Guest Post Written by Dr. Craig Blomberg on "Why I Am Still a Christian."

I invited Dr. Blomberg to write a post to challenge us at DC, and he's graciously responded in the interests of a fair discussion of the ideas that separate us. No disrespectful skeptical response to such a respected scholar will be published.

Why I Am Still a Christian, by Dr. Craig Blomberg:

I was raised in what I later learned to identify as a very liberal parish of the old Lutheran Church in America. I was confirmed in 1968, the year American society seemed to be falling apart. I took it as seriously as anyone in my confirmation class, which isn’t saying all that much. We spent more time discussing Simon and Garfunkel lyrics and Jesus Christ Superstar than we did Luther’s Catechism.

In my public high school my best friend brought me to our Campus Life club. There for the first time I met kids my own age who spoke about having a personal relationship with Jesus and it was clearly making a difference in their lives. In a culture in which “eggheads” like me who were neither athletic nor very good looking, and as a result had very few friends, they genuinely befriended me (and many others). I wanted what they had and prayed one February night in 1970 to receive Jesus as my Savior and to make him my Lord. But it wasn’t so much a revolutionary new idea as my sense that this was what the Lutherans had once been about but had given it up, at least in my church, for newer, trendier things.

I was valedictorian of my high school class of 750. I set out to be a mathematician. (I did teach high school math for one year.) In college, I encountered religious studies taught from a perspective that publicly acknowledged it was trying to destroy historic Christian faith. A delightful church history professor (and an ordained Lutheran) once told us with a big grin but very seriously that it was impossible to be an evangelical Christian and maintain one’s intellectual integrity. I was enough of an intellectual I determined to see if I thought he was right. Fortunately we had a good library and a couple good local bookstores where I found resources in abundance, not in any religion professor’s bibliographies, that convinced me he was wrong. A disproportionate number of those books in the mid-1970s were written by British scholars or by Americans who taught at a school near Chicago called Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, so I decided to go to seminary at TEDS and, later, to doctoral study in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Most seminarians complain of periodic spiritual dry times. I didn’t have that experience. I had spent the previous eight years trying tactfully to share my faith with any who would listen. I’m not sure there were any of the major challenges to Christianity that I didn’t encounter in those volatile years. I had found what I thought were some good answers to some of the questions, but seminary enabled me to find a whole lot more and, of course, to discover how much I didn’t know in other areas of theology. So I proceeded to doctoral study. I felt called to teach New Testament studies and have done so ever since, first at the undergraduate and then at the graduate level.

Why am I still a Christian all these years later? First, I have to stress what I don’t mean by the word “Christian”. I don’t mean someone who has to be politically conservative. On many issues, I am not; I voted for Obama. I don’t mean someone who has to be a creationist; I believe in an old earth and theistic evolution. (One of my daughters, when she was too young to know her hilarious double-entendre, once summed up my views as succinctly as anything I’ve ever heard: if there was a big bang, there had to be a big banger!) By Christian I don’t mean someone who knows God’s will for those who haven’t been given a credible chance to respond to the gospel. As I’ve studied Christian history, I’ve learned there are about six major approaches to the question. I have some hunches, but I ultimately retreat to my convictions about God’s justice and grace. I can trust him to work it out. As for judgment more generally, I like two excerpts from C. S. Lewis in particular. First, there will be three surprises in heaven: who’s there, who’s not there, and there I’m there! Second, there are only two kinds of people in the world—those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “thy will be done.” Finally, by a Christian, I don’t mean someone who pretends to have the problem of suffering and evil solved. But again, an easy-to-remember tripartite answer goes a long way for me. Why doesn’t God do something (or do more than he has)?

(1) He has done something. He sent Jesus to die for human sin, which is a major contributing factor to suffering and evil, and to begin a process of transformation in them for the better. (2) He is doing something, not least in the ways throughout church history in which Christians have helped make the world a substantially better place. (If all you’ve ever studied are the ways people have done bad things in the name of Jesus, check out a book like New Zealander and Oxfordian Nathan Hill’s What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us: How It Shaped the Modern World [2005] and discover the disproportionately large role it has played over the centuries in the disciplines of literature and law, medicine and science, art and education. Note, too, who comes forward to help the most in response to contemporary disasters and who most keeps long term relief and development programs afloat.) (3) He will do much, much more, eventually righting all the wrongs of the world. But the only way that can happen will be for him to intervene so as to abolish human freedom to rebel against him, which will mean the end of the world as we know it and the end of any opportunity for people to freely choose for him as well. He delays the end because of his mercy.

As you can tell, I’ve already begun to answer my own question. The short summary answer to why I am still a Christian is because I haven’t found any other world view, ideology, religion, or –ism that makes nearly as much sense of all of the pieces of the world as I have studied and experienced it. After tragedies like 9/11 or, locally, Columbine, I marvel at those people who can say all humans are basically good. It was G. K. Chesterton who once wrote that the depravity of humanity is the most empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith! But I also marvel at those who can say that atheistic evolution can account for all of human behavior. What about the sheer altruism, utterly unmotivated by self-interest, which leads firefighters to sacrifice their lives by running back into towering infernos? Only the concept of humans made in the image of God can account for that in my estimation.

In fact, if Christians have to wrestle with the problem of evil, so must everyone else. Indeed, we must all wrestle as well with the problem of good. Where do these concepts come from? What makes the most hardened atheist (usually) insist that there is something just plain wrong, perhaps even immoral, with torturing prisoners, abusing children, raping women, and with someone else gratuitously murdering them. The most advanced of apes has never disclosed any awareness of systems of morality, which is why we never arrest and imprison them, even if they kill humans. (We might euthanize them once in awhile, but not as retributive punishment, merely to protect the rest of humanity.) And we certainly don’t condemn multiple-partner animals of being unfaithful to their mates. Mark Twain (no evangelical he!) put it well: “Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to.” Near the end of his life, Darwin admitted he had no satisfying explanation for human moral consciousness and reasoning.

Most (not all) atheists I meet are not interested in talking about religion or ideologies that function like religion. No matter how tactful I try to be, they respond to my questions either by changing the subject or by ridiculing or getting angry with me. I do not see them having an overarching purpose that gives their life meaning and fills them with deep joy and confidence in the future despite all the trauma of the present. I do see this, though, in countless theists, especially Christians (which is not to deny that we still sin, sometimes in big ways, and that there are even a few perennial “jerks” in our midst!).

Watching people die is an experience everyone should have at not too old an age in life, but many today don’t because we have hidden death by institutionalizing it. I’ve watched a number of people dying in my 53 years of life and it’s then when you find out someone’s true colors. If there is no afterlife and this life is all there is, I still can’t think of any better way to die than with the peace and quiet confidence I’ve observed in and discussed with several Christians who’ve told me they can’t explain it, it wasn’t anything they conjured up in their own strength, it was simply given to them for their last days. If there is an afterlife and the possibility of being part of the new heavens and earth as Revelation 21-22 describes, however metaphorically, why would anyone not want to be a part of it?

That, in a nutshell is why I am still a Christian. Thanks for reading!

55 comments:

Luke said...

Craig,

I'm sure you are familiar with the principles of logic, and are aware that an "argument from ignorance" is a logical fallacy.

You commit this fallacy at least twice in this short essay.

One is in the statement "if there was a big bang, there had to be a big banger!"

You seem to be saying that because we can't explain how the universe began, God must have done it. This is like the Greeks saying, "We can't explain lightning [because we don't understand electric charges yet], therefore Zeus must have done it."

When we don't know something, the appropriate response is to say "We don't know." Instead, you play the "God of the gaps" card, and fill in a gap in our knowledge with "Harumph, must be magic!"

Perhaps Vahiguru created the universe. Perhaps Marduk did. Perhaps the universe is a computer simulation by a math student in a higher dimension. Perhaps the universe exploded ex nihilo by way of virtual particles - which literally pop into existence out of nothing all the time. Perhaps the big bang happened due to forces and processes we have not yet discovered (given the history of physics, this seems highly likely). Perhaps there are unlimited universes. Perhaps the universe is continually collapsing and expanding on itself. Perhaps a committee of gods designed the universe. But our ignorance cannot tell us which of these, if any, is correct. Only evidence can, and we don't have the evidence for what came "before" the big bang.

In addition to being an argument from ignorance, your "explanation" for the big bang of "God did it" actually makes the problem WORSE. It is hard enough for us to explain how the big bang could have come from nothing (if that is indeed what happened). It is even harder for us to explain how an invisible, all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal being with a personality and moral attitudes could have come from nothing, or how such a being could have eternally existed. You have no evidence for that, you merely ASSERT it. I could just as well define "Zog" as an evil, partially-powerful, partially-knowing being that has always existed and - look at that! - because Zog has always existed, Zog must be the answer to the infinite regress we are faced with when we consider the origins of universe!

Of course that is nonsense, for the exact same reason it is nonsense to postulate that Yahweh is the First Cause.

Another point where an "argument from ignorance" is crucial to your current beliefs is in your question: Where did good come from?

Again, this exactly like saying, "We don't understand where the emotion of love comes from, therefore Eros must be the explanation."

Of course, we are now beginning to understand how the chemicals of love come from and how they evolved, but that doesn't mean Eros was EVER a good explanation.

And in fact, there are many theories currently being tested as possible explanations for goodness that do not involve magic.

One is the case for the biological evolution of altruism: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism-biological/

Another is the simple realization that because we are conscious beings, we know what it feels like to experience pain, and we expect that when others experience something that causes us pain, they must be feeling, too. And so we don't want others to feel pain because we grimace at the thought. Etc.

Or perhaps altruism has an explanation that has not been discovered. In any case, there have always been (and always will be) things we don't understand. That doesn't mean "God did it."

I'll leave other commentators to pick apart your other arguments, but I wanted to focus on these two arguments from ignorance.

Craig, my concern is not so much that you have not provided any convincing reason for ME to be a Christian. My concern is that you have no good reasons for YOU to believe all those ancient magical myths.

Billions of people throughout history have left the world a worse place than if they had never been born, EVEN THOUGH they were honestly trying to make it better. Their only mistake was to get the facts wrong. Crusaders, patriots, defenders of slavery or racism or sexism or a cult or destructive economic policies or flawed medical practices - SO MANY people earnestly tried to make the world a better place, but actually made it worse because they weren't careful with the beliefs they let themselves have.

These people were "good" people, but they had a bad effect on the world because they didn't apply critical thinking to their beliefs. They weren't wary of very basic problems of reasoning like the "argument from ignorance." And it caused them to commit small and great harms - to their countrymen, to their friends, to their impressionable children.

Of course, I have spent no time showing that God does NOT exist. That is another topic. But if your reasons for belief are flawed, then you are left with no more reason to believe in Yahweh than you have to believe in Quetzalcoatl.

Please think about that.

Steven Carr said...

Criag thinks we should not punish animals for killing humans?

But why not punish the person who sent the animals to kill the humans?

2 Kings 17

When they first lived there, they did not worship the LORD; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. It was reported to the king of Assyria: "The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires."



CRAIG
I do not see them having an overarching purpose that gives their life meaning and fills them with deep joy and confidence in the future despite all the trauma of the present.

CARR
I guess those fire-fighters who were ordered in to the burning buildings after Craig's theists had blown them up realised the deep joy and confidence in the future that those God-believers had.

Those theists really had the utmosty confidence in their future of having 72 virgins in Heaven.

They had even more 'confidence in the future' than Craig does.

That is why they were happy to kill themselves for their religion.

Of course, Craig's alleged God passed by on the other side while this was happening, and allowed thousands of people to die, almost as though this alleged god didn't care that His followers were killing people on the biggest scale they could think of.

Jason Long said...

JASON LONG
Hello. Thanks for allowing John to share your story with us.

BLOMBERG
First, I have to stress what I don’t mean by the word “Christian”. I don’t mean someone who has to be politically conservative. On many issues, I am not; I voted for Obama. I don’t mean someone who has to be a creationist; I believe in an old earth and theistic evolution.

JASON LONG
So far so good.

BLOMBERG
(One of my daughters, when she was too young to know her hilarious double-entendre, once summed up my views as succinctly as anything I’ve ever heard: if there was a big bang, there had to be a big banger!)

JASON LONG
Have you ever look in depth at refutations of the Kalam or Cosmological Argument? Causes and effects do not belong to any established relationship in physical science (e.g. quantum mechanics, string creation, vacuum fluctuation, radioactive decay perhaps).

Causes and effects are universal concepts. If we assume, for a moment, that the universe has not always existed, we cannot apply supposed laws of the universe (e.g. all effects have causes) to explain how the universe came into existence. Assuming the existence of universal laws, which are of course characteristics of the universe, before the existence of the universe itself is an absurd strategy for the apologist to take.

Existence must necessarily precede cause. Moreover, something cannot cause an effect unless it first exists. Here we see that existence must be the first component of the universe. Even if there were a physical law of causes and effects, existence is first necessary. Therefore, something must exist before it can become part of a causal relationship. The question now becomes, “Exactly what is it that we should suppose first existed, regardless of whether it has existed eternally or without cause?” The much more simple explanation is that the universe is the first “uncaused existence.”

I could go on.

BLOMBERG
By Christian I don’t mean someone who knows God’s will for those who haven’t been given a credible chance to respond to the gospel. As I’ve studied Christian history, I’ve learned there are about six major approaches to the question.

JASON LONG
Atheists would add a seventh. That the Bible is a product of an ignorant group of people. I hope you will consider that one in depth one day.

BLOMBERG
I have some hunches, but I ultimately retreat to my convictions about God’s justice and grace. I can trust him to work it out.

JASON LONG
I hope you will decide to share them with us.

BLOMBERG
Why doesn’t God do something (or do more than he has)?

(1) He has done something. He sent Jesus to die for human sin, which is a major contributing factor to suffering and evil, and to begin a process of transformation in them for the better.

JASON LONG
We do not consider this as historical or even acceptable. It solved nothing. And there was no real sacrifice since Jesus returned to life after a mere 36 hours. I could go on.

BLOMBERG
(2) He is doing something, not least in the ways throughout church history in which Christians have helped make the world a substantially better place. (If all you’ve ever studied are the ways people have done bad things in the name of Jesus, check out a book like New Zealander and Oxfordian Nathan Hill’s What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us: How It Shaped the Modern World [2005] and discover the disproportionately large role it has played over the centuries in the disciplines of literature and law, medicine and science, art and education. Note, too, who comes forward to help the most in response to contemporary disasters and who most keeps long term relief and development programs afloat.)

JASON LONG
Sam Harris pointed out that there was no one else to do the job. "We can also say that every human achievement prior to the twentieth century was accomplished by men and women who were perfectly ignorant of the molecular basis of life. Does this suggest that a nineteenth-century view of biology would have been worth maintaining?"

We really should look at what good people would have done if they were instead studying the philosophy of justice rather than the worship of God. The world would have been much much better off. I don't suppose I could convince you to consider that one in depth?

BLOMBERG
(3) He will do much, much more, eventually righting all the wrongs of the world. But the only way that can happen will be for him to intervene so as to abolish human freedom to rebel against him, which will mean the end of the world as we know it and the end of any opportunity for people to freely choose for him as well. He delays the end because of his mercy.

JASON LONG
And again, we do not accept this is factual. Can you convince us?

BLOMBERG
As you can tell, I’ve already begun to answer my own question. The short summary answer to why I am still a Christian is because I haven’t found any other world view, ideology, religion, or –ism that makes nearly as much sense of all of the pieces of the world as I have studied and experienced it.

JASON LONG
John's Outsider Test comes to mind.

BLOMBERG
After tragedies like 9/11 or, locally, Columbine, I marvel at those people who can say all humans are basically good. It was G. K. Chesterton who once wrote that the depravity of humanity is the most empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith!

JASON LONG
You might be impressed with this, but I consider it to be a gross non sequitur.

BLOMBERG
But I also marvel at those who can say that atheistic evolution can account for all of human behavior. What about the sheer altruism, utterly unmotivated by self-interest, which leads firefighters to sacrifice their lives by running back into towering infernos? Only the concept of humans made in the image of God can account for that in my estimation.

JASON LONG
DNA controls physical and emotional traits. This has been established. We can continue to ignore it, or not. Our choice.

BLOMBERG
In fact, if Christians have to wrestle with the problem of evil, so must everyone else. Indeed, we must all wrestle as well with the problem of good. Where do these concepts come from? What makes the most hardened atheist (usually) insist that there is something just plain wrong, perhaps even immoral, with torturing prisoners, abusing children, raping women, and with someone else gratuitously murdering them.

JASON LONG
An inborn sense of morality encoded in the DNA that is beneficial to the continuation of the species might explain this.

BLOMBERG
The most advanced of apes has never disclosed any awareness of systems of morality, which is why we never arrest and imprison them, even if they kill humans. (We might euthanize them once in awhile, but not as retributive punishment, merely to protect the rest of humanity.) And we certainly don’t condemn multiple-partner animals of being unfaithful to their mates.

JASON LONG
Because they lack the same inborn morality?

BLOMBERG
Mark Twain (no evangelical he!) put it well: “Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to.” Near the end of his life, Darwin admitted he had no satisfying explanation for human moral consciousness and reasoning.

JASON LONG
And if an nineteenth century people didn't have an answer for everything, God is the right one?

BLOMBERG
Most (not all) atheists I meet are not interested in talking about religion or ideologies that function like religion. No matter how tactful I try to be, they respond to my questions either by changing the subject or by ridiculing or getting angry with me. I do not see them having an overarching purpose that gives their life meaning and fills them with deep joy and confidence in the future despite all the trauma of the present.

JASON LONG
I'm sorry to hear that, but if your answers are like the ones given above, perhaps they don't see a real challenge to their beliefs and no reason for you to have the ones you do? It's not my intent to be insulting, so I hope you don't see it that way. Maybe that's why though. I'm glad you came and shared this, but I have presented my reasons why I believe your reasons are based not on logic and reasoning, but on psychological conditioning, cognitive consonance, personal preference, and confirmation bias.

BLOMBERG
I do see this, though, in countless theists, especially Christians (which is not to deny that we still sin, sometimes in big ways, and that there are even a few perennial “jerks” in our midst!).

JASON LONG
I hope we can agree that a delusion and a religion would do the same thing if it was believed in enough.

BLOMBERG
If there is no afterlife and this life is all there is, I still can’t think of any better way to die than with the peace and quiet confidence I’ve observed in and discussed with several Christians who’ve told me they can’t explain it, it wasn’t anything they conjured up in their own strength, it was simply given to them for their last days.

JASON LONG
We agree that the thought of an afterlife is comforting. I hope we can also agree that what we desire is not linked to what exists.

BLOMBERG
If there is an afterlife and the possibility of being part of the new heavens and earth as Revelation 21-22 describes, however metaphorically, why would anyone not want to be a part of it?

JASON LONG
That's a big if.

Thanks for sharing your story Dr. Blomberg. I enjoyed reading it, and I'm sure others will as well.

Philip R Kreyche said...

I'm not surprised that he doesn't find any other religion or worldview convincing, and that he doesn't understand how morality could have a non-theistic reason to exist: he was raised in a Christian family, became a born-again Christian as a teenager, and went to Christian seminaries for his education. Where's the room for seriously considering other worldviews?

And for a "respected scholar," I'm surprised he thinks people should convert just because Revelations promises them eternal life (that's the implication I get from the last part, anyway).

I honestly thought I would see something new here, but this testimony is filled with almost the exact same reasoning and points as just about any Christian who comments on this blog has ever made. Oh well.

tinyfrog said...

Hello, Dr. Blomberg.

Jason made a number of good points that I agree with, so I'll avoid reiterating them.

I'll also say that I'm an ex-Christian. I went to a Christian school, went to church every Sunday and Wednesday, went to a Christian college, but I stopped believing around the time I started college. I could see nothing in Christianity that set it apart from any other religion, and found problems in the theology that made me think it was just another false religion.

Why doesn’t God do something (or do more than he has)?
(1) He has done something. He sent Jesus to die for human sin, which is a major contributing factor to suffering and evil, and to begin a process of transformation in them for the better.


Well, that's non-verifiable. It seems to me that verifiable facts tend to point away from the Christian God. It's only the non-verifiable facts that point to the Christian God. You might as well say that Hinduism is true because Hare Krishna was sent to lead us to the truth, or the Branch Davidians were the truth as evidenced by the fact that God sent us David Koresh.

(2) He is doing something, not least in the ways throughout church history in which Christians have helped make the world a substantially better place.
Well, any religion that happened to be the dominant religion will be the one credited with the actions of it's followers. And since Christianity was a major religion in history, you can bet that it's followers would accomplish a few things. Should we credit the Roman pantheon with producing the technology and art of the Roman Empire? Credit the Greek pantheon with producing Greek philosophy? Credit Islam with the scientific discoveries of the Muslim world? The world has always been moving forward, and whichever religion happens to be around over that period gets the credit? Anyway, regardless of it's influence for the better or worse, it still doesn't really tell us much about it's truth.

(3) He will do much, much more, eventually righting all the wrongs of the world.
Again, this is as non-verifiable as saying "Allah will right the wrongs".

The short summary answer to why I am still a Christian is because I haven’t found any other world view, ideology, religion, or –ism that makes nearly as much sense of all of the pieces of the world as I have studied and experienced it.
And, we would say that Christianity doesn't make sense of "all of the pieces of the world". The fact of the matter is that Christianity could be wrong - *along* with every other "ism". It's incorrect to simply assert that the "most correct one" out of a bunch of losers is the correct one. You can reject Christianity without having a better alternative - that's what agnosticism is.

After tragedies like 9/11 or, locally, Columbine, I marvel at those people who can say all humans are basically good.
I'm unclear on your point here. 15 hijackers and 2 angry kids disprove the idea that humanity is basically good? All it proves is that humanity is not universally good. Anyway, I'm unclear on why "humanity is / isn't basically good" relates to the question of "which religion (if any) is correct".

But I also marvel at those who can say that atheistic evolution can account for all of human behavior. What about the sheer altruism, utterly unmotivated by self-interest, which leads firefighters to sacrifice their lives by running back into towering infernos? Only the concept of humans made in the image of God can account for that in my estimation.
Having done some work in Artificial Intelligence, I'm not so sure that evolution necessarily works to make sure people are fundamentally selfish. There are numerous ways that evolution could be true, and people would be self-sacrificing. For example, people are social animals. They tend to prefer mates who are unselfish. This means people who are unselfish are more likely to picked as mates, and therefore, have children. As a result, sexual selection can play a very large role in creating a race of self-sacrificing people. Further, drawing a straight line from DNA to "self-sacrificing behavior" cannot be done. Instead, all our decisions are filtered through numerous levels, goals, and desires. Social pressures like "honor", "duty" can lead us to self-sacrificing behaviors. Even the decision to kill yourself piloting an airliner into a skyscraper can be a very rational decision once you accept the belief that Allah will reward you. Why hasn't self-sacrificing behavior been eliminated from the gene pool? Well, for numerous possible reasons: (1) altrusism is favored by sexual selection, (2) there is no "altruism gene" - rather, altruism is an effect of an effect of an effect of our genetics. If altruism fits within a whole framework of learning, decision-making, emotions, and social culture, then you can't simply remove it from human beings in the same way that you can remove genes from the gene-pool. Pro-social behaviors are favored on multiple levels within society. The rare event of "self-sacrifice" could be easily out-weighed by the common benefits of pro-social behavior.

Where do these concepts come from? What makes the most hardened atheist (usually) insist that there is something just plain wrong, perhaps even immoral, with torturing prisoners, abusing children, raping women, and with someone else gratuitously murdering them.
I think human morality begins with reciprocity. Once you think deeper about reciprocity, you realize that you must treat other people fairly (because they operate by the rules of reciprocity as well). I think an entire system of morality can be formed from these beginnings, and I think people who intuitively understand morality and act morally get social benefits. Do you disagree that people with "a bad reputation" suffer various social costs?

The most advanced of apes has never disclosed any awareness of systems of morality
I disagree. Experiments with monkeys have shown a strong understanding of reciprocity - i.e. if I help you, then you should help me back. I can dig-up the studies if you disagree.

Most (not all) atheists I meet are not interested in talking about religion or ideologies that function like religion. No matter how tactful I try to be, they respond to my questions either by changing the subject or by ridiculing or getting angry with me.
Ouch. Regardless of how they act towards you, that doesn't really tell you much about the validity of their ideas. I would also add that many Christians like to change the subject as well. I think atheists have a much better position to argue from than Christians, so I don't think you should take the "they change the subject, ridicule or getting angry with me" as an indicator that they have no logical position from which to argue.

I do not see them having an overarching purpose that gives their life meaning and fills them with deep joy and confidence in the future despite all the trauma of the present. I do see this, though, in countless theists, especially Christians
Well, you could also say that about a lot of non-Christians and a lot of cultists as well. I've talked to people in cults, and they do seem quite happy. I also think Deepak Chopra and the Dali Lama also seem quite happy. If I got a bunch of people together and told them that God loved them, or that they had just won a million dollars, or benevolent aliens in a UFO were coming to take them to paradise, I'm sure they'd be happy, too. That happiness is based on the expectation of things to come, and doesn't need to have any connection to reality in order to influence emotions.

If there is no afterlife and this life is all there is, I still can’t think of any better way to die than with the peace and quiet confidence I’ve observed in and discussed with several Christians who’ve told me they can’t explain it, it wasn’t anything they conjured up in their own strength, it was simply given to them for their last days.
Expectation plays a very large role in emotional states. I'm sure all of that is equally true of Muslims dying as well. Emotion is not some physical thing that you have to be given. It can be created from the expectation of something which is absolutely untrue.

Steven Carr said...

I guess Christian web sites will not be offering John the chance to write guest posts any time soon.

Not even 'in the interests of a fair discussion of the ideas that separate us.'

But perhaps I misjudge Dr. Blomberg.

Player Piano said...

Dr. Blomberg, thanks for sharing your account.

I am really interested by your question of how human altruism (apparently unmotivated by self-interest) could lead people to sacrifice their lives and do other such selfless acts?

Well, I've been thinking about why people commit altruistic acts. I believe that a lot of it has to do with societal conditioning.

Humans are conditioned to love their family members, their friends, and members of similar social groups (tribes, ethnicities, classes) from a young age.

Some people would run into a burning building for a loved one. Some people would run into a burning building for a friend. Some would do it for a co-worker. Not everyone has the same standard. Some people would never run into a burning building. I think it is variable on who would be willing to do what. It's an intriguing thought experiment.

I believe that you can psychologically condition someone to identify with other human beings to such a great degree that he or she would want to run into a burning building and save lives -- you could teach someone that life is valuable with emotional and psychological conditioning and experience.

I don't believe that supernatural belief is a prerequisite for altruistic acts, though I do believe that such beliefs may serve as a catalyst for altruism, though I would probably deny that religion is the only such catalyst, or that Christianity is the only religion that could inspire such feelings of altruism. Wouldn't Jain or Buddhist or Muslim or Sikh teachings be able to inspire a similar level of altruism?

Dr. Blomberg, can you prove conclusively that any other particular religion has a more valid morality than Christianity does? Do you not admit that other religions are equally proficient at inspiring altruism? I believe that there is a larger truth beyond all of these religions, and that truth is called human empathy, and it is the basis for almost all forms of human altruism. Religion calls upon our better instincts - yes, it does - but it does not have a monopoly on our better instincts of human empathy and compassion, which I believe are in part hardwired in us by evolution and also imprinted by societal and parental and peer conditioning.

Altruism isn't the only quality you claim for Christianity that is not also a claim of other belief systems. There are also Sikhs and Muslims and Hindus who claim the same sense of peace and serenity during the process of death. Would you be willing to admit that since this tendency reoccurs in several religions that this tendency may be related to a factor outside of all of them -- namely, the comfort of any strongly-held belief system promising reward after death?

I used to be a Christian, but I am now an atheist because I have considered how all of these religions work, and have come to the conclusion that for any reason I don't believe in any religion besides Christianity, it should also be applicable to the Christian faith as well. All of the things that these supposedly "exclusive" religions have in common demonstrate that there is something larger above and beyond all of them, or that each religion is decidedly less significant than the larger reality of our existence.

Logosfera said...

BLOOMBERG
If there is an afterlife and the possibility of being part of the new heavens and earth as Revelation 21-22 describes, however metaphorically, why would anyone not want to be a part of it?

The ultimate problem of christianity (and other religions) is summed up by the above phrase. Beyond Pascal's wager that phrase summarizes what is christianity all about: selling your fellow human beings for a ticket to heaven.
First of all your sense of justice must be realy distorted to believe you deserve to get to heaven. So the desire to go to heaven already tells something about morality of christianity.
Second of all heaven as a perfect place entails the lack of change (anything that changes the perfection will make it unperfect). I don't think anyone would like to live in a comma for eternity even if fed with LSD all the time. This tells us something about the profoundness of christian philosophy.
Third of all, even if we omit 1 and 2, accepting heaven as a "prize" means accepting that the suffering of all human beings is worth your prize. Again this tells us something about the morality of christianity.
Forth, even if we omit 1,2 and 3, accepting heaven means accepting hell. Accepting infinite punishement for finite evil tells something about the morality of christianity.

No matter how nice you wrap the definition of a christian (a person with hope for justice, everlasting life along with friends and relatives) there is always the fine print which is the "christian morality".

mikespeir said...

I won't claim to be qualified to do battle with Dr. Blomberg (For instance, I was no valedictorian, and probably couldn't have been if I'd put my heart and soul into it), but I don't find this essay convincing in the least. I'll pick out a few things:

"(1) He has done something."

This is a statement of faith, merely.

"(2) He is doing something, not least in the ways throughout church history in which Christians have helped make the world a substantially better place."

Many have helped to make the world a better place. Some of those have been Christians. Why should I assume that this means "He" (God/Jesus) "is doing something"?

"(3) He will do much, much more, eventually righting all the wrongs of the world."

Well, we'll see, I guess. I don't really see why I should believe it.

"It was G. K. Chesterton who once wrote that the depravity of humanity is the most empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith!"

Atheism makes no concession at all when it joins Christians in noticing that people can be awfully bad sometimes. The fact of evil men does nothing to verify the Christian doctrine of depravity.

"Most (not all) atheists I meet are not interested in talking about religion or ideologies that function like religion."

I find that incredible. Of course, I can't attest to Blomberg's experiences, but most atheists with whom I'm acquainted are fascinated with the subject. Yes, sometimes we ridicule what we see as ridiculous. That's not surprising for anyone.

"...I still can’t think of any better way to die than with the peace and quiet confidence I’ve observed in and discussed with several Christians who’ve told me they can’t explain it, it wasn’t anything they conjured up in their own strength, it was simply given to them for their last days."

Speaking for myself, I know I'm a lot less fearful of death than when I believed. I will allow Blomberg's assertion that "...it’s [being at death's door] when you find out someone’s true colors." Fifty-three myself, I'm fully aware that my time is drawing closer and closer. It would be arrogant of me to assert that I'll face death with equanimity, simply because I've never been in the situation. Still, granting his supposition that believers die more easily, that's no reason to suppose that what they believe in real. Delusions are maintained precisely because they make one feel better about something.

icelander said...

A few things:

- I like the implicit threat of violence in "there are only two kinds of people in the world—those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'thy will be done.'" Gotta love the "with us or against us" concept of god's love.

- You illustrate very well the theistic attitude that anything bad is humanity's fault, and anything good humans do is just because of god. Tell me, which human created the polio virus? Some dastardly atheist in a laboratory somewhere, no doubt. Thankfully, god acted in the form Jonas Salk to save us from the horror we created.

- You ignore of all the great non-Christians who have made the world a better place. Though you'd probably say that was god, too.

- You use the cop out of "most (not all) atheists" being mean, spiteful people with no meaning in their lives. We know what you mean. You mean "all" atheists. But you've gotten called on it too many times and now have to modify your language. But I guess that's better than nothing.

- And, finally, you resort to Pascal's old, and debunked wager. Not to mention that the afterlife you describe is going to have many, many people punished infinitely for finite crimes. (Unless, of course, you're one of those Christians who says that sinners, including those whose only sin is disbelief are merely destroyed. How merciful.)

All in all this was a fairly standard illustration of how big the chasm between believers and non-believers really is.

Tyro said...

Dr. Blomberg,

One of my daughters, when she was too young to know her hilarious double-entendre, once summed up my views as succinctly as anything I’ve ever heard: if there was a big bang, there had to be a big banger!

This is a popular rhetorical device by anti-intellectuals and demagogues and I'm very surprised to hear you use it. It seeks to create the impression that scientists and educated people are too thick to see what's obvious but the speaker is of the common folk, that despite all the intellectual pretentions of scientists any child can see through their arguments. I don't think that was your intention with mentioning your child but the effect of summarizing your point in a single sentence and with barely an afterthought dismissing the countless decades that have gone into studying cosmology is still the same.

We aren't talking about some crackpot theory hatched up in a dorm room, these are some of the strongest theories ever discovered. The computer you used to write this post, the cell phone you use to call your family, the microwave you use to warm your dinner are all practical applications of the theories which so casually wave away.

Why are you so willing to not merely dismiss the work of science but to imply that any child with half a brain could see the "truth"? I'm sure you would expect some respect for the ideas of Christianity so why are you not willing to extend the same courtesy to the work of scientists? Do you believe that physicists and cosmologists as a whole are less intelligent and less informed about physics and cosmology than you and your child?


After tragedies like 9/11 or, locally, Columbine, I marvel at those people who can say all humans are basically good. It was G. K. Chesterton who once wrote that the depravity of humanity is the most empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith! [...]What about the sheer altruism, utterly unmotivated by self-interest, which leads firefighters to sacrifice their lives by running back into towering infernos? Only the concept of humans made in the image of God can account for that in my estimation.

I'm not sure how to take this.

In the first section, you imply that it's delusional to say that humans are basically good and you say that it is the empirical fact that we're not which is the strongest line of evidence for Christianity.

That's the first thing I've seen which would be a direct prediction of Christianity which could be tested. Just how much good is too good? How much depravity and evil should there be?

Out of the thousands or millions of people directly and indirectly involved in 9/11 and Columbine we have a dozen villains - some religiously motivated terrorists and a couple disturbed children. We also have hundreds of heroes who risked their lives to save others (many of whom lost their lives).

If people were not basically good, society would collapse. It is almost trivially easy to create chaos - a sniper with a gun can shut down a freeway or cause a city block to be evacuated. Two kids with guns can shut down an entire school, ten men with knives can destroy buildings, shut down a city and halt all air traffic in an entire country.

And yet these instances are rare. With billions of people on the planet, we could write down the names of all major terrorists on a single sheet of paper. 9/11 was years ago and there have been countless opportunities for follow-ups yet nothing has happened.

If the proof of Christianity is in our depravity and inhumanity, is this not a proof of Christianity's falsehood?

More to the point, how can you say that Christianity is proved by our lack of compassion and then in the same paragraph conclude by saying that it is heroism which requires a deity? Which is it - does our depravity or our heroism require a god? How much of one or the other will disprove your case and how are you making these determinations?

Toby said...

I am so happy that there are Christians like this out there (as opposed to typical Evangelicals. Dr. Blomberg believes in evolution, the science behind the history and age of the earth and universe, and is able to reason well politically (my opinion).

While I'm not sure about the politics of William Craig, he has similar views to these as well. But what I appreciate about Dr. Blomberg is that he is willing to be candid about his belief in these issues. A lot of intellectual Evangelicals aren't willing to openly state their support of science or their differences with the Evangelical community on politics.

The Barefoot Bum said...

I'm pressed for time. I have not read the other comments, and I will have to settle for a brief fisking of Blomberg's article.

In a culture in which “eggheads” like me who were neither athletic nor very good looking, and as a result had very few friends...

I was an "egghead", neither athletic nor very good looking. I, on the other hand, had plenty of friends and only the ordinary amount of teenage angst.

[I]t [is] impossible to be an evangelical Christian and maintain one’s intellectual integrity.

A position I would agree with. ;)

I ultimately retreat to my convictions about God’s justice and grace. I can trust him to work it out.

What do you mean by God working something out? This is very vague, perhaps vacuous. Is there anything you could observe, any atrocity so horrible, that you would not be able to see it as God "working it out" with justice and grace? If not, then in what sense is this position meaningful?

First, there will be three surprises in heaven: who’s there, who’s not there, and there I’m there!

Is this anything but an elaborate way to declare your lack of knowledge?

Second, there are only two kinds of people in the world—those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “thy will be done.”

I don't have the slightest idea what you mean here.

(1) He has done something. He sent Jesus to die for human sin, which is a major contributing factor to suffering and evil, and to begin a process of transformation in them for the better.

It's extremely unclear how Jesus "dying" for human sin 2,000 years ago should be at all helpful, unless you think painting your living room blue is an effective remedy to end world hunger.

Given the atrocities of the past 2000 years, this process of transformation is going painfully slow. It's also noteworthy that whatever moral and ethical transformations we're undergoing seem suspiciously correllated to secularism and humanism, not religion. John Stuart Mill has done more for human ethical and political transformation than Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church 1,000 year dominance of political power.

He is doing something, not least in the ways throughout church history in which Christians have helped make the world a substantially better place.

Christians are doing nice things. Good for them. I haven't seen God or Jesus doing anything at all recently. I'm much more persuaded that people attribute their pre-existing helpfulness and socialization to their imaginary friend than that God or Jesus has any sort of causal effect on their behavior. Christians are no better and no worse than any other arbitrarily selected group.

(3) He will do much, much more, eventually righting all the wrongs of the world.

Promises, promises. I don't think I can hold my breath another 2,000 years.

It was G. K. Chesterton who once wrote that the depravity of humanity is the most empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith!

I do not think that phrase (empirical verification) means what you think it means.

What about the sheer altruism, utterly unmotivated by self-interest, which leads firefighters to sacrifice their lives by running back into towering infernos?

As I noted in my other comment, simply declaring some behavior to be "sheer altruism" does not make that characterization true.

In fact, if Christians have to wrestle with the problem of evil, so must everyone else.

Why? It's not any particular problem for an atheist: We live in a cold, uncararing universe; why shouldn't we expect evil? It's a problem only for those who believe in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.

What makes the most hardened atheist (usually) insist that there is something just plain wrong[?]

Error theory.

And we certainly don’t condemn multiple-partner animals of being unfaithful to their mates.

Nor do people lacking obsolete superstious sexual hangups condemn multiple-partner human beings.

Darwin admitted he had no satisfying explanation for human moral consciousness and reasoning.

Charles Darwin did not amass the sum of all human knowledge about evolution. Happily tens of thousands of scientists have worked for 150 years to extend our knowledge of evolutionary biology.

And thank you (sincerely) for not mentioning the evolution of the eye.

Most (not all) atheists I meet are not interested in talking about religion or ideologies that function like religion.

We have our hands full with actual religion, thanks.

I'm a communist, so perhaps I'm an exception, at least with regard to ideologies that people presume function like religion.

No matter how tactful I try to be, they respond to my questions either by changing the subject or by ridiculing or getting angry with me.

Have you considered the alternative hypothesis that you're not actually as tactful as you think you are?

I do not see them having an overarching purpose that gives their life meaning and fills them with deep joy and confidence in the future despite all the trauma of the present.

Why should we have deep joy and confidence in the future? I could just as easily accuse you of Panglossian optimism.

I still can’t think of any better way to die than with the peace and quiet confidence I’ve observed in and discussed with several Christians who’ve told me they can’t explain it...

Morphine has a very similar effect, and is considerably less expensive.

If there is an afterlife and the possibility of being part of the new heavens and earth as Revelation 21-22 describes, however metaphorically, why would anyone not want to be a part of it?

The subjunctive requires "were" in this sense: If there were an afterlife... But there isn't.

Raul said...

"First, there will be three surprises in heaven: who’s there, who’s not there, and there I’m there! "
Well,the second one (if we imagine,that there is a biblical heaven and hell) could be rather unpleasant. For example,not finding your parents in heaven. The concept of hell leaves no place for empathy:
How can someone be happy,while his friends,relatives e.t.c. are suffering? Shouldn't there be something like "co-suffering"? Also,the point is,that according to Bible human suffering as such will never cease to exist. Instead it will be taken to a whole new level. With a "Golden billion" in heaven,and all the others in hell.
"The short summary answer to why I am still a Christian is because I haven’t found any other world view, ideology, religion, or –ism that makes nearly as much sense of all of the pieces of the world as I have studied and experienced it."
Do two creation accounts in Genesis seem to make "most sense"? Do you,as a christian evolutionist, think,that Pithecanthropus have evolved from Adam and Eve or that humanity is 7 thousands years old (or even less,if we won't forget about "The Flood")? Does the story about "the fall" really "make more sense",then the story about "Pandora's Box"?
I understand the emotional appeal,that religion has,but just because something pleases senses doesn't mean,that it "makes most sense".
"After tragedies like 9/11 or, locally, Columbine, I marvel at those people who can say all humans are basically good."
Well,at least they're better without religion. Can you imagine an atheistic 9/11?
"In fact, if Christians have to wrestle with the problem of evil, so must everyone else. Indeed, we must all wrestle as well with the problem of good. "
Indeed,if,f.e., I were to defend the position of a believer in an "all-hating deity" that would be a problem. But I'm sure,that I would come out with some "theodicy" for that.
" If there is an afterlife and the possibility of being part of the new heavens and earth as Revelation 21-22 describes, however metaphorically, why would anyone not want to be a part of it?"
Exactly what do you mean by "however metaphorically"?
"Maybe there is no actual afterlife,but the idea is still very pleasant..."
Is this what you're trying to say? Or is it nothing more,than Pascal's Wagger?

Steven Carr said...

CRAIG
Second, there are only two kinds of people in the world—those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “thy will be done.”

CARR
Could this be explained to me please?

I thought Christians claimed that God valued human free will so much that it is a really vitally good thing, worth almost any amount of evil.

So who are the people to whom God does *not* say 'Thy will be done?'

Does this God interfere with the free will of the people to whom God *not* say 'Thy will be done'?

I'm confused as to what Craig means here.

Raul said...

I think that it's the same case with the free will as with the circumcison. God gives you something and then you must cut it off to show how much you love Him.

ismellarat said...

Maybe threads like this one should be restricted to John Loftus and the guest only.

No matter what his abilities, I can't imagine Dr. Bloomberg being able to give more than unsatisfying summary answers to so many people at once.

ismellarat said...

[email followups - isn't there some way to make this feature automatic?]

John W. Loftus said...

No, ismell...

I had expected some Christians to come to his defense. Besides, he's getting my book so he'll know what my responses are. It can be overwhelming to respond to everything. Let's see what he does. If he decided to respond to just a few criticisms then the rest of you will just have to understand.

Craig Blomberg said...

Thanks to all for the responses. I knew when I chose to do a post that hit widely on lots of points, developing none of them in detail, that I’d leave myself open to having any or all of them misunderstood. But I still thought it better to do it that way so that people who might be interested in knowing a bit of my heart, and a bit of my journey, might find that out, rather than reading a carefully developed philosophical defense of just one small point. Perhaps I was wrong, but I did make the choice consciously.

In order to respond to as many of the comments as possible and not write a book-length post, I will continue that quasi-bullet-point style. In no particular order:

I have not been a Lutheran since I was 18. I am a thoroughgoing “Calminian”. The more I study, the more I see how it is the thoroughly Reformed take on God’s sovereignty that has created a disproportionate amount of the theological problems that the posts here well represent. The solution, it seems to me, is to keep divine sovereignty and human freedom juxtaposed the way Scripture does throughout in a finely balanced tension. Bill Craig’s The Only Wise God, at a popular level, is the kind of thing I have in mind.

To clarify C. S. Lewis’ views, read his wonderful little novel, The Great Divorce. There is no implied threat of violence there.

Third, I am familiar with some, though not all, of the anthropological and primatological research Dr. Avalos presents. Thanks, Hector (if I may), for also giving me more things to consult. I tried to choose my words carefully, however, in speaking of “systems of morality,” but obviously I was too succinct for anyone to have picked that up. I know that animals, including dogs as well as chimpanzees, have exhibited altruism. That wasn’t my point; it was the point about developing “systems of morality” that creatures can consciously reflect on, weigh, draw inferences from, choose to follow or not, etc. Along with that comes the “idea of God,” whether or not he exists. I’m not aware that naturalistic evolution has any explanation for how humans came to have the kind of self-awareness that enables us to have the debates that this blog reflects. The problem of evil that naturalists along with everyone else have to deal with is why is anything called evil. Where did that concept come from? Most people most hostile to Christianity are outraged about injustice and horrible things in the world, as rightly they should be. Christianity says that this outrage comes from all of us being stamped, in some way, with the image of God. Has anyone shown that any other species reflects on the problem of evil, or even has the concept of evil and good? That’s what I meant by saying it’s a problem for all of us.

Similarly, I tried to word my point about not punishing animals more carefully than my respondents have acknowledged. My point was that we don’t arrest, try and convict them as if they were responsible, moral agents who could understand and be rehabilitated (or experience retributive punishment) by such processes.

Derek Kidner’s little Tyndale Commentary on the Old Testament volume on Genesis does a nice, introductory job to sketching out how theistic evolution would proceed, including God adding to the immediate predecessors of homo sapiens the God-consciousness and moral consciousness classically implied by the imago Dei to transform them into fully human beings. Adam and Eve may stand for the entire species at that time (after all, their names come from the words “man” and “life”).

The main point of the post was scarcely to defend Christianity over against other religions. That would require a very different kind of post. My only comment with respect to other religions came near the end of my post and was purely autobiographical. I’m sorry if it led people down the wrong path. Apart from that comment, I was using what many of the founders of the U.S. would have called natural law arguments (albeit in very succinct, popular form) to argue for theism over against atheism, not for Christianity over against other forms of theism, or even pantheism or panentheism. Having said that, it certainly is not the case that all religions have contributed equally to making certain aspects of the world better. But to develop that thought would be to go off on the same distracting tangent again.

The only time I ever attended a Christian school was for my two-year M.A. in New Testament, which I squeezed into a year and two summers at Trinity. Well, I suppose my undergraduate college still wanted to think of itself as Christian, but only in the very most liberal of senses. As I mentioned, it did its best to attack evangelicalism wherever it could and basically taught most subjects exactly as the state university would have. And everything else—kindergarten through high school, and doctoral studies, was in public schools and universities.

I don’t have any control over Christian websites, since I don’t have one myself. But one of the first things that crossed my mind when John so graciously made this offer was, “wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a website where a Christian and an atheist teamed up to address the whole world (or whoever would listen!), perhaps alternating posts representing one side and then the other and inviting courteous feedback from anyone and everyone?” (Some readers may be aware of my pioneering dialogue with the Latter-day Saint community in How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation. A brand-new work that I have reviewed very positively for our on-line Denver Journal is Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, and I am eagerly awaiting Miroslav Volf’s and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Palal’s co-edited A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor, advertised to be released in January). I think we need a lot more, similar, respectful dialogues (whether on-line or hard copy) between representative of major world views in our overly polarized, overly hostile “culture wars” environment.

The comment that someone’s sense of justice must be really distorted to believe they deserve to get to heaven may be the most thoroughly Christian and insightful comment made by any of the respondents. I agree wholeheartedly. I was assuming some awareness, perhaps erroneously, of the Christian message of salvation by grace through faith as the way to be a part of the life the Bible pictures in its last two chapters.

I was very much aware that the two areas in which I used arguments from silence were in what philosophers have classically called the cosmological and moral arguments for God’s existence. As far as I can tell, the arguments against God’s existence based on these two areas of inquiry are equally arguments from silence. We don’t know how the universe came to be, but that doesn’t prove God. Agreed. Neither does it disprove him. We don’t know how humans have a God-consciousness or an anti-God consciousness or conscious beliefs about good and bad that they can debate (or, were a genetic explanation to be forthcoming, where such genes came from). This doesn’t prove God. Agreed. Neither does it disprove him. I deliberately did not refer to the Bible, per se, except indirectly in speaking of what God did in Jesus and will do when Jesus returns, two statements requiring faith as well as reason, as many respondents quickly pointed out. I confess I can’t account for evil via natural law or even via naturalism. If the “God of the gaps” vs. “no god for the gaps” debate is to move beyond a stalemate, what some people believe to be divine revelation will have to be fair game for discussion. (Intriguingly, that hasn’t changed throughout humanity’s existence on earth, even if particulars vary. But, again, that’s another whole topic.) But I wanted to say as much as I could first, without invoking, “the Bible says. . .” Interesting how often it was quoted back to me nevertheless!

Of course, if it were just two or three people who died with a belief in the afterlife, the delusional theory would be attractive. But when it has been the vast majority of people in the history of the world, including today, it gets a little harder to appeal to. And how would we decide who gets to label something a delusion? It obviously wouldn't be my majority vote!

Finally, my apologies to the reader who was hoping for something new. I’m tempted to quote Ecclesiastes, but will refrain. I didn’t read anything new in the responses either. But I didn’t think that was the point.

Russ said...

I wasn't going to comment, but I'm terribly disappointed. Perhaps Mr. Loftus' introduction of Mr. Blomberg as a "respected scholar" raised my expectations for the quality of his essay to a level above what my long experience with such "scholars" has demonstrated is warranted. This piece offers no intellectually or emotionally gratifying reasons whatsoever for why he remains a Christian, and it presents a picture of yet another Christian who can't see the world he lives in through the heavy veil of wishful thinking.

His justification for remaining Christian can be read like this: I was reared a Christian; I've been intensely schooled in Christian thought; I am paid to dispense Christian ideology; I am given respect, power and authority within my Christian social sphere; I live and breathe Christianity; and, at the point of death Christianity provides some comfort. The same would hold for most non-Christian religious persons. So, "The short summary answer to why I am still a Christian is because I haven’t found any other world view, ideology, religion, or –ism that makes nearly as much sense of all of the pieces of the world as I have studied and experienced it."

What he appears unwilling to state openly is: I remain a Christian because it's the only way I know how to see the world.

Adequate consideration is not even given to his audience, the bloggers and readers of an atheist's blog, since he wants to use theological claims to justify his remaining Christian while never outlining alternatives he may have considered. In fact, he makes the case for his not having considered alternatives.

I had spent the previous eight years trying tactfully to share my faith with any who would listen. I’m not sure there were any of the major challenges to Christianity that I didn’t encounter in those volatile years. I had found what I thought were some good answers to some of the questions, but seminary enabled me to find a whole lot more and, of course, to discover how much I didn’t know in other areas of theology.



Oddly, he wants us to know that he remains a Christian, but he doesn't want his definition of "Christian" to be clearly understood. He points his finger at other Christians and says I'm not one of that kind of Christian, and, I'm not one of those Christians, and don't even think I'm one of those Christians over there. There are thousands of Christianities, and he never identifies which type of Christian he continues to be. Rather than telling us a few types of Christian he refuses to be associated with, he should be more clear about which version of Christianity he personally clings to. No doubt, his free association with a particular take on Christianity tells us that he's convinced that his chosen version is superior to the others types.

In considering, "Why doesn’t God do something (or do more than he has)?," Mr. Blomberg highlights notions that a credulous Christian believer might accept, but that lack substance when viewed in the light of a modern understanding of the world.

He says his god sent us Jesus. Today, we have a good sense of how and where the stories upon which the Bible is based originated. We know they are the products of human creativity alone. They should not be the object of worship any more than should other human fictions. From evolutionary theory we know there was no Biblical Adam or Eve, so no original sin for which a messiah was needed. We know the cruel, oppressive and dehumanizing history of Christianity and how it has survived through violence, political and social pressure, and the inculcation of vulnerable people like children and the indigent.

He wants to claim that down the centuries Christians have made the world a better place while he ignores that to be other than Christian in the west for much of the last two thousand years was to invite on oneself, family, and associates torture, hanging, burning, or eviseration. Being alive to make any contribution whatsoever, meant you were by default at least professing to be Christian. Given the church's vile treatment of scientists and philosophers throughout its history, if not professing to be a Christian didn't carry with it life threatening consequences, surely many of history's greatest thinkers would have opted out of the barbarous Christian church.

How can any informed scholar make the statement:

After tragedies like 9/11 or, locally, Columbine, I marvel at those people who can say all humans are basically good.

If he tried to be more objective when looking at the human state of affairs he would realize that incidents like those he mentions are very rare and that in almost all human interactions people are decent to one another.

Then, he has the gall to declare,

"It was G. K. Chesterton who once wrote that the depravity of humanity is the most empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith!"

Think about this. He is agreeing with the idea that "the depravity of humanity" is a "doctrine of the Christian faith." I don't recall from Sunday School, religion classes, theology classes, or philosophy of religion classes that Christians actually view themselves as fundamentally depraved.

He says,

"Most (not all) atheists I meet are not interested in talking about religion or ideologies that function like religion. No matter how tactful I try to be, they respond to my questions either by changing the subject or by ridiculing or getting angry with me."

In the same way that Blomberg points to certain Christians from which he wishes to be disassociated, so it is for many atheists. It's simply the case that for the atheist, the set of Christianities from which he chooses to be disassociated is much larger.

Referring to atheists, he says,

"I do not see them having an overarching purpose that gives their life meaning and fills them with deep joy and confidence in the future despite all the trauma of the present."

Unlike most of those calling themselves Christians and claiming to have the overarching common purpose of serving their version of a deity, atheists, though having meaning and purpose in their lives, simply do not pretend that their personal meaning and purpose is shared by all other atheists.

Also, he claims to see meaning, purpose, joy, and confidence "in countless theists, especially Christians." Unfortunately, the numbers tell us that though he wishes to believe it to be true, it is observably false. In the developed world, though the US has the highest density of Christians, they also have the highest prescription rate of anti-depressants, tranquilizers and other mood altering drugs. Clearly, Christians experience less joy than Blomberg suggests. The suicide rate for US Christians skyrockets every year after they observe the birth of their savior baby Jesus. Confidence? Factor in drug and alcohol abuse, and the presupposed picture of meaning and purpose gets hazier, yet. Then, too, we can look at the current state of the US economy and know that millions of God fearing Christians have lost jobs, homes, pensions, access to health care, access to educational opportunities, with the worst yet to come.

He concludes saying,

That, in a nutshell is why I am still a Christian.


I can understand from this piece why Blomberg chooses to remain a Christian. His vision of Christianity and his version of Christian life, are not accurate reflections of the world we live in. Just like all other Christians, he has some self- or sect- idealized version of Christianity that he adheres to, even while he identifies rival Christianities with which he wants not to be associated. While ignoring real world metrics of social and personal well-being, he makes verifiably false claims about the welfare of a generalized generic, and again idealized, Christian community. He perpetuates the lie fabricated by Christians for Christians that it is Christianity that gave us great institutions like science and medicine, no doubt believing it himself, while the actual history of Christianity exposes the near-constant oppression and persecution of disciplines requiring freedom of thought like science, medicine and philosophy. I understand why Mr. Blomberg remains a Christian: for him Christianity pays the bills, gives him authority and respect, and without consequence, it indulges his desire to see the world, past, present, and future, precisely as he wishes it to be.

John W. Loftus said...

FYI: Russ posted a comment before he could read Craig's response, if this means anything to the readers here.

John W. Loftus said...

I want to thank Craig for the essay and look forward to a continued dialogue with him.

Deist Dan said...

As a former Christian I have a few observations on Dr. Blomberg's post on why he remains a Christian.

Mr. Blomberg noted...

"The short summary answer to why I am still a Christian is because I haven’t found any other world view, ideology, religion, or –ism that makes nearly as much sense of all of the pieces of the world as I have studied and experienced it."

I dare say that the Christian worldview is not nearly as sensible as he suggests. In fact Dr. Blomberg says he believes in an old earth and theistic evolution process. However neither of those propositions come from the bible. The bible states explicitly that the earth was created in 6 days (complete with evening and morning). These were always understood as literal (e.g. the 7 day cycle where they rested the 7th day just as God did). This creation culminated with the unique formation of Adam and Eve not from gradual evolution but spontaneously (as Jesus noted in Matthew 19).

Dr. Blomberg finds the young earth/unique formation of man as unreasonable, and has molded his understanding of the bible in light of modern science, and does not derive it from the bible itself. This indicates that Dr. Blomberg himself believes the bible accounts are unreasonable.

In addition, Dr. Blomberg does not mention all of the utterly absurd portions of the bible. God has people cut skin off of their penis's to show they are members of the covenant. God floods the world because he doesn't like the way things are going. God orders the slaughtering of men, women and children for doing things he never told them not to do (when did God ever tell the canaanites, midianites, amalekites, sodmites, and all the other mites right from wrong?)

God is continually getting angered and needs an endless amount of shed animal blood and burnt animal sacrifice to sweeten his nostrils and appease his anger. The only way he seems to know how to solve problems is by killing people.

To show God's brilliance and holiness to the world God gives Israel his laws, so advanced, so civilized that surely all the world would see Israel keeping these laws and know that they had the true God.

Laws like killing disobedient children, killing a woman who was raped if she was engaged to be married, killing a woman if she was not a virgin on the wedding night, killing those evil sabbath breakers, witches, idol worshippers, etc.

Does Dr. Blomberg include these biblical stories as being part of the worldview that makes the most sense to him? It is dishonest for Christians to portray themselves as having a lock on morality with all the immorality and evil done by YHWH and his chosen people in the bible. YHWH receives human sacrifice so a judge of Israel can keep his vow (judges 11). Moses tells Israel to slaughter men , women and children, but that they can keep the young virgin daughters as their plunder (Numberse 31).

Dr. Blomberg said God did something (set Jesus), is doing something (through the church), and will do something (reward and punish). Why doesn't God do something useful though? What good is sending his So to pay for sins, if it cannot be proven that he even existed. If your going to send a savior then why not have it write something down and preserve it. All we have are copies of copies of copies of anonymous "gospel" accounts with varying details and gradual embellishment in doctrine.

Why can't God just speak to us audibly today as he did in the past because speaking through the church obviously was not a very good decision. Church history on details the corruption and paganization of christianity, the imperialism, the wars, the divisions, the power struggle. Not a very good testimony. Why doesn't God do something useful like speaking audibly "the bible manuscripts you have today are reliable and contain the truth about my beloved Son and co-equal member of the trinity).

That would clear up a lot of doubts some people have. All of the things Dr. Blomberg says God is doing are completely unpersuasive to any critical thinking human being. God must know how we think and draw conclusions, why not give us something indisputable.

But I appreciate him taking his time to provide his reasoning.

DeistDan

Raul said...

"Of course, if it were just two or three people who died with a belief in the afterlife, the delusional theory would be attractive. But when it has been the vast majority of people in the history of the world, including today, it gets a little harder to appeal to."
Since more than two or three people died for islam,the delusional theory becomes unattractice. Will you agree with such reasoning? Why not?
And appeal to popularity makes a bad argument anyway.

Paul M. Harrison said...

I think perhaps former Christians like myself will be able to relate to my response better than those who have never invested years of their lives into these beliefs.

With such an array of skeptics, secularists, atheists, agnostics, free thinkers, etc. chiming in, it is easy to want to jump right to the intellectual aspect of what Blomberg is saying and attempt to refute him or expose faulty reasoning (which is good and necessary), but as a former believer I think we would do well to also think about what the arguments mean for him.

First, when your life's direction takes you into years of Christian schooling and a career by which the stability of your life depends on at least staying within the belief system and struggling, it is very hard to abandon, or even for good arguments against you to make an impact. There is too much to lose. I'd let the skeptic win the argument and walk away satisfied that I can't answer him, but I won't ruin my life over it. "Great argument, I'll look into it, I'll get back to you, I may not have an answer this side of eternity, but it doesn't shake my faith any." As soon as you walk away, I'm back to the Christian life I live in.

This makes skeptics irritated at the futility of trying to reason with someone who throws off reason with a buffer or immunity, such as William Lane Craig's inner-witness of the Holy Spirit whereby he KNOWS Christianity is true even if all of his apologetics are defeated. We come to find they don't base their beliefs on apologetics, reason, and good argumentation, but only use them as supporting evidence for what they already know is true by mystical personal experience. This is why the skeptic in all of his emphasis on intellectual refutation and promotion of reason and science won't make much of an impact.

When Blomberg begins qualifying what he means by the term "Christian" and reveals some non-evangelical views, we should see just how pliable, elastic, and adaptive Christianity is, making it impossible to hold a Christian to something and critique it. Someone always stands ready to cry "strawman" over any view you define and refute, saying you haven't properly understood Christianity. If you stand back, they do it to each other. What this means for me is that Christianity can survive by mutation and live in the realm of obscuring every possible doctrine into many posssible interpretations. Like paint swatches, it evolves shade after shade so there is nothing clearly stated to defend (all the while many claiming to know the fixed and unchanging truth of Christianity).

Blomberg sees God doing something in the world and in history, giving it an overarching purpose. He speaks of the utility of Christianity and all of the good it has done for the world, he sees man as made special and in the image of God, he sees evil as a real problem to be solved by God, he sees moral law as objective, and speaks of Christianity giving purpose, meaning, joy, confidence for the future, hope through trauma, ultimate justice, and eternal life in paradise.

So we can see psychologically how the world is ordered in the mind of a believer that for him meets existential needs that helps him function in a hard world. Skeptics might see his world as silly, undesirable, unlivable, and worthy to be abandoned on the basis that Christianity is delusional and not true. What I hear Blomberg saying to us is, "I am still a Christian because nothing meets my needs or gives such meaning to existence as Christianity does, and no other worldview deals better with every facet of life. What can the non-Christian (or specifically, the atheist) offer in the way of meeting my existential needs?"

An intellectual hit-and-run is seen as very one-dimensional by many believers who see the unbeliever as unfulfilled, unhappy, bitter, despairing, and lost in a cold, dark world with no hope.

The question we can ask ourselves as non-Christians is how do we reflect and offer a fulfilling and meaningful life apart from Christianity? I think the answer to that question is relative to the individual and presents a challenge to organized unbelief.

If we look at religion as a product of human creativity, it can be seen as a branch of humanism, and a very useful development of human beings to get us through a tough world. I think because it usually flatters us and offers too much, the skeptic can only bring the believer down from the high of the opiate and like existentialists and humansits, ask them to struggle in the real world without those comforts. For many people, this is asking way too much.

I tend to see religion and belief in God as something that will never go away because it is an essential part of human creativity and ingenuity for survival, comfort, health, and meaning.

We can be unrelenting in the intellectual rigors and challenges to belief systems, but I think perhaps we can be more warm, graceful, and show more heart and understanding to many of our believing friends and family. They are humans like you and me holding to what gives them an ability to function. Taking that from them is as scary as telling them to jump from a plane without a parachute. It needs to be a slow, owned process where the individual determines what he is ready to give up and struggle with, always looking for ground to replace the ground he has lost. Losing a relationship with God on such an intense personal level can have the same devastating psychological effect as living with the loss of a loved one who has died.

In Christianity, there is the idea of disicpleship. If you are responsible for leading someone to Christ, you are also responsible to nurture them and get them to a safe place of growth in the Christian life. To show love, care, nurture, and personal investment. Are you, as a non-Christian responsible for disillusioning someone's beliefs, willing to love, care, invest into, and nurture that person to a stable life? If not, why would he leave a warm and caring environment for what is perceived as a cold, "Grow up, toughen up, and face reality like a man" environment?

It isn't enough to debunk, we have to offer something positive and life-affirming in place of the false beliefs and understand that like many traumas, surgeries, and transitions, it takes a lot of courage and sometimes suicidal breakdown to make this adjustment and learn to function again.

Perhaps a DC contributor can post a blog asking us what gives us hope and meaning in a world without the comforts offered by Christianity.

Anthony said...

Craig,

Thank you for posting and contributing the this discussion. I understand that your post was essentially a summary and as such there was much that could have been said. I would like to see some of the issues that you brought up fleshed out more so we can go into a deeper discussion.

Player Piano said...

Dr. Blomberg,

Thank you for your original essay, and for your response, also. I see that you responded to my point about the altruism inspired by other faiths besides Christianity by contending that "not all religions have contributed equally" in making the world a better place. You are still skirting my question.

I asked you if the altruism inspired by Christianity and by many other faiths could have a common cause outside of all of them? How will avoid acknowledging other religions' contributions to moral thought? What about the Jain doctrine of "ahimsa" and its implications for Gandhi and for the civil rights movement in America? What about the idea of compassion in Buddhism? Can you honestly deny these contributions to moral philosophy from religious traditions other than your own?

Of course not all religions contributed equally: there are many more Christians than Jain followers or Buddhists. It's been that way for a long time.

Strength in numbers may influence the level of contribution, but not the merits of the contribution itself. I am asserting that people can develop philosophies which inspire altruism independent of your religious beliefs, or any one particular set of religious beliefs, since so many different religious traditions have discovered similar principles.

Is Christianity necessary for morality? No, it is not. Now, I have still not really resolved whether theism is necessary for morality, but at least I have shown that no one manifestation of theism is essential for moral development.

The Barefoot Bum said...

This piece offers no intellectually or emotionally gratifying reasons whatsoever for why he remains a Christian, and it presents a picture of yet another Christian who can't see the world he lives in through the heavy veil of wishful thinking.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Has anyone shown that any other species reflects on the problem of evil, or even has the concept of evil and good?

It doesn't seem relevant that no other species has reflects on evil; we are apparently the first terrestrial species to develop intelligence capable of deep reflection about anything.

The problem of evil that naturalists along with everyone else have to deal with is why is anything called evil. Where did that concept come from? Most people most hostile to Christianity are outraged about injustice and horrible things in the world, as rightly they should be. Christianity says that this outrage comes from all of us being stamped, in some way, with the image of God. ... That’s what I meant by saying it’s a problem for all of us.

The solution to this problem is trivial. Some things hurt, and we think ill (evil) of those who harm us. We are also a social species, and we care about the well-being of other people. No other concepts than harm and empathy are necessary to understand evil.

A conception of God is necessary only to hold as evil that which actually and materially harms no one. You don't need God to disapprove of torture and genocide; you need only imagine yourself the victim. You do, however, need God to become outraged over the sexual behavior of consenting adults and other such irrelevant blue-nosed trivialities.

tinyfrog said...

Oh well. I had hoped for some interesting discussion. I feel that Dr. Blomberg didn't really address the responses. Admittedly, I think his original article could have been significantly refined. Parts of it were merely reciting his various articles of faith ("He sent Jesus to die for human sin"). There were parts of it that I didn't respond to merely because he was explaining his view of the world, not actually answering the question, "Why I am still a christian". And the whole part about "a big bang needs a big banger"; I don't think he meant this as a defense of Christianity - I think he meant it as "this is how I view the world". There are many possible explanations for the origin of the universe which have nothing to do with Christianity, so it cannot be part of his reasons of why he is a Christian. (Maybe I am wrong about Dr. Blombergs view, but he seems to confirm that "origin of the universe" isn't a good argument for Christianity in his later comment.) Of course, that leaves the question of why it was even brought up in an article titled "Why I am still a Christian" if it's not part of his explanation.

As far as I can tell, the parts of the essay which actually attempt to answer the question, "Why I am still a Christian" are:

1. Christians are happy and Christianity changes them:
[At the] Campus Life club, [I met kids who's Christianity] was clearly making a difference in their lives.... Christians have helped make the world a substantially better place.

2. No matter how confident you are that you have good counterarguments against Christianity, he's can answer all of them. As a result, atheists are evasive and rude because they haven't got the answers. The fact that he can out-argue most atheists gives him confidence that Christianity is right. (What these arguments are, we don't know, so we can't address them.)
A delightful church history professor once told us ... it was impossible to be an evangelical Christian and maintain one’s intellectual integrity... we had a good library... that convinced me he was wrong.

[I heard] major challenges to Christianity,... and seminary enabled me [to find] good answers to some of the questions.

[Atheists] respond to my questions either by changing the subject or by ridiculing or getting angry with me.


3. Your worldview doesn't make as much sense as Christianity:
I haven’t found any other world view, ideology, religion, or –ism that makes nearly as much sense of all of the pieces of the world as I have studied and experienced it... [atheists can't answer why good exists, why altruism exists] ... atheistic evolution [cannot] account for all of human behavior.

The first two might give Dr. Blomberg confidence that he is right about Christianity, but they're woefully lacking as real arguments for Christianity. I think you'll find that educated people can often put uneducated people onto the defensive. Heck, I know the Bible well enough that I can put Christians on the defensive and make them change the subject. The fact that you can put someone on the defensive doesn't mean you're right, it means you've got your arguments and counterarguments on the ready. Other people don't spend nearly as much time thinking about religion, or how to debate with someone who's on the other side of the debate. (I would compare it to the Bill O'Reilly situation - he can outargue people not because he's right, but because he's experienced and he's got all his preparation done to come in with guns blazing. Conservatives love him because he makes them feel that they have the best position, and those wiley 'liberals' can't withstand the onslaught of real logic and reason.)

Only the third one is really a logical argument, and I think we've sufficiently answered it.

I also agree with other commenters here about rhetorical strategies used by Dr. Blomberg. For example, the rhetorical strategy of quoting his daughter to imply that intellectuals are just too darned dumb to understand what his young daughter understood intuitively (that thunder needs - I mean, uh, the big bang needs a big banger).

I wish Dr. Blomberg would pare-down his essay, though, so that we could avoid all this noise about peripheral issues not connected to the original question.

As far as I can tell, I think it's a pretty open and shut debate here. We think he doesn't have a leg to stand on, he seems to think that his explanations are a strong foundation for believing in Christianity.

(It's also interesting to hear that Dr. Blomberg is at the Denver Seminary - which puts him about 5 miles away from me. And, that he's in Strobel's book, since I've been doing a long-term critique of Stroble's earlier "The Case for Faith".)

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi Dr. Blomberg,
I am a year shy of your age and like you was "born again" in high school. I read C. S. Lewis (all his religious works and essays and many letters in print), the Inklings, Chesterton (30+ works), Francis Schaeffer (all his works), to name a few of the Christian authors I read during that time. I began to have questions after graduating from college.

My story of leaving the fold is online and also in a book I edited that features nearly three dozen first-person stories of conservative funda-gelical Christians whose religious views changed over time.

The first section deals with those who simply grew more moderate or liberal, the second section includes a few testimonies of people who left fundamentalism for other religions, and the remaining sections are people who became agnostics, people who became atheists, and a section of historical figures from all categories who helped liberalize religious views in their era.

I hope after reading John's book you'll consider taking a peek at Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. Some of the testimonies might catch your eye enough to read them. I bet a copy is in the campus library where you work. Phil Yancey has read it and gave it a thumbs up, sent me a little card saying he appreciated the tone in which it was written. I also cite G.K. Chesterton on "original sin" in one of the two introductory chapters, and mention an alternative to that concept.

Cheers,

Ed Babinski

Steven Carr said...

CRAIG
To clarify C. S. Lewis’ views, read his wonderful little novel, The Great Divorce.

CARR
Novels?

Not a fact-based book?

Craig wants us to read works of fiction to find out about a religion?

CRAIG
Of course, if it were just two or three people who died with a belief in the afterlife, the delusional theory would be attractive. But when it has been the vast majority of people in the history of the world, including today, it gets a little harder to appeal to.

CARR
It seems atheists have once again become are a tiny minority.

I wonder why there is so much suffering in the world when 'the vast majority of people in the history of the world' share the belief that Craig has.

CRAIG
It was G. K. Chesterton who once wrote that the depravity of humanity is the most empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith!

CARR
No wonder there is so much 'depravity of humanity' when 'the vast majority of people in the history of the world' are not at all deluded about the reality of the Christian afterlife that Craig beliefs in.


Why are 'the vast majority of people in the history of the world' going to Hell, when Craig praises them for not being deluded about God , Heaven and Hell?

miller said...

One comment on what I believe is the most easily corrected error. If you fancy yourself a theistic evolution, you should not be saying things like this:

But I also marvel at those who can say that atheistic evolution can account for all of human behavior.

This is akin to saying that yeah, you believe in evolution, but you just don't think it's possible for evolution to produce new species. There is in fact a lot of research on the evolution of cooperative behaviors, with more ideas than I can keep track of, and I don't think you have any business dismissing it out of hand any more than you have business dismissing any other science.

I'm far from an expert, but here is my short explanation: On the most basic level, evolution selects for the genes that best propagate themselves, not the individual creatures. Therefore, evolution will select creatures which cooperate with their own relatives, which share similar genes. Also, if creatures frequently find themselves in "prisoner's dilemma" situations, evolution often selects creatures that tend to cooperate. Finally, it is "difficult" to program a creature's brain to instinctively cooperate in very specific situations, and it's much easier for genes to simply make creatures which are all-around altruistic. Therefore, evolution often selects the latter. Lastly, our behavior is not completely determined by evolution.

Jason Long said...

Steven, to be fair, Lewis used fiction to explain his beliefs. One could even call "The Republic" a novel as well.

oli said...

Dr Craig, thank you for coming here and sharing your thoughts.

If i could look at just one of your points for a moment, that of the firefighter rushing into a burning house to save another. Where does his goodwill come from you asked?

Well, i know a few people who entered the fire service so let me attempt to answer. Firstly, firemen are not pillars of moral goodness. Most are certainly decent people and most possess excellent levels of bravery but i'm sure a root around the web will bring up a few instances of murders or rapes committed by people who happen to be firemen. Most people entering the fire service do not do so out of the desire to save more people from burning to death. It is a well paid and well respected (rightly so) profession. Firemen undergo extensive training and simulation to enable them to conquer their fear and go into situations that the rest of us would be too scared to (why would we be scared if we knew that heaven awaited us, especially since going into burning buildings to save people will only serve us well on judgement day). They are also well trained to survive dangerous situations that the rest of us would die in.

I'm not meaning to knock firemen with this, but we should not build them up into pillars of morality. Firemen can overpower the evolutionary urge to avoid blazing buildings through willpower, training and bravery. Thats the answer to your question.

One could equally transfer your question to the soldier that risks open ground and enemy snipers to hunt and kill his enemy when evolutionary behaviour would be to run away. Would you like to argue that the soldier intent on killing his foe is acting in a moral and good fashion? Note again, i am not meaning to disrespect soldiers, but i view the the existence of standing armies as a necessary evil. We need soldiers and i find that sad, but i accept it. I do not hold soldiers up to be moral or decent people because of what they do although i can admire their bravery and skill.

More later

Gribble

Tyro said...

I tend to see religion and belief in God as something that will never go away because it is an essential part of human creativity and ingenuity for survival, comfort, health, and meaning.

I think it's easy to overstate how important this really is. Yes it's true that many Christians cite this as something that's important but we know from basic psychology that humans are adept at finding explanations for decisions after the fact.

When we look to Europe, much of Canada, several large US cities and other secular regions do we find a more compelling story? I don't think so. We do find more security, predictability and control over one's life. Distanced from the vagaries of weather and drought, provided with universal health care, decent old age care and pensions, it seems religious beliefs fades quickly. I think it's no accident that with the economic downturn churches report seeing a surge in membership. (I wonder how many religious leaders would welcome an increase in infant mortality and disease if it meant a corresponding increase in faith.)


On the most basic level, evolution selects for the genes that best propagate themselves, not the individual creatures. Therefore, evolution will select creatures which cooperate with their own relatives, which share similar genes.

A good summary of "The Selfish Gene". There are many subtleties which lead to predictions which happily have been confirmed. Reputation is key - without the ability to remember interactions, co-operation fades quickly. This also explains why people can get worked up into a rage when they have been betrayed - this is a form of handcuffing which acts as a deterrent to unethical behaviour. If you can imagine getting cut off by some catcalling idiots while driving on the highway and getting so mad that you chase them, endangering your life so that some minor social slight gets punished then you can imagine the darker side our altruism. Makes good sense evolutionarily, little sense if it was a divine gift.

And lets not forget that altruism isn't confined to humans, to apes, to primates, or even to mammals. The single-celled bacteria E. coli will expend a lot of fuel and energy to bind together when facing food stresses in order to more efficiently gather and process food even though many will die in the attempt. There are some which will "renege" on this agreement and these anti-social individuals will prosper in the short-term yet these are only ever a small minority.

Altruism and self-sacrifice at the bacterial level, strange but true.

Dr Blomberg had said that evolution does not have an explanation but actually the behaviour of life is much better explained of by evolution than any god, unless this god is rooting equally for humans as for the germs which infect and kill us, our parasites and our predators. Any god-based explanation starts looking pretty thin and ad hoc.

Dr Blomberg says that an appeal to god is the best explanation for why we think about values and act upon them. We see that all animals act as if they had a moral code, including animals. All animals appear to know what is "right" or "wrong" for them. No doubt we think more but is this really the only difference? Are humans really so different than dogs or cats? Do I really have the freedom to decide that it's right or wrong to beat my postman to death? By all accounts these moral codes are as integral as they are to other animals, we just have better means of rationalizing them after the fact.


Re testimonies - interesting but we all have testimonies. We all have a path behind us which got us to where we were. Since we're all alive and presumably all content, our path has worked for us. That says little about the truth value of this path nor about the actual utility of the path. Had I been born in a different time or region, my religious beliefs would likely be very different. Would Dr Blomberg be a Christian if born in rural India or in secular Scandinavia?

It's interesting to learn about different humans but it is no guide to understanding why one was on the path. A much shorter and frankly more honest and insightful essay could be "I'm a Christian/atheist/Hindu/Muslim because I was born in the right time and place to the right parents with the right peers." It doesn't satisfy our need for justification and story but it is probably more accurate. I think we can take it as a given that most people here understand well why people are Christians (or at least we have seen similar testimonials). What we should try to understand is why people remain Christians and why they believe Christianity is likely to be true.

Perhaps for next time we can focus less on the stories and testimonials and more on the veracity of the underlying beliefs.

Thanks to Dr Blomberg for participating, I find myself wanting more.

Craig Blomberg said...

I'm reminded again of why when people invite me to speak I try to insist that they give me a topic, even though they sometimes think they are doing me a favor by saying, "you can talk on anything!" I originally thought I'd be doing something on the view of the historical Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet at the request of "exapologist" but then he decided he didn't have the time right now to interact as fully as he'd like to. So John graciously said, "write anything." I just had to make some educated guesses based on a wide range of past conversations as to what kind of post might touch on a number of things where hopefully many readers would find something of interest.

Blogs certainly allow all kinds of people to communicate with each other in ways that didn't used to be easy but they are still no substitute for getting to know someone, hear tone of voice, see body language, etc. As a result there is such a great tendency to impute motives to others based on the worst of personal experiences that we've had or can imagine, at least when people differ from us. I sense that John works hard to avoid this and Paul Harrison's post was also very sensitive and insightful. Many others could learn from them.

A quick illustration of what I mean by imputing motives. The only reasons I used my daughter's comment about a big bang requiring a big banger were because (1) it was wonderfully concise; and (2) I thought it was hilariously funny, but it's the kind of joke you can share only selectively in Christian circles, and I thought this would be an audience that might actually laugh with me. Oh well. . .

It's also unclear to me how many of the people who added to this thread after my response to the first batch of replies read my response. I addressed a number of their concerns there, and, in general, it seemed like most of the more recent replies were still responding to the initial post, unaware of my follow-up clarifications and additional comments. Perhaps that's inevitable when threads get this long, but I'm scarcely an expert on blogging!

The threads (i.e., all three of them--this one and the ones in response to Hector and the Outsider Test)--anecdotally confirm what polls have somewhat more empirically shown, that the problem of evil is the single biggest reason for people choosing atheism vs. some form of theism. The point I've tried to make, probably not too successfully, is that the existence of the concepts of good and evil may be the biggest problem ALL of us have to explain. I've read in these threads, and elsewhere, a lot of information, a little bit of it new and helpful, on the current state of theories of evolution, which I've already acknowledged I accept in broad strokes. But I see nothing that addresses how it is that humans alone, as far as we know, come to label certain things as good and evil. One possible inference from some of the responses is that we think it is ultimately in our own self-interest, hence part of natural selection and preservation of the species. But then that conflicts with those forms of altruism and self-sacrifice that do what appears to go against one's self-interest simply because people believe it is right. Ethicists will recognize the debate between teleology and deontology here. And the more that scientific studies can show certain forms of altruism going way back in the evolutionary chain, the more the tension between those two approaches simply grows.

The comment that this may simply be a part of the much larger issue of humans' much greater ability to reflect consciously on things may be right on target, at which point the question must be raised if sociobiology has adequately explained human consciousness and self-reflectivity.

Someone asked me for a definition of a Christian. Following the earliest known Christian creed or confession in Romans 10:9-10, I take it to be someone who, within a theistic framework of belief in God, follows Jesus as their ultimate Guide, believing him to have been uniquely resurrected to eternal life and thus qualified as a divine spokesperson. Yes, there are countless permutations within that, just as there are among atheists.

The kind of assignment that some respondents wish I had been given or wish I had chosen to write on was a more rigorously epistemic one. Mind you, I am a professional New Testament scholar. I spend most of my time immersed in the particulars of Greek grammar, ancient history, methodology of biblical criticism and exegesis, comparative linguistics, the mechanics of oral tradition, reception theory, philosophical hermeneutics, and the like. In our highly specialized, compartmentalized and information-inundated world, I can't hope to impress everyone with state-of-the art familiarity with every development in epistemology, ethics, zoology and Jainism.

Having said that, the question deserves a broad brush-strokes reply. For people who like labels, it's more of an evidentialist than a presuppositionalist epistemology, though I acknowledge value in the latter in certain contexts. I take it that shared human experience raises questions that all humans can potentially reflect on and discuss: Why do I exist? Why does the universe exist? Do I have a purpose and if so what is it? Do the concepts of good and evil make any sense? Why or why not? If so, what do they mean and where do these concepts come from and why does the universe exist with the specific proportions of good and evil that I perceive in it?

Step two is to reflect on the concept of God. If Feuerbach was right that we as humans made it up, and that it was inevitable that we made it up, why so? If it was not inevitable, then why did it come into existence? More intriguingly, why did the biggest and most sustained attempts to eradicate it, in Soviet and Maoist forms of Communism, fail so miserably? Why do 80-90% of Americans, among the most highly educated people in the history of the world, still hold to it? Why do studies of children suggest that it may almost be an inherent or inborn concept in humans that, to borrow the language of operant conditioning, has to be consciously extinguished, if it is to disappear?

Step three is to reflect on the major world views--whether religions that claim revelations from God such as various alleged sacred Scriptures or the so-called irreligious world views’ functionally non-negotiable affirmations,to assess strengths and weaknesses, to rank probabilities of different approaches, and so on.

I take it, and I am scarcely alone in this conclusion, that a reasonable result of such a process, however partial it may be, is to suggest that a God might well exist but that not much can be known about him/her/it apart from divine revelation if such a God does exist. I then find that the answers supplied to these kinds of clusters of questions from the Bible better pass such tests as correspondence to reality as I have experienced it, internal coherence, and existential viability or livability, than do the answers supplied by other putative divine revelations. This hardly solves the countless, very important, but still somewhat more peripheral questions that one can and should raise of all alleged revelations, but it creates in me a hermeneutics of consent rather than of suspicion, to use the language of Peter Stuhlmacher, and I find it important to then study the history of the interpretation of the documents, recognizing that countless others have perceived all the tensions and problems before me, yet many of them have found satisfactory answers. What are they? Do any of them satisfy me? At least I try not to pass judgment on belief systems without recognizing the interpretive frameworks that have claimed to make sense of them--and interact with their strongest rather than their weakest arguments.

Perhaps this should have been my initial post. Perhaps now that I see John is already on to a new topic on a new day it is already too late. But if anyone is still reading, here it is. Again, many, many thanks for letting me “drop in” on your conversations.

Gandolf said...

If its not through evolution and naturalistic learning that we decide morals of what is good or bad etc.

Then why is it only just lately that we have maybe started to change or ways of thinking regarding matters such as the pollution and global warming etc.

Surely if any Gods had any real influence on our ways of thinking then we would have known these things already.And with religions being such a major force in the world then surely things would not have got to the situation of where we find ourselves at now.

We evolve and learn as we go whether it be through triumph's or mistakes.No God has finally stepped in now and said "look what you are doing here is wrong" .And in fact i wonder if not in some way some of the teachings within these religious books has not helped create some of these very problems we now face today.

How can it ever be so hard to think and accept that we can evolve to learn right from wrong in such simple ways.Surely if i was to slap somebody in the face and find that in return i received a slap back it would be easy to see and understand that a moral could evolve that suggested "do unto others as you would have them do unto you also"etc.And that if i chose to not return a slap,(turn the other cheek) sometimes i might change that persons thoughts of the real need for any aggression towards me.

Surely to suggest we humans could not ever have evolved to learn these simple things is to suggest we have no brain developed.Yet we still see even animals evolving and learning new things.

Prolonged Concentration of the mind on an afterlife naturally brings about a certain peace of mind ,no less than that what also can be experienced through meditation and things such as yoga.All things are possible within the mind, and the same can work in reverse with these long (indoctrinated beliefs) instilling fear on the deathbed of some of those who`s minds may wander in those very last moments wondering if they were wrong and should maybe have believed religious beliefs also.

But without real proof it is still only a pascals wager ,a wager that still gambles and messes with the lives of many on this earth.Sadly all to often in an adverse and detrimental way.

Sadly the faith of to many does not allow them to consider these things that much in great depth as they forge ahead full steam,their thoughts of personal salvation only in mind.Altruism and matters of whats actually good for all humanity, takes back seat as selfish thoughts of a nest egg in the suggested after life become first and foremost.

Even non believers asking for verification of evidence for the need and good reason for these beliefs,are often met with claims from some believers that the onus lies with that of the disbeliever.A rather selfish stance to take i personally suggest maybe even more akin to egoism,keeping in mind the worldwide effects these beliefs often have.Often even on many of us who dont even choose them.

And so many believers in such oblivion cannot even understand why a disbeliever might even bother to question.Its automatically judged that its only through evil.

John great idea inviting Dr Blomberg to post and thanks to him for accepting.

And very interesting discussions taking place.

John W. Loftus said...

Craig, people usually subscribe to a thread when they comment, so everyone who commented is still reading. If you'd like to revise this last comment of yours I'll post it separately. I appreciate your willingness to get into the lion's den. I personally haven't commented since you'll be getting my book but also because it may seem difficult enough for you to almost singlehandedly defend Christianity here.

When I said write on anything I had thought you'd write on something of which you were an expert in. You are still welcome to do this.

Cheers.

ismellarat said...

One thing you might consider, since for now you prefer a blog format as opposed to a discussion board, is to have only the title for of each new topic display.

It's unfortunately all too easy to lose sight and interest in these debates, simply because it presently takes only a couple of days for the topics to scroll off the screen [3 topics], and only about 3 weeks [I counted 42 topics] to disappear from the first page entirely.

What would be the drawback of a format that doesn't display so many lines on the first page? If you used just one or two lines, you could probably display 15 topics on one screen, and 200 on the first page.

The topics are getting "old" too quickly! :(

Tyro said...

I'm reminded again of why when people invite me to speak I try to insist that they give me a topic, even though they sometimes think they are doing me a favor by saying, "you can talk on anything!"

[...]

As a result there is such a great tendency to impute motives to others based on the worst of personal experiences that we've had or can imagine, at least when people differ from us.



Point taken, and John's right, you do have a good way of writing and expressing yourself even in clarification.

(1) it was wonderfully concise; and (2) I thought it was hilariously funny, but it's the kind of joke you can share only selectively in Christian circles, and I thought this would be an audience that might actually laugh with me.

I understand that you didn't mean offence but perhaps you could pause to consider its implications and effect on you and your audience. Whether intentional or not, the joke is that scientists are too foolish to recognize what's obvious to a child. It promotes a climate of ignorance and anti-intellectualism.

Imagine spending a couple decades working in a team of fifty researchers studying all of the archaeological sites and documents of first century Palestine to create the definitive study of the culture, history and language only to have someone tell you that any yokel with common sense could tell you that you were all wrong without bothering to read the first page of your work. If he responded by saying that his joke went over well at The DaVinci Code Fan Club it would just confirm your worst suspicions.

That your joke works so well in Christian communities doesn't come as a surprise and makes me a little sad. I'm sure you're right but it just makes me sad, emphasizing the gulf that exists between different communities, especially considering that you're ostensibly an educated man making a living from your intellectual skills and so the last person I'd expect to hear making a joke about how a child has better insight into cosmology than cosmologists.

As a man who makes his living from his intellectual skills, I hoped you'd understand the complexity of these issues and you'd leap to the defence of scientists rather than play to the anti-intellectual biases of your audience.

But I see nothing that addresses how it is that humans alone, as far as we know, come to label certain things as good and evil

I hope that, should you return, you'll elaborate on this point. It's not one I've seen in other apologetic works and this rough sketch leaves me with more questions than answers.


Humans are the only animal with labels, period. That means that, yes, humans are the only animal with labels for good and evil, but we're also the only animal with labels for blue, clover and daisy. Surely your issue isn't with labels but with something deeper, only I'm not sure what. Is it that you think humans are the only animal that thinks there should be less suffering? I don't know how you could argue that since other animals will risk their lives to save others and reduce suffering indicating that they feel a powerful objection to suffering (at least as much as they are capable). Is it that you think humans are the only animal to specifically punish bad behaviour and reward good? I'm not aware of any animal groups with formalized laws but then I'm not aware of any primitive human groups with these either. We see social animals have behavioural norms which they enforce with rewards and punishment, we see animals reacting to fidelity and infidelity, to theft, to violence. Looking strictly at human and non-human behaviour, what specifically makes us so different? Bigger brains yes, but are our moral actions any better and by what standard?

Can you point to anything specific which you feel is inconsistent with evolution?

Invoking God raises far more questions than it solves - what about psychopaths or sociopaths who have radically different moral senses, why don't humans all start with the same moral compass? Why is it so hard for me to contemplate harming another human but so easy for others? Is God totally incompetent or is God intentionally inflicting harm upon us my creating these human monsters and releasing them into our societies?


Which leaves me wondering just what you think the PoE is for atheists. The PoE as it's conventionally stated is no problem. If you do see another problem, I would be grateful if you could lay it out more explicitly. Perhaps it is a serious issue we've not considered, perhaps it's a misunderstanding which can easily be resolved.


But then that conflicts with those forms of altruism and self-sacrifice that do what appears to go against one's self-interest simply because people believe it is right.

No conflict, just a question of how we know what is right. When you look deeply you'll see that our morals aren't merely consistent with evolution but are necessitated by it. On the other side, if you believe our morals are intelligently designed by a god, you have some irreconcilable difficulties.

We can start with the principle that our morals arise from our genes which of course have no intelligence and can only influence us using heuristics. This leads to some counter-intuitive results which aren't just explained by evolution but are actually predicted.

I hinted at one of these aspects earlier that's related to altruism - handcuffing. This is the observation that animals (humans included) react disproportionately and sometimes uncontrollably when we perceive a threat, an insult, a slight. It's not far from the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction or the madman-at-the-switch. To some triggers our reaction is disproportionately strong which makes no sense except that people know this and so it serves as a valid threat. We know that when people get cheated out of $50, they will often spend hundreds in order to punish that person and so we generally act fairly. We know that if we are caught in infidelity our partners may become so enraged with jealousy that they could beat or kill us even if it means they will go to jail for decades.

All of these certainly go against our self-interest in the short-term but having these traits makes it less likely that we will be cheated or abused in general.

Self-sacrifice also exposes the evolutionary origins of our morals. People who jump into burning buildings or freezing lakes to rescue people don't describe a careful, reasoned process but an unthinking instinctual response. We see this reaction triggered most often to our offspring, slightly less often to siblings, slightly less to family, and still less to our neighbours. As the joke goes, I'd give my life for my child, two brothers or four cousins.

The interesting bit comes when we start confusing the issue through adoption, imprinting, and co-habitation. Our genes aren't intelligent and the attachments we form arise through hormones, pheromones and other physical cues which can be tricked. I won't go into all of the details here but they're worth reading about.

If our morals are divine, why do we defend offspring more than siblings, siblings more than cousins, cousins more than neighbours, neighbours more than strangers? If our larger brain and intellectual capacity distinguishes us from other animals, why is self-sacrifice an unthinking, instinctual act?


How do we know that other animals don't have an equally strong moral intuition? When we see a dog risk its life to save another dog or an elephant defend its child don't you think they are demonstrating that they have equally powerful beliefs about what is right and wrong? I'm sure you can assert that non-humans are incapable of beliefs which comes back to my earlier point: we can't know what's inside the mind of other animals so to be fair we must look just at actions and using actions non-humans show altruism and compassion just as humans do.

So how is any of this a problem for atheists? Evolution shows we're at one end on the mental scale but it's a smooth scale like all other attributes. We have minds because other animals have minds.

It seems to be heartbreakingly cruel for a god to give non-humans emotions and the feeling of pain when there is so much suffering for them, and this has been going on for millions of years. I think it's Christians who have some explaining to do.

The comment that this may simply be a part of the much larger issue of humans' much greater ability to reflect consciously on things may be right on target, at which point the question must be raised if sociobiology has adequately explained human consciousness and self-reflectivity.

We know very little about consciousness (save that it is a natural process), but how is ignorance "inadequate"? Unsatisfying perhaps, but inadequate? Should we really jump to conclusions based solely on our present ignorance even when we continue to make advances in our understanding of the brain?

Would you have us conclude consciousness is granted by a god until we develop the tools and insight to understand this and then He stops? Should we believe that any phenomenon is supernatural until we develop an "adequate" explanation?

We understand how thunder and lightning work now but we had no "adequate" explanation as little as 500 years ago. Was it appropriate to use this as a mark in favour of Christianity or supernaturalism back then?

Christianity (and theism in general) doesn't have adequate explanations for miracles of any sort, the origin of god, the composition of god, the capabilities of god, or any actions of god let alone issues like the PoE. Why aren't you tormented by these inadequacies? If ignorance about a subject is a problem for you then why do you only apply it in one direction? Since I don't think you're hypocritical it's hard to see this as a serious objection.

Craig Blomberg said...

Thanks! If people are still reading, there's no need to change the format. I should have researched the blogsite more; I erroneously assumed the audience was the whole cross-section of the blogworld interested in such topics and to do something technical would go over too many people's heads. I'll wait and see if exapologist does indeed get back to me after the new year as he promised to, and, if not, perhaps a section of your book will inspire a response of a more limited, technical nature at some point. I'll certainly get back to you; such a wonderful standing invitation is not to be "dissed." Merry Christmas (or whatever!) to you and all your readers and a Happy New Year. :)

The Barefoot Bum said...

I would definitely like to see real rigor in justifying the conclusions Dr. Blomberg attempts to draw from ethics and evolutionary psychology. Specifically

One possible inference from some of the responses is that we think it is ultimately in our own self-interest, hence part of natural selection and preservation of the species. But then that conflicts with those forms of altruism and self-sacrifice that do what appears to go against one's self-interest simply because people believe it is right.

First, let me note that "self-interest" is a broad concept. In an evolutionary context it's very specific: we are looking specifically at selective pressures that change allele frequency over time.

Also note that our big brains give us a lot of room for hypotheses, guesses, speculation and outright error. Our ideas change much faster (by many orders of magnitude) than simply by genetic evolution. Simply because a lot of people presently have some belief does not mean that belief is somehow sanctioned or selected for by genetic evolution.

Brother Crow said...

Dr. Blomberg, thank you for your input. I am a former pastor/apologist who deconverted. A regular visitor to this site, however its been a while since I have commented or posted.

I have a couple of comments about your post. Just because someone acts in a moral or selfless, altruistic manner does not prove there is a God who made them or established morality. Concepts of morality are subjective...in some cultures, altruistic actions are viewed as heinous and sinful. Who can know what is going on inside a person motivations? A fireman may run inside a burning inferno to save another's life...or to please his idea of God, who requires that he give his life or else go to hell and have his wife contract cancer. Firemen ran into the towering inferno, after a Muslim flew an airplane into the building in the name of God, in order to gain eternal life. How can that argument apply to both perspectives? I guess it only applies in a Christian way.

Also, you argue for the depravity of humanity. How, then, can firemen acting altruistically be a proof of God...if humanity is depraved? Or, are you arguing that all those firemen who ran into that building were redeemed, faith-filled Christians who were acting on the impulse of the Holy Spirit? Is it possible some of those firemen were atheists, or Buddhists, or Muslim? Is all altruism inspired by the Holy Spirit, and possible only by the redeemed?

And if not, how can you account for the altruistic behavior being an echo of the image of a moral God, if that humanity is fallen, depraved, and at least according to classic Christian theology, empty of imago dei?

Again, thanks for your comments. It is actually refreshing to have a respected Christian scholar write to this blogsite and be so open to dialogue and friendly of spirit. I respect you very much because of that. Best to you.

Player Piano said...

Dr. Blomberg,

I just want to tell you again that I really appreciate your willingness to come here and speak to us. I promise to bring up Jainism again; it's just that I very recently took a class on eastern religion, so it stuck in my mind.

I want to ask you about this paragraph which you wrote:

"Step two is to reflect on the concept of God. If Feuerbach was right that we as humans made it up, and that it was inevitable that we made it up, why so? If it was not inevitable, then why did it come into existence? More intriguingly, why did the biggest and most sustained attempts to eradicate it, in Soviet and Maoist forms of Communism, fail so miserably? Why do 80-90% of Americans, among the most highly educated people in the history of the world, still hold to it? Why do studies of children suggest that it may almost be an inherent or inborn concept in humans that, to borrow the language of operant conditioning, has to be consciously extinguished, if it is to disappear?"

You ask "if belief in a god or gods was inevitable, why did human beings make it up?"

I don't believe that human beings "made it up" so much as people thought that supernatural causes would be valid explanations for events in the natural world. From there, I believe that religion evolved. I don't know enough about psychology or neurology to tell you why supernatural belief might be inevitable. However, inevitability is also a problem for theism, specifically Christianity, such as in the inevitability of evil given the choice of free will. Free will is often a Christian defense in the argument on the PoE. If humans were given free will by a deity and chose to commit an ostensibly "evil" act (the original sin), then evil had to exist as an option for humans to choose before it was brought into human nature (according to Christian beliefs), and therefore evil was inevitable as a characteristic of human nature. Theoretically, a "fall" could have happened at any time. If human beings were created in a manner making them susceptible to evil, then what would've preventing us from choosing evil in a theoretical situation akin to a "garden of Eden"? The Christian argument hinges on the belief that our ancestors were free to make their own choice about evil, but were they really free to make a choice if evil was inevitable? Perhaps we could have had a world where Adam's children had sinned, if Adam had not sinned. Would Adam even had had children, or would the world just've been those two original people? The problem with original sin is that the Judeo/Christian tradition offers no alternative hypothesis. There's no fallback position.

Again I ask, if "sin" and evil were inevitable, then how did "Adam" or "Eve" or any human beings have "free will"?

Also you ask, why did attempts to subvert religion fail in communist countries? Well, whatever the answer is, it also applies to capitalism. Capitalism also prevailed in those countries after a sustained attempt to squelch it. The attempts to subvert religion and capitalism failed because both religion and capitalism were well-established in society already and also motivated by many traits of human nature. The attempt to subvert religion was an attempt to legislate morality, and it's practically impossible to legislate morality in societies with a certain pre-existing moral standard that does not conform to what is supposed to be imposed with legislation. Societies are resistant, ultimately, to this type of coercion, because the fabric of society in many places is stitched together with religion. Communism wanted to eliminate religion because it is a competing ideology. Communism wanted to stitch societies together, and it wanted to replace religion. Communism acted like a religious ideology by wanting to play the same role in society as religion. It failed because most people preferred the religion that they already had to communism. I don't blame them for that: authoritarian communism such as the Maoist and Soviet forms is one of the worst ideologies of all time.

You ask, why do 80-90% of Americans still believe in religion? Well, I'm not completely sure. Perhaps it is because in a largely Christian society, many people are not really forced to think about other religions or other responses to religion such as atheism. Christianity is just "normal" for most people in America. It's part of everyday life - for many people it's a basic assumption that is virtually unchecked or unnoticed. It doesn't occur to most people that their religion could be false. In any society where 80-90% of the people hold one particular belief, why are you surprised that the belief perpetuates itself? People pass their beliefs on to their children, and when those beliefs are generally accepted and encouraged in society, it is not difficult for those beliefs to fluorish. Also, I disagree with your assumption that Americans are the among the most highly educated in the world. I agree that Americans are more highly educated than most of the world, certainly, but Western Europe and Japan and South Korea probably are more educated than the United States. There are many countries that are more affluent and more educated per capita than the United States. In many of these countries, large parts of the public do not profess religious beliefs. I'm not saying that there is any causation, but I just note the correlation and that it's an interesting possibility.

Belief in religion may be inherent in human nature. I just said that it was inevitable for human beings to believe in religion, so I'm not surprised by this. However, in many societies where religion fluorishes critical thinking about religion is suppressed or avoided. Many societies (especially when influenced by Islam) reprimand and punish people for being skeptical and questioning pre-existing beliefs about religion. It's hard for religious belief not to be replicated on a widespread basis in those societies when there is so much incentive not to question. When there is more incentive in the United States to question religion than to not question it, then I believe that we will see a rise in the number of non-believers similar to what western Europe has experienced. I don't know if this will ever happen, but if it does, that is why it will happen. When people realize that they can live a meaningful life without religion, and when there is a well-established secular society, and many people already question religion making it impossible to avoid as an issue in the consciousness of society, religion tends to subside dramatically. Religion doesn't have to be extinguished; many people will relinquish it by choice under a certain set of circumstances. I doubt that religion will ever disappear, but I ask you, why is religion slowly receding among the most affluent and the most educated societies on Earth? If religion is false, this is easily accountable. If religion is not false, then this requires another explanation.

Player Piano said...

Dr. Blomberg,

I promise *not* to bring up Jainism or anything wildly off topic again. Sorry for the confusion.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Step two is to reflect on the concept of God. If Feuerbach was right that we as humans made it up, and that it was inevitable that we made it up, why so? If it was not inevitable, then why did it come into existence?

The issue of inevitability is a red herring.

The question is indeed: why did belief in God come into existence? You're a scholar: have you examined the naturalistic explanations in detail? Are you familiar with Dennett's work? Dawkins'? Freud's? Do you have substantive counterarguments more sophisticated than knee-jerk skepticism?

Your propensity to throw out rhetorical questions as if they were arguments does not seem persuasive.

More intriguingly, why did the biggest and most sustained attempts to eradicate it, in Soviet and Maoist forms of Communism, fail so miserably?

Again we see a rhetorical question without rigorous or evidentiary support.

In what sense did they fail miserably? What were the actual intentions of Soviet and Maoist governments? What was the actual outcome? Can you make a case using actual historical facts for this position?

One might ask the same question of the religious, with more obvious historical support. Why have the concerted attempts of various religions to eliminate heresy and atheism failed so miserably? Why did the Christian attempt at government fail so miserably even after 1,000 years of Christian domination?

Why do 80-90% of Americans, among the most highly educated people in the history of the world, still hold to it?

Again, numbers. Evidence. How many of these people are truly religious, and how many are merely mindlessly repeating culturally acceptable slogans? What is the correlation between actual education and actual religious belief.

Americans, I've found, are pretty stupid people overall. Our education system is a sick joke. Why are so many more Europeans non-theists or trivial theists? Their education system is definitely superior to our own.

Why do studies of children suggest that it may almost be an inherent or inborn concept in humans that, to borrow the language of operant conditioning, has to be consciously extinguished, if it is to disappear?

Really... you do need to study the scientific literature on the subject and offer substantive refutations — not just rhetorical questions — if you wish to be taken seriously as an intellectual.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Let me amplify my last comment.

I share Russ's dissatifaction with this dicussion. I'm entirely unfamiliar with your professional work, Dr. Blomberg, so I'm unable to form an opinion on your overall scholarly and philosophical competence.

But here I've seen no philosophically substantive or evidentiary argument. Your contribution seems limited to platitudes and rhetorical question. You display little familiarity with standard nontheist polemics or modern scientific scientific theories answering many of the rhetorical questions you toss out.

When you're challenged on substantive points, you merely rephrase your position or ignore the challenge and try a different position.

Even if you believe you're writing to a philosophically unsophisticated audience, you apparently believe that Americans are typically highly educated. Do you truly have so little respect for the ordinary person's intelligence that you feel it's acceptable to present so little of substance here?

And what sort of inferences should we draw about the audience that does find your work persuasive?

Tyro said...

Let's not make this personal. Given a vague request and unknown audience, an intelligent Christian could chose to provide a personal testimony of his belief rather than present an apologetic argument.

I too am disturbed by his use of rhetorical questions posing as an argument, anti-intellectual jokes, question begging, special pleading and arguments from ignorance. However, John did invite Dr Blomberg personally and has vouched for his academic credentials. Even if these short examples of his work may not impress us, I think we owe it to John to give Dr Blomberg the benefit of the doubt and extend him some respect or at least some courtesy.

Player Piano said...

I agree with what Tyro has said.

Even if we do not respect Dr. Blomberg's beliefs, it is our responsibility to respect Dr. Blomberg in our interactions with him.

He has been gracious enough to come to D.C. and talk to us, and fair enough to stick around and listen to our arguments, and debate with us. It would be really easy for him to avoid us entirely or to just leave now and have the common popular misconceptions of atheists and other non-Christians reinforced. That would be unfortunate for everyone.

I thank Dr. Blomberg for this opportunity, and I hope he comes back so we can continue this conversation.

tinyfrog said...

I third Tyro's statements. While I don't find Blomberg's statements to be persuasive, I will credit him with showing up here and talking.

I also think some of the comments being aimed at Blomberg is a result of the repetitive nature of Christians (and religious people in general) starting out with the premise that they "have the goods" to show the superiority of Christianity (or their particular religion) over other beliefs, and then failing to deliver.

But, thanks anyway.

Steven Carr said...

TYRO
I third Tyro's statements. While I don't find Blomberg's statements to be persuasive, I will credit him with showing up here and talking.

CARR
Who knows when Christian sites will return the favour and ask John to post guest posts on their sites?

Perhaps Dr. Blomberg could ask around?

The Barefoot Bum said...

I'm not trying to be disrespectful of Dr. Blomberg. I'm merely making an honest appraisal of his contribution here.

Dr. Blomberg has shown up, good for him. But just showing up doesn't deserve much praise, and it shouldn't shield him from honest feedback.

Many people here have brought up serious, substantive points, and given Dr. Blomberg a reasonable opportunity to respond substantively. That he continues to fail to do so deserves mention.

Player Piano said...

I wish Dr. Blomberg could return to this thread and answer a few more of our questions...it is a shame that the commenting freeze appeared during the middle of this conversation.