God’ means absolutely nothing to me; it’s a totally empty word. Additionally, I find it nearly impossible to believe in an afterlife. The ‘fine-tuning’ question is one that I don’t actually think can be used for evidence one way or another, but I encourage people who are interested in that to ask a cosmologist.
    I’m not really very interested in the Bible, except as literature and mythology, but I don’t think it has a particularly good or coherent moral system in it. Even if it did, that wouldn’t change what I look at it for. It’s just a book to me; nothing special.

    My dislike for most religions comes (primarily) from the actions done in the name of those religions. My dislike for religion in general comes from the fact that they (universally, as far as I can tell) hold faith to be a virtue; I find that really dubious, from a consequentialist standpoint.

    I also have an issue with the Catholic Church in particular, in that I strongly oppose large chunks of its natural/moral law. I will never seek health care from a Catholic hospital, as I am personally and philosophically opposed to the code of ethics the Church imposes on them.

    EDIT: The ‘fine-tuning’ question is actually not just from Dawkins — I’ve never actually read anything by him — it’s a well-known philosophical and cosmological thingy known as the ‘anthropic principle’. The wikipedia page for it is enormous, and full of all kinds of interesting things. I encourage people to check it out.

  15. “(I’m paraphrasing) [T]he reason we live in a universe that appears to be tuned for life, at least life here on Earth, is that, well, however improbable, that’s the universe we live in. This is from Dr Dawkins’ runaway best seller The God Delusion.”

    Actually, although Dawkins discusses it in The God Delusion, this is a restatement of the well-known anthropic principle: “In astrophysics and cosmology, the anthropic principle (from the Greek, anthropos, human) is the philosophical consideration that observations of the physical Universe must be compatible with the conscious life that observes it.” In fact, Dawkins refers to
    various thinkers regarding the anthropic principle in his chapters entitled, “The Anthropic Principle: Planetary Version” and “The Anthropic Principle: Cosmological Version,” so he properly attributes it. There is no single ‘author’ or ‘theorist’ of the anthropic principle, by the way, to whom one can refer. Comments might benefit from commenters prefacing with, ‘As the anthropic principle says, …’ but Dawkins has nothing to do with it, or nothing more than thousands of writers who have referred to it.

    But to my main point of your erroneous attribution: Perhaps it is you, Ms.
    Hamilton, who might benefit from an effort at understanding those who disagree with you. 30 seconds to Google search your paraphrase above yields, as the top listing, the Wikipedia page on “Anthropic Principle.” 30 seconds to search at for God Delusion and Dawkins brings up the book with preview available. 30 seconds to search in the book for anthropic principle yields the two chapter headings and several selections showing the scientists and philosophers to whom he referred. Research: not that hard, even if you had never heard of it.

    On the other hand, your having a basic understanding of the basic philosophical concepts, like the anthropic principle, might lend a bit of “intellectual gravitas”, if I may borrow your expression, to your blog posts.

  16. Somehow it looks like my computer is having issues, sry for the late reply. But I would say that the question of “Who says murder is wrong” could obviously be answered by saying, God, or Allah for that matter. But does that say anything about the wrongness of it? I would say its wrong on the grounds that it causes un-necessary suffering, in which case the ending of any conscious life should be treated with that consistency.

    In answer to your above question, I do believe that Saul was a real person, as well as Jesus. I don’t believe “in him” obviously, but that’s partly because I have unresolved questions about the nature of the text which announces him, which is why I want to trace back to the source of certain interpretations. The fact that a theme exists indicates some sort of criteria for laying out the structure of that theme. I recognize that you noted that it would take a full blog post to lay out that theme and I hope you put one forth as I think that is a worthwhile effort.
    As for a justification of the annihilation of the Amekalites, I would say that it is difficult to assume that ail people in that culture were guilty. To use a present day example. We know that a particular Iraqi dictator committed atrocities, and deserved to be removed from power as well as the system which supported him. But the populace he controlled were not all guilty of his crimes. I’m not willing to grant that the Amekalites were all evil and all participated in child sacrifice. I can imagine that many fought against those kinds of practices, especially if you grant that “God has placed eternity on their hearts, and all men are without excuse”

  17. “Murder is wrong” is a tautology, since “murder” is defined as an “unlawful [i.e., wrong] homicide with malice”.

  18. So … you’re saying that the wrongness of an act depends on its legal definition, or … are you saying that it’s only wrong if malice is involved?

    Who says malice is wrong?

    What is malice?

    How would those who write legal definitions know murder is wrong?

  19. So you are a … what? … Passover Plot kind of atheist?

    (I am unacquainted with Mr Enns, btw.)

  20. I’m not sure where you get your numbers, and I’m not really arguing with them. My source is a priest I know who told me it was around 80% with that which was left out being mostly the begats and laundry lists of statutes. You may be right.

  21. You haven’t told me why you think the Bible speaks truly of God’s demands (commands you find appalling).

    How could the Bible speak truly of God’s commands if God doesn’t exist?

    You asked God to reveal Himself to you and was “left wanting?” Does the God you find so appalling sound like a trained seal? In your studies of the Bible, did you come across the command, Do not put the Lord your God to the test? Hint: Jesus quoted this scripture to Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness. The original harkens from Moses.

    So … you tested this God, who presumably was willing to wipe out whole populations to keep the people He was raising up to be the progenitors of the Messiah from contact with the sins of idolatry and child sacrifice, and “found Him wanting?”

    If this God is God, then you are being stupid to put Him to the test.

    Did it ever occur to you that He didn’t answer because He found you — and the hubris of putting Him to the test –“wanting?”

    If, on the other hand, you do not believe He exists, your whole line of argument is non sequitur. How can the Bible report accurately the words of a god who doesn’t exist, and how can you be appalled by actions that never happened because the actor doesn’t exist?

    If the God of the Bible doesn’t exist, you’re playing silly games.

    On the other hand, if the God of the Bible does exist, you’re playing dangerous games.

  22. I’m saying that if it’s actually murder, then it is perforce wrong. Murder, by definition, cannot be right. It’s like talking about a triangle with four sides.

    For a given action to be classified as murder, then it must be a) homicide; and b) wrong (“malice”, by the way, really means intent. You intended to kill, instead of killing incidentally, which would be manslaughter).

    The question is not whether murder could be right, but whether a given homicide qualifies as murder (and therefore is wrong).

    A morally neutral word is “homicide.”

  23. How do you know at murder is “perforce wrong?”

    “if it’s actually murder, then it is perforce wrong. Murder, by definition, cannot be right. It’s like talking about a triangle with four sides.”

  24. Because that is what the definition of “murder” is. “Murder” has a specific legal and moral definition as “wrongful, deliberate homicide”.

    To put it another way, it’s not wrong because it’s murder; it’s murder because it’s wrong. That is why “murder is wrong” is mere tautology.

  25. “I’m not sure where you get your numbers”

    They are not my numbers. As indicated by the link, they are from the Catholic Resources web site, which “provides comprehensive tables of the scripture readings from several Latin and English editions of the Catholic Lectionary for Mass.”

    The priest who gave you that datum was perhaps thinking about the 71% of the NT that is read in the three-year cycle of the daily lectionary.

    EDIT: Reworded

  26. I let this through because — assuming that the links are good — (I didn’t check) the information is useful. Thank you for providing it.

    If you want to comment on this blog, address the people here — including me — with civility.

  27. “‘It’s not wrong because it’s murder; it’s murder because it’s wrong.’ Which makes it a tautology.”

    My friend, you’ve said nothing. You’ve said it eloquently. But it’s still nothing.

    How do you know murder is wrong? Is it because of the legal definition? Do laws make murder wrong?

  28. If I understand correctly what you are aiming at here, you are trying to show that you cannot have a definition of right and wrong that does not involve God, or a similar ultimate moral authority. And here I have to disagree with you. With morals as with logic, Christianity brings nothing new into the world. Its message is rather: do what you have always known you should do, only more so. Do not lust after the wives or husbands of others, indeed don’t even treat your own wife or husband as an object of lust. Don’t kill; don’t even indulge the temptation of calling someone “you worthless fellow”. Don’t steal; don’t even be concerned with money as a goal. Morality exists before Christianity; Christianity adds an extra dimension of it, the depth of the revelation that morality inheres in God to the extent that God literally could not live with sin. By the same token, logic is not something that depends on God (that is the mistake of Islam and to a lesser extent of Calvinism); it is an abstract and independent set of rules which simply describe existence as it is, beginning with the law of non-contradiction – A is not non-A, you can’t have your cake and eat it, you can’t be married and single. A major part of Christian theology is that God cannot do the absurd; He cannot violate logic, not because His power is in any way limited (by anything other than the wills of intelligent beings, who are able to refuse His will), but because to say that God can make three be four would be absurd.

    Morality is like logic: it is inherent in human life. Murder is odious to human beings, and wrong by definition, whether or not we believe in a divine sanction behind morality. And in most cultures, most of the time, the same things are admired and reprobated. Each culture tends to deviate in some area – Zoroastrianism approves of incest, Marxism approves of civil war – but if you draw a map of the moral ideas of numerous different cultures, you will find that they tend to coincide. CS Lewis called this universal intuition of morality the Tao, the Way. Atheists and other unbelievers have a one-dimensional map of this Way, and they don’t understand where it leads, but they have it because it is inherent in being human and intelligent. We know that the moral law applies to everyone; we don’t have to argue that. But if it was not inherent in the nature of intelligence and free will, it could not be applied except to those who reach it consciously. And how many people do that?

  29. No, but he’s got the whole apparatus of British official culture, beginning, God forgive them, with my own beloved University of Oxford.

  30. With regard to all your concerns about so-called irreducible complexity, abiogenesis, the Cambrian explosion, and fine tuning, check out Talk Origins, for a comprehensive list of all the various ID/creationist claims that actual science refutes. Fight your weakness long enough to read the actual science on these topics.

    Even the Templeton Foundation eschews ID: “We do not believe that the science underpinning the intelligent-design
    movement is sound, we do not support research or programs that deny
    large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge, and the foundation
    is a nonpolitical entity and does not engage in or support political

    And I agree with Roki that ID and Christianity are independent.

  31. “it COULD be that this intelligent designer actually does love us”

    Probably the most important “COULD” needing to be resolved one way or the other. We got here by a very grueling and cruel process. Evolution is not fun.

  32. “However, the Catholic understanding of God includes everything included in an ID, and contradicts no part of an ID.”

    Yes. But it includes way to much information. But I agree. They are compatible.

  33. You had me until you called all of that “dangerous”. There is nothing dangerous in questioning the Christian faith. That is just a tactic to scare people into believing when you can’t convince them through reason and logic.

  34. Yes, I am saying nothing, because the answer to your original question was implicit in the question itself.

    I don’t think you’re grasping the idea of the tautology. A tautology is something that is true by definition. For example, a triangle is defined as an enclosed geometric figure made up of three straight lines. So if we ask “why does a triangle have three sides?” the answer is, “Because otherwise it wouldn’t be a triangle.”

    Similarly, murder is a term with a very specific definition, both in law and in morality. The act of murder is defined as the deliberate and unlawful (i.e., wrongful) taking of a human life. So if you’re asking “why is murder wrong?” the answer is “because otherwise it wouldn’t be murder.”

    Your question asks, “why is a wrongful act wrong?” and the answer is, “because it’s a wrongful act”.

  35. So… you’re trying to tell me that the answer to my question is that murder is wrong because it’s wrong?

    Or, are you saying that it’s wrong because a triangle is not a square (according to Euclidian geometry, of course) ?

    Or, are you saying that murder is wrong because this simple little girl from the Oklahoma prairie is just too lacking in brain cells to grasp “the idea of the tautology?”

    You’re talking in circles.

    Let’s rephrase this and see if you have any better luck.

    How do you know murder is wrong?

  36. Thank you for the repost of the link. I find that very interesting, and will use it in place of the “go to daily mass and you’ll get the Bible read to you”.

    I find it very interesting that there is a decided trend, however, to improving the lectionary in this way- the 2002 ICEL lectionary maybe needs to expand the daily mass readings to a four year cycle to pick up the additional percentages?

    Then again, would anybody go to Mass to hear a reading from the Torah Pentateuch Book of Numbers? Every time I try to read the Bible sequentially, it is that book that defeats me.

  37. From what I’ve seen, God is quite gentle with genuine questions. However, Davis gave me the impression that he did one of those “experiments” that atheists encourage where the person who is “praying” challenges God to perform.

    That doesn’t work, even work with me.

    It is a form of mockery. The Bible is quite clear about God and mockery. “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked.” “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

    Even Christians have made the mistake of characterizing God as a namby-pamby indulgent old grandparent. Either that, or your best pal that you call dude.

    Go out some night and look at the sky. Think about the vast mathematical certainty and the ferocious power and violence that are out there. The same God who made you made all of that.

    We don’t know Him. Jesus gave us a new and much more approachable image of God, and that is certainly real. But it is a pathway, not the whole of His transcendence.

    We don’t know Him, but He knows us. He knows the ignorance that prompts some people to be so childishly demanding of Him. He knows us and against all the things that you would expect of the Being Who made everything there is, everywhere, He loves us.

    If there is one thing that attests to His greatness above all others, the fact that He can take note of us is it.

    If you pray at God in the hectoring, mocking manner that some of these atheists leaders advise, and He doesn’t answer, you should count yourself blessed.

  38. I’ve decided I’m going to let you off the hook. You can’t answer without violating your atheist cant, and we both know it.

    I’m going to let other commenters through and back off of you.

    Enjoy the conversation.

  39. “Jesus gave us a new and much more approachable image of God, and that is certainly real.”

    Jesus gave it to us and the Western world ran with it. It has worked. I very much doubt that it is real unless you want to say that if it works, it must be real. I don’t think it is. I think Jesus was smart and knew that if he got people to believe it, it would work. That is his contribution to the world. The rest is the stuff of legends.

  40. Sorry for the long reply. again.

    I think there is a little bit of confusion and so I’d best articulate my own beliefs. I don’t believe in God(s) or anything supernatural. In the most simplistic terms I don’t because I do not find enough evidence for him. But one of the reasons I don’t believe stems from the fact that I did 6 months ago and lived my life as a Christian up to that point. I know I wasn’t raised Catholic so I concede the idea that it is very possible that the gospel as presented to me as a child and young adult was insufficient.

    I’ve only really been presented with the God of the Bible so that is the only God I have ever been interested in understanding, however, many promises were made to me about the nature of that God. Who Jesus was, what his death signified, the nature of man and the nature of our “broken” relationship with God. I believed all that. Until…. I started to ask questions. Most of them centered on why I personally didn’t experience a relationship with him, one which my fellow Christians claimed to experience. Because of this, and broken trust with my authorities when I discovered that everything I’d been taught about evolution was false, I struggled. one morning I just asked myself “Do I believe?” and my mind answered “No”.
    Which brings me to this discussion. No I don’t believe that a God exists but I don’t deny the possibility that he does. If we assume that he does, the question remains, Who is it? What is its nature and character. You present a God based on, as some have mentioned, the Bible and tradition. I only have the Bible. I don’t have the tradition. But am I wrong to infer that the tradition is based on the Bible, at least as it’s originator? I can’t afford to assume anything about a potential God, how could I if I don’t know him or no longer know him? And so I “test” which really is more of asking questions. Ken below mentions that I may be asking God to reveal himself. And I do ask that he would reveal himself if he exists. In the mean time, the only ones left are those who claim to know him.

    My confusion is that it seems to me that you don’t want me to read the Bible, while still maintaining that it is the revealed word of God. If he isn’t willing to reveal himself to me in any other way, how else am I supposed to figure out who he claims to be? And thus my frustration when I read a text and find that it has things in it that offend my conscience. I find a God that commands Genocide, and some problematic laws. Am I simply to ignore these events and still believe that the entirety of the text is the ineffable word of a Creator? This is why I keep asking for your guidelines as to how to read the text.

    I can’t afford to accept the assertion that your way is truth, if I can’t get the answer to the question of why. All major religions assert that their way is true. Growing up I encountered people who even went so far as to claim that Catholics weren’t Christian, which I knew to be patently false. My desire is to discover truth. I thought since you obviously find fault in my conclusions given that I am an atheist, you would be patient and willing to explain why I am so wrong. You assert in your post that we take things out of context. Help me put it back in context.
    Thank you.

  41. I’ve been following this exchange, and I’m really curious why you say murder is wrong? you ask us how we know. I say that the principle of wrong and right are mere labels attached to stimuli. For example. I would label something that causes me pain as “painful”. Pain is measurable. We all feel it. In the same way we experience all sorts of things we have names for, happiness, joy, sense of peace, sense of suffering. “Wrong” to me simply becomes a category of things which do not result in measurable happiness or joy or wellbeing. It stands to observation that not all things which cause pain are “bad” and we are capable of determining if temporally the pain is present but will lead to a future state of “less pain” and thus could be called “good”.
    Murder in my opinion has a measurable result. We define murder not as “wrong” but as the taking of human life coupled with the intent to cause them harm or suffering. If the taking of that life is for the purpose of “justice” ( a clearly debatable term) we wouldn’t call it murder. We “feel” that murder is wrong, because of the measurable suffering, without any net gain. If we knew for instance that murder resulted in a positive outcome, say for instance the life terminated will experience untold bliss after death, we wouldn’t give it the label of wrong.

    This obviously would have implications for Christians who believe that after death is eternal bliss? how could you say murdering Christians is wrong? You’d have to use a different criteria, because murdering a Christian actually would have a net benefit under this logic. I know you don’t adhere to it. Thankfully I don’t believe that eternal bliss follows death, so I have no motivation to kill anyone, because based on my logic, that causes pain and un-necessary suffering without any positive gain, for me, or for society.
    So I ask, what is your source for asserting that murder is wrong or not?
    Side note: the logic present in this argument uses examples from arguments made by TheoreticalBullS*** a youtube channel which I follow.

  42. To read between the lines you assert, that “the Bible is quite clear”, and so I am right to assume that you take the Bible as the source for your faith? If so My question still goes unanswered, how do I read it, because when I do I come to a different conclusion than you.
    And as for asking himself to reveal himself? I would be so happy and love it if God punished me for mocking him, though I have no intention of doing so. I would even be happy to know my fate is hell, if I get to stand before God and just know the truth. So I don’t really take that as a threat.
    But it does sadden me that I can’t know Him as you assert. It was always the thing I wanted most as a Christian. Its good to know Catholicism has a clear stance on that.

  43. Exactly. Murder is wrong, because murder is wrong. That’s what a tautology is: it’s an appeal to definitions. It IS circular; it’s also, an inadvertent fallacy of complex question.

    What you are probably trying to ask is, why is homicide (the morally and legally neutral term) wrong in most circumstances?

  44. I said I was going to back off and see how the readers handle it, but I’ll noodle with this one a bit first.

    If I understand your contention, it’s that human beings universally think that murder is wrong because they are conditioned to think this by the painful stimuli (grief, social dislocation, etc) that murder causes. Thus people everywhere, throughout history have always (so far as we know) thought murder was wrong. Sort of a pavlovian morality.

    This doesn’t hold water for the simple reason that the universal abhorrence to murder is not learned as, say, a desire to eat marbled steak is learned. Even though the desire to eat a marbled steak is closely linked to our biological imperatives, this particular expression of those imperatives is cultural, and learned directly from social/physical stimuli.

    That is why this desire for marbled beef, while highly popular, is not universal.

    The belief that murder is wrong does not come from biological imperatives. In fact, it can, at times, be a hindrance to those imperatives. Yet, the idea that murder is wrong is a universal human belief.

    It is so deeply ingrained in us that whenever we chose to violate it — as with abortion or euthanasia, or John Wayne Gacy — we develop bizarre ideologies of justification to allow us to override it and these ideologies don’t eliminate the tension overriding our inborn instinct that murder is wrong creates, or save from the widening destruction to our larger moral selves that come from it.

    What I am saying is that whenever we chose to override this inborn knowledge that murder is wrong and codify or allow murder, or practice it ourselves, the payback in terms of damage to our psyche, both individual and cultural, is enormous.

    Also, murder is not always unpleasant for the murderer, and since the murderer is the one who gets the write the history of the event, there is no bad conditioning taking effect, either on him or on those he passes his ideas forward to.

    As for me, I believe that we think murder is wrong because this is, indeed, inborn in us. It is called natural law, which means that there are certain things that are morally wrong and we know it instinctively without having been taught it by virtue of our moral nature and that this moral nature derives from having been made in the image and likeness of God.

    So a person who has never encountered the God of the Bible still knows that murder is wrong because this knowledge is inborn. On the other hand, societies or people who try to override this inborn knowledge are unable to sustain their moral and emotional structure and begin to deconstruct. Witness present-day America.

    Since we’re being uber careful about sources, probably because I chastened those who come on here and recite Dawkins chapter and verse with the pretense that these are their own thoughts, I’ll say that the idea of natural law is part of Catholic teaching. I’m not referencing a specific document. There are lots of them.

    The rest of it is just stuff I came up with while I was typing. I don’t think about these arguments a lot since I hashed all this out long ago in my own anti-religion period. 🙂

    Now, I’m going to leave this to you and Public Catholic’s readers.

  45. Do you agree with the statement ‘every instance of a human being killed is wrong’? Some people do and some people don’t; many people grant moral exceptions for things like self defence. ‘Murder’ though, is a word denoting a subset of instances of human beings being killed. When used informally, that subset is often the subset classified as ‘morally wrong’ by the person using the word.

  46. You are intriguing Davis, and that’s quite a compliment. I usually find the atheist commenters who come on here deadly boring. I think the reason why is that they are so obviously manipulative.

    No. The Bible is not the source of my faith. There was a time when the Bible was something of a challenge to my faith. The source of my faith is the reverse of what you experienced. I reached out to God and He answered me.

    God is real. I don’t have a single doubt.

    As to conflicts with evolution and the Scriptures, you need to try reading the things Pope John Paul II said on that subject.

    Now I really am going to stop answering. I have a real job to tend to.

  47. You nailed it. I have two comments. Comment #1: Most of the “evangelical atheists” I encounter have no interest in a conversation. They are out to mock and bash Christians generally, and Catholics specifically, as espoused by Mr. Dawkins. It is a waste of time to engage if they are totally close-minded. I approach them with a question: “Are you sincerely interested in learning why I believe that [fill in the blank]? I don’t want to waste your time or mine if you’re simply out to denigrate the beauty of the Catholic faith.” Or something to that effect. I use a similar approach with my Protestant brothers and sisters who take issue with aspects of Catholicism. “Are you sincerely interested in learning why Catholics believe that Christ is physically present in the Eucharist? I’d love to share it with you if you are.” Comment #2: Refer people to Dr. Peter Kreeft ( He is perhaps the most articulate apologist of our age. His YouTube videos are marvelous. Thank-you for your great work. I appreciate it.

  48. I appreciate this greatly. Assuming that Christianity is true, I could get behind a belief that Morality is consistent with observable experience and that it is inseparable from human life. I agree. Murder is odious to human beings, so therefore wrong. My issue of course is to point out that your comments regarding the “flaws” in Islam, etc. ignores what could be argued as flaws present in the Bible as well. Correct me if I’m taking out of context, but passages that are quoted as the direct handing down of the Law by God such as the stoning of adulterers seems morally reprehensible.

    The problem isn’t that the “adultery” is wrong, but the punishment for it would be wrong/unjust. The question remains; are the revelations of divine command in line with our observable morality? If its so intrinsic, why do some things appear so wrong? I don’t mean to judge God. It may very well be that the Bible doesn’t come from God and that it was misattributed laws. But if the Bible is from God I would expect the moral system outlined in his law to be consistent with what you refer to as Intrinsic morality.

  49. Not all people who want to rid the world of Catholicism want to because they are evil. Some want to because they know that there is no God and the Catholic Church claims all kinds of authority in the name of a God that doesn’t exist. On the other hand, some want to do evil and the Catholic Church gets in the way. Those people are evil.

  50. The idea of the Lectionary is not to read out most of the words between the covers, but to give a full sampling of what is between the covers, of the Bible.

    So, the Lectionary draws from all but three books in the Bible. That is, it draws from 70/73 books of the Bible, or about 96%. The books it leaves out are 1 Chronicles (which is itself a summary of other books of the Bible), Judith, and Obadiah. In other words, someone attending daily and Sunday mass would have a broad overview of the Bible as a whole. It’s a big-picture sort of approach, with some deliberate emphases and repetitions of the parts considered most important, like the Gospels.

    This is only problematic if one assumes that the liturgy is intended to be a Bible Study, especially a critical Bible Study. Rather, the scriptures are read in the liturgy as a foundation for teaching and encouraging the faithful in their faith. We have plenty of opportunity to study the Bible outside of mass.

    All that said, could the Lectionary be improved? Of course it could! I have several suggestions myself. But something isn’t bad just because it could be better.

  51. Excellent post, and I am a Presbyterian (from that liberal denomination) who uses a daily devotional which includes all that you mention for Catholic reading. Yes, we need both an overview and specific verses although I would make that texts rather then just one verse. And the Christian is called to defend the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” Thank you for the posting.

  52. Thanks for the complement, I think there is a general misconception between atheists and Christians. We make a lot of assumptions about each other and one of them is small but it has far reaching consequences. Often Atheists think that Christians assume that God exists and make their arguments after that fact. I would say that belief in God/Jesus is a conclusion after some experience or teaching that a person encounters.

    Many Atheists fall under the same umbrella. We don’t assume that God doesn’t exist, we just conclude that he doesn’t based on influences in our lives, whether that is experience or parenting, or some argument presented to them (ala Dawkins 🙂 I’ve never actually read anything by him though)

    Anyways, I try to keep that distinction in mind. It keeps me from slamming up against the divide between belief and non-belief, or forcing myself to claim absolute certainty in my conclusions. I’ve enjoyed our discussion, thanks for your time!

  53. Here is a video to start with on overview of biblical interpretation by Fr. Robert Barron.

    I think Fr Barron is one of the best and most interesting interpreters of the Bible out there. He knows how to weave the OT with the NT and he understands the ancient languages and often picks out a key word from the original texts to give a better perspective on their meaning than what comes through in our modern language. He has numerous videos on YouTube.

    I truly have learned much from his sermons found here as well.
    and when you hear what a learned person has to say I think you will understand why trying to read and understand the Bible on your own is a bit like picking up a book on quantum physics and thinking you can understand it just by reading it through cover to cover when your education in math stopped at arithmetic.

  54. “[S]omething isn’t bad just because it could be better.”

    Nothing I wrote indicated there is anything wrong with the selection.

    I was merely correcting the misinformation — which is common — that the entire Bible (except for genealogies and lists of laws) is read in the three-year cycle. And rather than the oft-quoted 80% for the daily mass cycle, it’s actually 27.4%.

    Also, you are correct that that, in the daily mass lectionary, there are readings from all but three books. What I was stating was that, in the Sunday and Major Feasts lectionary, there are no readings from thirteen books, which is also correct.

  55. Sounds like you place all your faith in science as the source for all the possible answers – most likely never questioning if your measurement tool is even the right one for the job of discovering God – so when you fail to find scientific proof of God’s existence you can only come to one conclusion. Kind of sounds almost like a religious faith based on a particular belief system that can see no other as having any merit.

    Seems like I hear that criticism of Christians a lot from atheists.

  56. First, you might note, oregon catholic, that:

    (a) the Roman Catholic Church has accepted the fact of
    evolution since 1951 and

    (b) the RCC understands the Genesis story as true in some way other than literal, and

    (c) the leading opponent to the effort to teach ID in schools is a prominent Catholic biologist.

    Second, it would be appreciated if you didn’t make assumptions about me that are in direct contradiction to what I actually wrote.

    For example, did you notice that I wrote: “And I agree with Roki that ID and Christianity are independent” ?

    This means that I was saying that even though the ID movement claims are scientifically hokum, that says nothing about Christianity.

    This means that I was saying that, if there is a deity and if it is the one of Judeo-Christian persuasion, then it is known with great confidence that it did not act according to the current proponents of the idea they call ID.

    But it does not mean that I was saying that no deity exists, and it does not mean that I was saying that a deity has not participated in some way in the initiation or unfolding of the universe. It only means that I was saying that the current ID construct is not the way a deity did it.

    That is, there could be an intelligent entity passing all understanding and it may have had a design
    for universal creation. But it is factually not true that this process happened the way the ID proponents claim it did.

  57. Green Sapphire, the information you bring is good and useful. But please try not to be so quarrelsome. The people here don’t know you, not even your real name, so they aren’t insulting you when they think differently from you. Read the blog rules, and, as I say there, “be nice.”

  58. Noted. Please tell me what your belief about God actually is since you imply I misunderstood you.

  59. I wish I had been around when this first came up but I was on a little vacation. Here’s my two cents from my experiences in the theism/atheism debates. Ultimately atheists point to the fact that there is no empiracl evidence that God exists. We tangibly do not detect God in a scientific way as I detect my wife at home. Theists will point to the creation and conclude that a creation requires a creator. Atheists will say, no, we just don’t have the knowledge yet of how the creation came about. It likely, given we have no empiracal evidence of a creator, came about through some random event. Theists will counter, if it were random then you cannot explain why there is such a high degree of order in the universe. Atheists do have a hard time countering that, but they do have two arguments. (1) Physics itself determines order once it has been established. (2) Given enough time for random events to occur the one in gazillion chance outcome of the perfect universe will eventually occur. The first argument I think is flawed. It really assumes that physics must work the way it does here, and it’s a circular post hoc reasoning. The second argument is possible. After all someone does win a lottery. In enough time, and given time is infinite, then it’s possible that it’s all a random event. But, theists can counter, is time really infinite? Was there an initial moment in time? The big bang might be such an inital point, but we don’t know what if anything existed before the big bang. So atheists have to rely on a belief of prior time. If there was no time before the big bang, then God exists for sure because the one in gazillion outcome the first time around is incredibly unlikely. If there was time before the big bang, it’s possible God doesn’t exist. It comes down to which is more credible. That the one in gazillion chance occured or there is a creator behind it all. Noted atheist Antony Flew actually changed his mind and supported a creator God. I obviously believe the chances of this all being random are highly unlikely. God has to exist given the order in the universe. Hope that all made sense. It’s hard to reduce this down to a paragraph.
    Now that said, I have never found any proof that the creator God is of any particular religion. However you come to rely on the revelation of that creator God depends on faith.

  60. Here’s an example of how unlikely pure randomness is the reason for creation. If a monkey were to pound on a typewriter, how long would it take for him to spit out Shakespeare’s Hamlet? 😉
    And here’s another. I have no scietific proof that a Rebecca Hamilton exists, but this blog surely doesn’t happen by chance…lol.

  61. As someone who doesn’t believe in God or anything supernatural, I believe that some human beings are evil. I’m sure the dictionary will back me up.

  62. The concepts of good and evil far pre-date Judaism and have been recognized by human beings the world over. You give far to much credit to Judaism. In fact, some of the actions performed at the direction of God, like wiping out whole nations and taking their land are the epitome of evil.

  63. The concepts of good and evil are relative. Do you think human sacrifice is a good as some cultures have dictated? Do you think the Aztecs eating the hearts of their slaves is a good? Do you think slavery is a good? I’ll say it again. Good and evil are relative unless they are rooted in divinity.

  64. ” Do you think human sacrifice is a good as some cultures have dictated?”

    You reenact a human sacrifice every time you go to Mass.

    “Do you think the Aztecs eating the hearts of their slaves is a good?”

    Do you think the attack on Jericho was a good? Do you think slaughtering people and taking their land was a good?

    “Do you think slavery is a good?”

    Apparently, it was good for many God-fearing people for a very long time.

    “I’ll say it again. Good and evil are relative unless they are rooted in divinity.”

    Divinity itself is relative. Of course good and evil are relative. Your concept of them is as relative as mine.

  65. I’m glad you finally admitted that good and evil are relative. That is progress and you have substatiated my point. Now whether divinity itself is relative is a question. I can’t explain the Jericho passage. I’m not a biblical scholar, but it does strike me as an anomaly. Plus the history books of the bible do not represent moral teaching but historical documentation.

  66. I would suggest that the question of “what the Scriptures are actually saying” is critically dependent on the exegesis/hermeneutics used for interpreting it. Without establishing agreement on such exegesis/hermeneutic, debate tends to be talking past one another. Contrariwise, due to the hazards of the Münchhausen trilemma it’s difficult to establish a basis principle for a hermeneutic having correctness/veracity/authority.

  67. This was an answer to me, and I regret not picking it up till now, but online debates are distracting things. Frankly, in the light of the story of Jesus and the adulteress, and of the clear statement from St.Paul that the Law is revoked for Christians as children of God, I have trouble with your using stoning to death for fornication as a divine command. There is an interesting contradiction in two reported utterances of Jesus: “Not a jot or tittle of the Law shall be erased”, but also “Moses commanded [the Jewish law of divorce] because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so”, and proceeds to command the absolute prohibition of divorce. The fact that “Moses” – that is, the human authorities that wrote and proclaimed the law in God’s name – could be said to have mitigated one terrifying divine demand, strongly suggests that we must interpret the Jewish Law as having a Divine impulse, but very much passing through a human lens. And that being the case, one has to ask whether one can separate the human and the divine in the supposed command to kill a fornicator – and to kill them, at that, in the classic expelling way, meaning utter and total expulsion from the community. Any such analysis is obviously going to be subjective – apart from John 7.53- 8.11 – but nevertheless, I tend to believe that the underlying force, the idea that a person who breaks the sacrament of marriage has placed herself outside the community and even outside life, can be taken as a basis for discussion. Of course, in our world, that would mean more people out of the community than in, but are we not told that “the Prince of this world” is none other than the Devil?