YEC: First Step Towards Atheism

YEC: First Step Towards Atheism October 18, 2014

It is entirely possible that Ken Ham genuinely believes that his life’s work is filling holes in the cracks in the dam that he thinks keeps the flood of atheism from sweeping over weak Christians. But as I’ve pointed out here before, the truth is quite different. The flood he fears actually includes much that is true. The web of lies he weaves is designed to bolster not Christianity per se, but his own dubious understanding of Christianity. And thus the work that he does actually eats away at the heart of what Christianity stands for, and does more damage to Christian faith than the floods he fears.

P. Z. Myers is one atheist who recognizes what Ken Ham is doing helps atheists more than anyone else, and in a recent post he expressed his appreciation of its frequent effect:

Followers of Ken Ham/Kent Hovind style creationism are setting themselves up to fail. They’ve created a starkly black and white universe in which either you are completely in agreement with their dogma, or you are completely wrong in all things, which means small cracks in their façade quickly tear wide open into vast chasms. It might mean they’re impenetrable in the short term, but over time, they crumble, and they crumble hard, since losing faith in certain pseudoscientific claims means you are inevitably going to have to question the whole of your faith.

So Ken Ham is doing good work for us atheists by building a very brittle Christian wall. It can resist a few punches, but when it goes, it goes in its entirety.

Thanks, Ken!

I’ve addressed this here before in posts like the following: Ken Ham continues winning souls for atheism. Ken Ham reads the Bible like an atheist (and he’s proud of it). Ken Ham agrees with Bill MaherKen Ham and atheists agree. Why is Ken Ham believed? How fundamentalists promote atheismThe cult-like nature of young-earth creationism.

Look at the meme image at the end of this post for another example, from a young-earth creationist supporter of Ken Ham. How can it be anything other than support for atheism when you treat a sunset as evidence for God, and thus turn a scientific explanation of sunsets into evidence against God?

The irony is that not only the wall young-earth creationists build, but the system of thought that they are protecting, is entirely a human construction – exactly the sort of thing that they tell people is at best shaky and at worst diabolical. If they could let the flood of truth and knowledge sweep away the garbage they have piled up, without being swept away with it, they could build a worldview that acknowledges God with what remains, and do more to glorify God, precisely because they are no longer surrounding an idol with a flimsy rampart made of pages from the Bible.

How wonderful it would be if they could recognize that their attempts to defend what they have misidentified as “the truth,” against the power of the Truth, is itself not only idolatry, but ridiculously foolish.

Of related interest, Tyler Francke shared some thoughts on Ken Ham’s wall-building.

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  • Lonnie

    Well said!

  • John MacDonald

    As an agnostic secular humanist, my point of view is that all claims about God that cannot be directly refuted by logic or experience stand on equal ground. So, for instance, it is possible that the suicide plane hijackers from 9’11 are in paradise right now because they just happened to pick the right God to have faith in. We have no way of knowing which God happens to be the real one, or if the atheists are right and there is no God, so no faith claim (atheism is also a faith claim because there is no way to prove or demonstrate that God does not exist) is ever anything more than guessing and wishful thinking.

    On the other hand, faith clams can be put in doubt if they contradict logic or our experience. For instance, there are many very young children currently dying of cancer, and many others that suffer terrible seizures every ten minutes (and so on). These children are born, suffer and die. Their entire lives are tragic to the very core, and there was no divine plan or destiny for them. It is almost inconceivable that God (if he exists) is “loving,” because no loving individual would permit this to happen to these children if it could be stopped. God could do something to help the children, but doesn’t, and so He is not loving. This argument isn’t evidence that God doesn’t exist, only that if He does exist, he isn’t “loving.”

    • Christopher R Weiss

      Do you give equal credence to other religions or mythical beings that have no direct counter-evidence? Can you refute fairies, unicorns, etc. with logic? Agnosticism is just “I don’t want to offend anyone” atheism. You are willing to dismiss some spiritual/mythical claims but you put others in another arbitrary category of “we can’t know.” This stems from the number of people who hold those beliefs. Most people do not believe in unicorns, but most people follow some religion. Giving special status to beliefs just because there are a larger number of followers is a very weak position.

      Look at the origins of most religions, when these claims were made, etc. How likely would 21st century people be to accept a Mohammed, Jesus or Abraham today? Why are there no people like this today? The answers are self-evident to anyone who thinks about it for 5 minutes. Most enduring religions are ancient for the simple reason that today’s people are too skeptical to believe in new myths, legends or miracles.

      • John MacDonald

        All “magic” claims are of equal value. “Jesus rose from the dead” is just as plausible as “Fairies are responsible for maintaining the laws of physics.” Any faith claim is nothing more than guesswork and wishful thinking. It may be true that the 9’11 plane hijackers are in paradise right now, but it is equally likely a divine invisible unicorn created the universe.

        • Christopher R Weiss

          If you call it guesswork and wishful thinking, how is that agnosticism anymore?

          • John MacDonald

            The atheistic view of, for example, the beginning of the universe, yields the same result. If we posit a completely naturalistic view of the beginning of the universe, the chain of causation leads back to a starting point: The Big Bang. But what this leaves unanswered is how the material that made up The Big Bang got there in the first place. One answer is that God put it there. A naturalistic material chain of causation always leads back to a stopping point that is not adequately explained (like how the material that made up The Big Bang got there), except by positing something uncaused (like God) to stop there from being an indefinite explanatory regress. And If someday we adequately explain how the material that made up The Big Bang got there from a naturalistic point of view, we just push the explanation back one level further and now we have to account for where this new level came from. Saying that Space and Time are closed systems of natural causes and effects is guesswork and wishful thinking, because the only causes we know of refer to some things that are prior, and the naturalistic explanation requires some non-theistic natural first cause to complete the system. We are just at a loss to say what such an uncaused natural cause would be like. The only first cause or uncaused cause we can conceive of is something like God: a first principle that is not itself caused.

            The same thing happens when we try to get a naturalistic explanation of how life originated on earth. We don’t know of a naturalistic principle or process (aside from mere guessing) that can produce organic material from inorganic material, unless we posit a God that does it. The question is how did a universe of natural causes and effects produce organic life out of inorganic matter? From a naturalistic point of view, there are a lot of guesses and no real universally agreed upon models.

            Theism and atheism are all lazy argumentation and hot air. Agnosticism just acknowledges how little we actually know.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            You are creating a false equivalency of uncertainties. There are plenty of questions for which the only correct answer is “We don’t know.” However, not a single supernatural explanation has withstood serious scrutiny, while the evidence for the Big Bang is something anyone with enough training can consume and understand. Moreover, there are plenty of laymen’s explanations such as the very good history of astronomy by Singh in “The Big Bang.”

            You are typing on a computer, which required physics and electrical engineering, and now quantum mechanics as miniaturization has continued. What has anything religious explained in a similar way? What natural phenomena has only a supernatural explanation? Consequently, when we have something unexplained, what is the more likely source? There are many questions for which we may never have an answer, but to claim this allows for either a supernatural or naturalistic explanation with equal probability is simply false.

            Again, agnosticism is a weak position that rests on false equivalencies.

          • John MacDonald

            Regarding The Big Bang, the Cosmological Argument I used is a logical argument that points out the problems that occur when you try to envision a closed system of natural causes and effects to explain the universe. Some cosmologists and physicists attempt to investigate what
            could have occurred before the Big Bang, using such scenarios as the
            collision of membranes to give a cause for the Big Bang. But this just pushes the explanation back one level, and then we need an explanation as to how the membranes got there in the first place. Only an uncaused first cause can support and close the system (which minimally would be the God of the philosophers). That cause cannot be natural and contingent by definition. Therefore, the atheist model of the universe makes no sense because an explanation for the ground of the universe is lacking. It is not that there is one little question about the universe left unanswered by the atheist, but rather the very being of the universe is left undetermined.

            Your atheism is quite clearly amateurish and misguided, as you have little clarity regarding the relevant issues. The New Atheism is merely a fad popularized by incompetent scholars with no real grasp of argumentation or the relevant issues.

            Atheism and theism are both maintained only by making leaps of faith, because no one can give any evidence that God exists, any more than you can give any evidence that God doesn’t exist (although, as I said, you can reasonably infer that God is not loving from all the suffering in the world). Atheism and Theism are both systems of ontological guesswork (There is a God and what that entails, or there isn’t a God and what that entails), while Agnosticism is merely an epistemological method for determining what can and can’t be known.

            Agnosticism is not a weak position. It is the only reasonable position a thinking person can take.

          • But are you sure that agnosticism “is the only reasonable position a thinking person can take”?

            How can you “know”?

          • John MacDonald

            I’m just joking with Christopher because he takes this stuff so seriously.

            I’m agnostic because there may be a God and there may not. I don’t know. That seems to be a reasonable position to take. I’ve never had a religious experience, and there is no way to disprove God, so I am agnostic.

            Atheists say religious experiences are reducible to natural explanations. Well, maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. There could be a God causing religious experience. How could anyone ever know one way or the other.

            Intellectually, If you’re a theist or an atheist, that’s cool with me too.

          • Yeah, I’m joking with you, too. I could see the wink in your comments.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            Again, you are falsely equivocating uncertainties. *NOTHING* related to god or the spiritual has held up to any level of scrutiny, while science has a long history of continuous expansion. No… we don’t know how the universe started, and it may be unknowable because of time, distance and scale. So what? This does not put religious dogma and scientific hypotheses on equal footing.

            Science going back to the ancient Greeks has consistently undone supernatural explanations. In more recent times, evolution has shown how life has changed over time, relativity has shown how time and space are related, quantum mechanics has explained a great deal at the molecular level, etc. In the 20th century we had the great upheavals where previous notions of ether in space, and “humors” in the body and nervous system were finally put to rest.

            Yes, it is reasonable and probable that all religious explanations for the universe are wrong.

          • John MacDonald

            I never said religious dogma and scientific hypotheses are on equal footing. I said religious dogma and atheistic hypotheses are on equal footing.

            To use your words, it would be reasonable and probable that all religious explanations for the universe are wrong if it was reasonable and probable that there is no God. But since there is no evidence that there is no God, how is it “probable” that there is no God?

            Maybe God created the universe and maybe not. We don’t know.

            Maybe God created life and maybe not. We don’t know.

            Maybe naturalistic explanations are the only ones that properly apply to reality. We don’t know.

            Maybe the divine, invisible unicorn created Jupiter with a magic spell. Who knows and who cares? lol

            Stay cool man.

          • Kathy K-m

            You really need to understand that it’s not religion vs science competition.. Besides the Hamm nuts and New Atheists, most Christians (and Muslims and Jews) are able to grasp allegorical stories.
            In fact, the “religion oppresses science” idea is HIGHLY overstated, historically speaking.
            Judaism and Islam have produced some incredible scientific thinking/ideas.
            The Church is responsible for establishing universities, observatories, hospitals and medical schools, as well as giving us the modern scientific method, and doing early work in genetics. The Father of the Big Bang was, literally, a Catholic Father, ffs, so you can hardly say they see it as standing in the way of scientific discovery.
            Religion is a philosophy, and is no more in competition with science, than math is in competition with literature.

          • Religions, during most human eras, were ubiquitous and inescapable. When science promotion or science demotion occurs in a specific religious nation at a specific time, it’s impossible to tell how much or whether religion influenced the science at all.

            If we are trying to tell whether religion supports science or impedes it, exact intersections are much more useful to point out: when for example, a scientific notion is declared heretical by religious authority, or, alternatively, when a religious authority purposefully promotes a scientific endeavor.

          • Kathy K-m

            Agreed, to an extent. But declaring something heretical, isn’t really declaring it untrue.
            Nobody denied Galileo’s findings. They just thought the peasant folk were unprepared to deal with the implications. (hence the banishment to a luxury villa, to continue his work. Not burning at the stake)
            Science is, after all, amoral. Whether we agree with their position or not, religion acts as the moral authority.
            I think the position of the RCC on IVF falls into that category. They aren’t saying it’s not possible. They’re saying, for reasons I don’t fully understand, as I’m not Catholic, that it’s not morally sound. (Honestly, I’ve got a few ethical qualms about it myself)
            But the common atheist mythology is that big, bad religion is always suppressing poor old science. 🙂

          • “But declaring something heretical, isn’t really declaring it untrue.”

            Sorry, but you totally lost me there. Pronouncing something heretical is worse than pronouncing it untrue. It is pronouncing it basically, untouchable – prohibiting it.

          • wayne

            So are you an agnostic atheist or agnostic theist?

      • Kathy K-m

        I do wish you’d look into the actual definition of agnostic, rather than apply your imagined “fence sitters” position.
        As an agnostic atheist, I believe the existence of a deity is, ultimately, unknowable. Science has not, nor likely ever will, prove or disprove it, and so “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer, to some of us.
        There IS some evidence, in a “rheas ipsa loquitor” sense…the thing speaks for itself
        The universe is an elegant place, and while some chose to believe that’s just a lucky happenstance, other’s chose to believe there is a God of Physics behind the whole thing.
        There’s also witness and circumstantial evidence. One certainly can’t dismiss the Torah/Bible as fairytales. There’s simply too much outside evidence that confirms they were factual, in much of it’s history.
        As for the childish “why does god make cancer kids suffer?”, that’s a “debate” for a Grade 5 Sunday School class, but on a more deeply philosophical level, explains why you aren’t likely to see the disappearance of religion, anytime soon.
        Because, if you’re the parent of a dying child, “the universe is a shitty place”, really isn’t going to be a satisfactory answer.
        The idea that there is a divine plan, even if it’s only to help doctors learn more about these awful diseases, or that you will, one day, see your beloved child again, is extremely comforting.
        Agnostics aren’t wishy washy, as so many seem to believe. We just aren’t so arrogant as to assume we have all the answers, and since we don’t, we aren’t prepared to force our views on others.

  • PZ makes this assertion about Ken Hamm “doing good work for us atheists” because he see atheism as the reasonable alternative to “a starkly black and white universe in which either you are completely in agreement with their dogma, or you are completely wrong in all things”.

    Clearly, atheism is not a dogma that sees the universe as “starkly black and white”, but rather acknowledges the huge questions that science has yet to answer and accepts that even scientific dogma can be overturned by new evidence.

    If one isn’t a PZ, then It doesn’t have to be atheism. Presumably, any view of the universe that is not “starkly black and white” and that appeals to reason, can be the beneficiary of Ken Hamm’s dogmatism.

    If you believe that your position is reasonable and not dogmatic, doesn’t it make just as much sense (using this logic) to say that YEC is the first step towards liberal Christianity?

    • Randy Wanat

      Ken Ham, like the meat. Mia Hamm, John Hamm, soccer and television stars, respectively. 🙂

    • In my own observations, I’ve seen a lot of YEC’s convert to atheism, but few convert to other religious views. Ken Ham himself has argued that theistic evolution is not a real option for real Christians, which incidentally makes atheism a more attractive option for YECs.

      • arcseconds

        It doesn’t seem at all uncommon for people to buy the ‘all or nothing’ deal offered by YEC, and go “OK, ‘all’ isn’t working out, so it must be ‘nothing’, like I was told”. And anecdotally it seems easier to adjust one’s beliefs to, say, more liberal versions of Christianity in churches that don’t go in for this form of brinkmanship, which isn’t at all surprising.

        But I also know of several individuals who quit YEC but remained Christian. McGrath is one example, as is, I believe, Fred Clark, who writes the Slactivist blog. Some of those went through an atheist phase before returning to the faith.

        So while I’m pretty sure the YEC → atheism shift is proportionally more common than the non-YEC-Christian → atheism one, I’m not at all sure it’s more common than the YEC → non-YEC-Christian shift.

        • Without actual statistics, it’s hard to say which is more common. But I think the YEC → atheism shift is certainly more common than it would be without Ham’s (and other YEC leaders’) all-or-nothing mentality.

          • arcseconds

            Oh, for sure.

            Although I think the ‘all or nothing’ thing is a big part of the perpetuation of the YEC view. You need to have an ‘all or nothing, either it’s true or it ain’t’ hermeneutic to believe it in the first place, and then the ‘all or nothing, either all of it is true or none of it is true’ to continue to believe it. If everyone suddenly chilled out about this and said “oh, it doesn’t really matter… maybe it was some kind of allegory after all, but I still like to think it was created in 6 days”, YEC would be gone in a generation.

            (As a serious political force, at least, I can imagine people continuing to sorta kinda believe it on Sundays)

    • One could go anywhere from YEC. But atheists are grateful that Ken Ham offers a package of lies, telling people that what he offers is Christianity, and that the alternative is atheism. And so Ham encourages people in the direction of athism.

      • That doesn’t make sense. If people stop believing what Ham has to tell them, why would they believe what he has to say about atheism?

        I don’t think that it’s fair to atheists to say that they are “grateful that Ken Ham offers a package of lies”. Some atheists are grateful that his pack of lies are brittle enough to come crumbling down. And so should we all.

        • It doesn’t make sense, but I have met enough people who were told by their pastor that if the Bible was not inerrant, you might as well throw it in the trash, who, when they discovered that it isn’t inerrant, did just that. Why they rejected the pastor’s view of inerrancy, but not his entire paradigm, is an interesting question. But people sometimes do that.

          You are right in the second point. I meant that they are thankful that he offers a brittle pack of lies, with good odds that some will see it for what it is.

          • Well, at least you and I didn’t throw ours in the trash – fact or fable (most likely a mixture of the two), it’s still an important selection of historic literature.

            Come to think of it, I’ve known quite a lot of people who used to be YEC’s; and very few of them are outright atheists.

          • Kathy K-m

            I think the “none’s” are increasing. Those who still identify as having belief, and even following the teachings of the Christ, without needing the trappings (and often bigotry) of the churches.
            We see a lot of that in Canada, where YEC’s barely exist. The literalists seem to be a uniquely U.S. thing. (thank heavens! 🙂 )

          • arcseconds

            Concern with literal truth is a big part of the post-Enlightenment western mindset. Many people aren’t even vaguely aware there is any other option other than ‘T’s and ‘F’s beside every proposition.

    • Christopher R Weiss

      When one looks at the assumptions behind YEC, the “liberal” christian will dismiss this as taking the bible too literally. However, this creates a slippery slope. What portion of the bible is true vs. allegory vs. simple myth? How do you know that you are judging correctly? The same analysis that leads many christians to refute YEC could be applied to all the claims of christianity. Some will resort to historical facts. However, the fact that archaeologists found the site of ancient Troy makes the Homeric epics no more true. The same applies to the bible.

      Christianity is slowly dying in the west because its core assumptions no longer pass the sniff test for most reasonable people. Christianity will not become a minority position because of some atheist epiphany, but rather the slow decent from apathy and skepticism will be its downfall. YEC is helping to usher this skepticism along.

      • I’m not sure that Christianity won’t survive in some form (and I’m not a Christian, so I have no horse in this race). Liberal Christians such as our blog host, James McGrath, have a conception of God as a “Ground of All Being” rather than an anthropomorphic “Old man in the sky”, and critical/historical desconstructions of biblical texts don’t seem to phase them.

        I’m not sure your sniff test will easily apply to the more liberal versions of Christianity. That’s OK with me. Liberal Christians are easy to get along with.

        • Christopher R Weiss

          I don’t think religion will ever go away altogether. However, it will be difficult to call modern spiritualism a religion the way that Southern Baptists are a religion or at least a sect of christianity.

          The slippery slope applies to the “ground of all being” as well. How is this supported? Of course, if most people were “liberal Christians” the US would be a very different place, and I think it would be better.

          • Like defining “God”, the definition of “religion” changes progressively over time. It would be difficult to call Southern Baptist a “religion” if you compare it to the catholicism of the Middle Ages.

            I suppose you could support a “ground of all being” as easily as you could support “love makes the world go round”. I don’t think liberal Christians are particularly interested in evidentiary support for a “ground of being”.

      • Kathy K-m

        In many cases, it doesn’t even matter. Does it make a difference whether Lot was a historical figure? The points the story makes are still valid.
        And really…when it comes to talking snakes and floods, MOST people can tell the difference between allegory, fact and legend. It ain’t rocket science. It’s certainly not a “slippery slope”.

    • If by “liberal Christianity” you mean eschewing the notion that the Bible actually has anything to do with any actual god and jettisoning subjective notions about the supernatural, which are irrational on their face precisely because they don’t have credible real world evidence to back them up, but just using (some) “Christian” ideas about living life which you may consider beneficial, ideas which have evolved through history and culture to what we have today, then there’d be nothing wrong with it at all. Indeed, that’s actually what a lot of atheists do, who live in Christian cultures today and who were perhaps raised in Christian families. For example, some of the members of the Unitarian-Universalist church are atheists.

      Of course, then we are also talking about this same kind of approach (“liberal”) in regard to “liberal Hinduism” or “liberal Islamism” or “liberal” what-have-you-religion whose historical religious doctrines/notions about the supernatural are completely bogus. If you strip out all of the irrational religious stuff, with all of its false, nonsensical, and otherwise vacuous notions about the supernatural, and just keep ideas about living life which you think are beneficial, then what do you really have besides good self-help advice that we would have anyway? Why do we need the baggage of religion?

      • Why does one need any baggage? To keep things in. As human beings, we don’t just investigate “things,” we ascribe value, we weave stories, and do lots of things for which symbolic language is necessary. While in theory one can try to come up with completely new language to provide the baggage in which ideas, values, and other important things can be carried, one thing anyone knows who has bought new luggage, often it can be harder to recognize as one’s own than an older, more familiar case. Symbols cannot simply be invented – those words and objects which can affect us on a deeper level are part of a collective enterprise of symbolic world construction, which we can influence, but cannot unilaterally control.

        It is interesting to hear you say that you know many atheists who are at the same time also liberal Christians. I’d be interested to hear more about this, and about why various people prefer one label, or the other, or use both.

        • Nice trick on the word “baggage”. Of course, I was using it in its pejorative sense, so don’t discount that.

          In regard to ascribing value, weaving stories, and doing lots of other things requiring symbolic language, that simply is not the issue since those things can be done – and most certainly are done – with the baggage (pejorative sense) that comes along with employing them within the framework of antiquated religious/mystical notions (and its this antiquated framework that is entirely unnecessary, since there are so many better ones to choose from). Now, I have no doubt that there are beneficial “essences” that can be taken out of various religions – by all means lets keep those particular elements – but by all means lets *take them out* of religion (i.e., get rid of the baggage). (It’s rather curious, for example, that the primary Christian icon is/was in reality an instrument of violence, torture, death, and public fear. Not a good piece of baggage – yet it happens to be quite embedded in the Christian theology, It’s all these mystical notions that ride along with Christianity that need to be jettisoned, and if you can do that and still call it Christianity more power to you. The Unitarian-Universalists have for the most part done it, and there was Thomas Jefferson for example in a former time.) My warning is that for the most part you just lead people to confusion, with the it is/but it isn’t. But it is simply unnecessary, since anyone can just walk away from all the traditions of nonsense once they realize how nonsense is embedded there. Just like a Mormon can walk away from Mormonism. The Mormon is *not* losing anything. He can still ascribe value, still weave stories, and still employ symbolic language, in so many other ways – better ways. This is what you seemed to discount, by intimation.

          By the way, on a side note, we certainly do simply invent symbols. It’s one of the unique powers of our species. For example, there are extensive bodies of symbols/symbolic language which have been been invented and are used today which didn’t exist merely, say, a couple of centuries ago, symbols which a person transported to today from two hundred years ago would be oblivious to with considerable explanation. You should see some of the computer language I see. I’m a programmer by profession, and even then I see all kinds of different programming symbology and language that is opaque to me. This is just one particular example.

          In regard to atheists being liberal Christians, that’s not quite what I meant. I have heard of liberal Christians who are atheists, but never met any. I was referring to how atheists leaving their religion but retaining specific ideas about values beneficial to living life, which could ostensibly be referred to as them as keeping some of the “Christian values”. So in a manner contingent to their personal history, this could be said (even while recognizing that such values are independently derived, if they are genuinely beneficial). Just saying.

          • I think that the notion that one can simply eliminate baggage is an illusion – as illustrated by those atheists who have rejected certain affirmations of their previous faith community, but not the black-and-white approach to matters, or the view of truth and knowledge, that was their framework in that context.

            The notion of a crucified messiah – one who overcomes by loving enemies and refusing to play by the rules of oppressors, to take up the sword and become what one fights against – is a powerful one, and I see no reason why Christians should wish to discard it.

            I don’t deny that we invent symbols. But symbols (in the sense that Paul Tillich uses the word) cannot be simply and straightforwardly invented. You can draw a picture, sew it on cloth, and call it a flag, but it will take more than that for it to become something that inspires and motivates people at a deep level of their being.

            On a related note, let me share a link to a post on the blog from many years ago, about an atheist who contemplated using the term “Christian atheist” as a self-designation:

        • Paul E.

          In my experience, removing the label “Christian” from people who self-identify as such but don’t fit others’ preconceived notions about that label is most important to fundamentalist Christians, activist atheists and those who de-convert from conservative churches. Many of us are comfortable with labeling ourselves as “Christian” regardless of any specific list of truth claims we may or may not actually believe. It’s as much or more a part of our identity as anything else.

  • lifeform666

    ” (F)aith clams can be put in doubt if they contradict logic or our experience.”
    Here’s another faith claim involving prayer which contradicts experience:

    11 million innocent people perished in Hitler’s death camps. (The more popular figure of 6 million includes only Jews, but there were also 5 million more that included Catholics, Protestants, Moslems, gypsys, homosexuals, handicapped people, Russian prisoners of war and countless others.) Very few of these people were atheists. Most all of them believed in some sort of diety even if they didn’t belong to any organized religion.

    So when they realized the predicament they were in, most of them prayed to a “god” to be saved. None were. Why, then, did God ignore the prayers of 11 million innocent people? The answer most believers would give to that question is, “I don’t know.” But if you put it to those people that the real reason God didn’t save 11 million innocent people was because…. God doesn’t exist. He’s just a made-up entity.

    The believers’ almost universal response would then be: Of course God exists. Why he didn’t answer any of those prayers might still be determined some day. Who knows, maybe he was on a 12 year vacation during those years. Etc.

    • John MacDonald

      Good post. Apparently I wrote “faith clams” instead of “faith claims” at one place in my previous post lol. I do like fried clams!

    • Kainan

      “11 million innocent people perished in Hitler’s death camps. (The more popular figure of 6 million includes only Jews, but there were also 5 million more that included Catholics, Protestants, Moslems, gypsys, homosexuals, handicapped people, Russian prisoners of war and countless others.)”

      Sigh. This myth just refuses to die, doesn’t it?

      Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life, 2000, p.215:

      “The eleven million figure – or, rather, the notion of five million “other victims” of Nazism, added to six million Jews – makes no historical sense. Five million is either much too low (for all non-Jewish civilians killed by the Third Reich) or much too high (for non-Jewish groups targeted, like Jews, for murder). Where did the number come from? Although there is no detailed paper trail, it’s generally agreed that the figure of eleven million originated with Simon Wiesenthal, the renowned pursuer of Nazi criminals. How did he arrive at this figure? The Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer reports that Wiesenthal acknowledged to him in a private conversation that he simply invented it. He was, he once told a reporter, “against dividing the victims” : “Since 1948,” Wiesenthal said, “I have sought with Jewish leaders not to talk about six million Jewish dead, but rather about eleven million civilians dead, including six million Jews… We reduced the problem to one between Nazis and Jews. Because of this we lost many friends who suffered with us, whose families share common graves.”

    • Kathy K-m

      You should probably put that question to observant Jews, particularly camp survivors. (although there’s very few remaining) You’d think such a thing would leave millions of atheists, right? And the issue has been debated by many fine Jewish minds.
      And, interestingly, while many atheist Jews went into the camps, many came out observant. Some, of course, did fall away from their faith (Who can blame them?!) But not as many as you might think, in the face of such despair and neglect by their deity.
      But it’s a deeply spiritual and philosophical matter, for a people with a rich history going back thousands of years.
      Religion neither caused nor prevented the Holocaust. In a sense, science did…the optimal goal of ridding the species of the sick, the enfeebled, the disabled, homosexuals, the “genetically inferior”.
      Hitler wasn’t exactly the only believer in eugenics. He just did it best.

      • Kathy, your comment “In a sense, science did” is ridiculous. Let’s see you support it. In what sense is science is behind it? Eugenics isn’t science! You are repeating an often made, and equally as often refuted claim by a small group of evangelical Christians that Darwin is the blame for Hitler.

  • To apply a quote from Narnia: “That’s not what a sunset is; it’s only what it’s made of.” Thus the phenomenon of its effect on us beauty-loving humans is lost. It’s too bad Ham’s approach to science facilitates this sort of reductionism.

    • Ken Hamm’s problem is one of dogmatism, not reductionism.

      I don’t take much stock in this C.S. Lewis perspective. Understanding the process of light refraction through water that creates a rainbow, makes a rainbow more amazing – not less!

      • Yes, Ken Ham’s problem is dogmatism. But his approach facilitates reductionism, by insisting that things like the process of light refraction are to be disregarded if they don’t match with his interpretation of scripture.

        I agree– when we understand the process of light refraction, that makes it more amazing, not less. Reductionism, on the other hand, insists that the process of light refraction is all that’s happening in a rainbow– disregarding the amazement, the meaning and transcendent beauty we humans find in rainbows.

        It’s kind of like saying a Van Gogh painting is actually only some chemicals on canvas, or that human love is nothing more than a movement of chemicals through a brain. The reduction to the purely physical elements actually loses the phenomenon. And Ham, by placing physics and philosophy/religion at odds with one another, facilitates this disjunction.

        • I find reductionism to be a strawman. I don’t know of anyone, believer, atheist, or otherwise, who denies the value of beauty, love, art, or ethics simply because we seek to understand phenomena down to their constituent parts.

          • We are in agreement, then, that reductionism is too limiting. I think, however, that to say “we can explain a sunset in terms of its physical elements, therefore we know no god is involved” is very much the same sort of thing as Ham’s “we can’t explain a sunset without God.” Both are reductionist in viewpoint, limiting the phenomenon in such a way as to “prove” a viewpoint that is not actually proven.

          • If that is your view of atheism, then you are committing the same reductionism against their position.

          • I would not say that is my view of atheism, because there are a variety of different viewpoints about this within atheism. However, it is my view of some atheists, even though you don’t think they exist.

          • It is not the understanding of the constituent parts of the cosmos that causes atheists to reject God. It is simply that they don’t see God as a useful, positive, or necessary explanation of any phenomenon. This doesn’t stop atheists from appreciating beauty, art, love, and ethics; they simply don’t required a metaphysical explanation in order to do so.

          • I never said atheists don’t appreciate beauty, art, love or ethics. But I have talked to atheists who do believe that these are merely chemical movements in the brain.

          • Well, if you come right down to it, I am one who thinks that these experiences are captured through chemical processes in the brain and nervous system.

            But just because something is made of chemical processes doesn’t mean it is not be greatly valued. The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Not because of any spiritual qualities (to my mind), but because of the ways we value the whole.

            It sounds to me as though you are the one who thinks that our human experiences are devalued by identifying the chemical processes behind them, not the atheists you’re talking to.

          • Perhaps so. But I also think there’s a difference between “made of” and “captured through.” This may be a values difference and thus not reconcilable.

          • Who said beauty, art, love, and ethics are “made of” chemicals? Even if someone did say that, you can take it about as literally as Christ’s instruction to pluck out your eye, when it offends you.

            I’m sure you are right this is a values difference. Atheists do not require metaphysical explanations in order to value experiences.

            But it has nothing to do with reductionism.

          • I hope you’re not saying that religious people can only value experiences if they have metaphysical explanations! To value an experience more because of a believed metaphysical explanation is quite different from rejecting all non-metaphysical experiences.

          • I didn’t say anything about how religious people value experiences. I explained how atheists value experiences.

            Reductionism is a straw man.

          • Well, it was you who used the words “made of,” but I accept that that isn’t what you meant. I think it’s unfruitful to continue to argue about it, ok? I will take your viewpoint into consideration next time I talk to an atheist who appears to me to be promoting reductionism. Perhaps I’m mistaken. We’ll see.

          • True – touche – I did say “made of” (chemical processes, not chemicals) but I followed it immediately with “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts”. And that’s my point really. Everybody values intangibles …

          • Christopher R Weiss

            You are misusing the term reductionism. We can explain phenomena in terms of their physical causes, and we can know that no god was involved. The perceptual experience is something completely different and occurs in the brain, and not the physical processes that produce a sunset or a rainbow or a beautiful landscape.

            Simple reductionism in the brain is a failed model because thoughts and perceptions are processes and not a fixed brain state. You cannot find the N-neurons and M-connections in the brain that define beauty. However, this does not mean the perception of beauty and the associated thoughts and emotions do not occur physically in the brain. Disrupt the brain and these processes are disrupted.

            Dismissing simple mental reductionism does not establish the existence of the metaphysical. Instead, it just shows that thoughts and emotions are not simple and fixed brain states.

          • No, it doesn’t establish the existence of the metaphysical. But neither does it eliminate it.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            Eliminating simple reductionism but allowing for complex neural processes shows that it is not necessary to see what is going on. We might not have a full understanding of the brain, but we do know that if it the brain is changed or modified or damaged, then so are a person’s perceptions and understanding.

            The metaphysical is rendered unnecessary because it explains nothing and adds nothing to human knowledge. If you can’t say what it is, how it interacts, and why it matters, what are we arguing about again?

            You can’t prove a negative, but you can show something is extremely unlikely. No one has yet shown where the metaphysical matters except by using a god of the gaps style argument. In my book, this eliminates the metaphysical as having any value.

            Can you show how a metaphysical model of anything adds to human knowledge in any way?

          • I don’t use god of the gaps arguments. Religion is not just failed science; it’s not about “gaps” in human knowledge of how the world works. It’s something else entirely. As for how the metaphysical adds to and enriches my own life, I can’t demonstrate it in a way you won’t dismiss or explain away. But I have no quarrel with you and no wish to convert you. Can’t we just leave it at that?

          • Christopher R Weiss

            Actually, people’s understanding of metaphysics does matter. People use religion to pass judgment on other people in ways I find repulsive. When this judgment is based on the belief in the metaphysical, it introduces a wildcard that no one can get past. When someone says that X is wrong because I feel its wrong/God tells me its wrong/some iron age book tells me its wrong, then I feel it is necessary to ask about the foundation of that judgment.

            If you can’t defend it, are you sure it is right?

            There are many deep religious thinkers with very complex and nuanced arguments. St. Thomas Aquinas and his approach to natural law is cited today by many people without even knowing its source. I am not saying that these things are not deep, not nuanced, and not profound. However, all of them originate with the statement that the metaphysical exists in some form. If this assumption is wrong, then the entire cascade of deep, nuanced, and profound arguments is simply wrong.

            This has happened in many different areas of thought. For example, Russell and Whitehead attempted to prove that all mathematics was derivable from logic. Along came Goedel who showed that the fundamental assumptions of this line of thought was wrong, ending an entire school of philosophy. Similar things have happened in science and mathematics as a whole.

            When it comes to religion, the problem is the emotional attachment and the “religious experience” component of religious thought. It gives people permission to dismiss logic, facts, and reason because it is something “internal” that defies logic. When I see a flash in my glasses I can’t explain, I assume it is glare from something I can’t trace. I don’t assume it is a ghost. When I have a feeling of extreme well being, it is because something has made me happy and not that “god has touched me.” However, the belief that “god has touched me” is indistinguishable from general well being for others.

            I have no doubt that you believe religion enriches your life. However, how much value does it have if it is based on a lie or at least something which is incorrect?

          • People also use religion to motivate them to right wrongs and help people. I agree that the judgmental aspect of religion is repulsive; however, I don’t subscribe to that. At this point it seems you believe I need to be converted to atheism, though I have stated I have no wish to convert you to religion. This places you in the seat of judgment, not me. There’s little point, then, in continuing the conversation.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            If you need fear of damnation or the lure of eternal reward to be good, you aren’t good. This is the primitive part of religion that people just gloss right over….

          • That’s more judgmentalism, as far as I can see. What if I do good because it is the right thing to do? Do you really think all religious people are so shallow?

            You don’t know me, so how do you know my motivations? What you’re saying amounts to, “I believe differently than you do, so I’m better.” What makes that different from what many religious people do? Believe me, it doesn’t feel any better to be the recipient of it, just because it’s an atheist dishing it out.

          • Read Christopher’s “you” as a universal “you” or “one”. He is criticizing an idea. If you think the idea is shallow, then contrast it with your idea of how religion motivates one to right wrongs and help people.

          • Both you and Christopher appear to have a flat, stereotyped view of religion and how it motivates. You say I shouldn’t think atheists don’t appreciate beauty, love and art. Well, I say you shouldn’t think religious people’s motivation to do good comes primarily, and certainly not solely, from fear of hell or desire for reward. Many religious people like myself don’t even believe in any traditional concept of hell.

            Most religious people I know do good because they love people and they love God. There are exceptions, of course, especially in fundamentalistic, literalistic conceptions of religion. But they are by no means representative of the whole.

          • That’s great! All atheists I know are motivated by love as well.

          • Beau Quilter — see my response to Christopher above. You seem to think I meant that the fear of hell or promise of reward is the only possible religious motivation. This is a very flat assessment of religion.

          • Very good; I’m aware that not all religious people are motivated by hell – and I think that’s progress.

            Now, if only Jesus had refrained from bringing up hell in the first place, we could have avoided 2000 years of fire-and-damnation sermons.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            You mentioned religion helping people do “the right thing.” Is the right thing done for selfish motivations like avoiding hell a good thing?

            You took my remark too personally.

          • No, the right thing done for selfish motivations like avoiding hell is not a good thing. But as for taking your remark personally, I am in fact a religious person. My motivation for doing the right thing is NOT because I want to avoid hell. A lot of other religious people are like me. Are we not “true Scotsmen”? You are stereotyping religious people in a way that denigrates us, and setting up religious morality as a straw man to be knocked down. Should I not take that personally? Would you take it personally if I said atheists can’t really have morals, or any of the other strawman denigrations some religious people use on atheists?

            Atheists and religious people (of all religions) have a lot they could learn from one another through respectful dialogue. But as long as we set out blanket condemnations of one another, this is impossible.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            I have already said that I know there are deep, profound and very nuanced positions around religious beliefs, which would include morality. I cited Aquinas, and I have read other philosophers with very interesting perspectives on religion and spirituality. Coming back to my original point, the problem is the foundation of these beliefs and positions. If no one can identify any sound evidence for the origins of a religion or any religion, meaning the metaphysical, what does this do to the rest of religion?

            The common thread among many believers is the “personal experience.” This has code phrases like a “personal relationship with Jesus/God/Yahweh.” The experience is often described as internal, emotional, and spiritual. However, given the momentous decisions, opinions, and judgments that stem from religious belief, I would hope the foundation would be something more solid and convincing.

            Assuming the metaphysical exists is the question begging position most believers seem to assume. This seems to start with the social conditioning most people receive from their parents. The greatest predictor of a person’s religion is the religion of their parents and peers. When something is assumed for a long period of time, it is often difficult to accurately and fairly question it. If you have been told for decades that those spontaneous feelings of well being and joy that most people experience at least at some point in their lives is “religious,” it is hard to accept an alternative. However, how do you know its true unless you do raise doubts and explore what they mean?

            Going back to reductionism, there is nothing that happens in human experience that seems to occur outside of the brain. If you believe otherwise, why is that so beyond just your faith and conditioned belief system?

          • That’s a big question requiring a book-length answer. I agree that all human experience occurs within the brain, but I’m sure you’ll agree that this doesn’t mean there is nothing at all that is real outside ourselves that we are experiencing! I suggest you read The Trace of God by Joseph Hinman. I agree with his research and conclusions, which he explains far better than I could, especially in the comment section on someone else’s blog!

          • Christopher R Weiss

            I looked for this book, and I cannot find it anywhere except Amazon. This is a book I would check out of the library rather than purchase. Ironically, in the review section of this book the first review summarizes many of the concerns I have raised in my exchange with you:


            In particular:

            “Trace” offers an approach to defending the reasonableness of belief in God, but its arguments do not obviate a thoughtful and honest rejection of such belief.

            It seems this book is focused on the commonality of religious experience. Not having read it, I cannot say except for the blurbs and reviews. However, we are all still human with the same common genetics and neural structures. We are biased toward seeing patterns in random data, to seeing faces in arbitrary patterns, and to falling prey to things like gambler’s fallacies. Unfortunately, appealing to some commonality of religious experience is not an argument likely to serve as proof of the metaphysical. Instead, it points to common emotional experiences, with the interpretation of “higher power” being left up to the reader.

            I will seek out this book when it makes to the library system, but I already have my doubts about whether it is just another well argued and repackaged apologist’s essay or if there is something truly original. I would hope for the latter, but I fear the former.

          • Having not read it, the reviewer is of course unaware of the multitude of ways in which Hinman has anticipated and addressed the very concerns he raises. I would like to conclude the conversation. Thank you for your time.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            The reviewer did read it… you didn’t read the full text of the review:

            (For full disclosure, I have been discussing and debating religious subjects with the author for many years, which often meant aggressively challenging and poking holes in his arguments. I was invited to proofread his manuscript and to offer my opinions on it. For that effort the publisher sent me an unsolicited free copy of the final product in appreciation of those efforts.)

          • All right. I took the second paragraph of your post as part of the quote. I guess it wasn’t. The fact is that all of us find arguments more or less compelling depending on our own mindsets, presuppositions, attitudes, etc., going into the reading. Again, I have not said anything I have said with the intention of trying to change your mind, but only to explain my own position. You were the one who asked me to defend my beliefs– not the other way around.

            I find the arguments in this book compelling. You may not, but they may help you understand where I’m coming from, which was my only intention. However, to the extent that you are trying to talk me out of my beliefs, you must realize that it’s not going to happen this way– on the Internet, between strangers, in the comment section of a Christian blog. I wish you well.

  • Sean Garrigan

    Ironic that a post designed to suggest that Ken Ham leads to atheism has so far itself inspired atheists.

    • That’s an odd thing to say. If by “inspired” you mean “prompted a comment”, then you seem not to have noticed that there are a range of commenters, including yourself.

      • Sean Garrigan

        Yeah, “inspired” was a poor choice of words. I used to be more adept in my use of vocabulary, but then I got old.

  • GakuseiDon

    The famous “double rainbow” youtube clip seems somehow appropriate. “What does it mean? Too much!” Over 40 million views!

  • Sean Garrigan

    Yet Will Provide has observed that the “Greatest engine of atheism ever invented” is evolution, which he says suggests that “no gods worth having exist.” (“Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning
    in life.” Slide from Provine’s 1998 “Darwin’s Day”
    address). I have no way of proving it, but I suspect that the number YECs who come to believe in Darwinism and thus become atheists is quite small compared to the number of people in general who come to believe in Darwinism and become atheists. Once you rule out God’s action in the world via methodological naturalism it would seem that the next obvious step would be to simply reject God in favor of metaphysical naturalism, and that’s what many have done.

    • Ever since meteorologists have taken to a naturalistic approach to weather, never once thanking God for the rains, it has all been downhill from there, right?

      • Sean Garrigan

        I think we’ve been down this road before, and I demonstrated how the emergence of the species is different from weather, lightening, rainbows, etc. Have you forgotten that conversation?

        • Ken

          I was having that conversation twenty-five years ago on the USENET group. I wish I could say that I was surprised to see that it hasn’t changed a bit.

          • Sean Garrigan

            I’d be interested to hear a brief description of what you offered as your side of that conversation.

        • I recall you claiming that, but not demonstrating it.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Well, I provided examples showing how Darwinism is different, so perhaps it’s not so much that I didn’t demonstrate it as it is that you refuse to accept what was demonstrated.

            One commonly employed tool of evolutionists is the assumption that evolution is true because creation is false. I remember reading various comments by evolutionists who’ve said things like like “[feature X] would be inexplicable if an omnipotent creator made them.” Have you ever herd someone say that “our theory of seismology must be true, because any other theory would be inexplicable if an omnipotent creator did it”? The religious aspects of Darwinism have been bonded to the theory since its inception, and it hasn’t been separated to this day.

            The theory of evolution touches human motivations, convictions about reality, and religion like no other “scientific” theory, and those who are familiar with the history of the debate know this.

            Switching gears somewhat, Alvin Plantinga observed:

            “What are the advantages and disadvantages of
            doing science in accord with methodological naturalism? There is a good
            deal to be said on both sides here. For example, if you exclude the
            supernatural from science, then if the world or some phenomena within it
            are supernaturally caused — as most of the world’s people believe — you
            won’t be able to reach that truth scientifically.

            Observing methodological naturalism thus hamstrings science by
            precluding science from reaching what would be an enormously important
            truth about the world. It might be that, just as a result of this
            constraint, even the best science in the long run will wind up with
            false conclusions.”
            End Quote

            I would replace the word “supernatural” in Plantinga’s comment with “intelligent causation”, though it’s commonly accepted that intelligent causation in this context would likely suggest supernatural causation. In any case, that all life forms on this planet emerged via Darwinian processes is a false conclusion born from an arbitrary philosophy. That intelligent causation is not necessary is a false assumption, born not from the available evidence, but from the determination to contextualize the evidence within arbitrary parameters. Whether those parameters supply good answers in relation to some events doesn’t logically suggest that they’ll provide the right answer in relation to all events.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Re-post (again) to clean up the formatting:

            Well, I provided examples showing how Darwinism is different, so perhaps it’s not so much that I didn’t demonstrate it as it is that you refuse to accept what was demonstrated.

            One commonly employed tool of evolutionists is the assumption that evolution is true because creation is false. I remember reading various comments by evolutionists who’ve said things like like “[feature X] would be inexplicable if an omnipotent creator made them.” Have you ever herd someone say that “our theory of seismology must be true, because any other theory would be inexplicable if an omnipotent creator did it”? The religious aspects of Darwinism have been bonded to the theory since its inception, and it hasn’t been separated to this day.

            The theory of evolution touches human motivations, convictions about reality, and religion like no other “scientific” theory, and those who are familiar with the history of the debate know this.

            Switching gears somewhat, Alvin Plantinga observed:

            “What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing science in accord with methodological naturalism? There is a good deal to be said on both sides here. For example, if you exclude the supernatural from science, then if the world or some phenomena within it are supernaturally caused — as most of the world’s people believe — you won’t be able to reach that truth scientifically.

            Observing methodological naturalism thus hamstrings science by precluding science from reaching what would be an enormously important truth about the world. It might be that, just as a result of this constraint, even the best science in the long run will wind up with false conclusions.”
            End Quote

            I would replace the word “supernatural” in Plantinga’s comment with “intelligent causation”, though it’s commonly accepted that intelligent causation in this context would likely suggest supernatural causation. In any case, that all life forms on this planet emerged via Darwinian processes is a false conclusion born from an arbitrary philosophy. That intelligent causation is not necessary is a false assumption, born not from the available evidence, but from the determination to contextualize the evidence within arbitrary parameters. Whether those parameters supply good answers in relation to some events doesn’t necessarily suggest that they’ll provide the right answer in relation to all events.

          • Sean Garrigan

            I forgot to give the URL to Plantinga’s comments:


          • You are simply making things up. Many people who are involved in the work of biology believe that God is Creator, and so do not reject creation. What they reject is the claim that, despite the overwhelming evidence that living things on this planet are related, this is simply the Creator making it look like things evolved when in fact they did not. They reject the deceitful Devil that you worship. That is not a rejection of creation, but an affirmation that the Creator is not a deceiver of the sort that cdesign proponentsists are.

            Plantinga’s statement is unhelpful. Our investigations of mundane and natural things are of a particular sort, and we use methods appropriate to their study. If a criminal investigation finds no murderer, they don’t then jump into theological mode and say that God must have simply wanted the person dead. They leave the case open, unsolved, because they recognize that the tools of criminal investigation are not designed to answer theological questions. You are free to view that as a flaw with all of our human means of investigating. But the complaint is very obviously a silly one, aimed at trying to justify importing theology into things, rather than pinpointing a genuine problem. Lots of tools that we use as human beings have a limited scope. Complaining that a drill set won’t let you lift a car off the ground is stupid. Use a drill set for drilling, and a jack to lift your car. This isn’t that difficult. I really believe that you ought to be able to understand this, despite being committed to a program of deceit and distortion.

          • Sean Garrigan

            “They reject the deceitful Devil that you worship.”

            Wow, you are a nutty professor!!!

          • Christopher R Weiss

            You do realize that supernatural explanations end other possibilities? I find it ironic that believers think that keeping the supernatural out of science limits science, when the opposite is true. When someone says we have the answer, and god did it, what is left? We are told that we should stop looking because this is a supernatural event.

            The most important things in science are skepticism and disbelief. Nothing must be taken as dogma, everything must be refutable, and new theories emerge by doubting existing theories. The fact is that no area of science has ever been shown to be crippled by eliminating the spiritual. In fact, just the opposite is true.

            You talk about evolution as if it were a static science. Nothing could be further from the truth. With the introduction of genetics, molecular biology, and more detailed studies in embryology, mechanisms have been discovered that Darwin didn’t even dream of. Similarly, the emerging hypothesis of neutrality instead of selection as a major mechanism of change is gaining momentum, and fits nowhere in the original version of the theory.

            Evolution is considered true because it has not been contradicted by other evidence. It has been changed, modified, and extended, but not contradicted. We see this in all areas of science. Consider physics where the majority of calculations are done using Newtonian mechanics. The same is true of engineering. Relativity and quantum mechanics only come into play when things get very big, very fast, or very small. Does this mean Newton was “wrong?” In some things yes, but in general no. Instead, his theory represents the degenerate case of relativity and quantum mechanics, which we use with great reliability. Similarly, evolution as Darwin presented it has some things wrong and many things incomplete. Instead, we don’t say Darwin was wrong, rather his original version of the theory is the foundation from which has been built the ongoing science of evolutionary biology.

            Methodological naturalism is the only way that science progresses since the introduction of the supernatural leads to stagnation.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Plantinga is correct: If one assumes methodological naturalism, then if there are phenomena that were intelligently created, science won’t be able to infer that truth. Darwinism is a case where refusal to infer intelligent causation as a matter of method has lead to faulty conclusions.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            Intelligent causation should have some method of identification. Can you name something that leads people to believe intelligent causation is true?

            Intelligent design is an unmitigated failure as an explanatory tool in biology. Can you name one thing in biology where this has worked as an explanation? Behe has tried and failed repeatedly. The first example of ID was held out to be the eye, except we see a sliding scale of complexity of eyes in nature more or less destroying any ID explanation. Behe attempted to argue in terms of proteins such as enzymes and clotting factors, except that gene doubling, which is a very common form of mutation, explains how protein chains get longer and more complex. I could go on if you need me to, but not a single thing in biology has held up as explained by ID.

            When you use the term “intelligent causation,” you are citing a unicorn that has never been demonstrated.

          • arcseconds

            As I’ve said before when you’ve raised this complaint, it’s not as though the 1600s rolled around and everyone said “OK, we’re sick of this religion thing, supernatural explanations: off the table. Naturalistic explanations: in like Finn!”

            Supernatural explanations have had their time in the sun. No less an luminary than Leibniz, who has a good claim on being the smartest person who ever lived, supposed that there could, in principle, be theological explanations for absolutely everything. Every phenomenon for which there has traditionally been supernatural explanations which has been sufficiently investigated has turned out to have plausible, if not compelling, naturalistic explanations. In fact, one could go further and say that most attempts to single out some phenomena in nature as having some kind of ‘dualistic’ property has not met with success (I’m thinking in particular here of ‘vitalism’: the notion that organic compounds have some kind of life-force involved in them). And there’s been no end of scientists who have been more than willing to assent to belief in God and the supernatural, so it’s not for lack of potential champions that it’s worked out like this.

            So there’s a good reason for preferring naturalistic explanation. They’ve served us well in the past, whereas supernatural explanations have not. Moreover, they appeal to things we know to exist and understand tolerably well, rather than appealing to unknown things that we don’t understand. Naturalism is something we’ve learnt, it’s not something we’ve arbitrarily assumed.

            Also, the other thing I keep saying about this is: science has happily abandoned metaphysics that they were quite certain of several times in the past in favour of better explanations. So the notion that scientists are dogmatic metaphysicians is demonstrably false. If they were like that, we’d still be looking for the interlocking screws that cause magnetism.

            I’m quite sure that as soon as ID starts offering better explanations than mainstream evolutionary biology, then people will drop ‘naturalism’ within a generation. It has yet to offer an even vaguely tempting explanatory framework, as far as I can see, because it appears to offer only non-explanations for mainstream evolution’s leftovers. If you can’t think of any other explanation, and you’re sufficiently impressed with the niceness of whatever it is, you just say “God did it!”.

            (It doesn’t have to logically be like that. If there were worked-up notions of the design principles at work that would explain some possibilities but not others, then we could start to talk about it being explanatory.)

            I too am interested to know exactly what you think the false conclusions are. So far, what I’ve got of your ‘evidence’ for ID is:

            *) your incredulity at life’s complexity resulting from random processes

            *) the absurdly high bar you’ve set for mainstream evolution: it apparently in your eyes needs to be able to give a step-by-step account of how a complex enzyme evolved, apparently, and to predict future evolution in some kind of precise manner.

            Can ID give a step-by-step explanation of how an enzyme was designed, or predict future designs?

          • arcseconds

            I remember reading various comments by evolutionists who’ve said things like like “[feature X] would be inexplicable if an omnipotent creator made them.”
            Have you ever herd someone say that “our theory of seismology must be true, because any other theory would be inexplicable if an omnipotent creator did it”?

            Gee, I wonder why they’d say that. it’s almost as if the ‘evolutionists’ are comparing the mainstream theory of evolution with some other, competing theory that suggests that they’re designed by an omnipotent creator, or something!

    • MattB

      I don’t see how scientific naturalism entails philosophical naturalism. I think quite the opposite. I would say that our existence cries out for some explanation as to why we are here.

      • Sean Garrigan

        I think that Will Provine and scores of other atheists who are brave enough to follow their materialism to it’s logical end would disagree with you.

        • MattB

          I’m sure they would.

        • MattB

          btw, I think Will Provine is someone who has realized the true consequence or reality of atheism.

      • Sean Garrigan

        Does your name really have four w’s in a row? I normally don’t comment on what designations people post under, but Browwwwn is one of the most unique names I’ve ever seen.

        • MattB

          Nope. I just thought I’d be creative. I might change it back though.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Well, I guess your creativeness worked, as you got me to take notice:-)

          • MattB

            lol. thanks

    • Andrew Dowling

      Tell that to the millions of Catholic and mainline Christians for which evolution is a non-issue.

    • Christopher R Weiss

      Evolution is like any other area of science that limits the scope and manner in which “god” interacts with the natural world. There are plenty of believers who support theistic evolution, including the Catholic Church.

      Evolution means that literal creationism must be false. It also means that any claim made regarding intelligent design, etc., is also false. It in no way disproves the idea that god created the universe and the mechanisms through which species emerge.

      If your belief system relies on creatures or structures poofing into existence fully formed, then you have a very weak belief system.

      • MattB

        God’s existence must be assessed on philosophical grounds. Science may give the first premise of an argument but it doesn’t a priori rule out God’s existence like Dawkins, for example thinks

        • Christopher R Weiss

          I see… you are inventing a new epistemological basis for knowledge. Please refer to the Goedel’s incompleteness theorem to understand why you are provably incorrect. You cannot derive the existence of “god” from a purely philosophical argument, which I assume you mean from logic.

          You are also standing up a straw man and misusing the term “a priori.” First, Dawkins claims the evidence does not support the existence of god nor the necessity of the existence of the supernatural. This means that this a posteriori knowledge and not a priori. Please… if you going to use philosophical terms, at least use them correctly.

          Nowhere does Dawkins ever claim that he has logically proven that god does not exist.

          • arcseconds

            What on earth does Gödel’s incompleteness theorem have to do with this?

            Matt’s hardly inventing a new epistemological basis for knowledge. People have argued for the existence of God on philosophical grounds for centuries.

            Also, you might want to actually, I don’t know, read an introductory book on philosophy or something. You’ll find extremely few claims that are derived from logic alone.

          • MattB

            To be honest, Christopher,

            I’m not sure what Godel’s Incompleteness Theroem has to do with proving God’s existence or non-existence. From what I’ve read, it is used for number theory. I don’t think many philosophers of religion use this in their arguments.

            OK. I admit I erred on my terms. However, I have heard dawkins make claims like “There certainly is no God”. If that’s the case, then he sounds to me like an atheist because that statement assumes that he believes it is more likely that God doesn’t exist vs. exist.

          • arcseconds

            There are two incompleteness theorems, and they assert things about axiomatic systems strong enough to express arithemetic. So they’re not theorems in number theory per se, but rather express something about formal systems.

            The first theorem asserts that for any consistent axiomatic system that can express arithemetic, there will be sentences that can be formulated in the language of the system that express truths but are unproveable within the system.

            The second theorem asserts that any such system, it cannot prove its own consistency.

            I’m not sure why a system being unable to prove every arithmetical truth or its own consistency would necessarily mean it can’t prove the existence of God.

          • MattB

            Me too. I think this just begs the question, in which Christopher asserts that this sort of formula can a priori rule out God’s existence. I mean we have to start somewhere. Philosophical arguments are the best methods of arguing for/against the existence of God.

            If one can assume that God doesn’t exist because of a paradox, then the inverse must also be true.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            Goedel applies to logic as well. It was originally used to destroy Russell and Whitehead’s attempt to derive mathematics from logic. By claiming that god must be understood “philosophically,” you are implying there is some logical argument that “proves” god exists. Incompleteness would require outside assumptions for any system of logic. In a nutshell, any proof of god’s existence has assumptions that can be challenged factually.

            Yes, Dawkins is an atheist, and it is based on his understanding of the evidence. Go read a few of his books or listen to some YouTube videos where he is not getting too sarcastic. With respect to certainty, he is still saying based on the overwhelming evidence that god does not exist. It is the same sort of certainty we use all the time in day to day conversation. It is not a syllogism.

          • MattB

            Yes, I am claiming that there are logical arguments for the existence of God. However, if God’s existence can be challenged factually, then the inverse must be the same. This is why Goedel’s logic can’t be used to judge arguments for/against God’s existence. Philosophical methods are the best way to do this. An argument is valid if its conclusion follows from its premises[1] If we used Goedel’s logic we would not get any where because it is circular in this case.

            In fact, Goedel’s logic has to do with mathematical numbers. It doesn’t really come into play when dealing with arguments outside of math.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            So many errors in so few words….

            First, you are confusing logical consistency with “correctness.” An argument can consist of perfect syllogisms and still be wrong because the initial assumptions are false. Arguments can be wrong because of bad logic or common fallacies such as affirming the antecedent, begging the question, etc. You cannot assume logical consistency means that an argument is valid or “true.” The classic arguments for the existence of god such as the prime mover, first cause, etc., all suffer some pretty simple paradoxes such as infinite regression. People short circuit these by saying “and god was the first cause,” etc. However, this is an unproven assertion with no evidence except analogy.

            No… there are no arguments for the existence of god that cannot be trashed by looking at their underlying assumptions or the paradoxes that result. “Philosophic” methods, whatever that is supposed to mean, do not prove god’s existence.

            You have missed my point about Goedel… again, so I will make a different but related argument. Consider the theory of relativity. Originally, what Einstein proposed was a mathematical system. For special relativity this was based on analysis on manifolds. It was perfectly consistent and very elegant. However, no one considered it to be true until there was some experimental evidence that validated the theory. Experiments that showed time dilation and that gravity could bend light proved that on top of being mathematically consistent, Einstein’s theories were factually correct. Arguments for the existence of god suffer the same basic issue. They can be logically consistent, profound, nuanced, etc., but if they are based on unproven assumptions or analogies, then they are either false or at best unproven.

          • MattB

            I don’t think I misunderstood your point Christopher. Your original contention was that we can’t use philosophical methods to prove/disprove God’s existence. Arcseconds has pointed out that philosophers have been doing this for centuries.

          • arcseconds

            ‘philosophically’ doesn’t mean ‘derived from formal logic alone’.

            I don’t expect that God’s existence can be proven from logic alone, but I don’t see why you’re appealing to the incompleteness theorems to establish this.

            Why would the inability to derive every mathematical truth, or the system’s own completeness, prevent it from proving the existence of God?

            It seems to me that you don’t actually understand the incompleteness theorems, but are just using them as a blanket ‘logic can’t do what I say it can’t do’ wildcard.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            See my comment below… it has to do with the assumptions behind the arguments. Goedel’s theorems have broader implications than just mathematics. However, we can drop Goedel and use something more concrete like relativity.

            When arguing for the existence of god, the logical validity means nothing if the basis of the argument or assumptions are false or unproven.

            I actually did PhD work in both computer science and mathematics and I have an undergraduate degree in philosophy. Obviously, you are just repeating the wikipedia description of Goedel’s arguments. Incompleteness affects computability and building “knowledge” from logic. The consequence of incompleteness is that external assumptions are needed.
            If you are going to change what is meant by “philosophical methods,” sure…. incompleteness might not come into play. Please define further what you mean.

            We can talk about Kant and antinomes of Pure Reason if you want to see why the classic arguments for the existence of god fail. If you want to bring in the question begging ontological argument, we can discuss why that one fails too. Ironically, Goedel actually believed in god and claimed to have proved his existence too. If you have an argument that hasn’t been shredded elsewhere, I would love to see it.

          • arcseconds

            It’s quite surprising that you have degrees that should mean that you’re at least passingly familiar with formal methods and with philosophy, yet you argue like you do.

            The strangest thing is your supposition that a philosophical argument is the same thing as a proof in a formal system. I mean, honestly, this is easily disproved: pick any classic text in philosophy, open it up and any page, and see whether it’s deriving everything from the predicate calculus. Unless it’s actually a text in logic, it won’t be. Even texts in the philosophy of science, which can be heavily on formalism, do not do this. I invite you to consider just as examples: Descartes’ First Meditations, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, Searle’s Chinese Room argument, Quine’s ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ — none of these works starts from tautologies of the predicate calculus, uses a formal system or argues in a way that could be formalised in a formal deductive system such as the second-order predicate calculus. Yes, sometimes parts of the arguments are deductive, and they could be formalised, but overall this is not so.

            So ‘philosophical argument’ does not mean ‘derivable from formal logic’. As it does not mean that, the incompleteness theorems aren’t clearly applicable.

            Now, if you’d like to tell me why you think they’re applicable, I’m all ears. So far you haven’t: you’ve just cited Gödel and haven’t actually made any compelling connection to philosophical argument more generally.

            You mentioned just now that they have broader implications than just mathematics. I agree that they do, but I still don’t see how they rule out a philosophical argument for the existence of God. The implications are about the limitations of formal systems (there are of course strong links with computability and real numbers) and most of philosophy isn’t about formal systems and at best only uses them as tools, and in reality, usually doesn’t appeal to them much at all.

            As for the external assumptions, of course it’s true that logic on its own only gets you more logic. But you don’t need the Gödel results to tell you that: you just need to note that apart from the logical connectives, the symbols have no meaning, and can be filled in with any meaning you like.

            Even formal systems generally have axioms apart from logic alone, the most famous being the Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory, but the Gödel results apply to them too, so again I’m not seeing the connection of Gödel with your claims here. Incompleteness in no way prevents you from incorporating substantive axioms into your system.

            It also doesn’t prevent you from deriving interesting results from your system. ZF and other axiomatic systems have been doing that since they were founded. Axiomatic systems were not abandoned as a result of Gödel.

            (And, of course, virtually all philosophical arguments do rely on assumptions from outside logic. )

            So the Gödel results don’t tell you that you can’t get to substantive claims by using a formal method, don’t tell you you need axioms to get those claims, and don’t rule out the use of those axioms. Plus philosophy doesn’t use formal methods all that much, so none of this seems really applicable anyway.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            No we are in hair splitting…. I see. Let’s just cut to the chase. You cannot prove god with formal methods or simple deductive arguments since the assumptions behind these deductive arguments are without proof themselves nor are they certain in any sense of the word. If you disagree, please cite the appropriate proof.

          • arcseconds

            It is not hair-splitting to note that a philosophical argument for something is not at all the same thing as a deduction in formal logic.

            It is also not hair-splitting to note that incompleteness has nothing whatever to do with whether or not there’s a deductive argument for the proof of the existence of God.

            It’s trivial to show the irrelevance. Just add “God exists” as an axiom to your favourite axiomatic system that can express arithmetic, say the ZF axioms. Let’s call this ZFG. ZFG is just as affected by the incompleteness results as ZF or the more famous ZFC are. But this can nevertheless prove God’s existence. It’s not very illuminating or convincing, but nothing about the incompleteness results tells you about what you can use as axioms, or any specific result you can prove from them. And note that the ZF axioms themselves do include substantial content.

          • Ian

            Please don’t just throw around things like Gödel’s incompleteness theorem (and later you try it with computability and relativity) like this. Some people here actually know what they mean.

            By claiming that god must be understood “philosophically,” you are implying there is some logical argument that “proves” god exists.

            If you read his comment a little more considerately, you’ll see he meant almost exactly the opposite.

            And this would be odd, to assume a philosophical argument constitutes a logical proof is a kind of radical position that was discredited in philosophy at about the time you mention, not least by the work of Gödel. If you’re going to do that, at least have the self awareness to note this is a radical and idiosyncratic position you’re taking. Rather than making it sound like this is just how philosophy is done.

            Incompleteness would require outside assumptions for any system of logic.

            What would they be required for? Why are you assuming that God is not one of the things that can be proved from within the system? What formal system do you think was intended? Incompleteness Theorem does not state that *nothing* can be proved without ‘outside assumptions’.

            I’m sure we’d agree that the existence of God can’t be proved logically, but that’s no excuse to throw Gödel’s name around to bamboozle your interlocutor.

            In a nutshell, any proof of god’s existence has assumptions that can be challenged factually.

            Perhaps this is true, but how on earth this would follow even if the previous two things were true, I’ve no idea.

            Rather than doubling down on this, can I encourage you to be a little less bullying in the way you respond.

            Throwing around jargon, unfortunately, is all too common among engineers with a little awareness of philosophy. Lots of wild generalisations, sympathetic magic (e.g. using the Incompleteness Theorem, or the Uncertainty Principle as general principles), and bamboozling.

            I mean, I basically agree with what you’re saying throughout this thread, but that’s no excuse for this. If you have a core point here, try to spend some philosophical thought on unpacking it, and shed the pseudo-mathematical costume.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            Actually I worked with Completeness in my PhD work. It has broader implications than just mathematics.

            In this context, I may have wrongly assumed that the original poster was trying to make one of these pseudo-philosophical arguments that logic and/or mathematics prove that god exists. By showing that things like mathematics cannot be derived from logic alone, this shows just some of the limitations of making broad claims about logic. Consequently, making claims that you can prove god exists deductively and just from logic is one of those absurd broader claims.

            Completeness has been abused by many people. I have seen it as an argument against materialism because materialism cannot be complete. Please don’t put me in the same camp. I might have been a sloppy with some implicit assumptions, but this was not just an attempt at jargonese.

            The introduction of relativity was a related point to show that constructing a logical or mathematical theory as some have attempted to do to prove god exists, still requires some connection to the concrete particularly in areas like physics. Claiming god exists is a factual statement. A “pure math” or “pure logic” approach doesn’t work in isolation.

            My core point is simply this: You cannot imply god exists in some puff of logical reasoning without something behind it outside of just logic.

  • Karl Goldsmith

    Ken Ham used a Tweet of mine on his blog, where I said Ken Ham had idolatry.

  • MattB

    I think the existence of God must be assessed on philosophical grounds. That’s why I am very thankful that most philosophers of religion are theists because there are such good arguments and evidence for God’s existence. My problem is that YEC’s tend to create a huge distraction to the truth of the Christian faith, which is supposed to be about Christ and the fellowship of believers in Christ, rather than how literal or fictive certain parts of the Bible are. I think the approach by YEC’s is the main reason why Christianity has had such a bad rep in the two centuries. I myself used to be one, until I realized that I was interpreting Genesis too literally. I would consider myself a theistic evolutionist. I believe God was involved in the process and that he used evolution as a mechanism to bring about life on earth.

    • Kainan

      Actually there are no good arguments for God’s existence.

      • MattB

        I would disagree.

        • Kainan

          Sure. But you wouldn’t be able to show any such arguments, despite disagreement.

          • Yes, because how “good argument” is defined depends a lot on the hearer of the arguments.

          • Kainan

            Not really, it depends on not containing non sequiturs, question-begging, appeals to emotions, arguing from ignorance and so on. All theistic arguments contain at least one of those fallacies, often more.

          • Guest

            “All” is a very big word. I have often found that atheists’ favorite argument is the argument from incredulity, which is just as fallacious.

          • “All” is a very big word.

          • MattB

            I have not heard of such arguments in general that are made by philosophers of religion or natural theology, unless you mean the ones you commonly find in popular internet forums like “I read the book of Mormon and it said that I would feel a burning in my chest, so God must be real”.

          • MattB

            I can, but I really don’t have the time.

          • Kainan

            ROTFL. If you say so.

  • Blizzard

    All hail the “glorified” God that totally isn’t a human construction.

    • 4nick8er

      Which God would that be?

  • I’m seeing a lot comments for and against God’s existence cropping up on this post. My sense is that there is very little agreement here, either among Christians or atheists, about exactly who or what “God” is.

    I don’t see how anyone can make a cogent argument, when the subject of the argument has yet to be defined.

    • arcseconds

      I’m sure any Christian who is at all reflective is familiar with the argument from evil, so I’m quite sure it does nothing to re-iterate it.

      Moreover, McGrath believes in less ‘spooky stuff’ than many atheists do, as far as I can figure. I’m halfway convinced that the difference between atheism and someone who believes in something worth calling ‘God’ is nothing more than a matter of attitude 🙂

      • I wasn’t referring specifically to the argument from evil in this comment, whether or not reiterating it has value. Did you mean to reply to someone else?

        Your last paragraph depends entirely upon what you mean by “something worth calling ‘God'”. I’m sure any Christian who is at all reflective believes that theirs is something worth calling ‘God’.

        • arcseconds

          No, I just think that these discussions are usually kind of pointless, which I thought was the general direction of your remark, too.

          As for my last paragraph, what I mean by “something worth calling ‘God'” is whatever any given Christian thinks they mean by that, and so your last sentence as far as I can see is a trivial tautology. So I think you must have misunderstood my point.

          My point is that two people could have exactly the same metaphysical beliefs, and one could call themselves Christian, and the other atheist. So the difference between atheism and Christianity can’t be cached out in terms of metaphysical beliefs. Instead it seems to be more about whether or not you’re inclined to turn up to church on Sunday mornings.

          • I think my comment was more along the lines of suggesting we be clear about what we mean by God.

            You’re right, I didn’t understand your last paragraph correctly (my apologies), and I’m still not sure that I do. What metaphysical beliefs would be shared by an atheist and a Christian? If an atheist and a Christian could share the same metaphysical beliefs, wouldn’t they represent an pretty slim overlap between atheism and Christianity?

          • arcseconds

            Well, as I said, James believes in less spooky stuff than many atheists do, as far as I can work out. There are lots of atheists and agnostics who absolutely do not believe that there is such a thing as either the God of Jacob, Isaac and Abraham, or the God of the Philosophers, but nevertheless assert some sort of inchoate spirituality ‘there’s something else out there’, or life after death, in a non-material mind that can exist without the brain, or in psychic powers… all sorts of metaphysical claims that are dubious at least from the perspective of the Modern Scientific Worldview (due to the fact that they aren’t hard-hitting materialists, they might self-describe as agnostics rather than atheists, but I don’t think this marks a genuine difference in beliefs about God).

            James doesn’t appear to believe in anything like that, and nor does he believe in anything much like the old testament God or the omni-God. So he’s actually rather more minimalist in his metaphysics than many atheists. There’s no reason that I can see for someone believing in the same set of metaphysical propositions as James does yet self-identifying as atheist. He does believes that the totality of existence goes beyond the Universe we’re familiar with through science, but that’s certainly not a belief only held by religious people, and I can’t see a problem with someone asserting exactly that and yet maintaining they’re an atheist. And, as I said, many atheists assert rather more spooky stuff than that.

            James’s position might be rather unusual, but I’m not at all sure of that. Liberal Christians with a deflationary idea of what God is are not at all uncommon. Look at how popular people like Bishop Spong are in certain circles. And I think the number of people who attend church, self-identify as Christian, yet privately don’t believe in any God (perhaps seeing the choice, as many do, in believing in a traditional conception of God or not believing at all, perhaps being unaware of the liberal option) is actually quite large, perhaps much larger than officially theologically liberal Christians.

            (Ancedotally, this could be very large: I’ve heard tales of congregations when asked to put up their hands if they honestly, truly believe in God, and less than half the hands go up. Ian has in the past described his frustration when he first started having serious doubts, and feeling lost and alone, but later discovering that in his rather traditionally minded church, there were many people who did not believe, but kept silent about it, and some of them held leadership positions. )

            These people could be fairly described as closet atheists, so atheists and Christians do not represent disjoint sets, and even assenting to a belief in God does not tell you that their metaphysics is really different from another person who does not assent to that belief.

          • Well, I would certainly agree that nonbelievers like myself and believers like James can be like-minded on many issues. But assuming that God is metaphysical, I’m not sure how the metaphysics of a person who assents to his existence could be the same as that of someone who does not assent to his existence. At least to extent of God’s existence, their metaphysics are different.

            I might buy the argument this difference does not amount to much of practical importance. That politically, ethically, socially, etc. they might have much in common.

          • arcseconds

            Well, let me try to make this clearer.

            Person A thinks that reality is not exhausted by what we investigate scientifically, and thinks that reality has a rational structure that can be fruitfully thought of as being akin to rational thought. They think that while human beings can never grasp reality fully, we do better when it’s considered holistically. And they think when we consider behaviour of rational beings towards one another holistically, that’s the same thing as moral behaviour, and this is part of the structure of reality just as much (or maybe even more than) mathematics is. However, they do not believe literally in a being that’s in any way like a person that stands outside the universe and created the universe and appeared to anyone as a burning bush or a pillar of fire.

            Person A was also bought up in a Christian community, and thinks that the figure of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels is an exemplar of the holistic moral behaviour they believe we’re beholden to as rational beings. They value community highly, and they’re particularly interested in forms of community that bind people across time and space. They therefore are already disposed towards particularly Christian forms of community, and they find a lot of value, some of it perhaps quite subjective, in Christian forms of worship. They’re comfortable with symbolic, non-literal language. So they identify as Christian, and attend Church.

            Person B also thinks that reality is not exhausted by what we investigate scientifically, and thinks that reality has a rational structure that can be fruitfully thought of as being akin to rational thought. They think that while human beings can never grasp reality fully, we do better when it’s considered holistically. And they think when we consider behaviour of rational beings towards one another holistically, that’s the same thing as moral behaviour, and this is part of the structure of reality just as much (or maybe even more than) mathematics is. However, they do not believe literally in a being that’s in any way like a person that stands outside the universe and created the universe and appeared to anyone as a burning bush or a pillar of fire.

            Person B however doesn’t find Christian forms of worship particularly worthwhile or meaningful. Maybe they’re well-disposed towards the moral contents of the sermons that Person A likes, but find the God-talk unhelpful and distracting. Perhaps they put more weight on propositional clarity and individual authenticity of a certain sort, and aren’t comfortable with buying into the kinds of symbolism that allows Person A to happily assert the usual kinds of Christian propositions. They might see things that even look a bit like supernatural claims as being woolly at best and possibly disingenuous, and suspect while people like Person A are all very well, it leaves too much of a door open to people like Al Mohler. Perhaps they just simply aren’t inclined to worship anything at all: even if there was an impressive being that created the Universe, they would not think this to be a reason to sing lavish songs of praise to it every week. So they identify as an atheist and as a humanist.

            I suggest Person A is not unlike many liberal Christians in outlook, and has just as much right to claim the Christian moniker as many liberal Christians . ( I’ve modeled them somewhat on James, of course, but I don’t want to speak for James, and nor is it important for this analysis to get James’s beliefs correct. )

            I also think Person B has a perfect right to call themselves an atheist. I’ve painted them as being sympathetic to Person A, but I don’t think anything much changes if I make them into a more religion-hostile, New Atheist sort.

            But as I’ve stated things, their metaphysical beliefs are identical.

            Now, you might say that Person B isn’t quite a regular atheist, as they do have metaphysical beliefs over and above scientific materialism, but I think you can find lots and lots of atheists who believe in something of the sort (plus, as I’ve said, I think there are a lot of atheists/agnostics who believe in ghosts and all sorts of things, so both A & B are some distance from the average metaphysics of both atheists and Christians). All I’ve really committed them to is a larger reality than we can directly experience, a robust belief in the universe being rationally structured in some way (they might think laws of nature really exist, rather than are just shorthand for observed regularities) and moral realism, all of which are pretty common among atheists, and that’s really not enough to insist they’re really a specie of theist. Also, I can run a similar case with other metaphysical positions that assert even less spooky stuff. A Hegelian Absolute can, I think, be cached out in terms that only entail statements about absolute knowledge are true in the way that mathematical statements are true, so they’re not committed to anything much more strange than mathematical realists are, which is again not at all uncommon among atheists.

            So there you go. Identical metaphysical beliefs, the difference is mainly that A likes to call reality God and go to church and sing hymns, and B does not.

          • You’ve thought this out pretty carefully. Out of curiosity, do you identify as either person A or B, yourself? Or are you a different person entirely.

          • MattB

            Good point beau. Not that Arc didn’t make a good argument, but I just see a contradiction that can’t be resolved.

          • MattB

            I don’t think I could disagree more. If one claims that a being doesn’t exist and the other does, then doesn’t that entail a contradiction, even if the issue of semantics has not yet been addressed?

          • arcseconds

            Semantics are needed to work out that they’re talking about the same thing.

            If you say something about the Greatest Nation in History, and I deny it’s existence, and you’re meaning the USA and I’m thinking of the Roman Empire, we don’t have a genuine disagreement over what countries exist. But if we fail to sort out what ‘Greatest Nation in History’ refers to, we might have an extremely frustrating argument which looks like we have different ideas about what countries exist: you think I’m denying the USA exists, and I’m thinking you’re claiming the Roman Empire is still around.

            And arguments between theists and atheists can really be like that.

            In the same kind of vein person A and person B in my above comment don’t have a genuine disagreement on what exists, they just disagree on whether or not to call it God, and whether or not it warrants worship. Which, you know, might just come down to a matter of taste.

  • Just to give a little more perspective from “the other side” (I’m an atheist) regarding the point of this blog post – Do note that one fundamental component of “the wall young-earth creationists build” and “the system of thought that they are protecting” – which we certainly agree “is entirely a human construction” is precisely the very idea that the Bible came from, or even actually has anything to do with, any real god in the first place. And the fundamental reason young earth creationism is a great conduit to atheism is precisely how starkly it discredits this fundamental component.

  • I have been saying that little kennie’s followers shouldn’t be referred to as ‘Christians’, but ‘Hamians’ and defined as a narrow sect of former Christians whose belief set is radically different from mainstream Christianity and primarily devoted to worshiping a non-existent version of the Holy Bible while venerating a carnival huckster.

  • bonesiii

    What you’re saying essentially is that Ken Ham is willing to let the Bible be testable for falsification. That is crucial to anything true. You by contrast fear that the hermeneutically accurate meaning of the Bible’s teachings on history will indeed be falsified, but you want to “believe anyways.” We don’t need to fear that, because the Bible has sound support as true already.

    Basically it amounts to an assumption that the evolutionists are right in their claims that science is on their side, and I get why people do that — it can be hard to actually understand the scientific reasons why they’re wrong about that; it’s so much easier to just give into peer pressure and blind trust. But that is wrong, especially for Christians; the Bible condemns it. If you actually look into it objectively, you see that the science backs up YEC.

    Hitching the Bible to evolution and old eartherism is unwise, as such hitchings to popular but wrong ideas in the past (like heliocentrism) have later been turned around as an attack on the Bible when the world leaves those ideas. If it seems impossible to you that the world might leave evolution and deep time, consider that it has popularly rejected them before while rejecting the biblical God, with various polytheism views. All they would need to do is replace the biblical God with some fake god, perhaps the god of Islam, perhaps some new invention.

    And so many times before we have seen the world assume the Bible is wrong on something but later when sound analysis finally comes in, the Bible is vindicated. Have some faith that God knows what he was talking about, and that people really can be dramatically, popularly wrong as they have been before!

    • bonesiii

      LOL @ silly heliocentrism typo. Meant geocentrism. XD

    • I’m afraid you have misunderstood this post, have been misled about Ken Ham, and are mistaken about a great many things. The Bible does not consistently turn out to be right. That is not only true about matters subject to external verification. Even internally there are issues, such as the discrepancies on the dates, geographical movements, and genealogies in the infancy stories in Matthew and Luke. If you genuinely think that the Bible’s factuality needs to be subjected to verification, that is a good place to start.

      On the scientific question, calling the piling up of evidence and confirmation through rigorous independent investigation “peer pressure” is dishonest, and not merely wrong. Whether you originated the lie or merely repeated it, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. How can you think to defend God through falsehoods? God has nothing to fear from the truth, and the fact that Ken Ham’s bunk is incompatible with honesty should tell you all you need to know about it, considered from a Christian perspective.

  • creatorsknight

    I know a lot of Young Earth Creationists as we are called. Not a single one of them is what I would consider a weak Christian. Every single one of them is dedicated to spreading the gospel to all. I was an agnostic and then I found some videos talking about the flaws in the logic of evolutionary science. Now it didn’t matter who delivered the information to me. It could have been Ken Ham or any number of professing YEC advocates. The biggest thing was not the deliverer but the truth that was delivered. We all seek truth. To many people think that truth is relative to what they know. I believe that there is an objective truth and we are supposed to look for it. Sometimes what we think is the truth turns out to be wrong. When it is proven wrong then the truth becomes the new information we gathered proving the truth wrong until we arrive at a truth that can’t be reduced. Gravity makes things fall at a certain speed towards a mass based on the size of the mass. This truth can’t be reduced. It can be proven using experiments and it can be duplicated. To much of science that looks back at our history is stated as fact but is not based on any observable and repeatable science. So essentially you can’t get to the truth because it happened in the past and can’t be proven. You can’t prove evolution is true because the transitional fossils needed to prove it are too few and some would say non existent. Transitional fossils are a subjective truth. The age of the Earth is a subjective truth. You can’t go back into time to measure the starting elements of a rock to compare them to rocks today to determine the exact timeframe of radioactive decay. If these are subjective truths just as God creating the world is a subjective truth … because we can’t prove that either… then what are we to believe? Do we believe that everything formed by chance or do we believe that we were created by a divine being? Do we believe that God worked through evolution or did he do it just as the Bible says he did. It’s the simple answer that usually wins out in the end and it might sound like a cop out to take the simpler answer but that answer didn’t come simply. I have spent the last 7 years as a Christian studying science and looking at the evidence all to get at one thing, the truth. The more I study… and I don’t just read creationist literature … the more I am convinced that the world was created just as God said when he spoke through his prophet. So I don’t think I am a weak Christian either but again some peoples truth is a relative thing.

    • Perhaps you need to reconsider what you mean by a “weak Christian.” People who are deceived and in turn deceive others scarcely deserve to be called strong Christians, in my opinion. The claim that we cannot know about the past based on present evidence is an attack on Christianity and not merely evolutionary biology. Do you not rely to at least some extent on evidence from the past, involving subsequent copying, that is crucial to connecting you with the historical activity of Jesus Christ? Calling the evidence subjective truth is absolutely bogus. Have you considered the details – for instance, the processes involved in the production of enormous chalk beds like the White Cliffs of Dover? Have you considered the relevance of the genetic evidence provided by human chromosome 2? To claim that the earth is young and that evolution has not occurred, one has to make God out to be a deceiver, who has made it look like the earth is older than it is and that living things on this planet are related, as well as malicious inasmuch as the God that YECs depict stands ready to condemn those who mistakenly think the Creator is honest and thus the scientific evidence can be followed where it leads.

      This is not about chance vs. belief in a Creator. Do you need to deny a naturalistic explanation of illness in order to be a Christian? Does meteorology keep you from believing that God is the one who ultimately sends the rains? If you cannot cope with the study of the natural world in scientific terms, your faith is indeed weak, and is at odds not just with biology but chemistry, geology, astronomy, meteorology, and much else.

      • creatorsknight

        First of all I never claimed that you can’t know anything about our present when looking at past evidence. We have learned a lot over the years looking back. What I was saying is that you can’t trust the evidence about the age of the earth and transitional fossils. Both areas have been discussed and looked at with great enthusiasm over the years and there is no true consensus between the two worldviews. Evolutionists believe that there are transitional fossils and they go to great pains in explaining how they come to the conclusion but that conclusion is not based on observable science. Scientists that hold to the view that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old hold on to their view based on an interpretation of the radiometric data that has been studied. The problem comes when you look at how that data is interpreted. If you have a parent isotope and a daughter isotope and the ratio is what determines the current age of the specimen then the initial ratio has to be determined. Except that the initial ratio can’t be known because it is a historical observation and can’t be repeated in the observable present.
        I love science and I don’t deny science. I embrace it and I want to study it so that I can find a way to glorify God even more. Places like Answers in Genesis and The Institute for Creation Research like science as well and they actually do experiments and testing to show that science isn’t against God. These are the groups that come up with the alternate theories about our origins that fit in with a Biblical model of creation. You brought up a chromosomes and the white cliffs of Dover. Both of these examples have been sticking points for evolutionists in the past which is why places like ICR have been working on explanations. Their group that is studying the human genome actually has an answer and have written articles about it. There are other viable explanations for the white cliffs of dover that AIG has tackled and have produced articles on it as well. So it all comes down to my original statement and that this is the truth that I know based on reading and learning what those great group of scientists have produced. Their truth sounds a lot more plausible to me based on the science than what I hear from people who support evolution.
        Have you looked at all of their information? Have you seen all of the flaws that the evolutionary data has created over the years?
        I do not want to deceive and I don’t think that anyone I am talking to about it will be deceived but maybe you think I am deceived. Maybe you think that I am just some schmoe who is easily deceived and can’t know what I am talking about. That is your prerogative and you can’t truly know unless you know me. Just as I can’t truly know how much you know. I can only tell people what I have learned in hopes that a learning process can take place. Maybe I can learn something here but you are going to have to do better than chromosome 2

        • One can only talk the way that you do about science if one chooses to get one’s information from charlatans rather than from scientific sources themselves. I’m aware of what Answers in Genesis says about these topics – I used to be a young-earth creationist myself. The question is, why would you choose Ken Ham as a source of information about the human genome, rather than someone like Francis Collins? Both are Evangelical Christians (although given Ken Ham’s persistent dishonesty, it is impossible not to have doubts about his faith). But only one of them has expertise in genetics – and indeed, has more expertise in that area than most other human beings currently alive. Why choose the charlatan over the scientist?

          You say you love science, and I am pretty sure that you would say that you love Jesus. But in the former case, you demean those who engage in scientific research, insult the intelligence and competence of scientists, and reject their conclusions? How is that love? And if you can say you love when in fact you hate in the case of science, why should I think that your attitude towards truth and ultimately towards God is any different?

          • creatorsknight

            Actually I mentioned Ken Ham because he is the face of AIG but the work that I was talking about was not from him but other scientists. For example the scientist that published the chromosome study was Jeffrey Tompkins PhD. The article on the white chalks of dover was written by Andrew Snelling Ph.D.. Both very accomplished scientists in their field. So why do I trust those scientists over someone like Francis Collins. Who says I do? What I am saying and have said all along is that I am seeking the truth and their truth is more plausible than the truth I read in Francis Collins book. I will admit that I tend to look more towards what scientists from AIG or ICR produce now because I see the flaws in evolutionary logic as overwhelming. It is because I have read so many articles from these great scientists that I now hold that opinion. Yet if something comes out that supports evolution and is a good argument then I will hold to that truth until something comes along that disproves it.
            I don’t demean any scientist and have never done so. You claim that I demean them but in what way? Is disagreeing with them demeaning? Am I demeaning you because I disagree with you? Is it loving to let someone continue in a false truth? You are accusing me of insulting their intelligence and competence based on what.. because I disagree? How is science done if not done in an environment where people disagree? One person has a theory and tries to prove it. Someone else has one and they disprove the first person’s theory. This is how science is done. This is how truth gets found.

          • Saying that the consensus of scientists is obviously and overwhelmingly flawed, so that laypeople like yourself can see it while people actively engaged in scientific research supposedly cannot, is indeed insulting and demeaning. Would you so easily accept the fringe views of others who use the same sort of rhetoric? Holocaust deniers or Jesus mythicists, for instance? Science if not done by trying to persuade the general public of something that you cannot persuade your peers about.


          • creatorsknight

            I wonder if I were to talk to an actual scientist who studies geology and I were to bring up my questions to him, if he would say it is demeaning. As I am a layperson then wouldn’t it be in his or her best interest to explain to me where the flaw in my logic is? Maybe it would be better to actually explain why he thinks I am wrong instead of just saying… hey your wrong and you’re not smart enough to understand. The website you linked to is like a thousand other websites that have popped up in the past that try to do one thing and that is to discredit an organization. They do it very poorly and in bad taste. If they truly want to discredit creation science then attack the science and disprove it. To create idiotic conspiracy theories about the identity of a man is wasteful and does nothing to discredit the work he has done in the field.
            Your right they can’t persuade their peers about the science they do. Why is that? Is it because the science that they do is bad? I have seen the group of scientists that work at ICR and I have seen the data that has come from their labs. All of them have peer reviewed documents published in scientific journals. Yet because of their stance on the Bible being true and the origins story it presents being our history they get laughed at in the scientific community. So if your peers won’t listen then you have to go to the public to show your work so that the mind of the people can change. No one is going to even consider the work of a creation scientist because they hold to a young earth view and the dogmatic view of old earth is so prevalent. So they will continue to post articles on their website and they will continue to inspire people to start looking closer to what they have been taught all of their lives and maybe…just maybe they will convince someone else. Of course we could be wrong. Which is perfectly fine I can admit if I am wrong but you are going to have to prove it. So let me ask you what you think about dinosaur soft tissues being found?

          • Your final question is a great example of what happens if you turn to charlatans for information. You are presumably talking about the fossilized soft tissue that was reported on extensively. I would love for you to read about that subject in mainstream scientific sources are, and then see whether you think that your young-earth sources have been honest about the matter.

            The view that young-earthers cannot get their work published because of a conspiracy against them is as implausible as any other conspiracy theory. The academy functions through the interplay of new ideas being proposed and the evaluation thereof by the scientific community. If there is an idea that has any plausibility, and evidence to support it, it will be a source of interest. But young-earthism simply ignores and misrepresents so much of the evidence. They can try to spin the evidence in an attempt at damage control, but one can never get to young-earthism by following the evidence where it naturally leads. If you have a different impression, then you clearly have not consulted even conservative Christian publications on the subject other than young-earth ones. Perhaps this would be a good place to start:


      • creatorsknight
      • creatorsknight
  • ashleyhr
  • Judi Graff

    I don’t want to engage in the discussion other than to say, the word is ‘THERE” not ‘THEIR”. Double spell check people!

    • In a hundred years, the same spelling will be acceptable for either meaning. Language (and spelling) evolves over time. It’s inevitable.

      • Judi Graff

        Well, if I am around 100 years from now and the word has “devolved” then I’ll eat crow but until then, the correct word usage is “there” NOT “their”.

        • You don’t have to eat crow. You are correct about the spelling.

          I just thought it was a good opportunity to note that language and spelling, like life, evolves.