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Batten #7: Natural Selection

March 21st, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 97 Comments

Hat tip to Auke for his transcript.
{ } description of non-verbal events, actions.
[ ] time stamp, minutes:seconds, from Auke’s audio recording.
< > word unclear, sounds like.
Please keep in mind this is a transcript of a live talk, not something Dr Batten thoughtfully and carefully wrote himself.

You know, if you got a mutation that put feathers on reptiles, which is supposed to have happened in the past, that would be impressive evidence for evolution. But you don’t find those sorts of mutations.
In fact, Carl Sagan, who was an evolutionist until he died, said,
“mutations occur at random and are almost uniformly harmful – it is rare that a precision machine is improved by a random change in the instructions for making it.”
Yet, he was an atheist, so he had to believe that evolution worked.

Dr Batten still has his causality mixed up. All evolutionary scientists, including the religious ones, know that mutations are “almost uniformly harmful”. Almost. But natural selection, excuse me while I repeat myself, natural selection selects for the beneficial mutations, and filters out the harmful ones. Carl Sagan didn’t believe in evolution because he’s an atheist, just like Francis Collins doesn’t believe in evolution as a result of atheism (he’s a Christian). However, if you are arguing that God only exists if evolution is false, you’re busy arguing for atheism. Creationism is thus a force for atheism.

Please see the Index for Creationist Claims: CA602. Evolution is atheistic, which points out:

Anyone worried about atheism should be more concerned about creationism. Creationism can lead to a crisis of faith when people discover that its claims are false and its tactics frequently dishonest. This has led some people to abandon religion altogether (Greene n.d.). It has led others to a qualitatively different understanding of Christianity (Morton 2000).

[35:57] Dr Lee Spetner, was a information bio a bioinformatics expert, that’s on how to store all the biological information and deal with it, and he studied at Johns Hopkins University, he said
“All point mutations that have been studied on the molecular level turn out to reduce the genetic information and not increase it…”
It’s going in the wrong direction. You can get dogs with mutations which create all sorts of varieties but they are mutant dogs. You can get mutant bacteria which are antibiotic resistance, for example, but its due to loss of control in enzymes production, its due to a loss of a cell <..> transport function. Or its due to transfer of DNA from other species that already have it.

*sigh*, this is getting monotonous. We already have Dr Batten admitting that some mutations are beneficial, but then he continues burying it in this tripe.

[36:45] What about natural selection? Does it help? Well, natural selection doesn’t create any information, it just sorts it out.

Exactly! But now watch as he trots out further misunderstandings of evolution. Let me remind you of the definition (that he didn’t give): Evolution occurs when these heritable differences become more common or rare in a population. The key here, is that we are talking about a population of a particular species, not one or two individuals. Watch:

But let’s have a look at this. Uh, we have these two friendly looking wolves here, dogs, bears, whatever you like {laughter} but uh these little red things here represent the genes, the pair of genes, that determine hair length. So I’ve drawn them here with uh one .. one here produces long hair, this one produces short hair, of course they look nothing like this but it makes it easier to understand. Uh and uh of course with recombination, which evolutionists often say helps evolution, uh you can get uhm different combinations of these genes, up to 20 thousands pairs of genes, but only a couple of pair perhaps determine hair length, and this one here says make long hair, .. make short hair, if you’re a geneticist these are co-dominant, if you’re not a geneticist I didn’t say anything {laughter} and so we get a combination of a short-haired gene and a short-haired gene, from mum and dad, and you get shorter hair than the parents. Now Darwin saw that sort of variation and thought that was evolution in action, because you had something present here that’s not present in the parents. New information – wonderful! But in fact, Mendel, the creationist, geneticist, showed that in fact the genes were already present in the parents, there’s no new information involved. So Darwin was confused by that. And then you can get genes just like mum and dad, the same combination as mum and dad, which gives you medium length hair. And then you can take the two long-haired genes can get together and you get a longer-haired wolf {laughter} And then of course you get ice age where <...> at high latitude and cold air you’re better adapted with long hair, the ones with the short and medium length hair get killed off in the cold and so then we only we’re only left with the long haired wolves and they can reproduce and they can only produce long-haired offspring and you have a variety of wolf, or a species of wolf, which is adapted to cold conditions. But you lost the gene for short hair. In fact, natural selection gets rids of genes. So mutations destroy the information, and natural selection destroys the information. They’re the two heroes of the plot.

What Batten does here, is explain why you need a big population to get a good, viable gene pool. Only two specimens begs for all sorts of problems. And yet, Batten et al argue for a literal world-wide flood, with Noah’s ark having only two specimens of each species on board. Doesn’t that boggle the mind? I’m hoping someone else will give a more in-depth break-down in the comments of the problems in this paragraph.

[39:05] Somebody will say, what about genetic drift? Well, genetic drift is a lot of hand-waiving, uh, based on probabilities. But it doesn’t explain the origin of complex biological information. Genetic drift can be a factor in small populations, but the trouble is with small populations is the probability of getting any mutations to do the right thing are even less than a big population, if you got a big population then you increase the chances of getting a mutation that does the right thing, then genetic drift doesn’t work. So, uh, there’s a bit of a problem for the whole scenario.

It sounds like Dr Batten is arguing for Gould’s punctuated equilibrium here: relative evolutionary stability, until a change in the evolutionary landscape causes a period of more intense natural selection.

Uh, so, we get lots of genes. So you get varieties of people, varieties of frogs, horses, things, but you don’t get things changing one into the other. Its just like the Bible says, in Genesis chapter 1, god made different kinds of things to reproduce after their kind. So as George Gable Miklos, uh an evolutionist said,
“We can go on examining natural variation at all levels … as well as hypothesising about speciation events in bed bugs, bears and brachiopods until the planet reaches oblivion, but we still only end up with bed bugs, brachiopods and bears. None of these body plans will transform into rotifers, roundworms or rhynchocoels.”
Whatever rhynchocoels are, you might say.

If someone wants to look for context for this mined quote, Dr Batten cites “George L. Gabor Miklos, ‘Emergence of organisational complexities during metazoan evolution: perspectives from molecular biology, palaeontology and neo-Darwinism’, Mem. Assoc. Australas. Palaeontols15, 1993, p. 25.”

40:19 It’s like this. The evolutionary story is there’s a big tree, going back to a common ancestor of all living things that made itself in a warm pond on Earth or by some other mechanism. And in biology classes they caricature what creationists believe by saying, “We believe that God created everything just as you see it today back in the beginning”, which is a lie.

You have to commend Dr Batten for having the balls to make that quip about caricatures of creationist beliefs, after what he’s been up to in this seminar. Sheesh…

So you’ve got this creationist <..> caricature idea, um, but in fact creationist biologists believe that God created different basic kinds of animals and plants which are capable of adapting to different environments, and so you have variation within a kind, you have speciation within a basic kind. The kind is usually at the level of family. And so studies of mutations, natural selection, and things, work well at that level. But go beyond that, they don’t work.

More statements, but of course, still no proof. And we’re approaching the end of the main body of the seminar. Quote mining “evolutionists” does not count as evidence.

Categories: Religion and Science
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97 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Samuel Skinner // Mar 22, 2008 at 12:56 am

    Unfortunately evolution isn’t very compatible with theism. For instance, it implies god didn’t make man. Many theists go with “guiding” the process, but since mutations are random (and natural selection is sort of pointless for the almighty) it doesn’t fit will. It is like evil- it is one of those puzzle that don’t fit with god.

  • 2 Hugo // Mar 22, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    I know and understand where you are coming from, but I do still disagree. Maybe adding “traditional” qualifier would make your statement more agreeable to me.

    Note I am rather far from “traditional” theism. I consider it a language, and myself a polyglot. We’ll eventually get back to discussing that sort of stuff, but for now I’m covering the creation seminar thoroughly, in preparation for another blog “arc”.

  • 3 Kenneth Oberlander // Mar 30, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    It was exactly this piece of his talk that made me approach Maud about writing a letter. This was appalling. How anyone can call themselves a scientist and make such an error…it disgusts me.

    I like your analogy of theism to language, if for my own reasons. Languages evolve, as do religions. I think one could use language evolution as a simple example to demonstrate many evolutionary ideas, and that is demonstrably historically true. If you can demonstrate the same idea in terms of religion to the ardent fundamentalist…might be an interesting idea!

  • 4 Hugo // Mar 30, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Ardent fundamentalists are quite a challenge, I don’t think explicit demonstrations of language evolution is going to accomplish very much.

    I’d love to show the fundies the works by Bible scholars like Marcus Borg. Some call it “liberal Christianity”, but scholarship is about understanding the context, two thousand years ago. Borg they won’t be able to swallow though. Show them McLaren, let them understand that Jesus’ message was about “the kingdom here on earth”, that afterlife obsession was a recent development. There, there you then have an example of how the interpretations of Christianity and Jesus’ message “evolved” since two thousand years ago. Also show them Jesus’ challenge to the purity code (this is explained well in a Borg book I read), and they should begin to understand the irony of their “holiness movement”, their obsession with “purity”.

    Now what I’d love to see, is more moderates taking part in the defence of science, more moderates standing up against fundamentalism. But many typical “moderates” have quite an element of apathy about such things. It’s part of their “moderate”ness. And so I scratch my head about who would be prepared to make a difference. And I have some ideas…

  • 5 Trey // Apr 2, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Borg they won’t be able to swallow though. Show them McLaren, let them understand that Jesus’ message was about “the kingdom here on earth”, that afterlife obsession was a recent development.

    I have swallowed Borg, and found he’s very much a product of liberal thinking. Marcus Borg posits a post and pre-Easter view of Jesus not far from the interpretative framework spreading through liberal Christianity in Kasemann and Bultmann, where these guys take tremendous liberties of interpretation in which those living and inhabiting the first century couldn’t have possibly believed to the extent you find in the literature and consciousness of the day. You have to understand the mindset of Judiasm in the 1st century, and to separate the hope of an afterlife from the temporeal kingdom of God is an error that represents a modernist interpretation imposed on the 1st century world. Certainly, this is not consistent with the Judiasm of the time. You only have to look at Rabbi Hilel and others to see this. The kingdom of God would bring forth the righteous of God, not in some metaphor for life, as an existential rendering, but in the real manifestation of God redeeming to himself the children of Israel.

    scholarship is about understanding the context, two thousand years ago…

    Absolutely, and no where do you find the kind of viewpoint Borg adopts in the literature of the time. I think we do violence to the text if we don’t understanding this fundamental point. You only have to look at the testimony of the martyrs (those approximated Jesus the closest) to understand that the afterlife was not just a metaphor for a fuller life in the present. You really have to do acrobatics to make this view hold, even in the attitudes of the first followers.

    Jesus was very much in the tradition of the prophets, and this has been amply demonstrated in the literature. You find the Jewish intertestamental period really developing a more tangible understanding of these questions, but the river still runs toward the messianic vision, which is one firmly deposited in the present and reality of God’s coming.

    I would suggest pressing into N.T. Wright’s books more thoroughly on Christ’s resurrection to get a counterpoint to Borg. I’m also assuming you’ve read the Borg-Wright book on Jesus as well? BTW, I just attended a lecture with Bishop Wright last month. He posits a very real worldview of the messianic vision in the vein of Schweitzer, but he is wholly committed to the kingdom of God as a realization in this world. He demonstrates this beautifully in the Greek of the passages between Pilate and Christ. His eschatological commitments thus lean away from theological fatalism concerning the world. He is very much a hands-on, social justice type. Perhaps this is not fundamentalist view (Calvinism), but it certainly is consistent with a major stream within fundamentalism.

  • 6 Hugo // Apr 2, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    Trey, thanks! I have in fact not read any NT Wright yet, but have been interested in doing so ever since McLaren cited him. You have some idea where I’m coming from, and have read two Borg books. (And a couple of McLaren books.) What would be your recommendation for my next acquisition? (Maybe in June, I’m abstaining for a few weeks.) The Borg/Wright book?

  • 7 Trey // Apr 2, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    Sure, N.T. Wright is considered one of the foremost scholars on ancient Palestine in the 1st century and is a traditionalist in the sense that he believes in a physical resurrection of the glorified body of Christ. He’s written an excellent book (many consider it the definitive study of our time on Jesus’ resurrection). You can find it on Amazon.com and I’ve included the link. It’s no light reading. It’s a harrowing 800+ pages, but represents masterful insight and study.

    http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Son-Christian-Origins-Question/dp/0800626796/ref=pd_bbs_sr_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1207163270&sr=8-3

    Other traditionalists, open to the fundamentalist tag (though I would say much more enlightened) are Dr. William Lane Craig, who always makes a studied defense of the resurrection, debates the question often, and quotes Wright freely.

    Wright lectured on the “Church and the future” about a month ago at St. Mary’s Seminary and Ecumenical Institute of Theology, where I attended grad school. It’s very much encamped by liberal theologians but Wright is extremely well-read and knows his stuff. He spoke to a packed house so I guess the liberals like him to :)

    The other book I was referring to was a point-counterpoint book co-authored by Wright and Borg called “Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.” I read this (or parts of it) in graduate school. This is where you see Borg hash out his radical understanding of the “meaning of the resurrection.” Wright and Borg remain friends even though they have vastly different conclusions about the evidence, evidence which I believe weighs heavily in favor of Wright’s interpretation given the understanding of “resurrection” in ancient Judaism.

    Happy hunting!

    Trey

  • 8 Hugo // Apr 3, 2008 at 8:08 am

    Two Visions has caught my eye numerous times. I do have “The Last Week” (Crossan and Borg) waiting on my shelf, it also discusses the “meaning of the resurrection”. We’ll see how many books I still get around to reading. Two Visions will receive some more attention.

    So I take it you are more of a traditionalist? You share Wright’s views? Do you consider it important to have an opinion on the factuality of the resurrection? Sure, some people only follow the Christian path because they believe in the resurrection. But other people ask “would it be necessary for me to believe that to follow the path?” (Or “the way”, how’d one translate that which is translated to “die weg” in Afrikaans, into English?) For some the requirement of belief in the factuality of that miraculous event is a hurdle. So again, is it important, would you say?

    If you don’t mind me asking, what are your views on hell and the “afterlife”? I’m quite curious. Do you accept mainstream science and evolution?

    I hope you’ll pop in every now and then, I suspect you may have some valuable contributions you could make on some of the topics I hope to discuss a few weeks down the line. (Should I maybe let you know when I post things on which you’re likely to be able to make valuable contributions?)

  • 9 Trey // Apr 3, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Believe me, I buy books like they are going out of style, but never get around to reading them sometimes….

    Now,

    Do I consider it important to have an opinion on the factuality of the resurrection? yes, I think it’s crucial to making a life altering confession that Jesus is Lord.
    Do I think we can prove the factuality of the resurrection? depends what we mean by “prove.” I think we can look at the criteria of authenticity to see what the best explanation is, so if this is a form of proof, then yes.
    But can we find proof, the kind that obtains to mathematical proof? For certainly this will satisfy the skeptics. No…then what need for faith?

    I think God has so ordered the world that a healthy amount of skepticism and doubt makes the faith of those who confess the truth all the more authentic and acceptable in God’s sight.

    By the way, I used to be an atheist. I think atheism is much more a heart condition than an intellectual challenge (maybe we’ll touch on this sometime).

    Back to the question. Is the factual representation of the resurrection important to its appreciation —-

    Let me quote Paul from 1 Corinthians 15:

    If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

    See if you don’t appreciate the physicality of the resurrection you miss the point of it. I guess that would be my question to you. What was the goal of Christ’s resurrection if not to save us from our sins and in doing so offer us hope in the life to come?

    1 Corinthians 15 is a wonderful place to start an investigation into what the 1st century Jewish community of Christ followers believed, for I think it is abundantly clear that Paul regards a physical resurrection as tantamount to an orthodox understanding of this cornerstone of our faith. You also can’t discount the early testimonies of the followers who went joyfully to their deaths in defense of the gospel. Now do we honestly believe that the tradition was so corrupted in the first 5 years after Christ’s death that the understanding of what his death meant would be so thoroughly misconstrued that we made an absolute blunder of the message? I don’t think so. This kind of embellishment, it’s been shown in other places, takes sometimes hundreds of years. I like the example Craig uses. Read the gospel of Mark and compare it to the resurrection account found in the Gospel of Peter (more than 100 years later). The differences are obvious.

    Members like Borg, Crossan (who I met about eight years ago), Myers, etc. represent a fringe movement in biblical scholarship. In fact, many members of the Jesus Seminar are unknowns in their professional field. The problem with their creative interpretations are many. But the one thing both sides agree with is that the hope of God is embodied in the person of Christ. So we have to ask seriously: If all this talk is simply metaphor, what do we make of God? I think this was a just criticism posed to Bultmann by Schubert Ogden and for Bultman it threw him for a loop because while he was trying to do something creative with existentialism, he never conceded the reality that God could also be merely part of the metaphoric language he was trying to engraft into Heideggerian existentialism. He didn’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    So now 50 years later, you’re seeing Bultmann’s descendants doing pretty much the same thing. Another book you may want to read, which I find fascinating is a debate-turned-book between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan called “Will the Real Jesus Stand Up?” I think Craig amply demolishes much of Crossan’s argument for a peasant revolutionary.

    As for my own views…I’ll admit they do encounter shifts every so often. I’m not a raging fundamentalist. I’m comfortable with scripture without claiming inerrancy. I’m comfortable with an old universe worldview instead of a literal seven day creation. But see, a lot of this is NOT because modernism has levied serious challenges to the traditional model. When you actually study out the history, you find people as early as Origen in the second century were questioning the logic of a literalist interpretation. I also think very few fundamentalists (despite gross caracatures) are dogmatically literal. Most recognize the difference between say the poetry of the psalms and the narrative biographical genre of the gospels. I worship in a Restoration Movement church, while being very traditional, is open to a variety of non-priority theological differences.

    My view on hell? I’ve been much more comfortable with a traditionalist’s rendering of hell on the basis of a appreciable understanding of God’s middle knowledge. I think the argument is powerful and answers a lot of the soteriological challenges inherent in the question. The argument was distilled in the thought of Luis de Molina but has found force recently in the work of William Lane Craig.

    I’m currently interested in Plantinga’s views on evolution as an epistemic defeater of naturalism.

    Yes! I hope I don’t forget to hang around and come back and check things out. :) Sorry I’m so long-winded.

    In Christ,

    Trey

  • 10 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 3, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Hugo, I can’t think of an analogous English phrase, but I think “the path” would be a more metaphorically sensible translation…has more figurative meaning in this context, I think. Your thoughts?

    Trey, when you say you used to be an atheist, what eventually convinced you that this was not a valid outlook (Perhaps I should say, a less-valid outlook than Christianity)? Also, why do you think that atheism is more a “heart” condition (by which I presume you mean an emotional decision) than an intellectual one? Or am I grokking you incorrectly?

  • 11 Trey // Apr 3, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Let me start by saying, I don’t think the proposition can be validated empirically (in the sense of scientific information). This is strictly an observation. So it would “fail” if we were called to bring empirical proof the same way we would fail to find proof against someone believing strongly for God. So the observation is not a scientific one. And certainly there have been theists turned atheists.

    Personally, what turned me against theism was the church I was involved in. After a “born again” experience in 1995, the likes of which I’d never experienced before, I soon became involved in a church. My entire thought process changed instanteously. If a person ever wanted to tag something “supernatural” then this would be it. I’ve seen other supernatural manifestations that I’d be hard pressed to call coincidence as well.

    Through series after series of spiritual micromanagement by my leadership, I became convinced that this church did not have my best interests in mind. I would read and was excoriated for my reading. I would make scriptural interpretations and was told I was wrong…as time when on, I grew embittered. In the end, I wanted no part of church, and finally no part of God.

    Not content to leave it at that, and having found “new life” in my theological readings, I shifted my attention to philosophy. In college, I took as many courses as my 15-credit max would allow. I “fell in” with a group of philosophers, fell in love with Nietzsche, and in company like this found all the vitriol I needed to undermine my past experiences. I found the internal warfare in Christianity laughable, I found that even on the smallest of details they couldn’t agree. More importantly, I took personal pride in my intellectual faculties to the exclusion of most of the people I used to worship with who believed they could “prove the bible by quoting it.” These circular forms of reason made the spiritual life appear intellectually impoverished to me. I was set on destroying the witness I once cherished. I began challenging social systems. I remember cheating on my girlfriend in college and justifying it by the fact that cultural morals are nothing more but inventions of our own making. I knew a lot of Nietzsche and his concept of religious guilt, and freely quoted from him ot justify my infidelity. I found it interesting though that the same cast of social rebels in my philosophy programs who worshipped Nietzsche worshipped Heidegger as well, a confessed Roman Catholic.

    As time progressed, I began honing my thought. I wrote two articles for Internet Infidels.com, which has become a hub for atheism on the web, one on the emotionalism of worship and the other on the incongruity of Jewish rabbinic interpretation in midrash.

    So what was the event that brought me back to God? I would say a series of things. Over time, I started feeling that so much of the bluster in atheism relied too heavily on a realm of apprehension that Paul might have said we are “seeing through a glass darkly.” Was I willing to base my entire existence on my own rational faculties given the possiblity that I might be lost forever? Did I thoroughly conquer the world intellectually to make the religious experience completely null and void? I started flirting with religious literature again, but was not committed to its propositions. I was certainly not going to church. I used to laugh at the philosophy students in class who held a palsied monotheistic view of God. They were simple-minded. But then I found the writings of William Lane Craig. For the first time, I was seeing a Christian intellectual who was laying claim the faculty of reason, that Christianity could have a reasoned defense. I was intrigued. I started finding a whole network of Christian intellectuals. It opened my eyes because so many religious supplicants, in my estimation, just accepted things on the base of secondhand witness. I started devouring Craig’s thought and his defenses of the resurrection. I watched his debates, I read from his detractors, and I took in his responses. What I found was that there is a viable Christian witness that is not exclusive to experiential knowledge of the individual. This represented a turning point and I became inclined to start considering Christianity again based on the intellectual claims. The turn itself came in 2004. My then-fiance, who had no appetite for God, was invited to church. After a number of times refusing the same invitation, I finally agreed. And I’ve been serving God ever since.

    As for atheists in general…and I’ve been around a few of them. You only have to look at their lives. Here you have (for the most part) an entire movement of people, which Nietzsche even rightly observed, couldn’t exist had it not been for the bane of theism. That is, they cannot define themselves in any meaningful way except as a counterpoint to the proposition of theism. They live to remonstrate. These are generally unhappy people. And debate and anger has a power all its own. Pride is also evident in most of them. Visit the Panda’s Thumb for an hour or so, and just see how they comport themselves. Those who are atheists, many times, have been disappointed by the church or the popular vision of the church in the media. Their intellectual spite comes as an outgrowth of their experiential one. Yet, ask many of them if they’ve truly searched God out in the perscriptive way the bible demands, and if they’re intellectual honest, they’d have to admit they haven’t. They are appalled by the hypocrisy they regularly observe in the church, and so in breaking down the Christian witness and dismantling God, they are creating an “out” for themselves. So that if in fact, there ended up being a God, they would show this being that in their lifetime there was nothing in the evidence this being left of himself in this world that couldn’t be dismantled, in hopes of saving themselves from damnation. By presenting a case that the evidence was bogus, they are justified. This is why I feel it’s a heart issue before it’s an intellectual one.

    Can I prove this? again, depends what are criteria is.

    Did I experience something like this? yes.

    In Christ,

    Trey

    P.S. Every so often, someone reads one of my older articles and the recent retraction statement on the each of them that says “I no longer hold these statements in any meaningful context.” They ask me the same thing you are: what turned you? :)

  • 12 Hugo // Apr 3, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    This sounds typical of a certain kind of church:

    Through series after series of spiritual micromanagement by my leadership, I became convinced that this church did not have my best interests in mind. I would read and was excoriated for my reading. I would make scriptural interpretations and was told I was wrong…as time when on, I grew embittered. In the end, I wanted no part of church, and finally no part of God.

    I’m curious how you feel about the “purity movement”, and Jesus’ challenge to the purity code? I know a church that loads its members with guilt, if their prayers for supernatural intervention don’t work, it’s because they’re not pure and perfect and committed and faithful enough. Never good enough… Now I’m curious, do you go to some effort to try and help out such people? (In a caring way, I’d expect, not the typical Christian in-fighting way?) This is, again, thinking of the future of this blog.

    Was I willing to base my entire existence on my own rational faculties given the possiblity that I might be lost forever?

    It seems your conversion back to Christianity relied somewhat on a fear of hell (well, eternal damnation, anyway). What would Christianity have to offer someone without a fear of hell?

    I don’t suppose you’ve read much McLaren or e.g. Ron Martoia, you seem to go more for the higher intellectual material. I’d probably prefer to do the same, but I’m always on the lookout for material to give other people as well. I attended a talk by Ron Martoia recently. He was discussing this, pointing out that the “good news! you’re going to hell. here’s the solution…” isn’t good news to most people, and not the primary message of Jesus. “Yes, that too, but let’s talk about the kingdom…” I think I should probably read that as well, so that I can recommend it to people that are too hell-focused. But yea, that’s my opinion.

    Now about your appraisal of atheists… in part, I’m writing this for “atheists”: Yes, there’s the formal definition of “without a belief in God”, etc etc., whereby many Buddhists would also be atheists, and non-theists, agnostics, secular humanists, etc. would all be “atheists”. I don’t think this is what Trey is responding to though. (Trey, correct me if I’m wrong.) Often, the people that publicly flaunt the “atheist” label are those that have a particular kind of approach and attitude towards theism. The “Out Campaign” aims to dilute this group by including “everyone that doesn’t believe in God”, in order to fight the kind of stereotype/stigma atheism has, exhibited in Trey’s comments for example. I understand the plight of the atheist, I agree that being discriminated against isn’t good, but I remain undecided about my opinion about the “out campaign”. I choose to be naive enough to think “they’re just diluting a label, what’s the point?” At times I let myself be less naive, I do realise that that’s the whole point:

    Why The “A” Word Won’t Go Away

    The point of that article is that the label won’t leave, pointing out it’s going to be necessary to de-stigmatise it.

    Personally, I don’t care for labels. I’ve found my perspectives seem to be quite incompatible with any label I choose, especially depending on who you talk to. Labels mean different things to different people in different cultures. The internet makes it even tougher, mixing together South African and European audiences… For the sake of this discussion, you can think of me as a post-Christian with a humanist outlook? Yuck, what a label.

    Anyway, moving on, Kenneth, I saw it called “The Way” elsewhere. I think that’s probably the best translation (from the… Greek?) then. (This is in the context of: the early Christians didn’t have the “Christian” label, they considered themselves “people of The Way”.)

  • 13 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 3, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    After a “born again” experience in 1995, the likes of which I’d never experienced before, I soon became involved in a church. My entire thought process changed instanteously. If a person ever wanted to tag something “supernatural” then this would be it. I’ve seen other supernatural manifestations that I’d be hard pressed to call coincidence as well.

    I have no doubt that you had what you call a born-again experience. I have had experiences that I would describe as mind-blowing, revelatory or paradigm-shifting. What I would question is the source of this experience. You think it is God. I think it is a byproduct of the way the brain works.

    I was set on destroying the witness I once cherished. I began challenging social systems. I remember cheating on my girlfriend in college and justifying it by the fact that cultural morals are nothing more but inventions of our own making.

    I am sympathetic to your story. I am sure you agree that is immensely emotionally disturbing to let go of such a cherished idea as a God. It seems you have gone to a lot of trouble to try and find meaning in your life. For you, apparently, that meaning is Christianity. I would agree with your statement that cultural morals are things of human creation. It most certainly doesn’t mean they are any less valid or relevant, or the effects thereof any less damaging or virtuous.

    Here you have (for the most part) an entire movement of people, which Nietzsche even rightly observed, couldn’t exist had it not been for the bane of theism.

    A movement? The expression herding cats comes to mind! And how can you say the lack of belief in God(s) wouldn’t exist if theism didn’t exist? I wouldn’t believe in God if there was no such concept, because there would be no such concept!

    That is, they cannot define themselves in any meaningful way except as a counterpoint to the proposition of theism.

    Hmmm…which theism? I would say that atheists prefer not to describe themselves in terms of any particular religious meaning. They find other meanings in life. The religious/irreligious thing has no context.

    Visit the Panda’s Thumb for an hour or so, and just see how they comport themselves.

    I know the Panda’s Thumb very well. Some of the most prolific posters are devout Christians. I have seen snide/irritated/sarcastic/furious posts from posters across the religious spectrum. Similarly, I happen to know many atheists, and they are on average no more or less happy than are the Christians/Muslims/Jews of my experience.

    So that if in fact, there ended up being a God, they would show this being that in their lifetime there was nothing in the evidence this being left of himself in this world that couldn’t be dismantled, in hopes of saving themselves from damnation.

    So this is kind of a reverse Pascals Wager, is it not? I don’t quite follow the logic though. If they found evidence that God exists, why would they want to dismantle that evidence? Surely it would be one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever?

    I find that the reasoning of your argument rests on the assumption that such a thing as God actually exists. If you could show that there is evidence for a God in this universe, then I would most certainly find your argument convincing. Can you? If he doesn’t exist, then all rationalising on the subject is moot.

    By presenting a case that the evidence was bogus, they are justified. This is why I feel it’s a heart issue before it’s an intellectual one.

    Aaaaah, I’m with you now. But if the evidence is bogus, then you agree that they are justified?

  • 14 Trey // Apr 3, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    As Soren Kierkegaard pointed out: The first Christian was not Christ….

    Yes, “the way” was the descriptive term we receive for the first church formed in Antioch, about 300 miles north of Jerusalem. We find this in Acts. There were no attempts to formalize the movement at the time. One of the main rationales given for this was that Christianity was very much an apocalyptic movement. The return of Christ was an imminent reality. Thus, even in Paul’s epistles to Thessalonians, there is a strong sense of urgency to Christ’s soon return. So there would be no reason to “pitch earthly tents” if you believed your king was returning immediately. This is why so much of the church in the first four centuries gradually gets comfortable with the idea that maybe we might be here for a while. This is why so much of the orthodox position is reactive against the heterodoxy which tended to be more proactive in its approach to publishing its claims.

    I got a little lost in your commentary, but yes, my point was I’m speaking to a certain kind of atheist, the offspring of the Age of Reason, not to those of traditional Eastern religions of a non-monotheistic persuasion.

    As for hell…was I scared back into Christianity? I don’t think so. For me the picture was totalizing. You can’t claim to be an atheist and have a fear of hell. Like David Hume said when he was once asked about the afterlife. [I'm paraphrasing here] “I don’t think it matters anymore than the time before I was born.” So annihilationism is the position of a true atheist. There is no afterlife. Your matter is simply deposited into the universe never to return or reconstitute. Consciousness is destroyed. Everything is lost.

    Now, were I to entertain the thought of hell, this might show there was leftover residue of a theological upbringing. Was there some of that still there? I think for a time I was able to “kill it off.” But when I started pondering the question of God, hell would reemerge. I find hell to be a very necessary understanding of the theological package. I think there are rational arguments for a theology that supports hell. I think people that are opposed to hell don’t “like” the suggestion, but they don’t believe the argument is rationally flawed. Further, I just can’t find, and I’ve tried to scrub the scriptures, how hell is a metaphor. Perhaps, we debate the descriptive nature of it, but even on a metaphorical level it clearly means separation from God. That should be enough to cause concern. To be honest, this isn’t one of my main concentrations, so I don’t want to come off like a scholar, but I think we do have good evidence that such a place, whatever it’s description, is a metaphysical reality, and not just a metaphor, state of mind, or temporary incarceration period outside time and space.
    Interesting the Barna Group released a study a few years back. The results said in upwards of 85% of the population believe in life after death. Something like 60-70% (I have the exact numbers at home) believed in hell. But only less than 3% believed they were going there! Ironic.

    BTW, I was “saved” i.e., I recognized God’s love through a street preacher that was speaking about hellfire and brimstone while I was a secular DJ on route to a club where I spun records. I don’t think hell is at all inconsistent with a loving God. This, btw, is one of my main areas of interest: soteriology in Christian particularism.

  • 15 Trey // Apr 3, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    After a “born again” experience in 1995, the likes of which I’d never experienced before, I soon became involved in a church. My entire thought process changed instanteously. If a person ever wanted to tag something “supernatural” then this would be it. I’ve seen other supernatural manifestations that I’d be hard pressed to call coincidence as well.

    I have no doubt that you had what you call a born-again experience. I have had experiences that I would describe as mind-blowing, revelatory or paradigm-shifting. What I would question is the source of this experience. You think it is God. I think it is a byproduct of the way the brain works.

    Well, I guess at that point we would have to dig deeper and ask to what effect it truly had in your life. Here, I understand, we are talking with much inexactitude, but this wasn’t merely a “mind-blowing” experience. It was a paradigm shift. And understanding this, it meant a radicial re-orientation to everything I did and how I did it. And the change was instanteous. Funny, I blunted it out when I fell away from the faith for ten years. The time I recommitted and with all sincerity, it was at that very moment that the “same exact thing happened.” I have had other revelatory experiences in my life. I have yet to duplicate these two. Now, you say. Well this might just be a byproduct of the way the brain works. I have no problem with this statement. What is missing in this statement however is the fact that is a reaction to the information that changed me, not the information itself. So that, God would indeed produce such a change in the creature, and that change, it is logically possible, would be felt physiologically. Is the change though, I think you’d ask next, evidence of the truth of the claim. To this I would have to say “yes.” But we don’t have a way of empirically validating this change? And I would say “yes” – the tools empiric validation might account for brainwave patterns (such as in near death experiences) but it would hardly get at the truth claim itself. This is why faith fills in the gaps that reason leaves behind.

    I was set on destroying the witness I once cherished. I began challenging social systems. I remember cheating on my girlfriend in college and justifying it by the fact that cultural morals are nothing more but inventions of our own making.

    I am sympathetic to your story. I am sure you agree that is immensely emotionally disturbing to let go of such a cherished idea as a God. It seems you have gone to a lot of trouble to try and find meaning in your life. For you, apparently, that meaning is Christianity. I would agree with your statement that cultural morals are things of human creation. It most certainly doesn’t mean they are any less valid or relevant, or the effects thereof any less damaging or virtuous.

    I would have to disagree with you on the point of morality. I used to hold a staunch existential bent toward subjective morality. But I tend to believe that there is a moral objectivity built into the universe. How that is meted out is another story all together. By, objective morality I mean something that would remain true independent of our apprehension. My brother-in-law is a staunch atheist (it’s like looking into a mirror ten years ago). He tries to hold a position that there is no God and there are also objective morals. I think this is a strange marriage of ideas (not, of course, what you are suggesting). I would say that there is plenty of evidence of morality, enough, that even in the imprecisions of defining what is and is not moral shows that there is a very language that speaks to the universal nature of the moral experience. Another topic…another time :)

    Here you have (for the most part) an entire movement of people, which Nietzsche even rightly observed, couldn’t exist had it not been for the bane of theism.

    A movement? The expression herding cats comes to mind! And how can you say the lack of belief in God(s) wouldn’t exist if theism didn’t exist? I wouldn’t believe in God if there was no such concept, because there would be no such concept!

    Ok, I’ll try to be more clear here. Nietzsche felt that atheists spend so much time debunking theism that they have little time defining what it is they are to be doing. This self-made purpose he called the ubermensch mentality. And I see this all the time: atheists are completely preoccupied with theism. Why not consider it a “necessary evil” and go about defining themselves? Theism, btw, is hardly a reaction to unbelief! It’s the positive affirmation that God created material reality and there is a design and thus teleology. On the other hand, atheism is a reaction to theism. It is thus apophatic in scope. I would revisit the Panda again :)

    That is, they cannot define themselves in any meaningful way except as a counterpoint to the proposition of theism.

    Hmmm…which theism? I would say that atheists prefer not to describe themselves in terms of any particular religious meaning. They find other meanings in life. The religious/irreligious thing has no context.

    I answered this above.

    Visit the Panda’s Thumb for an hour or so, and just see how they comport themselves.

    I know the Panda’s Thumb very well. Some of the most prolific posters are devout Christians. I have seen snide/irritated/sarcastic/furious posts from posters across the religious spectrum. Similarly, I happen to know many atheists, and they are on average no more or less happy than are the Christians/Muslims/Jews of my experience.

    Understood. I’m not saying theists are the most gentile bunch. We should be! We’re representing Christ after all. But we bungle. What I am suggesting, on the whole, is that there is tremendous vitroil. Even when theists tip toe into Panda’s Thumb, for example, Sal Cordova, and he was passing accolades along to an atheist he knows, he was being routinely lambasted and his motives were called into question. I think, as an experience, and having been on both sides of the fence, my experience has been that atheists are an embittered and angry lot, and have not taken the time to do some soul searching…this is a generalization. Generalization are not always wrong, they are built for comparative purposes :)

    So that if in fact, there ended up being a God, they would show this being that in their lifetime there was nothing in the evidence this being left of himself in this world that couldn’t be dismantled, in hopes of saving themselves from damnation.

    So this is kind of a reverse Pascals Wager, is it not? I don’t quite follow the logic though. If they found evidence that God exists, why would they want to dismantle that evidence? Surely it would be one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever?

    The point was there’s a deep psychological net to save themselves. If this creator exists and they wake up from death to find themselves in this being’s presence, they can levy against the evidence for God that the world was a messed up mudball, that the evidence was not strong, and they are justified in their unbelief. That was the point. That’s why atheists have an obsessive focus (imo) on theism. By proving it wrong, they free themselves up to live as they please, and, at the end of all things, if this being, happens to rear it’s ugly head, they built enough of a case against it, that this creator would have to let them off the hook of eternal damnation and admit that he didn’t do a good enough job making himself known.

    I find that the reasoning of your argument rests on the assumption that such a thing as God actually exists. If you could show that there is evidence for a God in this universe, then I would most certainly find your argument convincing. Can you? If he doesn’t exist, then all rationalising on the subject is moot.

    Of course, this all depends what you consider evidence? Do you mean mathematical evidence? Do you want empirical evidence? There’s plenty of that.. Do you mean scientific verificationism. See the problem, Ken, is not that there isn’t evidence, the problem is for most staunch atheists they don’t believe that the evidence obtains to the criteria of “proof positive.” They just don’t like the evidence being presented. To this end, I would add that there HAS TO BE an element of faith. Not blind, reflexive faith, but faith that does take to task the “evidence” and says this is the best explanation for God. Evidence, for example of the fine-tuning of the universe, the properties of water, the symbiotic nature of relationships in the wild, big bang cosmology, the objective moral and aesthetic dimensions, the reliability of the senses, consciousness from inorganic material, etc.

    Future, a lot of it is just a prejudice to the evidence (on both sides). I think some atheist arguments are good, btw. But an example of prejudice might be modern physics. In physics all sorts of nonobservable data is posited all the time for observable phenomenon, but this doesn’t get the type of scrutiny theology might.

    By presenting a case that the evidence was bogus, they are justified. This is why I feel it’s a heart issue before it’s an intellectual one.

    Aaaaah, I’m with you now. But if the evidence is bogus, then you agree that they are justified?

    I think they would be, if it weren’t for the criteria the Christian worldview affronts: namely, faith. Atheists conveniently leave this out, or caricature it to the point that faith is the blindman’s excuse for non-rationality. I think there is a middle ground. If God made himself entirely visible, what need for faith? But does this require “blind faith”? Hardly. And I think the scriptures tell us to look at the world and the way it operates and to come to the conclusion that God is at the center of it all. That is hardly irrationalism.

  • 16 Trey // Apr 3, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Sorry Hugo. I realized I never answered you on the “purity movement.” It’s an interesting concept. I’ve never heard of it quite in those terms. From what you describe, it sounds a little like Charles Finney’s perfectionism.

    It does seems to allow the same kind of rebuke which reverberates in prosperity preaching, a large sub-movement of the charismatic church. That is, if you’re not experiencing the blessing of riches and wealth then you’re faith is inadequate. The greater degree of faith you possess the more God lavishes on you. Pastors like Creflo Dollar preach this, and he’s often flanked by guys like Benny Hinn.

    Yes, the church I attended was extremely heavy handed. So getting away from it, actually made me more sympathetic towards them in the end. I’ve watched tremendous growth in that church. I would say much of this earlier attitude went unchecked, but it was perpetrated by well-meaning, though overzealous, Christians at times.

  • 17 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 3, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    And I see this all the time: atheists are completely preoccupied with theism.

    If I know I have a few minutes to explain, I call myself a naturalist. Hardly anyone knows what that means without an explanation.

    Up until my 30s, I avoided the whole topic of religion like the plague. It was only after Bush’s election and 9/11 that I thought the pain of talking about religion was exceeded by the pain of leaving religion unchallenged.

    Trey, if you haven’t already, you should contact the person who runs the Asymmetry of Deconversion Website. There are very few Christians who can point to former writings like you can.

  • 18 Trey // Apr 3, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    Most Christians just don’t care, to be honest. Even in my church, they see me as a sort of anomaly. They are contented in their faith. They’re not called to be theologians, and I’m fine with that (most of the time). Still, in my own bible group, we have an accountant, a mechanical engineer, an environmental engineer, a data software analyst, and some others. These aren’t the dregs of society. :)They’re not particularly bothered by challenges, whereas I am. I feel we need to confront the challenges, and in that sense I’m certainly not being dismissive of those who don’t believe in God. Rather, I’m taking their arguments seriously and taking them seriously. That’s why I find atheists like Dawkins displeasing because he thinks the question of God is so absurd that it doesn’t deserve serious consideration. He’s probably the most popular out there now. I just don’t dismiss atheists as an unsorted bunch.

    Consequently, there’s a new group of people (kind of impartialists) who say the question of God existing or not is worthless and don’t even want to be bothered about. Far from a new group, I think this explains the atittudes of many in popular culture… :)

    Back to the point of Christians not being theologians: I recall what Paul said: (forgive the KJV) For you see your calling brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called…

    It’s an interesting observation if you decide to take it seriously (which I do). Namely, Paul is suggesting that those of great intellectual ability are generally NOT persuaded by a message that would be perceive to “soften” their intellectual powers! Too much to give up. Paul, I think, is making an observation (generalization) into the heart of man. This is one of the few places in scripture (I’m aware of) that Paul is spelling out the gravitas of pride in the heart of man. It’s not just riches and great material wealth that corrupt, but one’s own reckoning of one’s abilities. It’s why so many can’t overcome themselves. John goes on to explain that pride is one of the three sins we see grounded in the world.

    Surprisingly, Ben, my views tend to go to the left on social issues more than the right. I think Christians who align themselves with the Republican party have way too long abandoned the social work we’re all called to, namely “lifting up the heads that hang” and the charge given directly to Paul by the Apostles at Jerusalem to “remember the poor.”

    I did visit the site you suggested. I would rather not weigh in. I don’t want to become a case study. But thanks for the thought! :)

  • 19 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 3, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    That’s why I find atheists like Dawkins displeasing because he thinks the question of God is so absurd that it doesn’t deserve serious consideration.

    Heh. I think he gives it too much consideration.

    But, in any case, I’ll make the same request I made elsewhere:

    “Starting from:

    1. I desire to have my beliefs about reality be accurate

    Does anyone know of a book, article, or website that makes the case for methods of arriving at accurate beliefs, and then shows how these methods lead to belief in a deity ? I’m looking for something in the manner of Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism by Richard Carrier, if anyone has ever read that.”
    http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=24930092&sort=whole#25819893

    That particular request lead me to read Norman Geisler’s Christian Apologetics. I didn’t think much of it. Is there anything better?

    Surprisingly, Ben, my views tend to go to the left on social issues more than the right.

    That doesn’t surprise me. My guess was that you would be a liberal Christian, based on the background you gave. I already know that far from all Christians are GW clones.

    I would rather not weigh in. I don’t want to become a case study. But thanks for the thought!

    Up to you, of course, but I think you should at least let the author know of your existence even if you don’t want to answer questions. Otherwise the data is lacking (slanted toward ‘my side’, but I’m not that intellectually dishonest.)

    I looked through the authors index at infidels.org and couldn’t find any authors in the modern library with a first name of Trey. Were you in the library or the kiosk? I’m curious to read what you wrote.

  • 20 Trey // Apr 3, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    I used to write under “Frank S. Palmisano III” – my birth name :) You’ll find it under that. It’s not my best writing, though :/

    Some guy, a few years back, cribbed my entire work on emotionalism, and put it into his book. I was honored to be alongside some big names in atheism, that is, if I knew he was doing it!!!!

    Never caught up with the guy, but the time I went looking for it again, the website had vanished.

    I’m actually pretty conservative in my theology. Liberal in the sense that most liberals care about issues like the poor. I would be labeled (I think) a “progressive christian” in the vein of the magazine Soujourners, althought I take a pretty strong supernaturalist view and don’t believe to effectively use the gospel Christians need to infect all levels of government.

    In regard to reading Geisler, it depends what level of apologetics you want to do. Do you want popular apologetics (McDowell), emotional apologetics (Charles Stanley), or do you prefer your apologetics extremely detailed?

    I would throw out names like Craig, Wright, Burridge, Strauss, Evans, Moreland, etc. Start with William Lane Craig. He’s a rare avis, thoughtful writer and a serious theologian. He also comes from a background and a family that didn’t know God or care about the question. He’s not only competent in theology but does a lot of work in the tensed theory of time, Islamic philosophy, and the theory of relativity (special and general). He studied under Wolfhart Pannenberg who was a student of Karl Barth. He’s one of the more well-rounded Christian intellectuals. Try “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics” (1994) by William Lane Craig, available through Amazon.

    If you’re looking at the resurrection account alone as an apologetics statement, refer to my earlier post and go with N.T. Wright.

    BTW, Antony Fleu, a once-famous atheist, is now a converted agnostic. Don’t know what this means, but he expresses that the question of God is at least thinkable and acknowledges it.

  • 21 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 3, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    What I don’t want is a book that primarily defends conclusions. I want a book that details ‘this is how we’ve learned we can reduce our ignorance, and when we reduce our ignorance in this fashion, we learn that (some form of Supernaturalism) is true.’

    Start with William Lane Craig. He’s a rare avis, thoughtful writer and a serious theologian.

    I’ve read some Craig. He’s awful, IMO.

    Try “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics” (1994) by William Lane Craig, available through Amazon.

    From the reviews, that is exactly the kind of book I don’t want.

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/chris_hallquist/faith.html

    …By contrast, apologetics evidently aims to do more than simply summarize the evidence that convinced Constantine of the truth of Christianity. Because religious beliefs are rarely embraced after a dispassionate survey of all the relevant evidence, many people implicitly recognize that such beliefs were not reached on entirely rational grounds. In light of this, then, what apologetics evidently aims to do is bolster people’s confidence in such beliefs or help them defend them when debating others.

    All of this may seem like overextrapolation from a brief passage that one might be tempted to chalk up to sloppy language on Craig’s part. However, the next chapter provides abundant evidence that his project aims to provide arguments for foreordained conclusions.

    …In the first chapter Craig addresses the relationship between faith and reason, explaining first that, on his view, Christian belief is grounded not in reason, but in the witness of the Holy Spirit. In accusing all unbelievers of willfully rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit, he denies the very possibility that one could come to unbelief through reasoned argument:

    “[W]hen a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.”

  • 22 Hugo // Apr 4, 2008 at 3:53 am

    Heh, too much to read! Too much to keep up with! ;)

    Trey writes:

    That’s why atheists have an obsessive focus (imo) on theism. By proving it wrong, they free themselves up to live as they please, and, at the end of all things, if this being, happens to rear it’s ugly head, they built enough of a case against it, that this creator would have to let them off the hook of eternal damnation and admit that he didn’t do a good enough job making himself known.

    Trey, in your opinion, what is it that atheists want to do? In what way do they want to “live as they please”?

    You know you are generalising, of course. And I know you know, so I should probably not tackle you for it. However, I do dislike implications that atheists are immoral. I suggest you may be projecting your own “atheistic persona” onto other atheists? My own sense of morality is really quite separate from my metaphysical outlook.

    And what difference does it make whether someone calls the source of their morality “God” or not? If the Christian considers God the source of all morality, then every person behaving morally “knows God”, whether their metaphysics is theistic or not. The atheist then doesn’t believe in a God that interferes in a supernatural fashion, while the theist does. So my question becomes again, does it really matter whether you believe in supernatural miracles or not?

    Marcus Borg (Reading the Bible Again for the First Time):

    A further result: Christianity in the modern period became preoccupied with the dynamic of believing or not believing. For many people, believing “iffy” claims to be true became the central meaning of Christian faith. It is an odd notion – as if what God most wants from us is believing highly problematic statements to be factually true. And if one can’t believe them, then one doesn’t have faith and isn’t a Christian.

    (BTW, CS Lewis argued from morality in “Mere Christianity”. That’s actually next on the “schedule” of “Book Exodus” posts… gotta get to that soon.)

  • 23 Trey // Apr 4, 2008 at 5:29 am

    I find this usually happens when I visit a blog and plumb a traditionalist point of view, I get a multi-layered conversation with multiple players asking me everything from why is the sky blue to what is the atomic weight of uranium to what did you eat yesterday :P….I’m joking fellas!

    So I don’t get too exhausted here, I’ll try answer some of this where I can. I don’t pretend to be an answer man, but I’ll try to articulate my points to be brief.

    Ben,

    If I understand you right, you want a survey book on what it is Apologetics is about and how it’s been used historically, not an actual in which a person of faith is using apologetics to reach a conclusion. I think this is what I understand. I think any survey book might be helpful, but I’m not sure it will bring about the results you wish. For educational purposes, it might be interesting, and off the top of my head, I can’t think of a good one.

    Your reviewer by way of IF writes:

    By contrast, apologetics evidently aims to do more than simply summarize the evidence that convinced Constantine of the truth of Christianity. Because religious beliefs are rarely embraced after a dispassionate survey of all the relevant evidence, many people implicitly recognize that such beliefs were not reached on entirely rational grounds. In light of this, then, what apologetics evidently aims to do is bolster people’s confidence in such beliefs or help them defend them when debating others.

    Now I don’t know what the “by contrast” refers to, but I think he has his definitions wrong. Apologetics has always been an active defense of the faith, thus the word “apologia.” A survey of apologetics (which I think you want) is entirely different and treats the subject matter without “passing judgment.”

    By rational grounds, if he means Enlightenment rationality, then such a concept would be unknown and completely anachronistic; thus his argument is just bluster. Ancient peoples would hardly not be “rational.” There were plenty of skeptics in ancient times who weren’t held captive to mythology. I can think of Porphyr, Celsus, and Tacitus for example. Celsus famously accused Origen of Alexandria that Christians are told “not to examine, just believe.” Sound familar? Rational inquiry is not something that came about in the Age of Reason.
    I don’t want to further take his thought process apart, but I think you discredit Craig too quickly. He’s obviously doing the work of apologetics and this is completely in keeping with the dynamics of apologetics. But this is not what you want, so I understand. But, he’s one of the best and his defenses are pretty much at the forefront of modern day apologetics, so he’s a good one to read. I don’t know why you think he’s “awful,” but most atheists who have read him at least give him the credit of being one of the better defenders of the faith, even if they disagree…I’ve heard this a number of times.

    The other obvious problem with your reviewer’s analysis (and like many atheists), he fails to address the content of Christianity. Like most claims in religions, we can’t forget we’re basing the reality of the Christian witness not on reason alone, but on faith. The fact that Christians have traditionally been willing to defend their faith on the grounds of rational thought doesn’t hold it captive to that mode of discourse. If you do not allow a place for supernaturalism in the discourse (even if you disagree with its reality) then the arguments can only go so far. I think if you dislike Craig it would be on the grounds of this last paragraph, perhaps. But again, what he’s doing there is making a theological observation, consistent with the revelation in scripture, about those who choose not to believe. Of course, if you’re an atheist you’d be offended and outrightly reject such a characterization. But if you understand the framework whereby he’s making the judgment, then it shouldn’t be a problem, only you disagree with the conclusion.

    Again, I don’t know the context of this review, but from what I read, it’s the type of reaction I’d most definitely expect. You’re going to the Internet Infidels to get your review first of all :)
    Second, Craig is obviously not intended his audience to be atheists at this point. Do you think someone who does this for a living would say to a person who doesn’t even accept the reality of God “hey, your problem Mr. unbeliever is you reject the wooing of the Holy Spirit.” Come on! If I were an atheist I’d laugh in his face cause I’d reject both the language and the implication he was making. Craig is involved in debates almost every month with atheists. This is the kind of empty observation an untrained or unprofessional theologian would make. I’m sure if we looked at these pages and read the book, the context would be apparent. :)

  • 24 Trey // Apr 4, 2008 at 5:49 am

    Hi Hugo,

    Thanks for the questions. I’ll try to answer them as best I can:

    Trey, in your opinion, what is it that atheists want to do? In what way do they want to “live as they please”?

    What I was going for here was what I think is a theological representation of the problem. Namely, atheists don’t want to be saddled with eternal responsibility or owe obligation to any eternal being. To “live as they please” means not to be burdened with a laundry list of “rights” and “wrongs” and they most definitely want to blunt the guilt associated with living in ways that would be considered morally questionable.

    Do I think atheism should have a program? I think Nietzsche might have come close to it, but let’s be frank. I’ve read a lot of Nietzsche. Nietzsche was anything but the ideas he propounded. Nietzsche lived like a coward and was a sniveling bootlicker (yeah, I know the wording sounds harsh) but it’s clear that Wagner completely took advantage of the poor guy. And his ubermensch fantasy might as well have been an outgrowth of his own anger. What about Camus or Sartre? Well, Camus killed himself, so apparently he put his money where his mouth is. Sartre. I liked his writing. Loved his play on hell. Do I see a praxis in his theory? not really. So for me, much of atheism was unsatisfying even when I was trying to find my meaning in it. So God is dead, I would think, as Nietzsche said. Ok, what do we do with this knowledge now? Apparently, the modern answer has been: you keep burying him!

    Hugo writes:

    However, I do dislike implications that atheists are immoral. I suggest you may be projecting your own “atheistic persona” onto other atheists? My own sense of morality is really quite separate from my metaphysical outlook.

    Well, I certainly didn’t mean for it to come across this way. Far from being immoral, I think atheists may be VERY moral. Again, my brother, who is an atheist republican (imagine this!) has a strong sense of civic duty. So I don’t think I’m claiming that to be an atheist you will act immorally. On the contrary. If history has shown us anything, it’s that Christians can be the ones who are immoral in many instances! The claim I would want to make that unless morality is grounded in God, it’s ultimately worthless because with the concept of morality comes the concept of duty and obligation, all of which must be created and if the ground of such values are in human invention, then they, like human beings are mere contingencies and are perishable and have no true staying power outside the immediate historical presence of their creation.

    Hugo writes:

    And what difference does it make whether someone calls the source of their morality “God” or not? If the Christian considers God the source of all morality, then every person behaving morally “knows God”, whether their metaphysics is theistic or not. The atheist then doesn’t believe in a God that interferes in a supernatural fashion, while the theist does. So my question becomes again, does it really matter whether you believe in supernatural miracles or not?

    I think it makes a world of difference if your understanding of morality includes obligation, which of course it must. Think about it: what could it possible mean, if I make the statement “rape is wrong?” without imposing an obligation? But obligation to whom? Another person? Why am I obligated to treat another person in such way? Because the community tells me to? But what if raping a beautiful woman maximizes my pleasure, so what about hers! So you see, even the obligatory factor is completely grounded in the individual’s realm of apprehension or dictated by the community. But communities change. People change. However, if you ground moral obligation in an eternal lawmaker (such as God) well then your obligation makes a world of sense now! There are real consequences.

    Sorry, I didn’t follow your Borg quote, but I would agree with him if he’s saying much of the church’s preoccupation in the modern era has been as Jesus quoted to “strain at gnats and swallow camels.” :)

  • 25 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 4, 2008 at 5:56 am

    Like most claims in religions, we can’t forget we’re basing the reality of the Christian witness not on reason alone, but on faith.

    To put it politely, faith is just bad reasoning.

    I base my opinion of Craig on his debate with Ehrman and his defense of the kalam cosmological argument, both of which are awful.

  • 26 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 4, 2008 at 9:12 am

    I got a little lost in your commentary, but yes, my point was I’m speaking to a certain kind of atheist, the offspring of the Age of Reason, not to those of traditional Eastern religions of a non-monotheistic persuasion.

    Fine, I can work with that definition.

    This is why faith fills in the gaps that reason leaves behind.

    OK. The problem here is, if a Catholic/Hindu/Wiccan had a faith that fills in gaps in reasoning, its arguably not the same faith as the one you have to fill those same gaps. Which one is true then?

    Ok, I’ll try to be more clear here. Nietzsche felt that atheists spend so much time debunking theism that they have little time defining what it is they are to be doing.

    Hmmm…I’m not certain this is true. I can envisage a scenario where an atheist continues to test his/her ex-religion due to emotional baggage etc. etc., or someone continually testing the claims of religion against reality to see if it has meaning. But most atheists I know don’t spend every waking hour devoted to the cause of debunking theism.

    But I tend to believe that there is a moral objectivity built into the universe.

    As a belief, this is fine. As a potential fact on which to base a major worldview, I find it suspect. Do you have any evidence for such a claim?

    Understood. I’m not saying theists are the most gentile bunch. We should be! We’re representing Christ after all. But we bungle.

    I am complete agreement with you here. My point is that on the whole, I don’t think that the distribution of morality amongst atheists is significantly different from that of Christians/Hindus/Wiccans etc, regardless of how this morality is justified.

    The point was there’s a deep psychological net to save themselves.

    This could just as easily be said of religious folk.

    If this creator exists and they wake up from death to find themselves in this being’s presence, they can levy against the evidence for God that the world was a messed up mudball, that the evidence was not strong, and they are justified in their unbelief. That was the point. That’s why atheists have an obsessive focus (imo) on theism. By proving it wrong, they free themselves up to live as they please, and, at the end of all things, if this being, happens to rear it’s ugly head, they built enough of a case against it, that this creator would have to let them off the hook of eternal damnation and admit that he didn’t do a good enough job making himself known.

    I understand. My point is, if God doesn’t exist, then this reasoning is perfectly justified. One must address the evidence for whether God exists before one can make this particular argument.

    Do you mean mathematical evidence? Do you want empirical evidence? There’s plenty of that..

    I don’t know of a mathematical proof for God’s existence. Do you? Which concept of God is proven by this proof? Could you provide examples of this plentiful empirical evidence of which you speak.

    They just don’t like the evidence being presented.

    Again, I find this to be just as descriptive of religious folks.

    Evidence, for example of the fine-tuning of the universe, the properties of water, the symbiotic nature of relationships in the wild, big bang cosmology, the objective moral and aesthetic dimensions, the reliability of the senses, consciousness from inorganic material, etc.

    The fine tuning of the universe says little more than if the universe were different, so would we be, if we existed at all. What properties of water can be interpreted in a faith context? Symbiosis includes parasitism, competition, predation and other relationships generally consideried morally repugnant. Senses are definitely unreliable in certain contexts. How does this argue for the existence of God?
    What consciousness do you know of that is based on inorganic material?

    In physics all sorts of nonobservable data is posited all the time for observable phenomenon,

    If it is unobserved, how can it be data? Or are you referring to string theory here? There is a massive debate as to whether string theory is even part of science, because we cannot empirically test it using current methods.

    I think they would be, if it weren’t for the criteria the Christian worldview affronts: namely, faith. Atheists conveniently leave this out, or caricature it to the point that faith is the blindman’s excuse for non-rationality.

    Hmmm…I don’t think atheists leave this out. I think they only claim that faith itself is a concept that requires as much scrutiny as the rest of human thought. And after scrutinising it, weighing the evidence for its necessity or not, they find it irrelevant or even harmful as a concept to hold. To atheists, even the concept of faith cannot be held as faith.

  • 27 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 4, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Ben-Jammin said:
    Heh. I think he gives it too much consideration.

    Seconded.

    What I don’t want is a book that primarily defends conclusions. I want a book that details ‘this is how we’ve learned we can reduce our ignorance, and when we reduce our ignorance in this fashion, we learn that (some form of Supernaturalism) is true.’

    I suspect that you won’t find such a book. Or rather, you will find many books that claim to do so, but I don’t know if you will find any that are convincing in their presentation of the evidence. Let me know if you do!

    Trey wrote:
    Namely, atheists don’t want to be saddled with eternal responsibility or owe obligation to any eternal being.

    Hmmm…I find your statement perfectly true, with one addendum: atheists don’t want to be saddled with eternal responsibility or owe obligation to any eternal being that doesn’t exist.I can turn this around, and say Christians don’t want to be saddled with the thought that this life is all we’ve got, and that the only obligation we hold is to ourselves and our fellow man. Neither viewpoint invalidates morality.

    I get the feeling that you think that atheists simply abandon all morality, all obligations to other people, all sense of right and wrong, the moment they abandon God. Am I correct in saying this? Or do you mean, rather, that they abandon all reasons for being moral, but hold onto morality as a kind of security blanket for what they have abandoned? For myself, I don’t see any reason to be any less moral simply because I don’t have obligation to some higher power. I can derive reasons for morality that are entirely devoid of such an assumption.

  • 28 Negate // Apr 4, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Richard Dawkins Said that people don’t take the bible as an absolute example of morals. For example We do not burn witches, or stone people who work on the sabbath, or kill homosexuals as God commanded in the old testament. Moral relativism? Just because someone does not believe in god does not mean he can not distinguish between good and bad? Our morals come from our personal emotions, our parents, our society, and our experiences . This is the main reason why things changed in the new testament, not because god ordered it to, but because society needed it to.

    What is the difference when your family teaches you rape is wrong or the bible teaches you rape is wrong? Countries like Sweden, Denmark and France showed us that deep grounded morals in god is not needed for a society to behave morally. Do pigs or chimps suddenly go out on a genocide spree? No only humans do, the reason is simple, humans get put in situations where they feel obliged to rebel. For me this is not a bad thing, because this is how we discover our nature. We have human morals not god morals.

    An atheist may be able to fashion a system of morals, but you will never be able to explain why that system should be followed, because you already accept an absolute set of morals from god. If gods morals changed from old to the new testament, why do we assume that it would not change again?

    Plato’s Euthyphro. If God holds something to be good if and only if it is good, then there is some standard of good external to God. And if something is good if and only if God holds it to be good, then “good” is completely arbitrary, and rape, murder, theft, blasphemy, genocide, lying, necrophilia, coprophagia, etc. would be good if God favored them, which is absurd.

    How do we know that not even the symbol of god is unmoral? It is in the name of god that healthy minds martyr themselves. God distracts a healthy minds from truth. It can force a healthy mind to vicarious atonement.

  • 29 Hugo // Apr 4, 2008 at 10:00 am

    There’s more that I could pick at, but I’ll try to step out of the conversation. There’s more than enough going on already.

    Kenneth does tackle some of the other things I wanted to address. One of them, the fine-tuning argument: from a reductionistic scientific perspective, it’s the anthropic principle that applies. Our very existence to make observations, is an act of observational selection. We only get to witness the reality in which we exist.

    What theism boils down to for me, is it is a way of relating to the world, the creation. A personified view of creator. Not everyone has a personified view of such things. Yes, there is a measure by which we can say “rape is wrong”. And yes, it is found in relationships with one another. Reductionistic perspective: morality can evolve. Holistically/spiritually: the state of humanity and its sense of morality can be attributed to the “creative force/process”. (Creativity is found in mutation and natural selection as well, as we explore genetic design space as evolving genetic organisms…) Compassion, altruism, cooperation, the golden rule… aspects of humanity. An understanding of humanity’s God, our “belief” in peace and cooperative prosperity. If we ever meet an intelligent alien species, we better hope they “worship the same God”, one of relationship, compassion and mutual understanding, rather than one of war and destruction.

    Predator and prey, or mutually creative beings?

    In physics all sorts of nonobservable data is posited all the time for observable phenomenon, but this doesn’t get the type of scrutiny theology might.

    I do beg to differ, even though I don’t completely understand your words there… Yes, in physics a number of “non-observable” things might be suggested, posited…, in the end, these theories must get tested. They must battle it out amongst one another to find which has the best predictive power, which is the most useful.

    Theology and science is quite different. Theology is much a case of sketching out a particular understanding of a particular human spiritual tradition, a particular way for humanity to relate to it’s God. (Some say it has much to do with philosophy, I think it has more to do with human psychology.) And I’m using “God” absurdly broadly here, referring to all religious/spiritual traditions, even the non-theistic ones. I’m talking about Imago Dei, that divine spark, that thing that makes us uniquely human. (Let’s not talk about “divine sparks” in other primates right now, we have our hands full already.)

    Am I talking abstract philosophical ideas of God here? Does what I write, have any value in debates between atheist and fundamentalists that define God as “a being that interferes supernaturally”? I think what I write may resonate more with moderates and “emerging church” people than with atheists and “fundamentalists”. That’s kinda why I often tend to group those two groups together…

    BTW, Stellenbosch Gemeente (my church, if I can call any church “my church”) focuses on people already within the Judeo-Christian tradition. The people that “find themselves in the same story”. Evangelism is about inspiring people in that tradition to follow The Way, and to encourage social action. Evangelising atheists is pointless — they find themselves in a different story. The most you can do, as a Christian, is invite an atheist to see what the Christian narrative looks like. Their choice if they want to enter into it or not. That kind of apologetics isn’t a case of proofs and evidence. It’s about an invitation to try out a different language, a different story, about the human condition.

    I wonder if I’m being too explicit here. Naah, I’m done with careful diplomatic wording. No time for that anymore. Sorry, this wasn’t supposed to be such a long comment.

  • 30 Hugo // Apr 4, 2008 at 10:10 am

    In response to Negate:

    An atheist may be able to fashion a system of morals, but you will never be able to explain why that system should be followed, because you already accept an absolute set of morals from god. If gods morals changed from old to the new testament, why do we assume that it would not change again?

    An emerging church / McLaren’ish answer… no wait, rather, my “emerging church answer” to that, let’s not blame any other people… would be that human understanding of God changes and develops. The Old Testament sketches out some interesting understandings of God, but there are also multiple voices there. Jesus, in the New Testament, sketched out a radical new understanding of God. And he demonstrated it, hence, the Christians consider Jesus a very incarnation of their God.

    Take that even further, you could argue that Dawkins is sketching out yet another new understanding of God, except that it’s one that says “God doesn’t exist”. I don’t much agree with Dawkins’ views. But my disagreement isn’t necessarily a rational one, it’s a subjective one.

    The Emerging Church conversation has come to the point of re-evaluating our understanding, and letting it evolve/change further. This view would agree “yes, God doesn’t change, and did not ever change, God is an ideal we strive towards, we reach towards, something of which our understanding can grow and improve”. Such perspectives would say we can only understand God by looking at all of humanity in it’s great diversity. I.e. we can learn about God from an atheist. Imago Dei applies to atheists as well, don’t think that the image of God is only found in Christians.

    Bleh. Before I rethink my whole comment, I’m hitting submit.

  • 31 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 4, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Hugo, what is the format for the blockquote thing? I’ve tried it, to no avail.

    …“worship the same God”, one of relationship, compassion and mutual understanding, rather than one of war and destruction.

    Compassion, mutual understanding…they are explainable within an evolutionary rationale, and have evidence to support such a rationale. I get your more spiritual approach, although I don’t agree with it. As a purely speculative exercise, I think any other alien intelligent species that we might meet would most probably have similar concepts, purely because they would have evolved them. A space-faring civilization would be difficult to envisage without cooperation and understanding.

  • 32 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 4, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Dammit. Messed up the tags on that one completely…but I hope you get my drift…

  • 33 Trey // Apr 4, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Hugo said: To put it politely, faith is just bad reasoning.

    I base my opinion of Craig on his debate with Ehrman and his defense of the kalam cosmological argument, both of which are awful.

    Faith isn’t reasoning, so the comparison doesn’t even hold, Hugo. It’s like saying Ice is just bad water. You have to understand the relationship, but there is something different going on. Faith may be BASED on reason.

    Well, I have a copy of that debate and I’ve watched it numerous times. My conclusion was that Ehrman was outclassed by Craig’s arguments. Coming at Craig’s creative attempts to provide mathematical evidence for probability (not evidence for God) and diminish it by saying something to the effect “you’re not going to prove to me God exists by doing math,” to get a rise from the audience is a polite way of saying “I’m completely out of my league here but I’ll say something condescending to make him look bad beause I don’t know Swinburne and I don’t understand his argument.” Just concede the point that you don’t understand the math! It was obvious on many points Ehrman was frazzled and couldn’t keep up. Further Ehrman was baffled that Craig shouldn’t attend to the categories of history, i.e., not allowing supernaturalism to even enter into the explanation. But what is the claim of the resurrection? Precisely, that a supernatural event did occur in history. Throw out the supernaturalism, you lose the event. This seemed to baffle Ehrman time and again. Consequent to the event, Ehrman declined to have the debate transcribed into a book, making some off hand remark about it not benefiting anyone. So Ehrman took Craig serious enough to enjoin him in debate, but not serious enough when he didn’t like the results?

    I guess I’m wondering what you find particular distaste about the kalam cosmological argument. You say “his” defense. Does that mean there’s another defense?

  • 34 Trey // Apr 4, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I’m just going to try to answer what I consider pertinent questions, cause you all are peppering me with a lot. :P

    For Ken:

    OK. The problem here is, if a Catholic/Hindu/Wiccan had a faith that fills in gaps in reasoning, its arguably not the same faith as the one you have to fill those same gaps. Which one is true then?

    I don’t recall this comment being an argument from Christian particularism. Now, we want to shift gears again. I think we’d do much better with more focus. :) BTW, I think it’s wrong to make Catholicism it’s own separate category.

    As a belief, this is fine. As a potential fact on which to base a major worldview, I find it suspect. Do you have any evidence for such a claim?

    Of course, the evidence is all around us! Everything you experience in your day-to-day interactions leads back to moral ground. You may want to deny this and say “but we can’t test this” – of course, you can! Go out, grab a baby, do something horrible, and see the kind of reaction it evokes. The idea of closed community too has proven misguided since the Age of Technology. More and more, we are seeing people in every culture holding the same grounds for moral efficacy. The global village has allowed us to intimately engage other cultures and find very common similarities. You may call to question the way moral issues are meted out in one community as opposed to another, but certainly there is a strong sense of right and wrong in our world, the ground of which points to God.

    I like the comparison to aesthetics. Naturalists claim that the reason we find a woman attractive is because it points back to that woman’s reproductive fitness. There is connection between our attractions and the need to reproduce as a species. Well we certainly know from experience this doesn’t hold true. A person can tell an aesthetic difference between a Margaret Thatcher and a Kim Bassinger. And certainly the reproductive fitness of a big-nosed, buck-toothed woman isn’t in the slightest bit damaged by her looks. Even other women can point to women and say they are beautiful. Now are there aberrations, of course. Do abberations destroy conclusions! Depends how scientific you need to be, and if that’s the case than evolution dies on the vine because it is entirely based upon evidences that infer probability. “It’s probable we came from single-cell organism because we see this, this, and this…”

    I am complete agreement with you here. My point is that on the whole, I don’t think that the distribution of morality amongst atheists is significantly different from that of Christians/Hindus/Wiccans etc, regardless of how this morality is justified.

    And I agree to. But the issue I was articulating wasn’t one of morality, and I think you’re attacking a strawman, because as I already discussed, this was not my position. So arguing against a position you’re claiming I hold is called a “strawman” argument.

    Again, I find this to be just as descriptive of religious folks.

    I agree with you. The point I was simply making is that atheists try to present themselves as objectively neutral, slaves to dogmatic reason, unadultered crusaders of raw, hard, evidence, where (I believe as do many others) they are as susceptible to other personal influences as theists are in theirs.

    My entire psychological critique was not to say that theists are above this kind of foray. Hardly! So I think you missed my point. Rather, I’m saying that atheists aren’t as neutral as they suppose themselves to be.

    The fine tuning of the universe says little more than if the universe were different, so would we be, if we existed at all. What properties of water can be interpreted in a faith context? Symbiosis includes parasitism, competition, predation and other relationships generally consideried morally repugnant. Senses are definitely unreliable in certain contexts. How does this argue for the existence of God?
    What consciousness do you know of that is based on inorganic material?

    The fine tuning argument you quote is actually the “anthropic principle.” John Lessley, a Canadian professor of logic who specializes in this argument makes an excellent case against this. He gives the example of a firing squad. I’ll abbreviate the example: 100 trained marksman train their rifles on you. You close you’re eyes. You hear the orders “ready, aim, fire.” You open you’re eyes. To your amazement, all 100 marksman missed! Now while you shouldn’t be surprised that you’re alive. You SHOULD be surprised that given the scope of their expertise, the close-distant proximity, etc., that they MISSED!

    Plantinga rips into Dawkins on this same dogged point in “The God Delusion,” and if you want to read his review, it’s still available at Books & Culture.

    My other points here are just trailers in the teleological argument. We should be surprised at the tremendous complexity, the initial conditions ascribed to the big bang…so in terms of evidence, I think it takes MORE faith to accept chance and unguided processes than it does to believe a divine creator is responsible, and my opinion is echoed in most of the population around the world, among whom are very well educated, thinking people.

    I get the feeling that you think that atheists simply abandon all morality, all obligations to other people, all sense of right and wrong, the moment they abandon God. Am I correct in saying this?

    Absolutely not! This is not my point. Again, as mentioned before, I think you’re setting up a strawman argument. Let me ask the question, since it’s obvious you’re an atheist. Let’s say religion goes the way of the do do. What should the atheist program be in a world of tremendously social complexity and challenge? How would an engaging atheism hold the hopes of the world in its hand?

    Hmmm…I don’t think atheists leave this out. I think they only claim that faith itself is a concept that requires as much scrutiny as the rest of human thought. And after scrutinising it, weighing the evidence for its necessity or not, they find it irrelevant or even harmful as a concept to hold. To atheists, even the concept of faith cannot be held as faith.

    Faith requires scrutiny? Ok, what kind of scrutiny? And what tools do we use to scrutinize faith?

    What evidence? For faith? How do you weigh evidence if someone tells you he possesses faith? Do you mean evidence of the object of faith or of the faith itself? You lost me.

    I’m not sure most atheists who have been immersed in the religious literature for any time would agree with you. Far from being harmful or irrelevant, the religious life brings great relevance, hope, and acts as buffer against our baser desires to most of the world’s population. In terms of relevance: What atheism contends is that faith is unsubstantiated in the sense that the object of faith doesn’t exist. They would still regard faith as a viable expression of one’s self. So it’s very much relevant to the person that holds it. And as for being harmful: I hope you’re not presuming that the lunatic fringe responses of radical faith groups is representative of the billions of people around the world who live according to the precepts of their religions in peace and act as contributors to their societies? This would certainly be a narrow view that is popularized in the media. I know on a personal level, I was a no good thug who had no intention of cultivating my rationale mind. I was a cheat, a gangbanging rebel, who, when I found Christ, was instanteously and radically transformed.

    In terms of atheistic morality, I’m simply saying: If you believe that morality is nothing more than an inherited, communal trait that is part of social conscience of the community, then it ultimately doesn’t matter how you live. The fact that you recognize this, shows that the foundation is humanity and humanity is just an accident, with no ultimately hope or purpose. So why not live to the fullest, letting all moral considerations pass, or live in such a way as you can get away with the most damage or that which makes you the happiest? Why waste the only life you’ll EVER have on following the herd mentality which is based on nothing more than the accidental emergence of man who is ultimately destined to perish eternally?

  • 35 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 4, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Of course, the evidence is all around us! Everything you experience in your day-to-day interactions leads back to moral ground. You may want to deny this and say “but we can’t test this” – of course, you can! Go out, grab a baby, do something horrible, and see the kind of reaction it evokes. The idea of closed community too has proven misguided since the Age of Technology. More and more, we are seeing people in every culture holding the same grounds for moral efficacy. The global village has allowed us to intimately engage other cultures and find very common similarities. You may call to question the way moral issues are meted out in one community as opposed to another, but certainly there is a strong sense of right and wrong in our world, the ground of which points to God.

    I don’t find this convincing. There are perfectly sound, supported theories that explain human ideas of right and wrong, without any recourse or need for a God figure. You are saying God determines what is right and wrong. I say there is no need for such an insertion into theories of morality.

    Depends how scientific you need to be, and if that’s the case than evolution dies on the vine because it is entirely based upon evidences that infer probability. “It’s probable we came from single-cell organism because we see this, this, and this…”

    So is physics. So is chemistry. So are most court cases. Nevertheless, in such cases the evidence, used statistically, is extremely powerful as an indicator of reality.

    And I agree to. But the issue I was articulating wasn’t one of morality, and I think you’re attacking a strawman, because as I already discussed, this was not my position. So arguing against a position you’re claiming I hold is called a “strawman” argument.

    Apologies if you read my comment as a straw man. I was addressing your viewpoint on how vitriolic and unhappy atheists are. I was trying to point out that they are on average no happier or sadder, no more or less moral, than any other group of human beings.

    I agree with you. The point I was simply making is that atheists try to present themselves as objectively neutral, slaves to dogmatic reason, unadultered crusaders of raw, hard, evidence, where (I believe as do many others) they are as susceptible to other personal influences as theists are in theirs. My entire psychological critique was not to say that theists are above this kind of foray. Hardly! So I think you missed my point. Rather, I’m saying that atheists aren’t as neutral as they suppose themselves to be.

    Well, surprisingly, I agree with you. I don’t think atheists are neutral on many matters. I think that on the whole they represent pretty much the same diversity of viewpoints on a topic as much of the rest of humanity. What atheists can claim is that we can describe and manipulate nature extremely well with the methods and findings of science, that humans have a tremendous proclivity to anthropomorphise and assign purpose where there is none, that we love stories, and therefore, given our understanding of these matters, there is no objective evidence for a God.

    The fine tuning argument you quote is actually the “anthropic principle.” John Lessley, a Canadian professor of logic who specializes in this argument makes an excellent case against this. He gives the example of a firing squad. I’ll abbreviate the example: 100 trained marksman train their rifles on you. You close you’re eyes. You hear the orders “ready, aim, fire.” You open you’re eyes. To your amazement, all 100 marksman missed! Now while you shouldn’t be surprised that you’re alive. You SHOULD be surprised that given the scope of their expertise, the close-distant proximity, etc., that they MISSED!

    Hmmm…I would consider this analogy more appropriate if there were thousands of firing squads, so that we can judge the odds of missing across a distribution of firing squads. That way we can quantify precisely how unusual the odds of surviving such a situation would be. Also, Hugo addressed the anthropic principle argument a few posts ago. It is not the most convincing argument for “specialness”.

    Absolutely not! This is not my point. Again, as mentioned before, I think you’re setting up a strawman argument. Let me ask the question, since it’s obvious you’re an atheist. Let’s say religion goes the way of the do do. What should the atheist program be in a world of tremendously social complexity and challenge? How would an engaging atheism hold the hopes of the world in its hand?

    That we are to enjoy the life we have, because this is it? That we are to harm as little as possible, because we can infer how our actions might harm others? That we would test each and every idea, to see which ones can lead us to such a state? That we not accept dogma without challenging it, to see if it really holds truth? That we exult in the reality that we live in, without having to construct beliefs that have no basis in fact? I cannot speak for others, but for me, that is sufficient.

    Faith requires scrutiny? Ok, what kind of scrutiny? And what tools do we use to scrutinize faith? What evidence? For faith? How do you weigh evidence if someone tells you he possesses faith? Do you mean evidence of the object of faith or of the faith itself? You lost me.

    Very well, an example. A person tells you that he/she has faith that the sky is green. Or that aliens abducted him/her from his/her back garden. Or that transubstantiation/nirvana/the FSM is real. These are claims that can be evaluated against empirical evidence. We can look at the electromagnetic spectrum that comes from the sky. We can look for tread marks of the UFO. We can check for haemoglobin in the bread and wine offered during Eucharist, or look for pasta left behind by his noodly appendage. If there is no evidence for such a claim, then the claim is unproven. By scrutinising and testing the claim, you lay it open to evidence. And based on the evidence, we can make statements as to the objective truth of the claim.

    You might very well say, fine, but there are some things that cannot be evaluated against the evidence. Things that can never be disproven. I agree whole-heartedly. But there are infinitely more things that cannot be evaluated against evidence than there are things that can. How do we choose between these infinitely various claims without any evidence?

    Far from being harmful or irrelevant, the religious life brings great relevance, hope, and acts as buffer against our baser desires to most of the world’s population.

    I know it does. My point is its unnecessary. Atheists don’t need the religious life for relevance, hope or as a buffer against baser desires. You can live a fulfilling life without any recourse to religion.

    Why waste the only life you’ll EVER have on following the herd mentality which is based on nothing more than the accidental emergence of man who is ultimately destined to perish eternally?

    I see you and I agree on our limited period of existence, at least ;-) Hugo, we need smileys!

    I am not certain what you mean by herd mentality. If by this you mean that I am “following the herd of atheism”, then I don’t agree. I test aspects of religion every day. I compare religious people of all flavours to non-religious people, and I see no evidence to say that they are happier/more fulfilled/more moral than I am because they are religious. I test the concept of God, the unprovable assumptions and applied conclusions that purport to support the concept, all the time,and in every case I find religion utterly irrelevant. It holds no worth or comfort that I cannot derive from other, more tangible sources. So why follow it?

  • 36 Hugo // Apr 4, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Trey, this wasn’t me, it was Ben’Jammin:

    “To put it politely, faith is just bad reasoning.”

    I also disagree with that statement, and I think we all have faith. (Do I define faith differently from many atheists then?) Faith in the scientific method, faith in empiricism, faith in your spouse, faith that the bridge that’s going to hold your weight while you cross it. Weak examples maybe, but it gives an idea of how I use the faith word, anyway…

    Kenneth, I fixed your bold tag for you. Blockquote is the same, just replace the single letter “b” in your tags with the word “blockquote”. E.g. <blockquote>This will be blockquoted</blockquote> produces:

    This will be blockquoted

  • 37 Trey // Apr 4, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    I don’t find this convincing. There are perfectly sound, supported theories that explain human ideas of right and wrong, without any recourse or need for a God figure. You are saying God determines what is right and wrong. I say there is no need for such an insertion into theories of morality.

    But you asked for proof as to the objective nature of morality. Depending on your own view of morality (which I don’t actually know – is it culturally conditioned thinking or a biological apparatus), I am convinced that the best explanation for the objective and quantifiable manifestations of morality is directly attributable to God. Also, the real point here is not that we can’t recognize right and wrong. I think we both agree “right” and “wrong” are appreciable values people understand. But we really need to go beyond that. My argument is called a “metaethical” argument, one which challenges the very foundation of what it means to say something is morally right and wrong. So without obligation on a naturalistic view, it doesn’t make sense why I would want to serve others, help others, act in a way that benefits others. Further, if the statement God determines right and wrong is not the best explanation, then the foundation of morality is completely vapid and arbitrary. It’s nothing than what Dawkins would call a “meme.” And I just don’t see evidence of this throughout written human history.

    So is physics. So is chemistry. So are most court cases. Nevertheless, in such cases the evidence, used statistically, is extremely powerful as an indicator of reality.

    Great! Then my argument stands.

    Apologies if you read my comment as a straw man. I was addressing your viewpoint on how vitriolic and unhappy atheists are. I was trying to point out that they are on average no happier or sadder, no more or less moral, than any other group of human beings.

    No problem. Actually, I think you and Hugo both expressed that I was suggesting atheists are morally bankrupt or have more of tendency to be, and I don’t think that is at all the case.

    that humans have a tremendous proclivity to anthropomorphise and assign purpose where there is none…

    I hardly think this is a claim atheists can make based upon the methods available to them, namely the scientific method. Science for example can tell me why a human cries and where the tears originate, but it can hardly tell me why that person is crying!

    that we love stories, and therefore, given our understanding of these matters, there is no objective evidence for a God.

    Well I disagree with your “therefore.” I don’t think the articles of atheism you lay out obtain to a direct correspondence to debunking the existence of God. Science itself never admits to this scope or range of activity. In fact, the scientific method itself is not science. But a set of propositional presuppostions used to engage the natural world. Science simply verifies we have an orderly universe and this agrees with the theistic worldview. It’s when atheists grab on to this information and take it one step farther and try to make claims about the teleological purposes of life that we have problems. This is not science. This is interpretation of the evidence while yields up an equally valid objection in theism.

    Hmmm…I would consider this analogy more appropriate if there were thousands of firing squads, so that we can judge the odds of missing across a distribution of firing squads. That way we can quantify precisely how unusual the odds of surviving such a situation would be. Also, Hugo addressed the anthropic principle argument a few posts ago. It is not the most convincing argument for “specialness”.

    Most firing squads are limited to “tens” of trained sharpshooters. The exaggeration could be a 1000 as well. It makes no difference. The point stands. It still invalidates the reaction we’re supposed to permit by the anthropic principle. As for Hugo, I’m trying my best to keep up with the comments. :)

    That we are to enjoy the life we have, because this is it? That we are to harm as little as possible, because we can infer how our actions might harm others? That we would test each and every idea, to see which ones can lead us to such a state? That we not accept dogma without challenging it, to see if it really holds truth? That we exult in the reality that we live in, without having to construct beliefs that have no basis in fact? I cannot speak for others, but for me, that is sufficient.

    This should really prove to you the inadequacy of atheism. Let’s forget the fact your answers are actually questions (by such admitting, you yourself don’t know), why should my happiness and enjoyment preclude hurting others? When I was in the world before I met Christ I used to feel a sadistic joy in beating up people for no good reason. I didn’t feel the slightest bit of guilt. It was amusement. If everything is subjective, why should I stop?
    As for testing “each and every idea” I think it’s clear that a moral lifestyle is a preferrable lifestyle, and as it is, most of the world, even if they don’t devoutly worship God, believe it to be grounded in the eternal. Why are they wrong and you right? And what could atheism possibly have to offer in place of that? I would also object to your interpretation of “fact.” How are you going to tell someone who believes that they see a supernatural manifestation, who has no prior record of delusional behavior, that their experience isn’t a fact? Funny, when my wife accepted Christ after having the same conversations with her (she had absolutely no appetite for God), we often talk about our born again experiences. It’s amazing the level of clarity with which we can relate now. I hardly thing this is isollated subjectivism.

    I know it does. My point is its unnecessary. Atheists don’t need the religious life for relevance, hope or as a buffer against baser desires. You can live a fulfilling life without any recourse to religion.

    Ken, this wasn’t what you said. You said that, and I quote, “they [atheists] find it irrelevant or even harmful as a concept to hold.” But surely I’ve shown that neither of these objections hold. There are rational people who aren’t diminished rationally and still believe in God. There are people that get ample relevance from their experiences of God, much greater indeed since they understand this life is only a small step in eternity. And finally, it is far from harmful as demonstrated in the billions of believers who hold these beliefs and live productive lives as honorable citizens. If you just agree with me that there is relevance in theism, then there is no debate. You just disagree that the object of that relevance has any ground in reality.

    Also, I didn’t dance around the faith question, I just don’t understand it. And instead of clarifying you moved to an example. If you would clarify what the scrutiny of your previous statements is directed to, I’d be better equipped (I hope :P) to answer.

    But there are infinitely more things that cannot be evaluated against evidence than there are things that can. How do we choose between these infinitely various claims without any evidence?

    Did you mean to say “there are infinitely more material causes that can be evaluated against evidence than there are metaphysical things that can? I’m guessing, but I didn’t understand the question.

    I am not certain what you mean by herd mentality. If by this you mean that I am “following the herd of atheism”, then I don’t agree.

    Nope, just simply an expression for living life unreflectively.

    I test aspects of religion every day. I compare religious people of all flavours to non-religious people, and I see no evidence to say that they are happier/more fulfilled/more moral than I am because they are religious.

    I think this is a faulty premise upon which to base your conclusions. There is nothing in the scriptural canons, certainly not in the major monotheistic religions, that the purpose of life is to be happy. In Christianity, this is amply demonstrated and would take some time to show, though seamlessly. In fact, the areas of the world where Christianity is currently growing the most are places where adherents are experiencing extreme persecution for their faith. Muslim and Hindu extremists are regularly beating, annexing property, and killing Christians for their faith. Man’s whole purpose in life is to “fear God and keep his Commandments.” There is nothing in the great axiomatic examples that suggest our purpose is to strive for happiness in this life. And yet, given what we’d think would be obvious, we’re told to take pleasure and rejoice in trials and sufferings!

    I test the concept of God, the unprovable assumptions and applied conclusions that purport to support the concept, all the time,and in every case I find religion utterly irrelevant. It holds no worth or comfort that I cannot derive from other, more tangible sources. So why follow it?

    Well testing it and exploring it, I think we’d agree are two vastly different positional stances. Of course you wouldn’t derive “joy” “pleasure” “peace” from religion if you treat it like a laboratory rat. You need to consider entering into it. So the way your trying to approach it is completely contradictory to most religions, and in particular to the Christian witness in which Jesus implores you to “come unto him all who are burden and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There’s nothing in there about mental assent or intellectual dissection! :)

  • 38 Trey // Apr 4, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Hugo! Oops! I sincerely apologize for making you my strawman! lol

  • 39 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 4, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    Faith isn’t reasoning, so the comparison doesn’t even hold, Hugo.

    Not Hugo, me.

    OK…faith is wishful thinking, then.

    But what is the claim of the resurrection? Precisely, that a supernatural event did occur in history.

    What is supernatural?

    I observe event X. Is it a natural event or a supernatural event? What is the criteria for labeling an even natural or supernatural?

    I guess I’m wondering what you find particular distaste about the kalam cosmological argument. You say “his” defense. Does that mean there’s another defense?

    I don’t know if there are other defenses. The whole proof is absurd.

    “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.” – Considering we have never observed anything begin to exist, I fail to see how Craig can claim a universal rule for the requirements for this to happen. This isn’t even a case of one sample making for bad statistics, this is zero samples!

    “The universe began to exist.” – Maybe, maybe not. The jury is still very much out.

    Etc.

  • 40 Trey // Apr 4, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    OK…faith is wishful thinking, then.

    This is just not at all true and is an offense to those who take the question seriously. Further, faith is not wishful thinking, you would want to say “the content of faith is wishful thinking” which I still believe is false.

    Wishful thinking is described as a logical fallacy which is entirely based in the subjective realm of decision making. Because I want to believe X is true, therefore X is true. But this kind of argument is also comparable to something that represents a possibility but that I am not actually committed to. It’s vein speculation at best against what someone experiences in its diametric opposite. For example, a person has a hard boss who has a history of not letting him go early, even on holidays. It may be wishful thinking to think this boss will let him go early this coming Christmas given his past experiences. But the employee is not committed to the proposition either way.

    Faith is an active response to God. Christian hope, as such, is not wishful thinking, but expectation. To say faith is anything less is to completely misunderstand not only it’s worth, but from a Christian worldview, it says thousands upon thousands of people went to their deaths based on nothing more than an unsubstantiated wish that they never in their life so much as claimed to experience. I can’t even accept this characterization.

    What is supernatural?

    I observe event X. Is it a natural event or a supernatural event? What is the criteria for labeling an even natural or supernatural?

    Take David Hume’s definition of miracles. It’s a transgression of natural law. He writes, “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.”

    Does resurrection obtain to this definition?

    yes.

    “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.” – Considering we have never observed anything begin to exist, I fail to see how Craig can claim a universal rule for the requirements for this to happen. This isn’t even a case of one sample making for bad statistics, this is zero samples!

    You began to exist! You had parents didn’t you? Unless you were born of immaculate conception!!! Of course we observe the beginning of things’ existences. BTW, this isn’t an absurd claim. And most atheists don’t have a problem with the premise here, although they might refine it alittle. They usually take up issue with premise 2 or the declaration of the syllogism: Namely: 2. The universe began to exist. 3. Therefore the universe has a cause. We observe it throughout nature. But of course the argument here is rooted in the ontological argument.

    “The universe began to exist.” – Maybe, maybe not. The jury is still very much out.

    Here I find it equally amazing how when all the evidence points to a finite point at which the universe came into existence, atheists scramble to make a statement such as this. Hubble in the 192os proved this theory decisively. The question is much more now about the singularity claim. In the 70s, two scientists from Bell telephone laboratories showed that the background microwave radiation in the universe was consistent with Hubble’s theory, and it has been THE standard astronomy to this day. People who don’t like this theory (not surprisingly) are committed atheists (I was talking about prejudices earlier and being above partiality, and this is a good point). Quentin Smith, philosopher and atheist, is the major proponent, saying that the universe simply came out of itself. It is its own cause! There is a good Q&A on reasonablefaith.org, if you can bear Craig, that talks about the prominent theoretical alternatives as overviews to the big bang today. None of them answer the question of origin however (or, leave room for this traditional interpretation.) In fact most of them only deal with the tweaking the convergence of time and space. There is only one that assumes all matter is eternal.

  • 41 Hugo // Apr 4, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    Weighing in on the faith thing: Ben’Jammin, I think how I’d resolve this faith discussion between you and Trey, is to say that you might feel “believing in God is wishful thinking”, but once you have the theistic worldview, “faith” is a kind of *response*, an emotional attitude or something, towards God?

    Somewhere I read about the “faith” definition, can’t find the link now though. It pointed out that theologians typically have a much more nuanced definition and understanding of it, with that defence of “faith” countered by the fact that 90% of all theists do not have the same definition and understanding of “faith” that the theologians do. This makes conversation kinda hard, atheists usually go with the fundamentalist-Christian’s understanding of “faith”. Is this a case of miscommunication due to lack of a shared definition?

    Naturalism: The naturalist, upon witnessing a “supposedly supernatural” event, would then go about revisiting his “laws” of nature. Clearly his laws were wrong…

    Take a look at Einstein & Faith (Time). Einstein defends religion. (I suspect that’s before the rise of American fundamentalism. He doesn’t defend fundamentalism.) However, with regards to the supernatural, this is his opinion:

    But there was one religious concept, Einstein went on to say, that science could not accept: a deity who could meddle at whim in the events of his creation. “The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God,” he argued. Scientists aim to uncover the immutable laws that govern reality, and in doing so they must reject the notion that divine will, or for that matter human will, plays a role that would violate this cosmic causality.

    So that is a question about the philosophy of science. Observe a “supernatural event”, and accept it as such, and the basis for science ends up on shaky foundations. As science is based on disproving theories, a supernatural event disproves all you natural theories. What are you left with then?

    On beginning to exist: No, we did not simply begin to exist. We came from cells of our parents, DNA from 23-chromosome cells combined into one new cell with 46-chromosomes, which then developed into a large organism. This is not the same as “beginning to exist” in the sense of the Big Bang.

    Big Bang Cosmology: Note that the Big Bang is also just a theory, also something that remains subject to future improved theories and experiments. What a Big-Bang cosmology might suggest, is that we cannot trace “back further” from within our frame of reference. (I.e. it isn’t possible to do any experiments with regards to causality outside of that. That leaves us at a “don’t know what caused that”, not a case of “there’s no universe ‘beyond’ the Big Bang”.

    Cosmic Background Radiation served to prove that Big Bang cosmology was better than what came before. That doesn’t mean it’s the final, ultimate theory. Here’s an example of further speculation and hypothesizing on alternative theories:

    http://arxivblog.com/?p=335

    At the point where hypothesizing and speculation can make predictions that, if tested, could distinguish which of the theories are best, we might take another step in our “understanding”, or rather modelling, of the universe.

    But yea, we’re picking at holes here. Don’t look for God in the gaps. That’s not a good idea.

  • 42 Trey // Apr 4, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    On beginning to exist: No, we did not simply begin to exist. We came from cells of our parents, DNA from 23-chromosome cells combined into one new cell with 46-chromosomes, which then developed into a large organism. This is not the same as “beginning to exist” in the sense of the Big Bang.

    Again, this is much more than a “point of conception” theory and philosophy than hard science. I think you simply can’t refer to the individual in such a deconstructive manner. Further even in the constitution of a human, there are series of causes, even in the example you reserve. It’s a continual regress of events, with beginnings and ends for points of reference. So the concept of beginning represents a transitional point. I think it’s just question begging to ask “at what point is there a beginning?” There are beginnings to every thing. I think the argument for the ‘beginning’ of the universe obtains to a higher satisfactory level because it represents the point at which space and time converge. Depending on the theory of time you hold, this is important. So beginning has a much more “point of reference” meaning.

    BTW, even S. Hawking proved that things can stop existing not just disburse and reconstitute.

    Cosmic Background Radiation served to prove that Big Bang cosmology was better than what came before. That doesn’t mean it’s the final, ultimate theory. Here’s an example of further speculation and hypothesizing on alternative theories:

    http://arxivblog.com/?p=335

    At the point where hypothesizing and speculation can make predictions that, if tested, could distinguish which of the theories are best, we might take another step in our “understanding”, or rather modelling, of the universe.

    Then if science is continually improving itself, under these terms, is it possible we may get past the theory of evolution? Perhaps it’s just completely wrong? Wouldn’t that also fall victim to your critique? But certainly if you’re just speaking as an impartial scientist, there’s a positivity in your tone that seems to reflect more of your bias than a strict observation of the data. :/

    ….Guys, I’m taking my wife out on a date. A rare thing these days with two little girls. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!” I’ll try to jump back later.

  • 43 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 5, 2008 at 12:58 am

    I observe event X. Is it a natural event or a supernatural event? What is the criteria for labeling an even natural or supernatural?

    Take David Hume’s definition of miracles. It’s a transgression of natural law. He writes, “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.”

    Does resurrection obtain to this definition?

    yes.

    The definition is meaningless, because we don’t know the natural laws with certainty. There is no way to tell if the event X is telling us our understanding of natural laws is wrong or if event X is a ‘supernatural’ event.

    By this definition, the Pioneer anomaly is a supernatural event, because it violates the natural laws of gravity. In the time before we understood nuclear reactions the sun’s burning was supernatural.

    You began to exist! You had parents didn’t you?

    The food that my parents ate was assembled into cells, some of which were eggs and sperm, etc. None of the electrons, neutrons, protons, etc., that make up me now or me then have ever been observed beginning to exist. It would be a conservation of energy violation.

    Taking two pieces of bread and some peanut butter and assembling them into a sandwich is not causing anything to exist. Everything that did exist still exists, it has just been re-arranged.

    BTW, this isn’t an absurd claim. And most atheists don’t have a problem with the premise here, although they might refine it alittle.

    It is an absurd claim. If I worried about what most other people thought about things, I would probably not have been an atheist for so long.

    Hubble in the 192os proved this theory decisively.

    What is believed with a high level of certainty is that all the matter-energy in our local space-time was in a very concentrated area several billion years ago. Beyond that, you get a whole bunch of speculations – eternal inflation, singularity, etc.

    Ben’Jammin, I think how I’d resolve this faith discussion between you and Trey, is to say that you might feel “believing in God is wishful thinking”

    It’s some alternative method of thinking that isn’t reason that is used to arrive at Trey’s conclusions:

    Like most claims in religions, we can’t forget we’re basing the reality of the Christian witness not on reason alone, but on faith.

    If it isn’t bad reasoning and it isn’t wishful thinking that doesn’t leave a whole lot on which to claim a conclusion should be considered true.

    BTW, even S. Hawking proved that things can stop existing not just disburse and reconstitute.

    That would be news to everyone who still thinks the conservation of energy holds. Link?

    Then if science is continually improving itself, under these terms, is it possible we may get past the theory of evolution?

    Of course. We ‘got past’ Newtonian physics, we got past vitalism, etc.

    I think you simply can’t refer to the individual in such a deconstructive manner.

    But that’s what the individual is. If you mean something else when you refer to an individual, you’re going to have to define it, because I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • 44 Hugo // Apr 5, 2008 at 1:11 am

    In response to Trey’s comment #42…

    There’s a big difference between a process, with transitions, and the proposal of a “starting from nothing”. The very fact that there is an argument about “at what point do you have a new human?”, a “point of conception”, illustrates this well.

    What’s that quote about more and less wrong? Flat earth is wrong. Spherical earth is also wrong. But one is less wrong than the other.

    Yes, evolution may indeed be wrong. But until such time as we have a theory that competes, evolution is the best we’ve got. And it’s a fact as well, as much as Newtonian physics is a “fact” as a special case of relativity. (Is Newtonian physics “wrong”?)

    For another piece of theoretical physics hypothesizing: http://arxivblog.com/?p=71 “Why our time dimension is about to become space-like”. Yea, I’ve been reading too much arxivblog. The point here is that nothing in science is ever 100% certain. And that’s perfectly fine. That’s the humility that we need as humans. It’s a sad state of affairs for Christianity when Christians are less humble than atheistic scientists.

    This would be my advice to the more traditional theist, if my advice were to be asked: Stop looking for God in the gaps. Yes, God is a reality (never mind causality, some would say God created us, some would say we created God, I think they’re all missing the point — we exist together). God is that piece of wonder that you see in your relationship with your wife and children. God is creativity and love and compassion, the marvel of existence and someone to talk to when times are tough, and when times are wonderful. God is the great big poet. Hold onto that, by all means. If you are a Christian, or a person of The Way, then Jesus is considered an incarnation, a living example, of what your God is all about. If you want to believe in the supernatural or paranormal, if that tickles your fancy, blows your hair back, gives you meaning in life, you’re free to do so. But don’t take it too seriously. Don’t take life too seriously. Evangelise compassion and Jesus’ way of life, by all means. But let people find their own way, like God lets you find yours. Consider RLP’s advice on child-raising:

    http://www.reallivepreacher.com/rlparchive/node/869

    Under threat of nihilism, something to hold onto is that much more important. I consider myself a post-nihilist. I hold onto the scientific method, I follow what I understand of The Way, based on what I understand of Jesus and his message, I have humanistic values. I don’t know about supernatural miracles, and I don’t need to know. How would I ever know what did and what did not happen? Maybe he walked on water, maybe he didn’t… I really don’t think it matters. Not to me anyway, if it matters to you, fine, but I plead: don’t try to make it matter to everyone else. It didn’t matter that much to Dawkins, or to Ben’Jammen, for example, until the likes of Bush or 9/11 (no associated meant between the two there) made it matter.

    OK, that’s enough preaching from me.

    I think I’m somewhat of an existentialist. What do you suggest I read to get more of a clue about such things? I’m also keen to get better knowledge of Nietzsche, just for reference. I want to know more about what the guy is on about when he talks about the “ubermensch”. (The ubermensch is a myth, methinks, but it would be worthwhile to understand it better).

  • 45 Hugo // Apr 5, 2008 at 1:37 am

    Think threading of the conversation might be useful? (Mengelmoes vapourware pipe dreams here.)

    I took a look at Nietzsche’s Ubermensch and “The Last Man” ideas on wikipedia just now. In the first few days after my nihilism experience, I pondered that course of action. Bleak and dismal, no wonder in it. Yuck. That’s when I grabbed onto inquisitiveness and curiosity again (that’s always been me, anyway), and rediscovered a path worth living in this remarkable existence of ours.

    I would say an individual is more than the sum of its parts. That particular configuration of matter is something beautiful, something poetic, something creative. But I’m not sure I’m staying on topic here: this is possibly irrelevant to the discussion. Nevermind, I continue: Yes, at some point, the rearranging of matter provides you with a new individual. At some point before that, it wasn’t an individual. So in the poetic “Meh” domain, there’s something that “comes into existence”. In Meh. But that’s not the reductionistic empirical reality we’re talking about. When we talk about Big Bang “coming into existence”, we’re talking “Lah”. I’d argue both is “true”.

    And then I’d go and say Christianity is profoundly true, despite much of it not being factual. But again I effectively digress from the main point of the conversation. Do you guys think we could distinguish between “facts” and “truth”? Or am I just being counter productive here by refusing to use the definitions you’re using? ;)

  • 46 Hugo // Apr 5, 2008 at 1:39 am

    Yea, I bet you both experience my comments as quite frustrating to both your causes. Am I just being difficult now? Yea, I’m probably just being difficult. I’ll be busy soon, and tomorrow, and on Sunday, so I’ll have some external help in disciplining me from staying out of the conversation. Have fun…

  • 47 Hugo // Apr 5, 2008 at 2:09 am

    One more thing: I want people like Trey on this blog. I believe we’ll need his input when we start looking at fundamentalist prosperity/purity pentecostal sects. There is much he can contribute.

    I’d love it if this blog could be a place where numerous worldviews can peacefully coexist, even if they are incompatible on the factual level, because I would like to expose people to diversity. I would love it if, when we tackle some interesting issues, we could have numerous angles on it: a humanist’s take, an atheist’s, an emerging-church guy, a catholic, a fundamentalistic pentecostal’s view, etc.

    How could we achieve this? Hard. Because the people that like debating, will debate. The other people will stay away. Thinking in mengelmoes-vapourware terms again, I think different areas would be necessary, one where people just share their ideas and views, and disagree politely but stick to the nice cosy kindergarten “let’s all play nicely together despite diverse backgrounds” environment, “and marvel at the diversity of each other’s beliefs”. (OK, I’ve probably just illustrated how little I know of what kindergarten is like.) And then another section where people can duel to the death. “Debate? You wanna debate? Right! Let’s take this outside, to the back alley…”

    Does this idea make any sense? Any value to it? No, I don’t expect any behavioural changes on your part, do what you want to do, I’m just trying to think/brainstorm some pipe-dream technical solutions.

  • 48 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 5, 2008 at 4:24 am

    Yea, I bet you both experience my comments as quite frustrating to both your causes.

    Not me. I was surprised at how similar our 43 and 41 posts were (I made mine before I had read up to yours – they were independent.)

    Does this idea make any sense? Any value to it?

    It could work, I think, with some willingness to play by the rules by us participants.

    I don’t think any of us have started calling each other names…yet :)

  • 49 Hugo // Apr 5, 2008 at 5:00 am

    I don’t think any of us have started calling each other names…yet :)

    OK, I’ll start. I’m calling you an atheist. :-P

    It could work, I think, with some willingness to play by the rules by us participants.

    We’d need to agree on a common goal. I dream we’d then be able to work on that common goal together. Bonus for the social-action-type Christians if the non-believers could help in the mission, even if they won’t get the reward of eternity in heaven. (Hey, making a positive impact on earth should ideally be heaven enough. ;) )

    OK, I’m going out. Laterz!

  • 50 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 5, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Trey said:

    But you asked for proof as to the objective nature of morality.

    No, I didn’t. I asked for evidence.

    it doesn’t make sense why I would want to serve others, help others, act in a way that benefits others.

    My point here is, it does make sense, from an evolutionary sviewpoint. Altruism, morality, all can be shown to be aspects of human existence that have evolved. There is no need for God to explain why we are moral, or not!

    Further, if the statement God determines right and wrong is not the best explanation, then the foundation of morality is completely vapid and arbitrary.

    No, it isn’t. Any heritable inclination towards a specific type of morality that tends to let its bearers have more progeny, such as altruism, or empathy, can be selected for in an evolutionary context. There is a huge literature on this topic.

    Science for example can tell me why a human cries and where the tears originate, but it can hardly tell me why that person is crying!

    I don’t follow. These statements are contradictory.

    So is physics. So is chemistry. So are most court cases. Nevertheless, in such cases the evidence, used statistically, is extremely powerful as an indicator of reality.

    Great! Then my argument stands.

    True. If you can provide evidence.

    No problem. Actually, I think you and Hugo both expressed that I was suggesting atheists are morally bankrupt or have more of tendency to be, and I don’t think that is at all the case.

    Then I am confused. What was your point about the unhappy, vitriolic atheists then?

    In fact, the scientific method itself is not science.

    Huh???? I suppose I can parse this statement as saying that science isn’t the scientific method in the same sense that a car isn’t an engine. Its true, but you’d have a useless car…

    Most firing squads are limited to “tens” of trained sharpshooters. The exaggeration could be a 1000 as well. It makes no difference. The point stands. It still invalidates the reaction we’re supposed to permit by the anthropic principle.

    What I meant was, that there are thousands of firing squads, each with their own prisoner, each with their one hundred sharpshooters. Then it most definitely does make a difference.

    This should really prove to you the inadequacy of atheism. Let’s forget the fact your answers are actually questions (by such admitting, you yourself don’t know), why should my happiness and enjoyment preclude hurting others?

    The questions are meant to be rhetorical, not expressions of doubt or uncertainty. As to your question, because you also have a capacity for empathy and altruism that has evolved.

    I know it does. My point is its unnecessary. Atheists don’t need the religious life for relevance, hope or as a buffer against baser desires. You can live a fulfilling life without any recourse to religion.

    Ken, this wasn’t what you said. You said that, and I quote, “they [atheists] find it irrelevant or even harmful as a concept to hold.”

    How are these not saying the same thing? They are perfectly consistent. To me, religion can best be described as unnecessary. To other atheists, some see it as harmful.

    If you just agree with me that there is relevance in theism, then there is no debate. You just disagree that the object of that relevance has any ground in reality.

    And thus is utterly irrelevant. Why believe in something that isn’t real? It’s like discussing the colour, breed, gender and age of my dog, when I don’t have a dog!

    Nope, just simply an expression for living life unreflectively.

    I trust you don’t think I live life unreflectively…;-)

    There is nothing in the great axiomatic examples that suggest our purpose is to strive for happiness in this life. And yet, given what we’d think would be obvious, we’re told to take pleasure and rejoice in trials and sufferings!

    Indeed. I say again, I see no evidence to say that religious folks are happier/more fulfilled/more moral than my fellow atheists because they are religious. So if the control group doesn’t differ from the test group, what are the reasons for holding to religious principles?

    Well testing it and exploring it, I think we’d agree are two vastly different positional stances. Of course you wouldn’t derive “joy” “pleasure” “peace” from religion if you treat it like a laboratory rat. You need to consider entering into it. So the way your trying to approach it is completely contradictory to most religions, and in particular to the Christian witness in which Jesus implores you to “come unto him all who are burden and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There’s nothing in there about mental assent or intellectual dissection!

    So I am to take it on faith?

  • 51 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 5, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Hugo said:

    I also disagree with that statement, and I think we all have faith. (Do I define faith differently from many atheists then?) Faith in the scientific method, faith in empiricism, faith in your spouse, faith that the bridge that’s going to hold your weight while you cross it. Weak examples maybe, but it gives an idea of how I use the faith word, anyway…

    I think you do define faith differently. In that there is evidence for holding that faith, and that you can modify that faith as you gather evidence . To use your example of faith in your spouse, if you find evidence to show that your spouse was cheating, then your “faith”, as it were, would change. This is in absolute contrast to religious faith, which requires complete belief in something no matter where the evidence lies. If the scientific method or empiricism was shown tomorrow to be inconsistent or incomplete, then we would go about improving these concepts to make them better descriptors of reality.

    What do you think?

  • 52 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 5, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Trey said:

    To say faith is anything less is to completely misunderstand not only it’s worth, but from a Christian worldview, it says thousands upon thousands of people went to their deaths based on nothing more than an unsubstantiated wish that they never in their life so much as claimed to experience. I can’t even accept this characterization.

    Why not? Wishful thinking? ;-)

    Here I find it equally amazing how when all the evidence points to a finite point at which the universe came into existence, atheists scramble to make a statement such as this. Hubble in the 192os proved this theory decisively.

    Actually, he didn’t. He provided strong evidence to show that the universe was expanding, which meant that at some point in the past the entire universe must have experienced a Big Bang “moment”, for lack of a better word. It is still quite possible that the universe is in an eternal cycle of Big Bang, Big Crunch, Big Bang, Big Crunch, which would mean that it didn’t have a specific starting point, but infinitely many of them.

    The point here is, there is evidence for a beginning. Science still doesn’t have any answers for whether it was the beginning or not.

    Hugo:

    Observe a “supernatural event”, and accept it as such, and the basis for science ends up on shaky foundations.

    Why? Surely by being observed, it becomes part of “natural” events, and can be used to formulate and test new theories that lead to a better understanding of reality? If we observe Russell’s teapot in orbit around the sun, science must then come up with a testable explanation for this evidence. If we observe a ghost/miracle/UFO/pick-your-supernatural-event-of-choice-here, science would have evidence of something, clearly not currently within the realms of science, that it needed to explain. This is good for science!

    Trey again:

    Then if science is continually improving itself, under these terms, is it possible we may get past the theory of evolution?

    It is most certainly possible, although highly unlikely. One other thing, there are many theories for how living things evolve: natural selection, neutral evolution, hybridization,sexual selection, founder effects. All of which apply to different organisms in different contexts, and have different predictions. Evolution per se is a fact. It is the theories that underlie it that change/improve/are discarded as new data are gathered.

    Ben-Jammen, what about particle-antiparticle creation? Electron-positron pairs? ;-)

    Just pulling your leg, I understand your point!

    Hugo again:

    One more thing: I want people like Trey on this blog. I believe we’ll need his input when we start looking at fundamentalist prosperity/purity pentecostal sects. There is much he can contribute.

    Agreed. I would be very interested in his viewpoints on this matter…

    (Hey, making a positive impact on earth should ideally be heaven enough. )

    Couldn’t agree more!

  • 53 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 5, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    OK, I’ll start. I’m calling you an atheist. :-P

    Oh, yeah? I’m calling you a memetic engineer!

  • 54 ShiningOne // Apr 5, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Let everyone believe a lie, in order for society to feel a bigger meaning. We are running from our nature and that causes rebellion and death. With each step closer to god, we run one step further away from our selfs. Survival is our only purpose, not survival after death, but for the survival of the one and only true god that can live on for eternity in this infinite universe. The human race. Our survival started with a star battling death. Necessity is the mother of invention. By the time we all wake up, it will be to late for our children.

  • 55 Hugo // Apr 6, 2008 at 7:01 am

    Kenneth:

    Why believe in something that isn’t real?

    Because it helps you get through the day.

    There’s an interesting problem with those that attach their sense of morality to a particular worldview: lose the worlview, and they don’t have a foundation for their morality. As such, I suspect some de-converting Christians may have a tougher time holding onto good morals than those that were raised with good morals not based on a particular worldview. Take Trey from when he was an atheist: with a worldview of no strong and clear morality, he became the relativist challenging the social norm. A child raised with a morality based on the social norm, knowing this from the start, is likely to accept it more easily than someone discovering that morality isn’t as fixed as he had always thought.

    If someone finds he lives a happier life believing that there is a job that was meant for him, that’s a fine belief, as long as he doesn’t take it too seriously. Looking at it from a more scientific perspective, it is effectively just a way of choosing to consider the path you are walking through life as “good”. A method of acceptance. (A belief in a very strong sense of fate is not healthy though, can cause fatalism. I read somewhere that Haiti is one of the few places that never had any trace of a women’s liberation movement, likely as a result of their religion — Voodoo — having a very strong sense of fate. “Can’t change anything anyway, so won’t even try.”)

    Observe a “supernatural event”, and accept it as such, and the basis for science ends up on shaky foundations.

    Why? Surely by being observed, it becomes part of “natural” events, and can be used to formulate and test new theories that lead to a better

    Yea, you misunderstand me… you take that event as “natural”. You adjust your theories accordingly. What I’m saying, is if you don’t take a naturalistic view, where does that leave science, if you say an event can be “supernatural”? I.e. a “breaking of the laws of nature”, as Trey described it. As soon as any falsification of a theory can be described as “oh, the laws of nature was broken by a deity, so there’s no need to actually adjust your theories. They still stand, the event was supernatural, see…”: that’s what I’m talking about. That kind of stance breaks science. Because now you can no longer say a falsified theory is an incorrect theory. Understand what I mean? (I’m just arguing for methodological naturalism when practising science. There’s no other way I can think of, that would keep science in tact. There’s no way to cater for the “supernatural” as Trey defined it. Or my style, to cater for the supernatural and still accept science, you need a different definition. :-P)

  • 56 Hugo // Apr 6, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Man, that was a really badly worded comment. Oh well.

  • 57 ShiningOne // Apr 6, 2008 at 10:25 am

    We do not represent any particular belief or hold any as being the one and only truth for truth is relative to the consciousness of each being. We are both students and teachers endeavoring to fulfill our purpose of experiencing and sharing the living universe. Through our endeavors of helping others transcend darkness we have bestowed many new possibilities to contribute to the evolution of many different species. We have broadened our knowledge and understanding to embrace all life in the universe. We have studied the design inherent to all life including the personal nature of human beings. We have found ways to bring love into our lives and also ways to give it away. We have generated random acts of kindness knowing that kindness will build on itself. Our current Idea of god, imprisoned us by an imposed system that consumes life.

    Those who have been infected and converted as emissaries and intermediaries of these systems are influenced to think that these encounters are beneficial both for themselves and ourworld. The fundamental idea of allegiance to a single dominant faith and world leader is in order for control. We have opened up our minds to polarizing mind control (good vs. evil)

    We must respect all life and individual freedoms in order to gain the wisdom necessary to deal with the current escalating violations against your fundamental right of living in peace and harmony with other members of our race.

    Lead With Truth And Compassion.

  • 58 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 6, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Hugo:

    Because it helps you get through the day.

    Hmmm…so much for truth value. ;-)

    As soon as any falsification of a theory can be described as “oh, the laws of nature was broken by a deity, so there’s no need to actually adjust your theories. They still stand, the event was supernatural, see…”: that’s what I’m talking about. That kind of stance breaks science.

    Hmmm…you’d need quite spectacular evidence to show this. And anyway, how would you have arrived at the conclusion that a supernatural event has occurred? By following the scientific method. You’ve ruled out all other understood phenomena, including chance, by falsifying them, to lead you to the conclusion that a supernatural phenomenon (sheesh, this is a vague concept). So even “discrediting” the scientific method, by your lights, you’re still using it!

  • 59 Hugo // Apr 7, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Really bad wording. Kenneth, I believe you’re still missing the point I’m trying to make. We are not in disagreement. How about this concise wording, to say the same, strongly stated:

    The scientific method is incompatible with the existence of “supernatural events” as Trey defined them.

    Better? The previous comments attempted to explain why. A better wording to explain why:

    Accepting the existence of “supernatural events”, what would then be your criteria for falsifying any particular theory?

    How’s that? Let me stop before I get verbose and unclear again.

  • 60 Hugo // Apr 7, 2008 at 1:18 am

    (And that’s intended as a rhetorical question.)

  • 61 Hugo // Apr 7, 2008 at 1:45 am

    And that’s why I don’t personally talk about the “supernatural” and the “not supernatural”. That distinction doesn’t quite make sense to me. That definition of “supernatural” doesn’t grok in my mind.

    I do distinguish between what happens and what doesn’t happen. What exists, and what doesn’t exist. What is known, and what is not known. And then on the experience level… I could swallow a definition of “supernatural” that relates to subjective experience. I’m happy to say the experience of “love” is a “supernatural experience”. But again, you’d have to deduce my definition of “supernatural” from the context.

    Right, now to soften it again (because I like soft and flexible):

    About Jesus walking on water: that happened, or that did not happen. And I won’t ever know if it happened or it did not happen. I do believe it is extremely unlikely, but that’s the kind of condition that people need in order to label it “supernatural” anyway. Beyond that, I don’t even want to make any claims. Suppose Jesus did walk on water though, would that be “supernatural”? I’d be happy saying it would be “paranormal”, because we do not understand how something like that could work. Here’s an extremely unlikely mechanism: an insanely unlikely quantum state of matter in the area, working together in such an unlikely fashion, that it affects the macro properties of that matter in such a way that it can bear someone’s weight. Y’know, sounds like fiction, sure. Whatever. What difference does it make, anyway?

    Science deals with the present. Science deals with the present past as well… Speculate: the universe could have been created last Thursday, and the evidence of millions of years of history could also have been created last Thursday. That’s last Thursday. The “present past”, if it has evidence for millions of years, is arguably millions of years… Until any reason comes up to treat it as not millions of years, that’s the way we treat it.

    Whether Jesus walked on water or not, a few thousand years ago, does not affect my “present past”. Whether it is important for other people, is between them and their God…

    Hmmm…so much for truth value. ;-)

    Truth… fact… here’s what we’re talking about:

    Trey: If you just agree with me that there is relevance in theism, then there is no debate. You just disagree that the object of that relevance has any ground in reality.

    Kenneth: And thus is utterly irrelevant. Why believe in something that isn’t real? It’s like discussing the colour, breed, gender and age of my dog, when I don’t have a dog!

    Hugo: Because it helps you get through the day.

    I believe it is useful to believe your life has meaning. Such meaning isn’t ground in “reality”. (It isn’t ground it Lah, it’s found in Meh.) My argument is thus that there are things that can be believed, and are useful to believe, despite not being grounded in reality. It is not a case of empirical fact, it is a personal subjective belief. And that is my answer to “Why believe in something that isn’t real?”

    Hope. What is hope? Is hope “real”? Is it useful to have hope, in the abstract sense?

    Do you understand what I mean? So yes, some things are wrong. Some beliefs are. Believing a heavier object will fall faster in a vacuum than a light object, that’s simply wrong. If that belief helps you get through the day, I suggest you find yourself another belief. Another religion. Another something to hold onto. Because that isn’t going to last. Similarly, if creationism gets you through the day, if creationism forms a fundamental part of your “personal god”, you’ve chosen a god that’s busy losing a battle to a bigger god. (Henotheistic view on the matter.) Or you’re doing God a big disfavour by associating God with bullshit. (Monotheistic view on the matter.)

    (Notice multiple uses of “you”, specific to start with, general later.)

    Refer: What is God?: The Personal God.

  • 62 Trey // Apr 7, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    See what happens. I step out for one weekend, and now I’d have to spend all day defending my position! :(

    You guys from now on have to halt production when I’m not around to defend myself ;)

    I’m not going to go point-by-point to address some of the disagreements I’ve glanced, so if someone would be kind enough to summarize some of the more salient points and concerns, that might be the best way to approach any refutation.

    ——

    BTW, I did have the occasion this weekend to watch a debate between William Lane Craig and Victor Stenger. For those who don’t know Stenger (I’m sure Kenneth does), he is one of the most prominent voices in atheism. Wouldn’t call him a Dawkins clone, but he’s definitely committed. Quite fascinating. Stenger was just really outclassed. One of the reasons why I appreciate Craig is because he comes to the debates prepared. He’s obviously given Stenger the respect he deserves by reading his own work, which made him thoroughly capable of making statements aimed directly at Stenger’s thought process. I was most impressed with Craig’s deconstruction of Stenger’s model of time and it’s inherent contradiction…a point which I was surprised Stenger never refutes! Stenger believes time and space is in fact finite but that time has a quirky characteristic of both originating out of nothing and moving both backwards and forwards on the horizontal axis of spacetime. I now have about six DVDs of Craig debates, and Craig always quotes his opponents’ positions to take them to task. The same cannot be said for his opponents, whom I wonder, have ever read Craig.

    More fascinating was a question I come back to time and again about personal sincerity in atheism. Stenger said the reason he became an atheist was because in his words, as a young man, “when I looked at all the religions in the world, I couldn’t possibly believe they were all right.” To which Craig replied, “Ok, but that doesn’t preclude that one of them isn’t right!” It’s just these kind of sweeping statements that characterize much of what I perceive in atheism.

    Are you folks British, btw?

  • 63 Trey // Apr 7, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    From a fundamentalist point of view, let me address Hugo’s argument:

    I believe it is useful to believe your life has meaning. Such meaning isn’t ground in “reality”. (It isn’t ground it Lah, it’s found in Meh.) My argument is thus that there are things that can be believed, and are useful to believe, despite not being grounded in reality. It is not a case of empirical fact, it is a personal subjective belief. And that is my answer to “Why believe in something that isn’t real?”

    E.E. Ellis, in addressing the resurrection of Christ, makes a good point against theological liberalism. He says that first century Jews would not distinguish between resurrection without physical grave emptying. That is, the concept of “resurrection” would be so experientially and rationally impoverished without the actual removal of the body of Christ that to make such a statement would be equivalent he says to square circle.

    Using theological language to give your life meaning without true foundational explanatory power and evidence is meaningless. We might say that “yes, I can feel better about myself when I identify my experience with god language.” But it has to assume the utter infidelity of experience and the capacity of the believer. That is, what type of person would you expect to find using this language and to what benefit?

    I just don’t see good reason why we would have to use ANY theological language to describe such experiences. In fact, as I mentioned in previous posts, this was exactly the point upon which Rudolph Bultmann found himself undone by Schubert Ogden. If all this god-language gives my life meaning and hope but isn’t grounded in true meaning and objective hope, why retain the belief in god at all? Wouldn’t god just be a metaphor? Just throw out the baby with the bathwater! Of course, Bultmann didn’t want to do this.

  • 64 Trey // Apr 7, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Since we’re also past the point of pleasantries, I wanted to pose this question to Kenneth:

    Theology assumes that the place of truth extraction happens primarily through faith and is much more an existential experience than a purely rational one.

    I’m just wondering to what extent has Kenneth given religion serious consideration and “tested” the primary method by which religion is said to operate, namely through faith, which I argue begins with self-humility and an “openness” to the reality before entirely shutting the doors before he ever looks inside the house.

  • 65 Hugo // Apr 7, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    *sigh*. No comments from my side…

  • 66 Hugo // Apr 7, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    I lie. I’ve thought of something I want to say/ask. A question:

    Assume Kenneth is living a very good and very happy life, why, would you say, should Kenneth try religion? Is it to avoid hell in the afterlife?

  • 67 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 7, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Theology assumes that the place of truth extraction happens primarily through faith and is much more an existential experience than a purely rational one.

    That’s the umpteenth time you’ve thrown faith out there, rejecting my understanding of what you mean by the word, without saying what the hell you mean by the word. Explain it.

    I wish to arrive at an answer to (some question.) How does the method of ‘faith’ work?

    Besides which, even you don’t accept the results of ‘faith.’ If you did, you would be a Mormon AND a Christian AND a Jew AND a Jain (etc.) because all of these are conclusions arrived at through the method by other practitioners.

  • 68 Trey // Apr 7, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    I lie. I’ve thought of something I want to say/ask. A question:

    Assume Kenneth is living a very good and very happy life, why, would you say, should Kenneth try religion? Is it to avoid hell in the afterlife?

    Because within your question, you assume that somehow “happiness” or “joy” or whatever you wish to call it is the purpose of life. I know of many people living in horrible conditions, who aren’t the least bit happy, who have committed to a religious worldview. So I think the question is leading, but I think it’s misguided. You would have to assume that the purpose of life is self-fulfillment or happiness, and I see no reason to believe why it is, especially given the fact that Christianity is flourishing in places where people should be and are quite miserable, if it weren’t for the hope of the afterlife.

    The purpose of life, from a Christian worldview, is to fear God and keep his Commandments. There is nothing “happy” for me in denying myself pleasures I might otherwise bask in and cause me happiness.

  • 69 Trey // Apr 7, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Sorry, Ben…

    You try carrying on a conversation with in upwards of four people, and I’m sure you’ll miss some things. :)

    Like I said, I didn’t go back and read everything. I looked at my inbox on Sunday night and there were like 14 responses, and I just don’t have the time to answer them all. If you’d tell me what you believe “faith” is, then I might be better able to handle your request.

  • 70 Trey // Apr 7, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    And please don’t get crass, Ben. If you can’t conduct yourself with some professionalism, I will just ignore you. One thing, I will not tolerate are disrespectful tones. You wouldn’t demand of your mother “what the blank do you mean!” Maybe you would…but you won’t with me.
    Agreed? :)

  • 71 Negate // Apr 7, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Trey does make a good point. especially in poor countries the word of god can have a profound wonderful influence on peoples lives, but this is because they don’t have any other hope. They are suffering so god is the only thing that can give them hope. There need for god is different then say people who follow god because of spiritual reasons. As an atheist I don’t need god for a spiritual path of compassion and love because i found Buddhism to be more for filling road tot take for me. Our social evolution dictated on what level we need god.

  • 72 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 7, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    If you’d tell me what you believe “faith” is, then I might be better able to handle your request.

    And please don’t get crass, Ben.

    I can’t accomodate both these requests.

    For the purposes of this thread, I hereby consider ‘faith’ to be a nonsense syllable until you define it. What do you mean by ‘faith’? You said:

    “Theology assumes that the place of truth extraction happens primarily through faith”

    I wish to extract an answer to (some question). How does this method of ‘faith’ work?

  • 73 Hugo // Apr 7, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Because within your question, you assume that somehow “happiness” or “joy” or whatever you wish to call it is the purpose of life.

    Rather, I’m just getting that out of the way.

    So I think the question is leading,

    Leading in the sense that it tries to guide the discussion in order to get to the answers I’m most curious about.

    The purpose of life, from a Christian worldview, is to fear God and keep his Commandments. There is nothing “happy” for me in denying myself pleasures I might otherwise bask in and cause me happiness.

    OK, that’s good. The question then, is why Kenneth should be interested in taking that step? Assume he’s living a life that is… ok… fulfilling to him? (Better than “happy”.) You might believe that that is not what God wants for Kenneth, but putting yourself in Kenneth’s shoes (something I consider under “compassion”), why should he be interested in that in the first place? Again I get to the question, is it about rewards or punishment after death?

    BTW, I don’t think basking in pleasures makes one “happy”. But concepts like “happiness” and “fulfilment” can become rather elusive quite quickly.

  • 74 Hugo // Apr 7, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    My sympathies for the four-way Trey. Good luck… ;)

  • 75 Trey // Apr 7, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    OK, that’s good. The question then, is why Kenneth should be interested in taking that step? Assume he’s living a life that is… ok… fulfilling to him? (Better than “happy”.) You might believe that that is not what God wants for Kenneth, but putting yourself in Kenneth’s shoes (something I consider under “compassion”), why should he be interested in that in the first place? Again I get to the question, is it about rewards or punishment after death?

    Because Christianity isn’t about answering the gaps of an incomplete life. It’s about a realizable truth. If it were only meant to answer a certain personality profile, then it too would be an impoverished way of answering the human situation. I can’t tell you how many people have “their acts together” and we’re still persuaded by the Christian witness. My mother was one of them. I’m amazed to hear stories in my own church of how people came to God. My way was radical. On the other hand, my wife’s way was completely without drama. She’s by nature very happy and fulfilled and a prime candidate to find meaning outside of the question of God. So truth is independent of it’s sting. Kenneth’s predisposition has no relevance to the truth of the claim, anymore than the fact that I eat a plate of snails and think that they taste like chicken dillutes the fact that they are still snails. What should bother Kenneth would be how readily we’ve put God in a box of “answering an emotional outlook.” Even in the story of the patriarchs, most of the time, these people weren’t “looking” for God. And certainly Paul the Apostle was not as he was on his way to apprehend Christians. If you asked Paul if he had his act together, I’m sure he’d go further than that – “not only do I have it together, I’m going to flush out those who don’t!”

    Is it about rewards and punishments you ask? The rewards never motivated me. When I was younger in my walk, the fear of hell was a motivator to walk with God. Now you might say “Ahhh, hah!” There you go. There’s psychological relevance to that. But for many people, such as my wife again, the concept of hell was never even a thought. You’d be pretty unimpressed talking to her if you were looking for that kind of answer. As I grew in my relationship with God, the fear of punishment and the concept (therein) grew less and less “charged.” I firmly believe God uses a multiplicity of motivations to make people think seriously about the question of God. Saying since I know how you came to hold a belief I can prove the belief wrong is just a concept called the logical fallacy. It’s poor logical form. ;)

  • 76 Hugo // Apr 7, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    Thanks Trey! With that background, I do look forward to your discussion on “faith” and the process of finding… “truth”.

    I now wonder more about post-modernist philosophy etc. In particular, views on “truth” in churches part of the emerging church conversation.

    The way I understand my “pastor”, “my” church focuses on people already in the Judeo/Christian narrative. So the way I understand it, evangelism within the tradition would be about sharing Jesus’ way then, not about converting Muslims or atheists.

    Paul isn’t as good an example to me. He was on the persecution track, a Pharisee, in support of what I believe to have been an oppressive regime with a strong holiness/purity obsession. His conversion to Christianity, then, to me, is a conversion to a compassion-driven, value-driven way of life. But yes, I don’t know all his writings well enough, and I will likely disagree with, or reinterpret, the messages in much of his writing.

    Anyway, with this, I make another attempt at become a spectator.

  • 77 Trey // Apr 8, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Well, for Paul at least, my only warning is: familiarity breeds contempt. We’re so used to Paul being “one of the good guys” that I think we often underestimate the fact that he set out to destroy the Faith. Of course, the early Christians did not underestimate Paul. In his own epistles, Paul mentions how the churches he visited were suspicious and on guard about his coming. They had heard the impresario of persecution was a Christian, but it seemed they had to see it to believe it. When they realized that he was indeed sincere and not creating smokescreens, they glorified God in him, the scriptures say.

    I would certain suggest familiarizing yourself with the scriptures and pore over them, if in fact you haven’t read Paul’s epistles that closely. You’ll see a very human portrait of a man, not a super saint by any stretch of the imagination.

  • 78 Trey // Apr 8, 2008 at 7:22 am

    For the purposes of this thread, I hereby consider ‘faith’ to be a nonsense syllable until you define it. What do you mean by ‘faith’? You said:

    “Theology assumes that the place of truth extraction happens primarily through faith”

    I wish to extract an answer to (some question). How does this method of ‘faith’ work?

    Sounds like a declaration of war! lol…

    Let’s start here…

    1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for.
    3By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. 4By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

    5By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

    7By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

    8By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

    11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he[a]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

    But certainly I know this won’t satisfy the skeptic, even if there is knowledge to wean. So I’ll simply say that in all these cases, faith is an active dynamic response of the part of the hearer. In the Christian tradition, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

    So just as William Lane Craig mentioned in your earlier reviewer’s example how, at the core, he believes that the decision not to believe in God is best understood as spiritual rebellion, even though the subject (namely the unbelief) would never submit to such supernatural reductionism; nevertheless, the judgment is more for the benefit of a believer to believer analysis. Likewise, extracting truth by means of faith, simply means (and I think this would stand in most monotheistic religions) that at the fundamental core, faith is a kind of self-surrender to God in which the individual leaves behind his prior orientation to the world as the corpus of truth and finds in its place (through scripture or holy book or meditative work) the reality of God. It begins with the first sentence drawn from your lips “god, I hope you can hear me…” Because at the heart of all disbelief is human pride.

    Now depending on how you express faith, depends on your background. For someone who is an intellectual such as yourself, self surrender might simply mean surrendering views antithetical to the God hypothesis so that you are freed up to experience a relationship with him. For someone who is a prisoner to lusts, pleasure, addiction, self-surrender might simply mean confession that the person can’t control his own life anymore and he needs to rely on a higher power.

    Truth is therefore found primarily in the individual. We understand that at the core, it is a personal decision to believe. And that’s the beauty of the witness (or the terror). You yourself will one day be judged.

    At the core for Christians is the reality that there is nothing we can do to improve our existential worth to God. Unlike all other monotheistic religions, Christianity is based on the worship of Jesus Christ and not a system of morals, and consummates in a dynamic faith that (in the words of Bultmann, which I like here) sees the death and resurrection of God as the point at which a supreme existential decision of faith needs to be made.

    And if we take the definition from Hebrews, faith is confidence that what does not bear itself directly to the senses is postulated in our actions and our orientation towards God. This doesn’t mean it makes no room for hard evidence, it simply says that even with hard evidence, it will always be the individual who makes the decision to believe. Like Jesus said to the Pharisees when asked to perform a miracle. “A wicked and perverse generation seeks after a sign.” Further, Jesus said to a group of followers “Even if they see one raised from the dead they will not believe.” I think at the core, Christianity will always be personal.

  • 79 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 8, 2008 at 8:37 am

    My reply has the topics out of order from your posting – rearranged in order of ‘crassness.’ There are a lot of re-writes in here.

    Because at the heart of all disbelief is human pride.

    Believing that humans are fundamentally ignorant about the universe that we inhabit and that we have only been able to reduce this ignorance through hard, thoughtful work leading to tentative conclusions is a strange sort of pride.

    I’m having difficulty imagining how someone could convince me I should adopt a different basic attitude. Our long track record of consistently finding out we were wrong about various things is compelling.

    For someone who is an intellectual such as yourself, self surrender might simply mean surrendering views antithetical to the God hypothesis so that you are freed up to experience a relationship with him.

    What are the criteria you are using to identify which hypotheses should be privileged like this? How do you pick?

    Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see

    You take offense when I say faith is wishful thinking and / or bad reasoning and then you quote the Bible saying the exact same thing!

    Sigh.

    extracting truth by means of faith, simply means (and I think this would stand in most monotheistic religions) that at the fundamental core, faith is a kind of self-surrender to God in which the individual leaves behind his prior orientation to the world as the corpus of truth and finds in its place (through scripture or holy book or meditative work) the reality of God.

    This, to me, reads that empirical (sensory) data as a basis for judging truth or falseness of ideas should be abandoned. Instead, we should surrender to using the Bible or meditative work (?) for judging the truth or falseness of ideas.

    That speaks for itself.

  • 80 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 8, 2008 at 11:02 am

    I’m just wondering to what extent has Kenneth given religion serious consideration and “tested” the primary method by which religion is said to operate, namely through faith, which I argue begins with self-humility and an “openness” to the reality before entirely shutting the doors before he ever looks inside the house.

    See several posts up. I test faith every day. Faith without evidence is ludicrous, because you can believe anything.

    Hugo:

    Assume Kenneth is living a very good and very happy life, why, would you say, should Kenneth try religion? Is it to avoid hell in the afterlife?

    Trey, I notice in your replies that you constantly focus on only one aspect that the question is asking, namely happiness, which you then dismiss. What about the “good” aspect of the above question? In both Hugo’s question and in my comments above, you have consistently not addressed the “moral”/”fulfilling”/”good” aspects. I ask again, why need God if you can lead a good or fulfilling or morally satisfying life without recourse to such a theological concept?

    The purpose of life, from a Christian worldview, is to fear God and keep his Commandments. There is nothing “happy” for me in denying myself pleasures I might otherwise bask in and cause me happiness.

    I generally keep the commandments, with the obvious exception of honouring a deity. Because most of them make good sense, and I can understand the moral implications of not keeping them. I find the thought that I should fear the potential creator of the universe repulsive.

    Strictly speaking, one could argue that because I don’t put any other god before God, I even uphold the 1st commandment ;-).

    Negate:

    Our social evolution dictated on what level we need god.

    An interesting point! If you are shit-scared of the thunder and the mammoths and beasties that go bump in the night, then recourse to hope in some saviour Who Is Going To Make Things All Better, however untrue, would make a great deal of sense.

    Back to Trey:
    I still find that all of your arguments are rationalising after the fact. It doesn’t matter how you came to God, or how you found him, or how you justify your life in the context of having found him. You need to answer the simple question: does God exist? Then provide evidence for or against the position. If you can’t, then my “absolute faith” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster is as valid and moral and happy as yours. Nothing that you say makes sense if he doesn’t exist; its just fluff and feathers. You have yet to provide me with any valid evidence, anywhere in your previous posts, that God exists. The burden of proof is on you.

    Stenger said the reason he became an atheist was because in his words, as a young man, “when I looked at all the religions in the world, I couldn’t possibly believe they were all right.” To which Craig replied, “Ok, but that doesn’t preclude that one of them isn’t right!”

    Absolutely true! What would you say if, on the Day of Judgement, you find out it was Brahma who created the universe? Thor? Zeus? The poor bastard who cut off his genitalia to make the world? How can you possible choose between the various options?

    Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

    I am sure the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists, and in my hope that he will touch me with his noodly appendage. Nothing you do can dissuade me from my position. I am certain, even though I cannot see him.

    You see how ludicrous this argument is? Faith without evidence tells us nothing.

    Because at the heart of all disbelief is human pride.

    Here I must disagree. You don’t believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Does that make you prideful because you don’t?

    Truth is therefore found primarily in the individual.

    Which means that truth, so defined, is highly individual. Which means that no persons truth is the same. How can truth be so arbitrary and subjective if it is truth?

  • 81 Trey // Apr 8, 2008 at 4:10 pm

    Believing that humans are fundamentally ignorant about the universe that we inhabit and that we have only been able to reduce this ignorance through hard, thoughtful work leading to tentative conclusions is a strange sort of pride.

    I never said humans are fundamentally ignorant. My proposition is humans can only get to so much by way of intelligent reasoning and at some point you place your faith in where you believe the evidence points. The same is true with any scientific theory. You find good, solid arguments for what you believe is the truth and you orient yourself to those beliefs.
    Further, I never say humans are ignorant about the universe we inhabit. In fact, I dare say, most human beings believe that the universe is best understood by adopting God as the prima causa of the universe. Far from ignorance, this shows that the majority of people in the world agree that there is an intelligent force or ethereal power which represents the best explanation for the existence. Saying that “humans” are ignorant…well, I think you are giving humanists too much credit. Humanists are just another synonym for all of humanity. You guys are a small minority in relation to most of the people in the world, so I think your phrasing is misleading.

    I’m having difficulty imagining how someone could convince me I should adopt a different basic attitude. Our long track record of consistently finding out we were wrong about various things is compelling.

    Again, you’ve already made up your mind that inherent to this convincing there is a need for hard, empirical evidence. I believe there is this kind of evidence in the resurrection of Christ, in the varieties of religious experience said to be experienced throughout the world, in big bang cosmology. So we’re just rehashing a week’s worth of material, in which theists are convinced that the all the evidence in favor of science has NOT dismissed the possibility of God, and far from being pure solipsism, the reality of God can be qualified in the ground of material reality. I think on these grounds, there is excellent reason to belief. I think even as far back as the Psalms, it is true that “the heavens declare the majesty of God.” He is not only something experienced wholly subjectively but is shared in the experiences of many people.

    What are the criteria you are using to identify which hypotheses should be privileged like this? How do you pick?

    Criteria in regard to obstacles to acceptance? Maybe this ISN’T your personal gripe with the God hypothesis. I was speaking rhetorically. But in regard to some criteria, I would say atheism and its followers are couched on the proposition that God is not the best explanation for what we experience and observe in the world. I would say verificationists, like yourself, would find then that their interpretative framework needs tweaking and would need to realize that you can engage the data and come to reasonable conclusions that aren’t at all suspect or crafted from the emotion of religious committment.

    You take offense when I say faith is wishful thinking and / or bad reasoning and then you quote the Bible saying the exact same thing!

    I quote the Bible? Where did I quote the Bible? Please be specific. Quoting the Bible to defend the biblical witness is an argument from circularity. I would think I’d be more astute to recognize such an obvious trap. So please tell me: where do I quote the Bible because the following you write doesn’t follow from your accusation?

    Sigh.

    Yes add a DOUBLE sigh for me!

    extracting truth by means of faith, simply means (and I think this would stand in most monotheistic religions) that at the fundamental core, faith is a kind of self-surrender to God in which the individual leaves behind his prior orientation to the world as the corpus of truth and finds in its place (through scripture or holy book or meditative work) the reality of God.

    This, to me, reads that empirical (sensory) data as a basis for judging truth or falseness of ideas should be abandoned.

    Again, we’ve gone over this all week. And I would challenge you to show me how you, as an atheist can be absolutely, positively certain that the scientific data you interpret is evidence of the world you live in? As Joe Friday says “just the facts” STILL requires your OWN interpretation of the facts right? If you’ve ever played the boardgame Clue, that’s an excellent example. You find as many pieces of evidence as you can. But ultimately it is up to you to string them together to make a conclusion. What I’m saying is, whether you are a theist or atheist, once the interpretation is made there’s a kind of faith you must produce to hold it in place! I don’t see the quandry in this. And to say that atheists don’t have a kind of faith in the evidence they interpret is to make a claim that there is no clear individuation between subject and object. You ARE your interpretation. But this is ludicrous. You can’t “enter into” the object of your inquiry. You are always in an observation mode which requires certain personal commitments on the part of the individual.

    Remember too, we’re not talking science. We’re talking atheism. Atheism and science are not one in the same thing. Science says I can provide the quantum measurements for the atomic weight of particles that must have been present during the big bang. The scientific method reaches a conclusion based on what is observed in those parameters. Then, atheism and theism come in and say beyond those parameters I can make an interpretation about life, namely: “from this evidence we can could that God does/does not existence.” This is interpretation.

    Instead, we should surrender to using the Bible or meditative work (?) for judging the truth or falseness of ideas.

    That speaks for itself.

    Well when you rip it from the context like that, I’m sure it would appear that way to you.

  • 82 Negate // Apr 8, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Common Trey, you know as well as all of us, that science is just the interpretation of the facts as we know it now. As soon as the facts change so does our interpretation of it. By concluding God this and god that, you are not looking at facts we can observe. Neither atheism nor theism has anything to do with what life is, it is merely a opinion of what and what not is the origin of life.

    No matter what scientific research identifies, none of us can conclude the existence or none existence of god because of that research. I think biased opinions has a greater influence on these arguments than what we would like to admit.

    No atheist could reasonably say scientific data is inclusive proof of the world we live in, because scientific interpretations change as our knowledge grows. Science can adapt to new knowledge, can god? it think this is especially a answer Hugo would like to answer.

  • 83 Trey // Apr 8, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    See several posts up. I test faith every day. Faith without evidence is ludicrous, because you can believe anything.

    And I’ve challenged you severely on this point. And I don’t think you ever responded (or maybe you did over the weekend and I didn’t see it). You can’t “test” faith the same way you test the chemical composition of the universe. I think even you recognize this. You don’t mix it into a vat, add iodine solution, to see what comes out in the wash.

    Trey, I notice in your replies that you constantly focus on only one aspect that the question is asking, namely happiness, which you then dismiss. What about the “good” aspect of the above question? In both Hugo’s question and in my comments above, you have consistently not addressed the “moral”/”fulfilling”/”good” aspects. I ask again, why need God if you can lead a good or fulfilling or morally satisfying life without recourse to such a theological concept?

    No Kenneth, I’m answering a specific logical fallacy that was continually proported by Hugo, namely, that happiness is the goal of the religious life. Focusing is a good thing if you are answering the opposition’s argument. It shows us making some progress. I try not to jump around discursively; I try to take on the questions directly. But as to the “good,” I can only ASSUME what Hugo means. It would be helpful if he defined what he meant by good. If he meant good as a moral identifier, I would still argue it as an unsatisfactory concept (on Judeo-Christian grounds).

    I generally keep the commandments, with the obvious exception of honouring a deity. Because most of them make good sense, and I can understand the moral implications of not keeping them.

    Makes good sense! You’re kidding right? Again, I’ve harped on this before. Why waste the only life you’ll ever have to abase yourself in outmoded Judeo-Christian values (the Commandments)? Why honor your mother and father if they are worthless? Why not murder or physically harm someone who challenges you to a fight? Why not fornicate with as many women as you can, or if you can get away with it rape someone? Good sense means absolutely nothing on the position of humanism. As a former atheist, at most it seemed like a coward’s response. As an atheist, I would have called anyone trying to argue for a legitmate morality a coward, and I think I would have been in good company with Nietzsche.

    Furthermore, why should you feel compelled to be an upstanding citizen or advance society. I find it amazing that most humanists in the world are industrialized nations in places where they can enjoy the bounty of education. So it would make sense for them to see the value in culture and society and peace and social justice, etc.

    Atheism feels “compelled” to validate itself against the theistic charge that it’s morally bankrupt by showing that atheists can be just as moral. But so what? Why should atheists feel obliged to live that way? They don’t agree that the charge theists posit that they are unbelievers are on a route to damnation anyway, so why not live immorally? I think because God puts in each person a knowledge of the moral law.

    Finally, you mention “moral implications of not keeping them.” I don’t know what this means. Do you mean the arbitrary punishments the human animal has aligned with such civil buffers to keep the peace? I think, and with good reason, that morality, even if it can be shown that it is biological invested in the evolution of the species, cannot show moral duty or obligation. Two concepts which are tantamount to an appreciable understanding of morality.

    I find the thought that I should fear the potential creator of the universe repulsive.

    Strictly speaking, one could argue that because I don’t put any other god before God, I even uphold the 1st commandment ;-).

    Perhaps your psychological motivation for not believing in God is because you don’t like the terms of the theological stories of existence presented to you? That’s why I can say confidently in myself, that I have been thoroughly entrenched on both sides of the fence, and I can say that even though there are things in my faith I don’t gleefully celebrate, I recognize that ultimately (if I am to believe God is cause of existence) that I am merely a “player” in the story of existence, and as a player, I have to abid in knowledge that even if I think I could imagine a better world, there is purpose in this one enough.

    An interesting point! If you are shit-scared of the thunder and the mammoths and beasties that go bump in the night, then recourse to hope in some saviour Who Is Going To Make Things All Better, however untrue, would make a great deal of sense.

    Have any of you atheists actually read any Sartre? He was one of my favorites. Sartre said the project of man is to become god. Far from an evolutionary social dictate, Sartre believed it was inherent to the individual. Nietzsche called it “the will to power.” I don’t see this swirling around in the out-boundaries of society. It’s very much for atheists a part of the individual.

    You need to answer the simple question: does God exist?

    You act as if I’ve been dancing around the question. What have I been doing for the past week. Does God exist………………………………………………………………………………………………..yes.

    Absolutely true! What would you say if, on the Day of Judgement, you find out it was Brahma who created the universe? Thor? Zeus? The poor bastard who cut off his genitalia to make the world? How can you possible choose between the various options?

    What’s true? Stenger’s casually dismissal of the religious life? I think this is typical of many atheists who have never been immersed in the religions they believe have no truth. But I have! And I know the deep psychological underpinnings of the fear and the embitterment and everything else that comes with going in and out of the religious life. So if you ask, who is most qualified to give a dutiful appraisal of the religious life and atheistic project, I would say I’m certainly more qualified than an atheist who makes a statement of oversimplification like that. To me it clearly shows he has no idea what the religious life is about and doesn’t take it seriously as a region of human experience. Someone like Farrell Till, a former pastor turned atheist, might be more capable to give more insight (although I’ve talked with Till and read his work and find him unconvincing).

    And I would say, on the grounds of the evidence, I think we can take comfort in the unique character and life of Jesus as an historically embedded figure who was the revelation of God to the world. He stands morally head and shoulders above the rest, and he gave tremendous creditability to his life: In rising from the dead he validated that he is in fact the most trustworthy spokesperson regarding man’s eternal purpose.

    I am sure the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists, and in my hope that he will touch me with his noodly appendage. Nothing you do can dissuade me from my position. I am certain, even though I cannot see him.

    You see how ludicrous this argument is? Faith without evidence tells us nothing.

    Yes. It’s called solipsism. And it’s not a good variant for an historical embedded religion like Christianity. Further, you guys keep saying “faith without evidence, faith without evidence.” And again, there is ample evidence, I’ve demonstrated this in the vigor of the arguments presented, you just disagree where it points. I can’t emphasize this enough. What makes the “evidence” anymore your possession than theism’s possession. You are implying some kind of ownership right.

    Here I must disagree. You don’t believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Does that make you prideful because you don’t?

    I think you do a real disservice to my line of argument if you keep extracting points in isolation and don’t understand them in their total context. Pride is a theological determination. Pride can be rationalized once we show that the evidence for Christianity is valid, which can be shown in the variety of ways I’ve demonstrated up above. If I think God is the best explanation for existence and if I believe that he has revealed himself to humanity. It follows that a theological rendering of our human condition is not an irrational encroachment of a religious worldview anymore than I can tell you Kenneth that your tears are all the evidence I need and there is no explanatory power behind them except a series of biological processes, when you know for a fact why you are crying.

    Truth is therefore found primarily in the individual.

    Which means that truth, so defined, is highly individual. Which means that no persons truth is the same. How can truth be so arbitrary and subjective if it is truth?

    This is the end of a long explanation for a theological interpretation of the world. In isolation it looks flawed and silly, and that’s how you’ve wished to propose it. I’d invite you to recapitulate my review of Craig’s comments and then we’ll talk about it. My hands are hurting. ;)

  • 84 Trey // Apr 8, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    No matter what scientific research identifies, none of us can conclude the existence or none existence of god because of that research. I think biased opinions has a greater influence on these arguments than what we would like to admit.

    No doubt. I’m in complete agreement if we understand by conclusion I understand you to mean hard, empirical, objectively unanimous evidence that is undefeatable. However, biases don’t eliminate truth. One of us could STILL be right! And that’s why, as rational people we argue our points.

    However, I think verificationists, like Ken and Ben, don’t believe it’s merely interpretation. They think their evidence obtains to a higher standard of excellence. Verificationism is a type of empiricism that makes no room for other means of knowledge acquisition.

    No atheist could reasonably say scientific data is inclusive proof of the world we live in, because scientific interpretations change as our knowledge grows. Science can adapt to new knowledge, can god? it think this is especially a answer Hugo would like to answer.

    I wonder if these atheists are aware of Alvin Platinga’s argument on “evolution as an epistemic defeater on naturalism”? It’s a powerful argument that calls into question the atheists claim that truth claims are the same thing as survival mechanisms built into us by biological evolution.

  • 85 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 9, 2008 at 3:24 am

    I never said humans are fundamentally ignorant.

    I wasn’t being clear, I guess. That long sentence was an outline of my basic attitude – not my understanding of yours.

    Where did I quote the Bible?

    You quoted Hebrews 11:1-12 as an early part of your explanation of what you meant by faith.

    And I would challenge you to show me how you, as an atheist can be absolutely, positively certain that the scientific data you interpret is evidence of the world you live in?

    I can’t be absolutely, positively certain of anything, including the truth of this statement.

    But ultimately it is up to you to string them together to make a conclusion. What I’m saying is, whether you are a theist or atheist, once the interpretation is made there’s a kind of faith you must produce to hold it in place!

    ? I don’t see how.

    Trey: For someone who is an intellectual such as yourself, self surrender might simply mean surrendering views antithetical to the God hypothesis so that you are freed up to experience a relationship with him.

    Me: What are the criteria you are using to identify which hypotheses should be privileged like this? How do you pick?

    Trey: Criteria in regard to obstacles to acceptance?

    You are taking a specific hypothesis – the God hypothesis – and asking me to ‘surrender views antithetical’ to it. Why should I treat this hypothesis different than any other? On what basis should I select hypotheses to be ‘privileged’ like this and why?

    Personally, if I were going to do such a thing, I already have such a hypothesis in mind. A Great Keno Machine, eternally creating independent space-time universes every five minutes in its meta-time, randomly assigning values to physical fundamental constants each time (hence the Keno Machine.) It fits all the data.

    Then, atheism and theism come in and say beyond those parameters I can make an interpretation about life, namely: “from this evidence we can could that God does/does not existence.”

    I disagree. From my point of view, my epistemology, there is no reason to even propose the God hypothesis. None of the methods that we have found to reduce our fundamental ignorance – scientific, historical, mathematical, etc. lead to it.

    My basic approach is that humans are fundamentally ignorant about the universe that we inhabit and we have only been able to reduce this ignorance through hard, thoughtful work leading to tentative conclusions. I don’t see a privileged hypothesis in God, any more than I see one in the GKM. Hell, when my wife and I got married, I don’t think we had ever brought up religion other than we weren’t getting married in a church. Theism / atheism or Christian / non-Christian never came up. It wasn’t until after we had been married for several years that she learned I was an atheist.

    snipped – arguments about morality

    If someone convinced me a God existed, I would not adopt his moral opinions. It doesn’t matter either way. If God appeared to every being in the universe five seconds from now and says ‘I created the universe and humans. You should love each other as you love yourselves’ I would ignore him and do what I thought was right. If God appeared to every being in the universe five seconds from now and says ‘I created the universe and the Oompas. You should all slaughter each other to make room for the Oompas, as you have no value. The Oompas are the only rightful inhabitants here’ I would ignore him and do what I thought was right.

    I wonder if these atheists are aware of Alvin Platinga’s argument on “evolution as an epistemic defeater on naturalism”? It’s a powerful argument

    I’ve read at least the gist of it. It is NOT a powerful argument.

    I think this is typical of many atheists who have never been immersed in the religions they believe have no truth. But I have! And I know the deep psychological underpinnings of the fear and the embitterment and everything else that comes with going in and out of the religious life. So if you ask, who is most qualified to give a dutiful appraisal of the religious life and atheistic project, I would say I’m certainly more qualified than an atheist who makes a statement of oversimplification like that. To me it clearly shows he has no idea what the religious life is about and doesn’t take it seriously as a region of human experience. Someone like Farrell Till, a former pastor turned atheist, might be more capable to give more insight (although I’ve talked with Till and read his work and find him unconvincing).

    There’s definitely some truth here. I was raised in the Catholic tradition, going to church and after-school religious instruction once a week, but I thought they were full of it from about the time I was introduced to it. Whatever the genetic predispositions are toward supernaturalism / naturalism, I’m definitely strongly predisposed to the latter.

  • 86 Hugo // Apr 9, 2008 at 8:59 am

    I’m typing on a cellphone right now, so I’m afraid I cannot respond in depth.

    Trey, I’m afraid you make incorrect assumptions. I never said religion is about being happy or living a good life. The question where I feature that was not a rhetorical question. I mentioned that to get it out of the way.

    Can you please stop trying to convince atheists that they must be immoral? Just because you were unable to be a moral atheist does not mean others are also unable. I suspect you don’t know what a humanist is. Good atheists believe that what they do matters. They live by the golden rule, they live by compassion. Why does that upset you so much? It sounds like you’re saying “God must exist because I have no other reason to be moral.” Argument from consequences is a logical fallacy.

    If you consider a belief that what you do matters as the same as a belief in God, then many atheists believe in God. And our understanding of God changes over centuries. However, the atheist’s God and your God is understood in such a different way, that they leave the “God” label to the theists.

    How about “Yo”? Guys, take a look at yoism (yoism.org or maybe .com), who here can describe themselves as a yoist? (That the right word?)

    Cellphone keypad == pain. I might not comment again for a few days. Trey, try to make fewer assumptions? Or try to understand the comments you are replying to? Eg why Ben says the verse you quoted sounds the same to him as “faith is wishful thinking”. I am impressed at Ben’s patience with you. (Hat tip to Ben.)

    Prediction: At some point we’re going to drop this silly arguing, and agree to disagree. Then we can start working together on making this world a better place. That includes working together on the problems of the worst of religion and the worst of atheism, without attacking theism and atheism as a whole. I hope my prediction is good. Ok, my thumbs are tired. Good night.

  • 87 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 9, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Trey:

    And I’ve challenged you severely on this point. And I don’t think you ever responded (or maybe you did over the weekend and I didn’t see it). You can’t “test” faith the same way you test the chemical composition of the universe. I think even you recognize this. You don’t mix it into a vat, add iodine solution, to see what comes out in the wash.

    No, I’m afraid to say that you haven’t. You are taking it on faith that you can’t test faith.

    No Kenneth, I’m answering a specific logical fallacy that was continually proported by Hugo, namely, that happiness is the goal of the religious life.

    You address one specific aspect of his argument, but don’t address the other. Namely, his point was you don’t need a god to lead a happy or moral life. I can understand your argument that we are not meant to be happy in this life. I even accept this argumentation. But if I and atheists are on average no more or less moral than any religious group, then I see no support for the moral argument for God.

    Makes good sense! You’re kidding right? Again, I’ve harped on this before. Why waste the only life you’ll ever have to abase yourself in outmoded Judeo-Christian values (the Commandments)? Why honor your mother and father if they are worthless? Why not murder or physically harm someone who challenges you to a fight? Why not fornicate with as many women as you can, or if you can get away with it rape someone? Good sense means absolutely nothing on the position of humanism. As a former atheist, at most it seemed like a coward’s response. As an atheist, I would have called anyone trying to argue for a legitmate morality a coward, and I think I would have been in good company with Nietzsche.

    What makes you think that honouring your mother and father are exclusively Judeo-Christian? Who says I am deriving my morals from such a Judeo-Christian perspective? Most aspects of the Decalogue make perfect sense in light of more universal human morals. My father and mother deserve honour because they are not worthless, to me. I can decide not to fight someone who challenged me because I can empathise that someone (including me) might get hurt. It is sensible because I do not want to get hurt. I can decide not to rape a woman because I realise that the woman will get hurt, and I can empathise with that. I think you are assuming that these Ten (again, with the caveat of no. 1)would not make sense in most other cultures.

    Atheism feels “compelled” to validate itself against the theistic charge that it’s morally bankrupt by showing that atheists can be just as moral.

    I couldn’t agree more. Because all too often it is the theists position that we don’t have any morals, or that we are internally inconsistent in claiming to have morals. And the fact is, we aren’t more or less moral than theists. Which is why it is so “compelling”, and frustrating, to have to keep validating this point.

    I think because God puts in each person a knowledge of the moral law.

    This is what I keep challenging you on. You can think this as much as you want. This doesn’t make it true. There are extremely good, non-theistic reasons to show that a certain set of morals are needed in order for a society to function. These include things like not murdering. Like honouring those older, wiser and more experienced than you. Like not raping your neighbours wife.

    Finally, you mention “moral implications of not keeping them.” I don’t know what this means. Do you mean the arbitrary punishments the human animal has aligned with such civil buffers to keep the peace?

    Because if you don’t keep these strictures, you feel bad. Because if you don’t keep these strictures, other people feel bad. Are you saying that you see no moral implications in raping a woman? You wouldn’t feel guilt? You wouldn’t feel empathy at her pain? You wouldn’t prevent yourself from giving in to your urges because you have foresight of what this guilt and empathy might cost you and her?

    I think, and with good reason, that morality, even if it can be shown that it is biological invested in the evolution of the species, cannot show moral duty or obligation. Two concepts which are tantamount to an appreciable understanding of morality.

    Yes, it can. Have you ever heard of reciprocal altruism and game theory? These are concepts that address the outcomes of generating altruism from such a seemingly selfish (to our human eyes) process of evolution. If you cheat in such a situation, you will ultimately lose out in the evolutionary game. Thus any hereditary tendency to remain loyal to those who treat you well is selected for.

    You act as if I’ve been dancing around the question. What have I been doing for the past week. Does God exist………………………………………………………………………………………………..yes.

    No. You haven’t been dancing around the question of whether God exists or not. You’ve answered resoundingly in the affirmative. You just haven’t provided enough evidence to sway the jury, as it were.

    Perhaps your psychological motivation for not believing in God is because you don’t like the terms of the theological stories of existence presented to you?

    It isn’t a psychological motivation. Its an evidential one. There is no evidence for these theological stories, no matter what their moral implications.

    He stands morally head and shoulders above the rest, and he gave tremendous creditability to his life: In rising from the dead he validated that he is in fact the most trustworthy spokesperson regarding man’s eternal purpose.

    OK. Can you give evidence for his arising from the dead?

    And again, there is ample evidence, I’ve demonstrated this in the vigor of the arguments presented, you just disagree where it points. I can’t emphasize this enough. What makes the “evidence” anymore your possession than theism’s possession. You are implying some kind of ownership right.

    And again, I don’t think you have addressed the issues.

    I am not trying to make you angry. I am not claiming I own the evidence. I am trying to find out what your evidence is. You claim that there is evidence for God in the world around us, such as quantum theory etc. etc. None of these concepts holds an iota of evidence for God.

    I think you do a real disservice to my line of argument if you keep extracting points in isolation and don’t understand them in their total context. Pride is a theological determination.

    How? Where is the evidence for this blanket claim? Have you tried understanding the evolutionary reasoning behind why an emotion such as pride can be useful?

    Pride can be rationalized once we show that the evidence for Christianity is valid, which can be shown in the variety of ways I’ve demonstrated up above. If I think God is the best explanation for existence and if I believe that he has revealed himself to humanity. It follows that a theological rendering of our human condition is not an irrational encroachment of a religious worldview anymore than I can tell you Kenneth that your tears are all the evidence I need and there is no explanatory power behind them except a series of biological processes, when you know for a fact why you are crying.

    From an evolutionary perspective, at first glance tears don’t seem to make much sense. But they are a signal of some great underlying emotion, such as pain, and as such are a fantastic form of communication. In other words, something is wrong, it might affect me and my kindred/friends, this is something that needs to be addressed. As a signal in a social species, it can drastically affect survival rates, and consequently the tendency to cry in high emotion/pain situations can be selected for.

    In isolation it looks flawed and silly, and that’s how you’ve wished to propose it.

    Flawed and silly, to me at least, have nothing to do with it. Every single scientific theory is flawed, in that it is incomplete. It is not a universal descriptor of reality. Many scientific theories appear silly. Certainly the theories of continental drift and quantum theory look fundamentally silly at first glance. The point here is, the reason why we still hold to these seemingly flawed and silly theories is that there is evidence to support them. No matter how stupid-seeming, no matter how utterly nonsensical or counter-intuitive, a theory is considered correct if it is a better descriptor of reality than any other on the basis of evidence. So no matter how intuitively comforting, how seemingly logical the God hypothesis is, it holds no evidence. It is not better a descriptor of the universe in which we find ourselves than any other iteration of religion. Consequently I have abandoned it as a viable explanation.

    They think their evidence obtains to a higher standard of excellence.

    Yes it does, because every other means of knowledge acquisition have been shown to not be as accurate or precise. You have to fall back on the evidence because no other more successful means exists to get at truth. You can pray as much as you want to for answers, but those prayers aren’t as likely to give you the correct answer as testing your hypotheses of potential answers within the context of the scientific method.

  • 88 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 9, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Ben-Jammin:

    A Great Keno Machine, eternally creating independent space-time universes every five minutes in its meta-time, randomly assigning values to physical fundamental constants each time (hence the Keno Machine.) It fits all the data.

    Are you dissing the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? A pox on you!

    My basic approach is that humans are fundamentally ignorant about the universe that we inhabit and we have only been able to reduce this ignorance through hard, thoughtful work leading to tentative conclusions.

    You don’t mind if I steal this? With attribution, of course. Its a lovely summation of my basic approach as well.

  • 89 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 9, 2008 at 11:08 am

    You don’t mind if I steal this? With attribution, of course.

    Not at all. It started out in a simpler form as my signature at a different message board and I fleshed it out a little for this conversation.

    “We are fundamentally in a state of ignorance, and all our learning leads to tentative conclusions only” is the simpler original.

    http://uberchristians.org/vb/member.php?u=66

  • 90 Hugo // Apr 9, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Borrowing a neighbour’s wireless network and internet connection… I’d correct Kenneth’s blockquote, but I don’t want to send a cleartext password over the neighbour’s network. ;)

    Trey, try to make fewer assumptions? Or try to understand the comments you are replying to? Eg why Ben says the verse you quoted sounds the same to him as “faith is wishful thinking”.

    Apologies for that. This is what I was referring to:

    Trey, quoting Hebrews: “1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”

    Ben: “You take offense when I say faith is wishful thinking and / or bad reasoning and then you quote the Bible saying the exact same thing!”

    Trey: “I quote the Bible? Where did I quote the Bible? Please be specific.”

    Maybe this is a silly nitpick illustrating that this debate is beyond me, on a higher level than I can enter into right now, however, it illustrates what frustrates me about the conversation. “Where did I quote the Bible?” Well, right there, the very piece that Ben is responding to. You can’t miss that, can you?

    He was not accusing you of circular reasoning, you didn’t quote the Bible to claim “biblical authority”, however, you did quote the Bible to say “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. Do you understand how Ben sees this as nothing other than “wishful thinking”? Please acknowledge this.

    E.g. “ok, I see that you think that is nothing other than wishful thinking, however, the difference is the following…”

    The difference between faith and wishful thinking? I still draw on other examples of non-religious faith to explain how I understand it. But I’m not going to provide my two cents now, this is Trey’s debate, not mine.

    In response to Kenneth, on “fearing God”, that is an interesting concept that, when not taken “at face value”, can become more nuanced. “Fear” can be translated differently (e.g. in some Afrikaans translations). My understanding of it is that it is more a case of “respect, know, believe”. Being in awe at “the creator’s power”, in which case you’d not have to fear anything else. The person “fearing” the awesome power of his God, should not fear anything else of less consequence on this earth, not the lightning, not the predators, not the winter. “Fear the Lord, so that you may realise you have nothing else to fear?”

    Yes, that’s not “fear” at face value. Whether I’m correct or not, that does illustrate the problem with Biblical language: if it’s from a far-removed culture, it may need a lot more context in order to be understood correctly.

    We discussed this in an earlier post, “On Doubt and Fear”. I asked a knowledgable friend to add his comments. I translated his Afrikaans comments to English as follows:

    Rudolf Otto describes primitive man’s first realisation of God or the godly (or the divine, rather?) as an intuitive realisation that there is something huge behind everything, something that can flatten you any instance, a “mysterium fascinans et tremendum”. Seen this way, fear is the origin of religion, although one hopefully eventually outgrows it.

    The 1933 Afrikaans translation of the Bible regularly referred to “fear of God”, but the younger translations (the more recent translations, rather) replaces it with “to know God” or “to believe in God”. The original Hebrew referred to “fear of God” though. The idea that God could be man’s buddy, is really quite a recent/modern idea, largely invented by the evangelicals.

    That wasn’t quite the response I was hoping for. That pretty much argues I have a different understanding from the original Hebrew. Nevertheless, I try to look at the “value” I can find in “fear of God”. I still don’t know how the culture at the time understood the concept.

    Meh. I’ll not bore you with more details of my understanding right now. Go read that discussion if you are interested, and know that “Russ” is me. (I was being funky in response to Tim Mills, nevermind the details. I’ll change it to “Russ (Hugo)” or something when I get the chance, the context is missing for newcomers – it was in my miniblog at the time.)

  • 91 Hugo // Apr 9, 2008 at 9:38 pm

    I’d correct Kenneth’s blockquote, but I don’t want to send a cleartext password over the neighbour’s network.

    OK, I went ahead and logged in. (My comment ended up in the spam queue.) As such, my password may have been grabbed by someone in the area. If something goes wacknut on my blog, let me know. I made a backup. ;)

  • 92 Trey // Apr 10, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    I just wrote a very long response on the precepts of logic and answering Ben’s post point-by-point in particular and forgot to put in my name and email and received an error message. Everything got erased! UGGGGHHH…

    I just want to say from this discussion over the past week, I hope you have a clearer picture that rational people can hold to a view that God exists. While we agree to disagree, I do want to thank you all for being gracious hosts to me. But it’s time to move on. Others might not have allowed the plane to get off the ground. You guys allowed it to fly! I see the runway and it’s time to disembark for other things.

    I went over some of what’s been said, and at this point, I just feel like we’re spinning wheels. The questions being asked are just reformulations of previous posts and I don’t feel there’s anything to add. The white light of the interrogation light singed my hair, but not my heart :)

    But I think these are all important questions. And as thoughtful beings we ought to consider them all carefully, for, if there is a God, our eternity depends on it!

    Trey

    P.S. I did it again! But this message hung around. So maybe that was an otherworldly “queue” to end it here. ;P

  • 93 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 11, 2008 at 12:53 am

    Everything got erased!

    I’ve learned the hard way to copy everything to the clipboard before I click on anything after I write a long post.

    If you use Firefox, it usually keeps everything you typed if you have to hit the ‘back’ button.

  • 94 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 12, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    FWIW:

    @Kenneth:

    Because all too often it is the theists position that we don’t have any morals, or that we are internally inconsistent in claiming to have morals. And the fact is, we aren’t more or less moral than theists. Which is why it is so “compelling”, and frustrating, to have to keep validating this point.

    The first claim (atheists don’t have any morals) is successfully refuted by the counter-example (atheists are as moral as theists.) The second claim – that atheists are internally inconsistent in claiming to have morals is NOT refuted by atheists having morals, because it would be expected for atheists to have morals in a theistic reality.

    As you regress about why some action is morally right or wrong, you are going to get to an end to the regress. It will end with something along the lines of ‘because I / God say so.’ Nothing changes – morals are equally consistent or inconsistent depending on what you mean by morals.

    Basically, all theism ever does is shift the perceived problems with atheism to be God’s problems.

  • 95 Kenneth Oberlander // Apr 13, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    The second claim – that atheists are internally inconsistent in claiming to have morals is NOT refuted by atheists having morals, because it would be expected for atheists to have morals in a theistic reality.

    I am not certain I follow your logic. Why would it be expected that atheists would have morals if God existed? I was trying to say that from a theists perspective (in which God is the source of all morality), to simultaneously hold that there is no God and to claim to be moral is inconsistent. Needless to say, I don’t think this is a valid argument, because the premise is unconvincing. Apologies for a poorly-constructed post.

  • 96 Ben-Jammin' // Apr 13, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Needless to say, I don’t think this is a valid argument, because the premise is unconvincing.

    Then we pretty much agree, I think.

    Why would it be expected that atheists would have morals if God existed?

    If God were the source for a moral reality, disbelieving in God would have as much effect as disbelieving in gravity. Someone who flew in planes and disbelieved in gravity would be being inconsistent but gravity would still affect them just like everyone else.

    That’s how I see it, anyway.

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