How NOT to Argue Against Me: A Critique of Shandon L. Guthrie's Critique

You can find several summaries of my new book The Christian Delusion out there. But if you think dealing with a summary of a book is the same thing as dealing with the arguments in it, then think again. One professor did this with my previous book Why I Became an Atheist, and this is how I responded:

A philosophy professor at Regis University named Shandon L. Guthrie took issue recently with a summary of my case against Christianity. I like to hear from intelligent, educated Christians, and I appreciate him looking into it. But here is an example of how NOT to argue against me.

He begins by saying this:
It may not be of much surprise, but I'm not terribly moved by his arguments. Most importantly, the case he summarizes is neither new nor particularly challenging.
Well, well. If a summary of my case is not challenging to him then so be it. I am more confident that Guthrie has not come up with anything to challenge what I think either. I could describe his case as neither new nor particularly challenging to me as well. So where does that get us? Christians repeatedly say such things but I don’t see how they’ve sufficiently answered people like David Hume, even though they have repeatedly attempted it.

When it comes to Guthrie’s criticisms of my arguments keep in mind he’s not actually dealing with my case. He’s criticizing a mere summary of my case. And THAT makes all the difference in the world. I tire of people who criticize my summary who in turn think they have actually dealt with my arguments. If someone truly wants to deal with my arguments then he should read through the 428 pages of my book. A summary is, after all, a summary. I defend that summary in my book. And because it is just a summary Guthrie has not read how I deal with his criticisms. In my book I deal with and argue against each and every claim of his. That being the case I don’t have to do so here, but I'll comment on some of what he said.
Loftus' key argument is found in his statement that "an individual's religion is almost invariably determined by 'when and where one was born.' And since there are no mutually agreed upon tests for evaluating religious claims, it is little wonder that social, cultural, and political forces overwhelmingly determine what individuals believe." But it doesn't follow that simply because individuals derive their beliefs from their cultural milieu that, therefore, those beliefs are false. This is the genetic fallacy. It no more invalidates the belief any more than it invalidates the conclusion that infanticide is wrong even though certain Eskimo cultures embraced it as a normal practice.
The genetic fallacy? Come on now, does he really think I didn’t deal with this criticism? The Outsider Test for Faith does not, and I repeat, does not commit that fallacy. It does not show his beliefs are false simply because of how he came to believe in them. It merely attempts to show that someone should treat his own religious beliefs just as he treats the beliefs of others, from an outsider perspective. There is nothing circular or self-defeating about it either. In my book I deal with all of these types of criticisms.
Philosophical Reason 1

Loftus presents three disjunctive claims about the origin of the universe - one of which is necessary to believe:
Something has always existed—always.
Something popped into existence out of absolutely nothing.
Our existence in the universe is absurd to the core.
He opts for accepting either #1 or #2 here because since we enter into epistemology from an agnostic position then "moving from agnosticism to atheism is a much smaller step than moving toward full-blown Christianity" and Christianity "entails a greater number of claims and thus is inherently more difficult to defend." But this is multiply flawed. First, as I've noted in my own work, the cosmological evidence at worst rules out atheism. Loftus himself even says, "I might happily concede deism"!
If Guthrie had read my book he would know that there is a huge chasm between deism and Christianity. A believer cannot get to Christianity from a God who merely had the power to start a quantum wave fluctuation. If Guthrie had read my book he should also know there is a huge difference between denying a set beliefs and affirming a different set of beliefs. The denial is the easy part. We all do it. We easily deny Islam, Hinduism or Mormonism. But when it comes to affirming a set of beliefs Guthrie is probably as confident in what he affirms as he is in what he denies. I am not. I can best be described as an agnostic atheist. I think there isn’t a God of any kind, but I’m not sure of that.
Secondly, even if it were true that the case for Christianity is more complicated it doesn't follow that one ought to adopt atheism because its pathway is simpler.
To the contrary, the more beliefs a person has that are essential to his worldview then the less likely the whole set of beliefs comprising his worldview are true. He must maintain not only that there is a three-in-one God, but that the collection of books in the canonized Bible are all inspired by God, and that God became incarnated through a virgin in Bethlehem, atoned for our sins, resurrected from the grave, and will return, for starters. These beliefs, along with a multifaceted number of others, all stand or fall together. If one is shown wrong then his whole worldview collapses. By contrast, the only thing I affirm is that Christians like Guthrie have not made their case. My atheism is a position of last regard. I came to it by the process of elimination. I don’t think any believer in any religion has made his case. I don’t even have to make a case that there is no God, although that’s what I think.
Philosophical Reason 2

Loftus also objects to Christianity on grounds that it is a double-standard in that they believe "the biblical miracles because they accept the Christian faith, but they are skeptical of the miracles of other religions." But he simply doesn't understand the probability calculus. Yes, one must take into account the known accounts of miracles in the past - by everyone! And Christian miracles do come out as largely improbable events when only their relative frequencies are assessed. But this is not surprising to a Christian. Instead, what Loftus would have to include in the background information is the fact that a traditional conception of God is true, that the particular evidence for a Christian miracle claim is better than not, and that any counter-hypothesis is not as likely given the evidence as the Christian conclusion. In terms of the resurrection of Jesus, this is precisely what we find!
If Guthrie had read my book he'd know that I do indeed understand Bayesian probability calculus. And I deny his background knowledge for so many reasons I don’t even know where to start. I make a sustained and lengthy case against every one of the background beliefs which form the basis for him to believe in the miracle claims found in the Bible.
Scientific Reason 1

This one is really bad in Loftus' arsenal. He argues that since we employ a "methodological naturalism" in doing science and such science explains away some particular instances of supernaturalism, therefore Christianity is not likely true. Therefore, "how likely is it that a methodology that has worked so well in every other area of investigation would not shed light on the truth or falsehood of" Christian beliefs in general? First, note that this is not a scientific claim to assert methodological naturalism, this is a philosophical claim about science. Secondly, the conclusion again doesn't follow from the premises. Even if it's true that one ought to use this approach and that some events deemed supernatural can now be explained away naturally, it does not follow that Christian beliefs are not likely true. Finally, at best, such naturalistic explanations opposing Christian ones begin from an equally problematic assumption - that there is no God. So even if the evidence for a particular Christian claim suggests its truthfulness over naturalistic alternatives, the methodological naturalist has to jettison it and opt for a naturalistic alternative - no matter how fantastic the evidence for it might be!
Here I simply do not think Guthrie understands what methodological naturalism entails. It is not a philosophical commitment to naturalism. It is the method he himself uses to evaluate any noise in the night or any crime scene. He assumes a natural explanation. He does this every day of his life. No intelligent modern person assumes that a noise in the night comes from an angel.

Maybe he should read Barbara Forrest's great essay titled, Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection, which I quote from in my book. She argues that
...the relationship between methodological and philosophical naturalism, while not one of logical entailment, is the only reasonable metaphysical conclusion given (1) the demonstrated success of methodological naturalism, combined with (2) the massive amount of knowledge gained by it, (3) the lack of a method or epistemology for knowing the supernatural, and (4) the subsequent lack of evidence for the supernatural. The above factors together provide solid grounding for philosophical naturalism, while supernaturalism remains little more than a logical possibility.
Turning again to Guthrie he wrote:
Biblical Reason 1

Loftus argues that the biblical God is "clearly a hateful, racist, and sexist divinity." But even if he were right about those particular passages he cites to make his point, it only serves to show that perhaps the Bible is not inerrant, not that Christianity is not true.
My case is much more nuanced than that. My case is against the existence of the triune Christian God found in the Bible. Where does Guthrie propose we learn about his Christian God if it isn’t found the Bible? If he can pick and choose what he wants to believe from the Bible then he needs to specify the criteria for doing so. How does he determine what to believe in the Bible if he doesn’t believe it all? Until he does that I don’t have much more to say about this.
Historical Reason 1

Loftus's basic contention here is that "[a]lmost anything can be rationally denied in history, even if the event happened" and, therefore, [implicitly] Christianity is not likely true. This is yet another non-sequitur. But more importantly Loftus fails to understand that Christianity's truth is not based on the evidence of history. It's based on the realilty of God and His continuing presence. The evidence merely gives probable support for what we already know and experience.
Does he think I didn’t deal with this objection? How does he know that it’s God he experiences? Billions of people claim religious experiences that have a different cognitive content.
Historical Reason 2

His complaint here can be summarized in his opening sentence, "The history of the Christian Church undermines the veracity of Christianity." He cites the Inquisition, Crusades, Witch Hunts, etc. in making his point. Can you say Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-Tsung? And contrary to popular belief, most wars are not fought in the name of religion but in the name of control. In effect, they're carrying out the Nietzschian atheist's dictum that morality is the will to power!
How does this actually answer anything I say in my book?
Empirical Reason

Surprisingly, Loftus invokes the now-defunct deductive problem of evil. He writes, "If God exists, the reality of intense suffering is a stubborn fact indicating that something is wrong with God's ability, goodness, or knowledge." But, as I've argued elsewhere, if you're going to argue that the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God exists is logically contradictory to the existence evil in the world then you have to show why. Loftus doesn't defend himself here.
My argument focuses on the inductive or evidential argument from evil. There are probably very few arguments showing something is logically impossible anyway, so that should not give Guthrie any comfort at all. If he demands that I show his God to be logically contradictory before he can see such a God is improbable then he needs to look again at what a non-sequitur is.
Loftus concludes his essay explaining what it would take to convince him. But all he's arguing for is an increase in an awareness of God in history. But as he is so often fond of pointing out, atheism was not a problem in antiquity and yet overwhelmingly few people were part of the family of God. How could Loftus guarantee that had the evidence been more abundant, then the amount of true believers would have increased more than what the actual world contains? And I can't imagine how he could prove this.
See him asking here for proof…that I should prove this to be the case? This is such a high standard that it shows he has not thought through what he’s asking of me. When Christian apologists think they can continue to believe simply because we might not be able to prove their faith false they are asking way too much. I might as well say that there are green gremlins and tell Christians that I am within my epistemic rights to believe they exist until or unless such entities are proven to be logically contradictory. You see what they do? I’m dealing with probabilities, not proofs, plausibilites not impossibilities.

Anyway, if someone truly wants to engage me and my arguments keep in mind that a summary of a case is just a summary. It summarizes. That's what summaries are supposed to do. The arguments in defense of that summary are to be found in my book. Guthrie has not dealt with my arguments. What he has done is to provide us with an example of how NOT to argue against me. Guthire, I challenge you to actually deal with my arguments next time. No more straw men, okay? You are not helping your readers by not dealing with my arguments. It might make it seem like you have. But you haven't. Not by a long shot. Your readers deserve better than that.

This is just my opinion, though. Do as you wish, and I wish you the best.

Original post first published on Dec. 29, 2008

36 comments:

Jason Long said...

"The genetic fallacy" relieves the cognitive dissonance that Christians feel when they are on the verge of being forced to admit that they would believe whatever they were raised to believe, and that this alone is enough to put their ridiculous beliefs under enormous doubt.

The response to philosophical reason 1 is extremely weak. I never understood why Christians can't accept that Deism is much closer to atheism than Christianity.

And I can't bring myself to read any more of his response.

John W. Loftus said...

Yes, Jason, let's assume I make the case that what anyone believes is totally based upon how they were raised. Let's say I make a very good case too. Then why do believers think they can cry out "genetic fallacy" and escape from the case I make? I don't get it at all. If it's true that what we believe is totally based on how we were raised then it's the case that what we believe is totally based on how we were raised. Period. Everyone is included. How is this a fallacy? Is it somehow a fallacy merely because I cannot state such a thing, for as soon as I do then that statement is also a belief that I have based totally on how I was raised, and as such it cannot be objectively true? Well then, what if I never made that statement? What if it's simply the case that what we believe is based totally on how we were raised, regardless of whether or not I state such a thing? What difference does it make if I state it, if this is the case? If it is the case we're in a mess. That I know. And if we get anything right we just got lucky to get it right. Nonetheless, human cognition is well documented to be far from completely logical or rational anyway.

I don't actually believe this or claim this, but it's bewildering to me that even if someone doesn't make the case that all of our beliefs are totally based on how we were raised, the case is very strong that much of what we believe is. The Christian doesn't even seem willing to deal with this fact, and it is a fact! So all they can do is cry out "genetic fallacy" and totally ignore the strength of the case that people like you and others make.

Jason Long said...

I do address this point to some extent in my book. Some will want to argue that Christianity is more likely to be valid because of how many people have come to accept it, but it is was by mere chance that Christianity would become the most popular world religion. I'm convinced that whatever made it to Rome in the 2nd-4th centuries was going to win; and it certainly didn't help that Rome sharply reversed religious freedom (without making a concerted effort to stamp it out like they did with polytheism) before giving it back.

And you have very succinctly stated in your comment here what I wish I had stated in my book. 84 percent of people believe what they are raised to believe. If you showed me 100 three-year-old children and told me that you were a time traveler who had gathered these children together because they were going to be prominent apologists for various religions, and if you told me the religion of each of their parents, I would then be able to tell you, with an 84 percent success rate, which children were going to later defend a book with a talking donkey, which children were going to later defend a book with a flying horse, which children were going to later defend a book with a creator who grew from a flower, etc. Primarily from what happened in Rome, it just so happens that 33 of the children will defend the donkey, 21 percent will defend the horse, 13 percent will defend the flower, etc. Each will be equally adamant about equally ridiculous beliefs. Period.

Brad Haggard said...

John, if your summary is a straw man, then why did you publish it? I don't think you can fault Guthrie for responding to what you published.

And as for the geographical/familial objection, I've always wondered, if it is true, how Christianity came to be believed anywhere? We should at best only see 16% of the world believing in Jesus. It also fails to take into account many of the apologists now who were at one time atheists (eg. McGrath, Boyd, Moreland, Augustine, etc.)

Evan said...

Brad, if you really don't understand how Christianity became the dominant religion in the western world there are many sources that can help you understand it.

But I would first study the battle of the Milvian Bridge. Suffice it to say, that the vast majority of converts to Christianity (and the vast majority of converts to Islam) were converted not by argumentation but by conquest or assimilation into a dominant militaristic culture.

One could go further and suggest that Constantine's conversion was most certainly NOT based on a deep understanding of the historical facts surrounding the Christian religion, or an understanding of Christian theology, but was due to emotional factors idiosyncratic to him, a bad meal the night before the battle or (if you believe in fairy tales) a personal interaction with Jesus in a dream (least likely).

Now you may believe that Western Europe would have become Christian without Constantine's conversion and subsequent victory at the Milvian Bridge. I seriously doubt that such a counterfactual can be conclusively argued, however. In fact, I would imagine that had Constantine been defeated at the battle, it would have been seen by the Romans of late antiquity as a definitive argument against Christianity and the movement would have died out along with the Mandaeans.

This would mean that contingency is at least one of, if not the most important determining factor in someone's religious beliefs, and therefore religious belief is likely not primarily founded on reason, logic and evidence.

I see no fallacy there at all.

John W. Loftus said...

So Brad, are you saying one should not write a summary of a book? Why? That makes no sense at all. With critical thinking skills like that no wonder you believe. A summary is a summary. One cannot treat a summary like he would treat the argument itself. When someone does this it's his fault for doing so.

SirMoogie said...

John,

I'm not agreeing with Brad, as I think your summary presents good points to be made against most theistic belief structures. However, if the summary contains logical fallacies or factual errors, which I don't think yours does, it can be indicative of what the final product contains. That said, I think it is unfair for an individual to comment on a summary and assert that an author hasn't dealt with criticisms X, Y, and Z, which appears to be the case here.

Brad Haggard said...

John,

Critical thinking skills are in the eye of the beholder.

I guess I wouldn't even mention it if I hadn't been scolded on this blog for doing the very thing you have done here. Guthrie responded to what you published, and you are chiding him for responding to the material which bears your name. How do you know that he doesn't have answers to the counters you present in the book? Aren't you thereby misrepresenting his position? You complain that he is "dishonest" (the same accusation you leveled at Geisler) for simply responding to what you wrote.

That's the beauty of the internet, that we can access all this information instantly. If you don't think you have the time to respond in kind to Guthrie, then you aren't up for debate. Or you can respond to his points without commenting on his method, and if he doesn't respond, you win.

Toby said...

A summary is a promotional tool to hook readers. It allows readers the opportunity to see if they are interested in reading the text without having to purchase it. For anyone to criticize you for publishing summary is purely ignorant. Every book has a summary to one extent or another (yours is more detailed than typical). Having a highly educated individual attack your summary and not your actual book is nothing more than a CHEAP SHOT or incredible laziness. I suppose there is the third possibility that he knew it would get him attention. Regardless of Gutherie's motivation, I found his criticism unsophisticated and unmoving.

Brad Haggard said...

Evan,

To start, I'm going to let your historical analysis go through, because it just proves the point that there are more factors involved than simple family tradition. Constantine's conversion was a political event which changed the legal landscape for Christianity. Simple geography, therefore, cannot account for religious beliefs.

Beyond that, you engage in what I would call risky speculation concerning the nature of Constantine's conversion (are you going to propose that a bad meal changed the course of history?) As I have been reminded before on this blog, we can't speculate on people's intentions or motives. It is another genetic fallacy, except instead of attributing his beliefs to geography you are attributing them to his digestive system.

But what you still don't account for is the fact that 50 years after Jesus' death we see Christian communities as far away as Rome. It's not just that, but there were established proceedings for dealing with them in court. You're going to have to find something more than geography, personal quirks, and heavy food to account for all that.

And what's even more amazing is that we have clearly documented instances of empire-wide persecutions aimed at stamping out the "pernicious myth" as Tacitus would say. So now we have political force used against Christianity, and yet it flourishes. If you think that was a one-time event, then I cite the underground church movement in China and Indonesia, both of which are far outside Western Europe.

Steven Carr said...

Guthrie's critique is the normal bluster of Christians who claim there is evidence for Christian miracles.

GUTHRIE
So even if the evidence for a particular Christian claim suggests its truthfulness over naturalistic alternatives, the methodological naturalist has to jettison it and opt for a naturalistic alternative - no matter how fantastic the evidence for it might be!

CARR
Let me see.

Christians claim that Jesus went up into the sky and then disappeared into a cloud on his way to Heaven.

The naturalistic explanation for this story is that somebody made it up.

Fantastic! says Guthrie, who thinks it far more reasonable that Jesus ascended into the sky like a Saturn V rocket and found a way to get to Heaven from a cloud.

Guthrie's claim is that miracles are well-attested, while it is crazy naturalistic fantasy to suggest that people make up myths and legends.

Guthrie's defense against the problem of evil is 'Perhaps it is true that : (2) God uses evil to maximize the amount of good in the universe.'

Note that Guthrie doesn't even care if what he is saying is true or not.

I quote him 'Again, this does not need to be true, it only needs to be feasible or possible.'

This is the level Guthrie descends to.

First he claims that God uses evil (!), and then claims he doesn't care if his defense is true or not.

Guthrie claims that if there is a possible way to defend against the problem of evil, he will grasp it and not care if it is true or not.

While Guthrie chides naturalists for coming up with 'fantastic' explanations, Guthrie's other answer to the problem of evil is to not come up with ANY answer.

I quote him 'Since God's methodology in permitting evil is inscrutable, then one cannot object to God's existence in the presence of evil.'

In other words, Guthrie has no answer.

The hypocrisy of somebody who chastises naturalists for coming up with 'fantastic' explanations and then says that Christians have no explanation is amazing.

Steven Carr said...

BRAD
But what you still don't account for is the fact that 50 years after Jesus' death we see Christian communities as far away as Rome. It's not just that, but there were established proceedings for dealing with them in court.

CARR
Yes, letters in Acts by Romans say Paul was not charged with anything worthy of punishment.

Let us not forget that Christian communities in Corinth were scoffing at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

And Christian communities in Thessalonia were also getting worried about what would happen to corpses....

BRAD
And what's even more amazing is that we have clearly documented instances of empire-wide persecutions aimed at stamping out the "pernicious myth" as Tacitus would say.

CARR
The first 'empire-wide' persecution took place in 251 AD, under Decius I believe.

It was a really bad time for Christians.

Before then, Christians could just move.

Even the author of Matthew knew Christians could just flee from one town to another to escape persecution.

Matthew 10
When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.

In 251 AD, Christians could not do that. It was really bad.

Toby said...

I just went to http://sguthrie.net/ to hear Gutherie's side of things. I understand a little better now his point-of-view. You know, both sides have been talking past each rather than to each other. I think that this is an opportunity for a good debate! I no longer think he was making a cheap shot, but rather I think he was just mistaken on the nature of your summary posted on infidels.org. Your book information should be posted there so individuals can purchase your book or clearer information should be provided about your book (i.e., a picture of the front and back cover, etc).

John, perhaps you should just issue a challenge to Gutherie to actually read your book and offer a critique of that instead.

Evan said...

Brad I don't think you are being at all fair.

First -- there were MANY religions in the Roman world that were much larger than Catholic/Orthodox Christianity at the time it was adopted by Constantine. It's not at all clear that Catholic/Orthodox Christianity was even the majority of Christians at the time.

By all accounts, Constantine adopted Catholic/Orthodox Christianity because Jesus appeared to him in a dream.

Dream content can be influenced by diet. Heck, it can be influenced by smells in the room where the dreamer is.

So you either accept the story as told by Constantine -- and deny the validity of his conversion to any rational choice or any superiority of the thought process behind his conversion to that of anyone else -- and realize that dreams are not a reliable indicator of truth, thus maximizing the role of contingency in the subsequent Christianization of the empire, or you do not.

If you don't, you either believe Jesus really appeared to Constantine -- which is just as crazy as any other Christian belief but not uniquely crazy -- and then you also have to believe that GOD actually won him the battle of the Milvian bridge and caused Maxentius to fall into the Tiber when the bridge broke.

I think that's loony.

I also don't think believing that such actions were contingent and depended to a significant degree on random events beyond the control of the historical actors is even remotely deniable by a modern.

So where is the genetic fallacy in this? I just don't see where you can hang that hat.

John W. Loftus said...

Toby, Guthrie and I have had a few polite email exchanges from this and have both arrived at a better understanding of one another.

And I do footnote my book in that essay, don't I?

Brad Haggard said...

Evan, let me address Constantine one more time and then move on to the larger issue.

If I believe from the start that there is a God who is all-powerful and is concerned with human affairs, then it is no small leap to think that He intervened in both C's dream and subsequent victory. Of course, if we don't allow for God, then it becomes exceedingly difficult to imagine that C's dreams had any connection to reality.

For C, however, it must have been clear, otherwise he wouldn't have made the change that he did. His personal story/worldview was changed by the event, and that cannot be in dispute. Your appeal to his personality or diet can only be historical speculation.

Of course, I can grant all that you say about C (I'm no C apologist) and the larger point still stands.

Before C's conversion, Christianity grew larger than geography theory would predict. In fact, if I grant your addendum to geography, political forces, then it becomes even more complicated for geography, because it is well attested that there were political persecutions of Christians in the 3 centuries prior to C. I think it is just too simple and naive to think that geography and politics, and family heritage are somehow deterministic in one's worldview.

Of course, the contemporary falsifier to this theory is the rapid expansion of Christianity in every area of the world outside of the West, especially China, India, and Indonesia. In fact, the one place where geography would predict that Christianity would be on the increase is in the West, the one area in the world where it is actually in decline.

Evan said...

Brad, the point I am making, and I think the point John is making is pretty easy to understand and I'm sorry I'm having such a tough time getting you to see it.

The primary point is not the geography ALONE determines people's religious belief. The primary point is that factors other than the obvious truth of their religion largely determine most people's religious beliefs.

Now if you believe that God made Maxentius fall off the bridge in the Tiber, than I'm cool with you believing it. I think it's a tough position to hold, as there were many other things God could have done that would be much more likely to result in "Christianity gr(owing) larger than geography theory would predict."

One thing would have been to put the Chi-Rho on the Moon so that it was visible at night from all corners of the earth. That wouldn't be any harder for an omnipotent God but a lot more clear cut than having one tetrarch fall off a bridge.

This is a far cry from, "Of course, if we don't allow for God, then it becomes exceedingly difficult to imagine that C's dreams had any connection to reality." It's allowing for a God that makes the action so inscrutable. God (if you accept such a hypothesis) has no trouble elsewhere wiping out entire armies and destroying people by striking them dead on the spot (Ananias for example), so why would he make such a weak action responsible for such a huge historical event? Why make it look like bad luck?

Secondly, the growth of Christianity through the empire was not substantially different than the growth of other religions and has not been remarkable since then in the absence of political power and enforced conversions.

Some quick googling resulted in the following numbers:

China is 3-4% Christian
India is 2.3% Christian
Indonesia is 8.7% Christian.

If this is all that Christianity can muster in those lands that had their first missionaries in the 2nd century (India and China at least) this is evidence FOR geography being one of the primary determinants of religious faith.

But again, the Outsider Test doesn't say that geography is the ONLY determiner. It does say that most people accept the religion that they are given by their family, or will change religion as the primary religion of the polity they inhabit changes without critically examining the basic beliefs of the religion they accept or critically evaluating the claims of other religions that they do not accept.

Do you believe this is not the case?

A side point as well would be that growth of a religion is NOT a factor in determining its truth value, period.

If it is, it is the responsibility of the person making the claim to show that the religion they are examining has no parallel in growth at any point in history, something that the Christians cannot claim as there have been many religions that have grown faster than Christianity for significant periods of time (Islam for example).

Cheers,

Evan

Brad Haggard said...

Evan, thank you for your thoughtful responses, btw.

There are a couple of things to say in response. First, lets take a look at your disdain at God's methods. (I'm not hanging my faith on this instance, though) If God had put the chi-rho on the moon, it doesn't seem like everyone in the world would understand it. Most of the world at that time didn't understand Greek, and were illiterate at any rate. Beyond that, the chi-rho was a specific religious symbol, so for many of those who saw the symbol it would be inscrutable. I suppose it could have been interpreted in a variety of ways.

But for C, it was clear because it was a personal message. That's why God doesn't buy billboard space, because He is a personal God. I really think that N.T. Wright's construction of our worldview/personal story method of understanding is much stronger than simple positivism. C's victory only looks like luck to us because we are not in C's vantage point.

I know the "outsider test" seems really simple, but it is because we can't get out of our Western worldview. If you really wanted to take the outsider test, then you would even have to consider systems that deny the objective, the one path (I'm guessing) you took to deny Christianity. I think all of us would have trouble arguing outside of the classical tradition handed down to us. Empiricism is a powerful force when used correctly, but it cannot justify itself. A brief survey of current philosophy will show that.

Now, let me take China as a counter once again. If you only look at Google, then you are not going to get the entire story. Much of the church in China is unregistered due to the pressure from the communist government. So any official figure you get will be inevitably small. The most conservative estimate place the Christian population in China between 50-75 million (the middle road puts them at about 100 million). There are more Christians worshiping in China that in America. What makes this more remarkable is that 60 years ago the church in China was declared dead as the Communist regime expelled every foreign missionary. What was a population of a couple thousand exploded in a period 50 years without foreign missionary activity. Those people, in Communist China, were living the "outsider test".

Finally, if you say that "insider" circumstances are so powerful, it seems a little disingenuous to allow yourself alone to be above "insider" influence. First, you must say that you have reached some worldview attainment above the vast majority of the earth's population, and second, you must say that someone like me has not critically examined his faith.

Your ad populum argument is that since most people uncritically accept a faith, that makes it untrue, which is also a logical fallacy. I know a lot of people who uncritically accept lots of different beliefs, but that doesn't mean there aren't subscribers to those belief systems who have honestly and critically examined the evidence and have come to different personal conclusions.

Evan said...

Brad thanks for your thoughtful response.

You can take a slice of time and skew your numbers so that things look good for your side, I suppose. But the first Christian missionaries went to India and China in the 2nd century CE. That it is still a minority religion in both countries (as you concede) shows that its arguments are not compelling to the majority of the population of Earth's two largest countries.

So you really shouldn't be using the growth of Christianity in those countries as an argument for the truth of the religion.

Now you hint a bit at your view of God's actions when you say:

First, lets take a look at your disdain at God's methods.

I assume by saying this you are saying that you believe indeed that God made Maxentius fall off the bridge and that God indeed visited Constantine in a dream.

Is this the case?

I would think that if it is the case, then you believe the very best way for an omnipotent being to get people to believe in him was to have a general and son of a former tetrarch take up arms against the Roman State, then defeat that state in a civil war and finally unite the empire under his control and establish a Christian dynasty that oversaw the persecution and destruction of all other forms of religion in the empire.

Is that your opinion? Again, God as postulated is able to do anything at all. Do you really think the sudden appearance of a symbol on the moon would be less effective at this task than the method you suggest he chose?

Cheers,

Evan

Brad Haggard said...

Evan,

I'm not using the growth of Christianity as evidence for its truth, but as evidence against the outsider test. I do consider the growth of church in China to be a miracle, I don't know any other way to "skew" growth from a couple thousand to tens of millions in about 50 years.

At any rate, I realize that this is not sufficient evidence for the truth of Christianity. But, again, I think it falsifies the outsider test.

Now, as for God's actions in C's military victory. Personally, I am skeptical about "over-spiritualizing" everything that happens in life. But as I look at it i can see how it really affected the growth of Christianity. If you pressed me, I suppose I would consider myself agnostic on the issue. It seems like an opportune moment for God to work, but the subsequent actions of the regime and the difficulties in the accounts make me skeptical. I do think God uses imperfect people to accomplish His ends, though.

But why didn't God go big, and put the chi-rho on the moon? He is God, isn't He? Apart from the difficulties I described earlier, I would submit that God doesn't want to "convert" people as much as He wants to "adopt" them. God doesn't speak on billboards because He speaks in people's hearts. This is unfortunately unpopular within this neo-postivism called "new atheism", but I think that the Holy Sprit's witness has epistemic value.

I think a personal experience, which provides immediate knowledge, is preferable to an impersonal sign in the sky. Also, it allows for us to volitionally accept His call, rather than coercing us.

John W. Loftus said...

Brad, please explain exactly what you're saying to me for I fail to see what you mean when you say something is "evidence" against the OTF and/or that it "falsifies" it.

I don't see your point. Please explain it to me in greater detail. I must've missed what you said eariler.

Evan said...

Brad, I am not sure you have ever read the Bible.

God doesn't want to "convert" people as much as He wants to "adopt" them. God doesn't speak on billboards because He speaks in people's hearts. This is unfortunately unpopular within this neo-postivism called "new atheism", but I think that the Holy Sprit's witness has epistemic value.

Moses, Aaron and the serpents/staffs in front of Pharaoh.

Elijah and the priests of Baal.

Jesus' miracles.

The killing of Ananias and Sapphira.

Paul's miraculous escapes from jail.

I could go on ...

If you believe the Bible is true -- literally or figuratively, it certainly shows that Yahweh wants to prove he's better than any other supernatural force.

Cheers,

Evan

Brad Haggard said...

John,

Evan and I were carrying on about 3 different lines of argument, so I can see how everything would get confused.

I can't falsify the OTF because it isn't a theory, it's a challenge for further study. I should have been more exact in my words.

I was attacking one of the theories behind OTF, that the circumstances of geography, time, and family are coercive upon religious beliefs. I wanted to go further than simply claiming "genetic fallacy."

Don't even worry about all the Constantine talk, because it was off the topic :)

Brad Haggard said...

Evan,

Nuance, nuance, nuance. You guys never allow for nuance.

I have read Romans 8:15, 23, Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5.

The word is "huiothesian"

Philip R Kreyche said...

Brad,

I think a personal experience, which provides immediate knowledge, is preferable to an impersonal sign in the sky.

And it doesn't bother you that my friend has had personal experiences of the Goddess Hecate? How is the Christian "witness of the Spirit" any more valid than subjective experiences of any other religion?

Evan said...

Brad, I fail to see how there is any nuance to the Bible stories of Yahweh's desire to show his greatness.

Did wiping whole armies while they slept suggest a God who was nuanced?

Again, you may not believe the Bible to be true ... you may not believe the Constantine really saw Jesus, you never really say.

But if you think there is even a metaphorical truth to the Bible, you must admit that God makes some pretty dramatic steps to get people to believe in him.

If the incarnation were true, it would most certainly be a very signal attempt to prove his reality.

It would prove it even more if the incarnated God-Man were immortal ... but that probably is too persuasive. Much better to light rocks on fire or speak through a burning bush or take a prophet up to heaven in a chariot, or resurrect a body and bring it up into the clouds or have a future emperor have a vision in the night of Jesus.

Yeah, I guess you would need a lot of nuance, Brad.

Cheers,

Evan

Brad Haggard said...

Evan,

The stories that you cite do show God working hard to prove His name, but it is always to persons. Gideon is the main focus of the story of God "wiping out armies while they slept." Moses is the focus of the burning bush. All of the stories show how God is working personally with people. That is the nuance, not to God, but to the stories themselves. It comes from a close reading. Of course, in the verses I cited earlier, the wording (adoption) is undeniable. In that way it all fits together, and the incarnation is the centerpiece.

The Bible uses some myth, history, poetry, and prose to show that God cares about us, shown through Jesus. That is what a careful, nuanced look at the texts reveals, and I believe it is true as well.

Brad Haggard said...

Phillip,

I think you make a good point, and I expected someone to bring that up.

My first response would be that while I think the Spirit's witness has epistemic value, I don't think subjective experiences are sufficient for affirming a worldview. I usually rely on reason and scripture, but there are many times where the "still small voice" give me guidance or comfort when my reason runs out.

It's anathema to "new atheism", but epistemology has moved past positivism. See Stephen Hale's work on relativism to get a more balanced perspective.

Evan said...

Brad, I think you are conceding the point. God works hard to prove himself to persons in the Bible. Yet he doesn't seem to do stuff like that any more.

So either the Bible is made up stories (my belief), or God must have changed his modus operandi (evidently your belief).

Nothing about the story of the incarnation fits with our current understanding of the world and how it works. It's impossible to imagine God fusing with the molecules of a zygote and having that zygote be 100% human and 100% God. It's a story.

There's no need for nuance to understand it at all -- people made up a story, that's it.

And that is what I think happened with Constantine. His conversion was probably genuine, but his story about the dream was just that -- a story -- which was probably loosely based on poorly recalled memories from a dream.

Brad Haggard said...

Ok, Evan, I'm playing my full hand here, but you probably will not concede this.

I went through a period of doubt not too long ago where certain problems with Christianity, specifically Creationism, caused me to doubt my faith. During this time a number of things happened which at first I attributed to coincidence, but the entirety of which convinced me that God was working to protect my faith. I don't think the specifics are important because you won't concede the larger point anyways, but that is why I argue like I do.

Of course, my confidence in YEC is almost nil now, but my faith in God is stronger than ever. And when I talk with missionaries who work outside of the West, they routinely relate miracles and confirmations of messages of the type we see in the Bible. Some reports are exaggerated (I know them personally) but most of them are God's power working in ministry.

Why don't we see that here? It's tough to say, but I think we would deny it even if we saw it. Think back to the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man.

Brad Haggard said...

BTW, what's so hard to believe about Jesus' person coming and living in a human existence? Is a zygote a problem for a God who created humanity in the first place?

Evan said...

Brad, I find it interesting that you think God acts in non-Western areas but doesn't act where his actions would be most compelling, where they could be fully and scientifically investigated.

Why do you think that is?

I note you also have investigated some claims made and found them to be lacking. Have you thoroughly investigated any of the claims you suggest are the evidence that keeps your faith alive?

You admit that your church taught you things that, after you fully investigated them, were not true (YEC). What makes you confident about the other things that they are teaching you?

As to denying it if I saw it, it depends on what you mean. When I go to see a magician perform, I see things that appear miraculous, but the magician is performing an illusion. So no, I would not necessarily believe my eyes, any more than you would if you saw a Filipino "psychic surgery".

But as you note, God seems to hide himself more when investigations of his actions are more likely.

Finally -- what about the atoms and molecules that make up a zygote that is 100% human and 100% God makes them different from a merely 100% human zygote? I'm curious how you think God manifests himself in atoms.

Brad Haggard said...

Lots of good questions, Evan. I hope to give some good quick answers to them.

I think God isn't working here in the West because we aren't letting Him. (cf. Jesus' return to Nazareth and their lack of faith) We are too comfortable and most churches here only "play" church, not tapping into God's power because we have big buildings and complex programming. Of course, I have heard of miracles happening even here.

I guess I can't say that I completely reject YEC, but I am very skeptical (only in the sense that no one was actually there, so there is the philosophical possibility). My main problem with them is theological, they put creation doctrine before Jesus. I also think much of their research is only to prove the inaccuracy of radiometric dating, not a very broad research scope.

But in NT study, I have had my faith confirmed the more I look into it. I'm still working through a lot of the OT, especially the history of the Pentateuch, but I feel that I have a much stronger grasp on my faith now.

I never said God "hid" Himself in any way, but that He works with individuals. Sometimes it works out publicly, sometimes it is more private.

And as for the incarnation, the traditional view is that the divine person of Jesus veiled His divine spiritual nature and took on a physical human nature. So Jesus' person/mind lived in a human body. (see Phil 2:5-11) God is spirit, so there is no sense in which Jesus would have to share human cells with divine cells.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Brad

I have trouble with you citing the growth of Christianity in China as somehow contr-evidence of the OTF. China ia a patriarchal society with embedded Divine Command ethics. The Christianity practiced there is completely synonomous with Maoism at an ethical level. The promises of the dictator worshipped are jus slightly different. Combine that psychological parallel with the common presence of ex-pat Westeners who are allowed to openly practice their christian belief and maintain a higher standard of living then of course the tyranny of Jesus would be more appealing than the tyranny of Mao but, in psychological substance it is no different.

GearHedEd said...

"Most of the world at that time didn't understand Greek, and were illiterate at any rate. Beyond that, the chi-rho was a specific religious symbol, so for many of those who saw the symbol it would be inscrutable."

I would have seen that and said,

"What? There's a military shopping center with incredible bargains available on the moon? Can I get a ticket on the next shuttle?

GearHedEd said...

Brad said,

"...I think a personal experience, which provides immediate knowledge, is preferable to an impersonal sign in the sky. Also, it allows for us to volitionally accept His call, rather than coercing us."

Where's the coercion in providing proof for all to see?