Guest Post by Dr. Douglas Groothuis: "The Straw God: Understanding the New Atheism"

Douglas Groothuis is a Christian Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary and co-editor with James F. Sennett of the book, In Defense of Natural Theology. [Sennett has recently explained that while he has doubts he still believes, seen here]. Groothuis is presently writing an apologetics book which I think will be the best of the lot and perhaps the standard text for years to come. Here is his submitted essay unedited and without comment:

The Straw God: Understanding the New Atheism, Part 1

(originally published at www.TrueU.org)

“There is no God, and I hate him!” This seems to be the subtext for much of the “new atheism” propounded in books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others. What distinguishes this new breed of unbelief is, in part, its vehemence and vitriol. The gloves are off. Religion—all religion—is not just false, but dangerous to civilization itself. Dawkins concludes his book The God Delusion by arguing that raising children religiously is a form of child abuse. Hitchens concurs. God, given his bad reputation, must be banished from the universe.

Behind much of the atheism of today is a false view of God and religion. The straw man fallacy occurs when someone presents a weak or inaccurate view of a position and then cuts it down. Atheists are often guilty of this fallacy with respect to God. This may be called the straw god fallacy: a false idea of God is easily refuted. While responding to all the fallacious arguments of the new atheists would take a book in itself, we can, nevertheless, highlight two of their basic errors.

Error #1: All Religion is Similarly Irrational

First, the new atheists view religion as a piece. Thus, a few deft blows to the sacred head can disarm and destroy all religion as irrational. Sam Harris is a particularly egregious offender in this matter. But religions differ markedly concerning their basic worldviews as well as their means of intellectually defending themselves. For example, Mormonism is based on indemonstrable historical claims and relies heavily on subjective experience to verify itself.[1]

Historic Christianity, on the contrary, is well rooted in objective historical facts. The New Testament was written a short time after the events it describes and by eyewitness or those who consulted eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4; John 21:24). Crucial events described in the New Testament are corroborated by extra-biblical historians and by archaeology.[2] The original manuscripts of the New Testament have been reliably transmitted over time.[3] Further, while spiritual experiences are central to Christianity,[4] it does not hang its entire credibility on them, since the evidence from history and nature is strong.

Therefore, Christopher Hitchens’s arguments against Mormonism in god is Not Great may succeed without having any implications for Christianity.[5] Similarly, an atheist may argue against Buddhism and Hinduism by rightly claiming that they are mystical religions that are unanchored from history and deny the significance and worth of the material world. But these criticisms have no force against Christianity, given its stubborn historicity and its affirmation of the universe as created good by God and redeemed by God himself through the Incarnation (John 1:1, 14).

Error #2: No Arguments for God Succeed

The new atheists believe that the idea of God as Creator and Designer is irrational, a mere leap of blind faith. Atheists are (rightly) angry at this notion of a God who requires intellectual suicide for belief and worship. Yet their indignation fails to disprove God’s existence. Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens decline to take seriously the strongest arguments for God. Instead, they present weak arguments and then tear them down. Yet there are powerful arguments for God’s existence, which gain in power the more science reveals about the universe.

Evidence for Big Bang cosmology has accumulated over several decades, making it the most established scientific account of the origin of the cosmos. According to this account, everything came into being out of nothing in the far distant past.[6] This conclusion takes away atheism’s old security blanket: There is no need for God, since the universe has always existed. But if the universe came into existence at some point, we are left with only two options. (1) It came into existence without a cause or (2) It came into existence with a cause. Option (1) is either impossible or profoundly unlikely, given our sense of cause and effect. We assume that material events have causes that explain their existence. To deny that the universe had a cause means that it popped into existence. This is what philosopher Dallas Willard calls “big bang mysticism.” It is far more rational to believe that whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence. If this is so, then it must be inferred that something outside the universe was the cause of the universe. The best candidate is a personal agent of unlimited power.[7] “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

Evidence is also mounting that the universe is designed to be inhabited by humans. This is evidenced through the complex and intricate fine tuning of various aspects of the world. Many constants in the universe have infinitesimal margins of error. If any of them were only slightly off, there could be no humans. Physicist Martin Rees notes that:

1. Our universe could not have become structured if it were not expanding at a particular rate.

2. If the big bang had produced few density fluctuations, the universe would have remained dark, with no galaxies or stars

3. If our universe had more than three spatial dimensions, planets could not stay in orbits around stars.

4. If gravity were much stronger, it would crush living organisms of human size, and stars would be small and short lived.

5. If the nuclear force were a few percent weaker, only hydrogen would be stable: there would be no periodic table, no chemistry.

But Rees claims that this does not indicate that a Designer fine-tuned the universe for life. It is all sheer, dumb luck. “Some would argue that this fine-tuning of the universe, which seems so providential, is nothing to be surprised about, since we could not exist otherwise.”[8] Rees dismisses these fine-tuned aspects of the universe—and there are many others—as accidental, not designed. But in doing so, he confuses two very different things: (1) the factors that must be the case for us to exist and to observe the universe and (2) the explanation for the highly improbable configurations that allow us to exist to observe the universe. This highly improbably arrangement surely cries out for an explanation, not a truism. If all these factors are in place, then we will exist and observe them, but this does not account for why these factors came into place in the first place.

Faced with the fine-tuning problem, atheists may also appeal to the “many universe theory,” which claims that our universe is not really unlikely because it is merely one of countless other universes that lack the sophisticated fine-tuning required for life. Ours is simply the lucky universe. But this theory is a desperate “hail Mary” pass at the end of a game that the atheists are losing badly. There is no evidence for other universes; they are merely postulated to banish God from this one. This is purely ad hoc.[9]

More could be said about the new atheists’ straw god arguments. Their claim that all religions are irrational is false because it disregards the significant differences between religions—differences that make a difference. Moreover, their assertion that one must be irrational to believe in God is false. The existence of a God can be inferred rationally on the basis of solid and sufficient scientific evidence. Additionally, the historical evidence for Christianity is very strong—although I discussed it only briefly. The atheism of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens may be new, but it is not true. Their straw god is not the real God who created and designed the universe.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] See Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, revised edition, Hank Hanegraaff, general editor (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1997), chapter six.

[2] See Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 20th anniversary edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007).

[3] See Timothy Paul Jones, Misquoting Truth A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007).

[4] For the argument for God from religious experience, see J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987), 231-240.

[5] Christopher Hitchens, god is Not Great (New York: Twelve Books, 2007), 161-168.

[6] See William Lane Craig and Paul Copan, Creation Out of Nothing (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), chapter seven.

[7] See Douglas Groothuis, “Metaphysical Implications of Cosmological Arguments,” in James Sennett and Douglas Groothuis, eds. In Defense of Natural Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005).

[8] Martin Rees, “Exploring Our Universe and Others,” Scientific American Special Issue: The Once and Future Cosmos (2002), 87.

[9] See J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 482-490.

109 comments:

MAZZ said...

I do believe that each of these arguments have been handled (much more fluently than I am about to attempt).
"There is no God, and I hate him."
Atheists are not angry at a god that they (we) don't believe in. If there is anger it is anger directed at the way religion influences people and encourages hate.
"Historic Christianity, on the contrary, is well rooted in objective historical facts."
1. Historic Christianity is NOT well rooted in objective historical facts outside the bible itself. There is very little evidence of any of the important aspects of the New Testament including the very existence of Jesus and his acts.
2. The idea that the original documents of the New Testament have been reliably transmitted is absurd on its face. We aren't even sure who the writers are.
3. Even if we grant that "Historic Christianity" is rooted in reality, it has been discussed many times that real world religion is not the same as "book" religion.
"But if the universe came into existence at some point, we are left with only two options. (1) It came into existence without a cause or (2) It came into existence with a cause."
I will never understand this argument. The apologists want to say that its illogical to believe that the universe "came from nothing" but have no problem believing that something greater than the universe (i.e. God) came from nothing. On its face that idea is ridiculous.
Argument from fine tuning
We know that at least one universe exists. The question then becomes, why shouldn't there be other universes? I personally like the idea of the Big Crunch/Big Bounce. I'm paraphrasing and may not have this completely right but this theory says that the universe is in an endless cycle of expansions and collapses with different laws during each bounce. We are lucky enough to be in a period where the laws are such that the universe can support our life.

I would really like for the apologists to stop making the same arguments time after time. It's become such that a relatively lay person like myself can defeat them easily.

Patricia Hansen said...

His comments on the alleged "fine tuning" of the universe are almost amusing. Only this one little planet, on the edge of a vast galaxy that is itself only one of who knows how many galaxies, supports our lives. If God fine tuned the universe for us, he did a crappy job.

He's taking a creationist position, of course. I think we're much more interesting in that we evolved and adapted to our environment. Evolution fine tuned us, and all other life, to our environment, to use his words, rather than the other way around. I find that quite satisfying and wish that we'd realize that, as a product of our environment, we'd better take better care of it.

Great site. I read it almost every day, even if I don't always follow the arguments. Having escaped fundamentalism myself many years ago, I appreciate sites like this one.

Teleprompter said...

"The best candidate is a personal agent of unlimited power.[7] “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)."

And this is exactly where he loses me.

Why is the "best candidate" a *personal* agent? Which types of agents did he look at? It seems that most apologists just hope that their audience will take them at their word that *their particular god* is the best candidate for their arguments, and not actually critically evaluate whether the assumptions of the argument dictate a different type of being than the one defended?

Why not an *impersonal* agent? What advantage is there in a personal agent?

I'm not sure that apologists actually take the time they should at this step in their argument, and just assume that people will accept their word. I think the burden of proof is on the apologists at this point to demonstrate that their god *is* the best type of god, that is if they can pinpoint exactly what type of god their god even is, which is also sort of a crapshoot at times, it seems.

Douglas said...

The most disappointing claim here is the "the universe must have a cause" argument, particularly since he decries Dawkins (and others, though I'll confess to only having read his works) for failing to address this point when he quite clearly does in TGD - as MAZZ eloquently puts it, if everything needs a cause then what caused God? The God hypothesis fails precisely because this explanation raises more questions than it answers. For me, that was the biggest takeaway from TGD, the somewhat hyperbolic bandying about of terms like child abuse notwithstanding.

Hypocrisy abound, methinks, for Dr Groothuis is guilty of exactly what he criticises - straw manning.

Brad Haggard said...

Teleprompter,

"Personal" is necessary to bridge the gap between eternal existence and temporal causality. Otherwise you need and eternal cause, in which case a number of absurdities come up.

Of course, I could hear all the standard atheist responses as I read the article. I just don't think they're convincing.

Jeff said...

"The New Testament was written a short time after the events it describes and by eyewitness or those who consulted eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4; John 21:24)."

Heh, I like this. Citing the Bible's authors to establish the credibility of the authors. Makes perfect sense.

Jason said...

Perhaps the theists that visit this blog may find this hard to believe, but I try to be objective. Really, I do. I don't want to be the kind of atheist who only reads literature that supports his or her position. I want more than anything else to keep an open mind about the "God debate", always reviewing both sides of the issue. There always seems to be some apologist who claims to have the set of arguments that will once and for all prove the existence of God to those who are skeptical. I didn't have to get half way through this essay before I could see it was another failed attempt.

To all apologists who want to continue using the fine-tuning argument or who have questions about the origins of the universe: Please read some of the latest literature on cosmology. Some of the questions you are asking have been answered. Perhaps not completely, but it's not like it's a total mystery.

I respect theologians and their desire to defend their faith. But many of those who attempt to dismiss the recent discoveries of science do not have the training to adequately question it.

I do not speak with sarcasm when I say it is my hearts desire to find an apologist who, using the language of science, and not theology, can mount a serious challenge to our current knowledge of the universe and it's operation.

Kel said...

Interesting take of things, though I have a criticism of the fine-tuning argument.


To call on fine-tuning in this universe is nothing more than a god of the gaps, it's in effect saying "we exist therefore God exists" because of the amount of conditions needed in order to get us. But we don't know how universes get their constants, nor do we know why the forces are this way. We are limited by our theoretical and observable barriers such as the big bang.

There could be an argument made that there was a deity that started the process, because of that uncertainty but why does it have to exist in regard to us? We can satisfy our own existence through the process of evolution - that while we exist because the universe permits life to, the same could be said for the other 10 million or so species that exist on this planet today. Not to mention the billions that once existed.

We live on a small section of one planet orbiting a very ordinary star which is but one of ~10^23 stars that exist in the universe. Our species has existed for but a fraction of the time that the universe has existed for 0.001% of the history of the universe. Is putting in an explanation for the universe with us as the focal point really going to be an adequate explanation?

Jason said...

Brad Haggarad said:

"Personal" is necessary to bridge the gap between eternal existence and temporal causality. Otherwise you need and eternal cause . . .


Says who? Show me the experimental data and you just might convince me.

The Jesting Fool said...

This post by Groothius is very interesting, but also a little strange to me. It is strange because I agree with his main bullet points—that the New Atheists are mistaken to assert 1) that ALL religion is similarly irrational, and 2) that NO arguments for God succeed—but I mostly disagree with his method of making these points. Hmm…

I have not read Hitchens, but I have read Dawkins and Harris. I concur that they are misinformed to lump all of religion together and dismiss it on every level. Their works, while full of very interesting and helpful scientific details, were kind of naïve in the examination of religious affections and theology (at least, that was my impression when I read them. It’s been awhile).

That being said, Groothius has already made a mistake in his very first words—“There is no God, and I hate him!”—which pretend to summarize the New Atheism position (MAZZ pointed this out already). I don’t think that’s a fair representation.

So, anyways—

On Error #1—Yes, I agree that this is an error, but Groothius seems a little too certain about the historical accuracy of Christianity. Mormonism is certainly less historically demonstrable by far, but Christianity does have plenty of its own mysteries and assumptions to weed out. Some religions are more irrational than others and do need to be dismissed. But others, I think, can still be granted to those who feel that they provide hope and meaning.

On Error #2—Again, I agree, but I honestly don’t see why our observations of cause and effect require us to assume some sort of ultimate cause. If there is so much mounting evidence regarding Big Bang cosmology, why can’t we just go with that on rational grounds? After all, some would say God was not the cause, but rather an effect of the Big Bang along with the rest of the universe. But Groothius jumps right on the idea that there must have been a cause, and that it had to be a personal agent, God—and to ‘prove’ this, he quotes Genesis (Teleprompter noted this above). Eh? Say again?

I don’t want to go into his discussion about the universe’s design being suitable for humanity. I don’t even know where to start, it feels so ridiculous…(well, I guess Kel’s comment deals with this)

Okay, the reason I agree with Groothius’ main points, but not his method, is basically because I don’t view the ‘leap of faith’ as intellectual suicide. I tend to see the need for logic as well as faith, depending on what part of the wide realm of human experience one is approaching. As a former Christian, I have plenty of experience with the religion I rejected, and plenty of friends who choose to remain Christians. Faith is something ‘other’ than reason, but I think faith can be something practical for us that deserves consideration. Groothius is trying to rely completely on logic to prove a God that he already has faith in. That doesn’t seem to work very well to me. Let Groothius have his God, and his Christianity, but not by forcing reason into a faith mold.

waytoomuchcoffee said...

First, kudos to John for allowing conflicting views on his blog. The theist view really interests me, because I am always waiting for the new argument. I have to say though, that if Dr. Groothuis had read your book he would have had to rethink his essay, or scrap it altogether.

Regarding the “many universe theory”, more commonly known as the multiverse theory, there is indeed evidence for this. Look up "scientific evidence" in Wikipedia for an example of what counts as evidence. Then google "multiverse mathematical models". It is not conclusive, deductive proof, but it is scientific proof, which is more than I can say for the theory of "God".

waytoomuchcoffee said...

I meant to say "scientific evidence", not proof.

Evil Bender said...

As others have noticed, I'm unimpressed with the big bang argument, because for it to work we either need to posit a traditional god (omniscient, omnipotent) or a "lesser" god, which might have, say, fine-tuned the Universe and then disappeared or hidden itself.

Either way, that's nothing more than a god of the gaps argument. To explain anything as complex as the universe, we'd need to posit a being capable of bringing it into existence. And that being would then have to face the same causal questions that caused us to posit him, except now we have an unknown, possibly all-powerful entity to explain.

I agree that some atheists can be dismissive of those who work hard to understand and defend their faith, but the first cause argument is an embarrassing bit of slight of hand.

If it's truly the best argument theists can muster, they won't have much luck persuading atheists.

Brad Haggard said...

Jason,

"Personal" is a philosophical necessity, not an experimental one. If God was Aristotle's "ultimate thinker" then He would never get anything accomplished, because He would eternally be thinking and never doing. So a personal agent is the only way that an eternal being can temporally cause things.

I don't think this proves Trinity or even omni-benevolence, but personhood is philosophically justified.

hillsonghoods said...

"There is no God, and I hate him."

For someone who complains about atheists attacking "straw God" fallacies, characterising Dawkins etc like this is somewhat hypocritical.

Jason said...

Brad,
I don't want you to misunderstand what I am about to say. I truly believe that philosophy has it's place in the human quest for knowledge. However, in your response to my comment, you demonstrate the limits of philosophy and theology. When you say something like:

"Personal" is necessary to bridge the gap between eternal existence and temporal causality.

you are making a scientific statement, whether you accept it or not. You have just made a statement about the way the universe (or universes) are created. If what you say is true, then I feel justified in asking you for the data you have used or researched to come to such a conclusion.

On the other hand, there has been a lot of research on naturalistic causes of the universe. Physicists and cosmologists such as Lee Smolin ("Life of the Cosmos") and Alex Vilenkin ("Many Worlds in One") have outlined in detail what we currently know about the origins of the universe. If you have read this literature and you have some objections to their conclusions, I would like for you to outline the flaws in their data. Otherwise, I see no compelling reason I should accept the conclusions you have come to.

Kel said...

For someone who complains about atheists attacking "straw God" fallacies, characterising Dawkins etc like this is somewhat hypocritical.
hillsonghoods, fully agree. It's not really the best way to start an argument against atheism, and I can't think of a single "new atheist" who that would describe.

Brad Haggard said...

Jason,

I think we talked past each other. I was referring to the cosmo argument obtaining, then the cause, what we would call "God" would have to be personal. I think for you that the CA doesn't obtain, but if it did, "personal" would be a justified deduction.

Of course, I stand still unconvinced by quantum cosmology.

The Barefoot Bum said...

This is pathetic. I can see the appeal of publishing opposing viewpoints, but is this really the best the Christians can do? These arguments are so weak, and blatantly dishonest that You may be accused yourself of tearing down a straw man by merely publishing Groothuis' article.

“There is no God, and I hate him!” This seems to be the subtext for much of the “new atheism” propounded in books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others.

One would expect an honest scholar to substantiate such a tendentious interpretation of the cited works with actual quotations. Of course, this is a Christian apologist writing, so I suppose we must substantially relax our standards of scholarly rigor and intellectual honesty. Groothuis is simply poisoning the well here.

Historic Christianity, on the contrary, is well rooted in objective historical facts.

This is simply ridiculous. Christians have a weak case that there was even such a person who simply said most of the things that Jesus said, and simply proving such an historical Jesus is a million miles away from proving any sort of supernatural events.

Therefore, Christopher Hitchens’s arguments against Mormonism in god is Not Great may succeed without having any implications for Christianity.

And biologists disproof of Intelligent Design may succeed without having any implications for the healing properties of crystals. So what? This is what passes for "argument" among Christian apologists; is it any wonder they are held in contempt by intellectuals?

. Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens decline to take seriously the strongest arguments for God.

I've studied apologetics for almost a decade. Christians constantly allude to these "strongest" arguments, but they never deliver.

"Dr." Groothuis mentions the cosmological argument and the argument from design. These arguments are jokes. Dawkins mentions both in The God Delusion, and I was able to refute them within the first six months I studied philosophy. This sort of incompetence is inexcusable for someone who puts "Dr." in front of his name, unless that doctor is treating my bunions.

If "Dr." Groothuis is having trouble with elementary probability theory, perhaps he can investigate why The Anthropic Principle Does Not Support Supernaturalism. Or perhaps he might prefer to start out with something more basic.

Seriously, Loftus, when will you stop foisting these incompetent hacks on your readers and give us something of substance? I know, finding Christians with adequate arguments is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, but still, I could give a better defense of Christianity in my sleep, and I'm an atheist.

Jason said...

Brad,

It's not that I'm trying to talk past you. It's just that I find that philosophical arguments only take you so far. It gets to a point when it becomes an exercise in mental masturbation. At some point were going to have to cease convincing ourselves, and each other, as to how we can out wit one another with clever arguments and deal with hard core data.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Atheists don't hate god. But we are getting damned irritated with Christian apologists who on the one hand exhibit the intellectual rigor of a dim twelve-year-old, and on the other assume a privileged position to lecture us about our morality.

it's a free country: if you want to engage in mental masturbation in your seminaries, knock yourself out. But serious people have serious work to do, scientific, social, political and psychological. Please get out of our way.

KJ said...

Disappointing. There's nothing new here but simply the same strawman fallacies, god-of-the-gaps arguments, and views about the Bible as history that modern scholarship has long ago debunked. Still, it'll keep the Christians who read this stuff feeling like they're reading the latest, greatest in apologetics.

The whole personal/eternal thing makes about as much sense as debating square oranges. They're words that obfuscate instead of clarify, and really have no meaning outside of the metaphysical worldview in which the argument is raised. Get out of the box -- there's a whole other world out here.

Emily said...

Groothius disappointed me basically from the beginning, but I lost all respect for his arguments as soon as he cited the Bible to prove the Bible's reliability (Luke 666:whatever). Save the proof-texting for Bible study, dude!

MH said...

Excellent link to a thorough mathematical debunking of the anthropic uselessness.

Its always felt wrong to me, like a gigantic begging-the-question, but I couldnt pin down why.

(As an aside, google has the worst capchas. Im beginning to doubt Im a human).

ahswan said...

I think everyone should keep in mind that Dr. Groothuis didn't intend to provide a full analysis; this is obviously just a short summary, just skimming the surface. By the way, the Bible verses were references, not proof-texts.

And, while this statement wouldn't apply to all atheists, "There is no God, and I hate him" is the impression that much of the New Atheism gives, although certainly there is much hatred of religion, especially Christianity.

Kudos to John for posting this.

Hail Crom said...

Dr Groothuis said...

For example, Mormonism is based on indemonstrable historical claims and relies heavily on subjective experience to verify itself

One could easily replace mormonism with judaism and christianity.

David D said...

I will stop reading any post immediately which claims that big bang cosmology states that something came from nothing.

The Jesting Fool said...

For anyone who is interested, you can also read Part 2 of this article (which implies a Part 3 that I couldn’t find—I don’t think he’s written it yet). It’s always good to get the context, even if you disagree.

John, in your post you mentioned Groothuis is working on a book which you think “will be the best of the lot and perhaps the standard text for years to come.” In light of the mostly negative comments Groothuis’ article has engendered here, do you have any particular thoughts on all of this?

Kel said...

I will stop reading any post immediately which claims that big bang cosmology states that something came from nothing.
I remember Ray Comfort's spiel on the same thing. If the universe exists, then something came from nothing but if God exists then the same question does not apply. Why is God eternal, yet the energy that makes up the universe not be?

Lord Thorkington said...

To Mazz:

1.One of the main arguments from the Historical Reliability of the Gospels is that the original documents that make up the modern day bible are at least as reliable as other ancient history documents. For example, if you look at Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian War you will see that the modern text we read has been translated over thousands of years from ancient Greek, much like the New Testament. But you don't have much trouble accepting that as history, why? Because it doesn't involve anything supernatural I presume. It turns out that there are at least as many, in fact more, documents attesting to the historical claims in the New Testament. Again, you dismiss it because it involves some supernatural claims. But I tell you, if you evaluate your criteria for believing ancient history, you will either have to warm up to the historical claims of the Bible or dismiss ancient history altogether, and perhaps modern history for that matter. Now, if you're dismissing supernatural historical claims a priori, then that isn't a very scientific approach at all, is it? Any scientific approach, including with history, has to evaluate the evidence objectively and equally, not dismissing some evidence before it is even considered.

Moreover, you say that the apologist has a problem with the universe coming from nothing but then doesn't have a problem with God coming from nothing. The clever apologist, as I'm sure Groothuis is, would say that whatever comes into existence must have a cause. This would apply to the universe with big bang cosmology. However, the apologist isn't committed to saying that God "came into existence" as you put it. For the theist, God can remain an infinitely existing being without encountering contradiction.

John said...

ashwan:
And, while this statement wouldn't apply to all atheists, "There is no God, and I hate him" is the impression that much of the New Atheism gives...

Seems to me that it is you and Dr. Groothius who are lacking respect for opposing views if that's the sort of tack you wish to take. You seem to believe that we're all just angsty over something we secretly believe in, and simply use atheism as an insecure defense mechanism. This is degradingly presumptuous.

Atheists do indeed frequently discuss, at length, the loathsomeness of this or that god. But that no more reifies any of them than does discussing Hamlet's evil Uncle Claudius, or Harry Potter's nemesis Draco Malfoy.

The Mystic said...

Thanks for the post. I can't say I'm going to agree with everything in the book but I'm looking forward to reading it. I do think Big Bang Cosmology is well established though. Alan Guth has stated that those who don't believe in the Big Bang are now considered by most scientists as crackpots.

http://mefeedia.com/entry/big-bang-crack-pot/14057179

Steven Carr said...

Christians just don't understand the Outsider Test.


Groothuis claims John 1-20 is based on eyewitnesses.

Because an anonymous Christian (or Christians) added a chapter to an anonymous book claiming it was all true.

Suppose Groothuis found a copy of the Book of Mormon and in the back, he found an unsigned, undated piece of paper written by a Mormon claiming everything previously written was true.

Can you imagine how much Groothuis would laugh if Mormons claimed that there was now evidence that the Golden Plates had been seen?

He would howl with laughter if somebody found an unsigned, undated piece of paper , written by a Mormon claiming that the anonymous author knew Joseph Smith had been given Golden Plates.

Don't these people even begin to understand the Outsider Test?

David Whitmer went to his grave claiming the Golden Plates existed.

He insisted his testimony was put on his tombstone.

That testimony is worthless, yet it is 1000 times better than what Groothuis puts forward - namely an unsigned, undated chapter added to an anonymous work , claiming that John 1-20 are all true.


As an outsider, a non-Mormon, Groothuis would mock this Mormon testimony from David Whitmer, testimony that was on his gravestone.

As an insider, Grrothuis puts forward John 21:24 and actually expects people to take him seriously.

To actually take him seriously!

The nerve of the guy!

As for verified archaeologically, not one person in history ever named himself as seeing Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Bartimaeus, Simon of Cyrene, Barrabas,Rufus, Alexander,Joanna, Salome.

Not one person in history ever named himself as meeting a named person he claimed saw Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Lazarus, Bartimaeus, Simon of Cyrene, Barrabas,Rufus, Alexander.

The Gospel of Mark is anonymous and has such absurdities as the Romans allowing a convicted criminal to be set free each year at Passover.

Where is Arimathea?

Steven Carr said...

GROOTHUIS
Crucial events described in the New Testament are corroborated by extra-biblical historians and by archaeology.

CARR
In other words, Groothuis has zero evidence for the fetus John the Baptist leaping for joy in the womb when the pregnant Mary was near.

Groothuis has zero evidence for a Roman guard on the tomb.

Groothuis has zero evidence for a man from Macedonia appearing to Paul in a vision.

Groothuis has zero evidence for an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream.

Reality check. When you dream, what happens is only a dream. Angels do not appear in dreams.

Bits of Christianity were literally dreamed up....

If as an outsider, Groothuis read a story of the Angel Gabriel appearing to Muhammad in a dream, he would not think it worthy even of a response, he would just dismiss it out of hand.

But if it is in the New Testament, then those angels sure are in those dreams....

sean slater said...

Lord thorkington.

You imply that we should accept the veracity of the biblical accounts as they are as well attested, if not far better, than other ancient historical documents.

This is ridiculous. Documents and their accounts do not exist in a vacuum. They can be (and should be) cross-checked against other texts, against what we know of the world today and of what we find in the archeological and physical records.

Historians don't dismiss the gospel accounts beacause they are copies of copies etc, it is because the tales they tell of are not attested to by other sources and the claims they make are so fantastical given what we know of the world that we have to be extremely wary of their claims (Hume's law comes to mind here). No historian accepts the claims made by ancients of gods and mythical beasts etc but they are indicative of the culture at that time and can be used as historical documents.

Similarly the gospels can be read as documents of their time, and many historians would not doubt they may have been based on stories of a real character. It would be wrong however, to compare historians' dismissal of the miracles with their acceptance of other historical documents. I doubt any would accept Homer's claims as all true even though there is some archeological evidence of Troy.

John W. Loftus said...

The Jesting Fool, I have no doubt that Groothuis's forthcoming apologetics book will indeed be the best of the lot and perhaps the standard text for years to come among evangelical circles. This is the best they've got I believe, and he is very good from their perspective.

Brad Haggard said...

Jason: "philosophy is...mental masturbation"

I don't want to take that image very far, but I really think that this is very naive on your part. I think that data is important, but you just can't do science without first doing philosophy. You already do it without even thinking.

First, I wasn't even making the Cosmo argument, I was just showing how if it does obtain, then you can reasonably infer a personal agent behind the cause. Now if you attack one of the premises based on scientific data, probably the premise that the universe had a beginning, then you can attack it with data.

But not even the guys you cited earlier do their work in the absence of philosophy. This isn't something that theologians do, it's something that everyone does. It sounds to me like you're a neo-positivist or an evidentialist by orientation, but surely you know that you can't justify everything you believe just by data. So your philosophy is your guiding principle. You take somethings on parsimony, such as my existence, and others on data, such as the roundness of the earth.

If we took away philosophy we would know a lot less, probably not even enough to have a society.

Brad Haggard said...

*shameless plug*

BarefootBum, I have a response for you on my personal blog just started. Be my first traffic ;-)

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unBeguiled said...

highly improbable configurations that allow us to exist to observe the universe. This highly improbably arrangement surely cries out for an explanation

Highly improbable arrangement? Here again we simply have a theologian claiming to know something he doesn't.

We have examined only one universe so far. We have a N of one. With an N of one, no statements can be made about any probabilities, other than that the probabilities are not zero.

unBeguiled said...

Does anybody have a theory as to why some people find god-of-the-gaps arguments so laughably stupid, while others seem to think this move constitutes legitimate reasoning?

Brad Haggard said...

*more shameless plug* (how does that feel, John?)

Jason, I have an article inspired by you on my new blog, too.

http://wannabescholar.blogspot.com/

Steven Carr said...

This 'highly improbable' arrangement is the only one which allows life to develop by natural means, rather than requiring miracles.

God is so clever.

He so carefully designed things that he found the one way of creating the universe that made it look as though no intervention was needed by a God.

Only a god could create a universe that looked as if no god is needed to create life.


GROOTHUIS
But Rees claims that this does not indicate that a Designer fine-tuned the universe for life.

CARR
Is Groothuis one of these people who claim that the universe is fine-tuned for life to develop and also claims that it was also impossible for life to develop and life had to be created, because the conditions in this universe meant life could not develop from non-life?

Is this universe fine-tuned to allow life to develop from non-life or not?

unBeguiled said...

Steve Carr:

Great point!

Suppose we found ourselves in a universe in which life should be impossible, yet we were there nonetheless.

THAT would be a miracle.

Blue Devil Knight said...

What is new in that article?

Russ said...

Doug Groothuis, PhD says,

Behind much of the atheism of today is a false view of God and religion.


From Doug's view what we're supposed to take from this is that we atheists have it all wrong. At the same time we are supposed to ignore, as he apparently does, all those other Christian PhD's in theology and philosophy of religion who have an absolute truth different from his.

It is delusional for this this man, Groothuis, to think that his special training or his special relationship with the divine keeps him from having a "false view of God and religion" while he rejects other's Christianities, other's special training, and other's special relationship with the divine.

Doug Groothuis, PhD rejects Catholic Christianity because he "knows" it is wrong; he rejects Mormon Christianity because he "knows" it is wrong; and, he rejects Jehovah's Witness Christianity because he "knows" it is wrong.

We atheists reject Christianities exactly like Doug Groothuis, PhD rejects Christianities. Other Christianities, in kind, reject Doug's Christianity. These other Christianities know with complete certainty that Doug Groothuis, PhD, and all those who believe as he does, will be roasted for eternity right along with atheists.

The Barefoot Bum said...

This is degradingly presumptuous.

It is the (rhetorical) fallacy of Poisoning the Well, and it attacks the good faith and sincerity of one's opponents.

I assume Groothuis sincerely presents his own views and beliefs, and I take his words at face value without assuming some ulterior motive. Yet without provocation, he opens his article casting doubt on the sincerity and good will of atheists. And he does so without any substantiation.

Where I come from, this is seriously unethical behavior. It is apparently not unethical behavior where Groothuis comes from. Quelle surprise

ChrisB said...

Good grief, people. Most of the comments here are ridiculous.

"There is no God, and I hate him."
Apparently no one here knows what a "hook" is -- or what the word "subtext" means. This is obviously not intended to be an argument.

As for the rest of the piece, this is obviously a thumbnail sketch (and you may have noticed the words "part 1" suggesting even for an essay this is incomplete), and the footnotes suggest the author knows fuller arguments are needed and so he refers the reader to actual books (an odd concept for the blogosphere, I know) -- as opposed to commenters who bat down his points with neither explanation, links, nor references (e.g., "Christians have a weak case that there was even such a person who simply said most of the things that Jesus said").

If you want to debate points in this article, fine, but let's not start with ad hominem attacks (even though we know that's where these things usually end).

Steven Carr said...

CHRIS B
and the footnotes suggest the author knows fuller arguments are needed and so he refers the reader to actual books

CARR

So the arguments are in other books, are they?

Another case of pass-the-parcel apologetics?

Ask where the evidence is for Christianity and you will always be told it is in another book, not in what you are reading.

And when you unwrap *that* parcel, ie the other book, you will find it refers to another book.

For example, Groothuis refers to Craig Blomberg's book - a book which often tries to hide the lack of evidence for its position by referring to other books.

And when you open that book, and unwrap that parcel, guess what? Still no evidence.

It is all an elaborate game of pass-the-parcel apologetics.

There is nothing in the parcel...

Where's the beef?

Why did Groothuis choose to write a 'thumbnail sketch', with the 'fuller arguments' someplace else?

Why not just stick some evidence in his guest post?

MAZZ said...

Lord Thorkington

I believe it is improper to use as evidence of the bible's possible reliability evidence that another ancient document has passed through history relatively intact.

1. You would have to believe that historians of antiquity would have reason to alter the historical record as opposed to only passing down information. It is obvious that even the earliest Christians writers would have a stake in changing elements, or even creating some parts, in order to make Christianity more attractive. The same can not be said about most historians.

2. To say that one document has reliability because another document is reliable is a fallacy on its face.

3. The bible is not one historical document. It is in fact multiple documents cobbled together even in its earliest permutations. For the bible to be reliable each individual part has to be verified (at least to the standard of other ancient documents). We know that early church leaders changed parts and cut parts. Some books were not allowed in while others were.

4. Transcription errors apply to anything that is copied. Translation errors also apply to anything that is translated. Knowing that even today church members can not agree on what every verse of the bible actually means in the same language I find it hard to believe that the copiers did not interpret verses to mean what they wanted it to mean. Since we don't have original documents, (I believe the earliest actual documents we have were made at least a few hundred years after Jesus' supposed crucifixion) to believe that there were no, possibly major, changes to the original story.

4. As Sean Slater said

"Historians don't dismiss the gospel accounts beacause they are copies of copies etc, it is because the tales they tell of are not attested to by other sources and the claims they make are so fantastical given what we know of the world that we have to be extremely wary of their claims"

It has been said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You can't hold the bible to the same standards of other documents of the time. The bible claims that a man/god came to Earth to save humanity's souls from sin that the first man and woman that the same man/god made approx. 4000 years before. That story should be held to higher scrutiny than other stories.

feeno said...

If I'm reading between the lines correctly, the new Atheist movement has a very noble cause. They are just protecting the world from all the injustices dished out by religion. They're just trying to end wars, bigotry, hatred and the abuse of children by way of brainwashing.

Otherwise there would really be no reason to care or to tell anyone that your an Atheist?

Peace out, feeno

Steven Carr said...

GROOTHUIS
There is no evidence for other universes; they are merely postulated to banish God from this one.

CARR
I need help here!

Is this true?

Is there really no evidence for the existence of any other world than this one?

This world is all that there is evidence for?

Because I saw a book which said there was also 'Heaven' and 'Hell' and now I am being told there is no evidence for any world other than this one, and this world is all there is.


GROOTHUIS
3. If our universe had more than three spatial dimensions, planets could not stay in orbits around stars.

CARR
When Jesus ascended into the sky, passing into a cloud , where was he going to?

There was nowhere for him to go....

Don't worry, Christians will just make things up to explain how Jesus ascended into the sky when other Christians claim there are no other worlds and only 3 spatial dimensions.

The Bishop of Durham, NT Wright 'Understanding what will happen requires a far more sophisticated cosmology than the one in which “heaven” is somewhere up there in our universe, rather than in a different dimension, a different space-time, altogether.'

CARR
There you go.

Christianity is so inconsistent that Christians cannot even agree how many dimensions there are, or if our space-time is the only space-time which exists.

It's all just made up on the spot.

Leading New Testament scholars will just make up stories of different dimensions and different space times.


In the words of Groothuis - 'This is purely ad hoc.'

So where did Jesus go when he went into the sky on his way to Heaven - an event which Groothuis claims 'is well rooted in objective historical facts.'

' The New Testament was written a short time after the events it describes and by eyewitness or those who consulted eyewitnesses'

Gosh, those people really must have seen Jesus take off into the sky like an early space rocket!

The Barefoot Bum said...

GROOTHUIS
There is no evidence for other universes; they are merely postulated to banish God from this one.

CARR
I need help here!

Is this true?


No. The "multiverse concept" is an hypothesis, not a postulate. A postulate is definitional; an hypothesis is subject to empirical analysis. And it's not adopted to "banish God", it's one idea among many to account for the apparently arbitrary nature of some physical constants.

Personally, I don't find it a very appealing hypothesis. But until we can figure out some sort of empirical test for the hypothesis, it remains speculative.

The Barefoot Bum said...

"There is no God, and I hate him."
Apparently no one here knows what a "hook" is -- or what the word "subtext" means. This is obviously not intended to be an argument.


I understand it's not intended to be an argument. I understand what a hook is and what subtext is. The hook and subtext of this statement is that atheists are insincere, therefore the substance of their arguments can be dismissed. This subtext is entirely unethical because it undermines the assumption of sincerity and good will necessary to examine the substantive points of the argument.

If you want to debate points in this article, fine, but let's not start with ad hominem attacks

Apparently you do not understand the ad hominem fallacy: it is the inference of the falsity of an argument from the personal characteristics of its proponent.

Russ said...

Doug says,

Dawkins concludes his book The God Delusion by arguing that raising children religiously is a form of child abuse.

A theologian more well-known than Doug, the current Pope, states it plainly that Roman Catholicism is the only path to salvation. Since, after all, he is the Pope, we all know he is correct.

I'm sure Doug wants to get the salvation thing right for himself and his children. But, if Doug is knowingly defying the Pope, then, by teaching his own children a deeply flawed version of Christianity -- one not leading to salvation -- Doug is committing child abuse by the lights of other Christians.

Doug views other Christianities and other religions with the same disdain that he here spews at non-believers, but he lacks the courage to attack them as he attacks a politically marginalized minority. Get some balls, Doug. Stand up, scream at the world the real truth, the only truth, as only Douglas Groothuis, PhD can squawk it out.

Douglas Groothuis, PhD knows truth; Roman Catholics are damned.

Douglas Groothuis, PhD knows truth; Muslims are damned.

Douglas Groothuis, PhD knows truth; Hindus are damned.

Douglas Groothuis, PhD knows truth; atheists are damned.

Douglas Groothuis, PhD knows truth; Mormons are damned.

Douglas Groothuis, PhD knows truth; Jews are damned.

Douglas Groothuis, PhD knows truth; anyone who doesn't think like me, Douglas Groothuis, PhD, do is damned.

I remain as unimpressed as all the competing Christianities, and most of the rest of humanity.

ChrisB said...

Barefoot Bum said: "The hook and subtext of this statement is that atheists are insincere, therefore the substance of their arguments can be dismissed."

Actually, it's a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that past atheists (e.g., Russel) were regarded as essentially civil while Dawkins et al do not merely not believe in a god but actively dislike religion and the religious. Hence the "vitriol."

"Apparently you do not understand the ad hominem fallacy: it is the inference of the falsity of an argument from the personal characteristics of its proponent."

Sorry to confuse; it's sometimes used to refer to "name calling" -- or things like putting Dr in quotes.

BTW, I'd love to read your "in your sleep" defense of Christianity.

Russ said...

Doug said,

a false idea of God is easily refuted.


This statement is itself observably false. If a false idea of a god could be easily refuted, Christian ideas of gods(including Christians with no god) would converge to a single one. They don't. Doug clings to his version of a god and demands that it is the correct one. Other Christians envision(or delude themselves with) different realities instantiated by their gods. Worlds without sin. Worlds without hell. Worlds wherein all go to heaven. Worlds without miracles. Worlds where the god of the Old Testament reveals different truths to Jews, Muslims and Christians, each knowing by the word of god itself that the others are, in fact, wrong. Worlds of rational empiricism still under the banner of Christianity.

If a false idea of God could be easily refuted, would Vishnu be deemed the irrefutable one?

I must ask: What did Doug's PhD actually do for him?

John said...

@ChrisB

...while Dawkins et al do not merely not believe in a god but actively dislike religion and the religious.

I would like to see some references to Dawkins or any of his like-minded contemporaries demonstrating an active dislike of any religious person merely because of their religion.

Certainly they have demonstrated contempt for someone based on their words or actions, but I doubt they've ever expressed such feelings merely because a person is religious per se.

Russ said...

Concerning fine-tuning.

If a Creator created the universe, the fine tuning argument for that same Creator's existence fails: there was no fine-tuning to be done. All physical constants we observe were simply made that way.

It is wrong to use after the fact statistical analysis to claim high improbability for an phenomenon. If you also claim that the phenomenon was planned in advance then that phenomenon was not at all improbable. It was in fact certain. Thus, it is dishonest to use both the claim of intentional and certain Creation along with the claim of high improbability. Note that Douglas Groothuis, PhD, uses both claims in his essay.

The probability that the pile of lumber in my yard will spontaneously form a doghouse is near zero. The probability that the pile of lumber in my yard will be formed into a doghouse by my effort is nearly one. It would be dishonest of me to build the doghouse then to allow the claim that a miracle of creation occurred due to all the pieces fitting together just right - a most improbable occurrence.

What's more, if Creator had to fine-tune to accommodate human life, then the universe was not initially set up by that Creator for humans. The supernatural knob-twiddler was adjusting the universal constants to values it did not know.

Here, Doug wants us to go along with his notion that cosmologists have laid out the truth of the Genesis creation account through the Big Bang Theory(never mind that Doug also claims that cosmologists are wrong about the age of the universe and wrong about anything being more than 6000 light years from earth. Unlike a rational person, being religious, he gets to pick and choose what he will believe is "true"). The authors of Genesis must have left out the fine-tuning tweaks, the vast expanses of time and the generations of stars needed to make the elements basic to life.

Lord Thorkington said...

To Russ:
The mere fact that people within categories disagree doesn’t get you anywhere. The mere fact that Christians disagree doesn’t mean that the whole project should be dismissed. It is similarly easy to find two atheists who disagree on the nature of time, but it doesn’t dismiss the atheist project simply because people disagree. For example, Bradley Monton, an atheist philosopher at CU Boulder, supports the Intelligent Design program. Certainly, that doesn’t agree with most atheist positions but it also doesn’t dismiss the whole atheist project.
As it happens, I’m sure there are a hundred fundamental things Groothuis would agree with the Pope on.

To Mazz:
My point wasn’t endow reliability on the Bible, specifically the New Testament, based on the reliability of other documents. My point was to show that if you apply the same criteria to the ancient documents that comprise the New Testament as you do other historical documents you find that it is actually better attested to than most historical documents.
When we approach history, we look at the document and determine whether it is history or myth based on what is written within the document. We must approach the Bible in a similar way. For example, the prologue to Luke’s Gospel says, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
Ok, so either the author is being intentionally deceptive that what he is about to tell you actually happened, or he is actually making an honest attempt at recording what happened. Now, I find it exceedingly hard to believe that the author is being intentionally deceptive given his, and other New Testament authors, emphasis on honesty and love. You may say that the author of Luke was writing a myth and was a very evil man who was part of a larger evil program to deceive and control the population. First, I would wonder where you get your concept of a real evil without an objective establishment of good (I am actually very interested in a response to that), and second I would point out that the Gospels aren’t written at all like a myth. They are somewhat clumsy, that is to say they do not flow poetically like Hellenistic myths, and there are peculiar elements in them like Jesus bending down and drawing a fish in the sand – there was never any theological or narrative significance placed on that element in the Gospel. Now including insignificant details like that in a myth is something that Literary Critics will say doesn’t appear until modern literature. So it seems that whatever else the Gospels may be (i.e. theological narratives) they definitely seem to be an attempt at recording what actually happened.
To dismiss them wholesale based on their supernatural claims isn’t science, it’s scientism. You would have to presuppose that science could never reveal a supernatural explanation. Again, that’s not science, it’s methodological naturalism. For example, Intelligent Design is a scientific endeavor that is open to natural and supernatural conclusions whereas scientism rules out supernatural conclusions before it begins, and again that’s not science. For an atheist philosopher’s defense of Intelligent Design check out Bradley Monton’s website http://spot.colorado.edu/~monton/BradleyMonton/ID.html
For extra biblical evidence of Jesus existence and crucifixion check out http://www.westarkchurchofchrist.org/library/extrabiblical.htm

Russ said...

Jason said,

At some point were going to have to cease convincing ourselves, and each other, as to how we can out wit one another with clever arguments and deal with hard core data.

Really good point.

To Christians I like to underscore the need for interpreting the world with hard core data as follows. If Christians were anywhere near as good as they insist that they are or if atheists were even half as bad as Christians make them out to be, it would be so obvious that none could doubt it. But, of course neither is the way Christians say it is.

MAZZ said...

Lord Thurkington:
"My point was to show that if you apply the same criteria to the ancient documents that comprise the New Testament as you do other historical documents you find that it is actually better attested to than most historical documents."

I would love to see the contemporary evidence (outside of the bible) that attests to the events that happened in the bible. Since the earliest book of the New Testament was written at least 30 years after Jesus died I believe you would be hard pressed to prove that the bible is any better attested to than other, and especially most, historical documents. At the very best it stands on as shaky ground as other ancient documents. However, as I said before, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The existence of Julius Caesar (aside from his self-professed divinity)is much more provable than even the existence of Jesus, not to mention his divinity, resurrection and other miracles. Applying the same standards leaves the bible standing on shaky ground and its proponents relying on the bible to prove itself. Due to the potential impact of the bible being authentic and historically accurate I believe the bible should be held to even higher standards.

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you..."

Using the contested document to prove that document is absurd but lets put that aside. Luke is one of the later books of the New Testament. I would not call the author of Luke a liar or evil. I would, however, say that he believes the tenets of Christianity and is setting out to prove them through his "research". When he says he has "investigated everything from the beginning" what information do we have on how he investigated? Presumably he asked people who were themselves not eyewitnesses to the accounts leaving Luke with at least 2nd hand information. Luke's testament is no more reliable than any of the other books having been considered for the bible.

"Second I would point out that the Gospels aren’t written at all like a myth... there are peculiar elements in them like Jesus bending down and drawing a fish in the sand – there was never any theological or narrative significance placed on that element in the Gospel. Now including insignificant details like that in a myth is something that Literary Critics will say doesn’t appear until modern literature."
There is strong evidence that some of the writers of the New Testament attempted to make Jesus more "human" so including (or adding) things like that is not unexpected. Especially considering that the story isn't included in the other books.

Kel said...

Is this universe fine-tuned to allow life to develop from non-life or not?No, it's fine-tuned to make black holes.

Though if you actually tweak the variables, life can still form in other scenarios:
About a quarter of the resulting universes turned out to be populated by energy-generating stars. "You can change alpha or the gravitational constant by a factor of 100 and stars still form," Adams says, suggesting that stars can exist in universes in which at least some fundamental constants are wildly different than in our universe.

And though some universes were filled with things we might not usually think of as stars - radiating black holes or bodies formed of dark matter - they all gave out enough energy to power some form of life, and lasted long enough for life to evolve.

sean slater said...

Lord Thorkington.

If Luke is historical, please explain how he knew this:

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."

Luke 22: 39/46

Jesus was alone. How does Luke know what Jesus prayed and that he saw an angel. The disciples are asleep.

Lord Thorkington said...

Mazz:

“I would love to see the contemporary evidence (outside of the bible) that attests to the events that happened in the bible”

I’m not exactly sure what events you would like contemporary evidence for or what you mean by contemporary evidence. If you want contemporary evidence that miracles still happen I can offer none except testimony (which I certainly thinks counts as evidence – it’s good enough for law). If you want contemporary evidence that Jesus existed – I would say any evidence I could offer would be directly connected to ancient evidence. If you desire archaeological evidence to prove the existence of any ancient figure, I guess you would have to rely on written word in any situation.
As far as extra biblical non-Christian evidence goes, Julius Africanus talks about the “darkness that occurred at the time of the crucifixion.” Pliny the Younger noted that Christians met regularly and “sang hymns to Christ as if to a god.” Saying “as if to a god” implies that Pliny knew Jesus was a person who had lived on earth but didn’t want to call him divine. Tacitus wrote about “Christ who had been executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius.” Celsus argued against Christianity in the second century but didn’t deny that Jesus existed, but instead attacked his lineage, his socio-economic status, his mother as an adulteress, and his powers as sorcery he learned in Egypt, but by doing so he agreed that Christ did perform miracles and had an unusual birth. So without the Bible we can know quite a bit about Jesus. He lived, performed supernatural feats, was worshipped as God, and was crucified (among other things but that will suffice for our purposes). All these authors wrote in the first and second centuries and there are more ancient non-Christian historians who talk about Jesus and I will give you the citations for all these and more if you request, so as not to “pass the parcel” as someone cleverly put it. But for time and space I will refrain for now.


“At the very best it stands on as shaky ground as other ancient documents. However, as I said before, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

I am content to agree on the former point, but I take issue on the latter (if by miracles we mean events that seem to contradict the laws of nature). I think quantum physics allows for seemingly “extraordinary” events to fall well within the realm of “ordinary” in that we must redefine “laws” to “provisional descriptions of observed regularities in nature.” The only way it is “extraordinary” is if you adopt methodological naturalism before you begin your scientific inquiry, which, as I will maintain, is not science at all. Also, your argument proves too much, if you apply that criteria to any “extraordinary” event in history you will be obligated to dismiss much of history including many non-miraculous events, like Hitler’s extraordinary evil, for example.

“Using the contested document to prove that document is absurd.”

I understand how using a document to prove itself seems to beg the question but it doesn’t and we do this all the time with history. Thucydides claims he was an Athenian and that he survived the great Athenian plague that killed a significant portion of the population. There is a good chance that he would have been killed but he claims he wasn’t. Now as a historian I have to approach this document and dig into the content of the document to find out what kind of document it is. I can’t know a priori or by other texts what kind of document this. I have to evaluate the content of the document itself to find out what kind of document it is. It’s like meeting a person and they tell you about themselves and where they come from and such. Of course I can learn something about a person by what they tell me about themselves, it’s the nature of discovery. Similarly, I believe Thucydides was an Athenian and that he survived the plague even though it is improbable, and I believe it based on the document I read it in. There’s nothing epistemically wrong with that, I think that’s a fair requirement for knowledge in history. Anyway, I think this mostly supports the claim that the Bible is either on equally solid or equally shaky historical ground as other ancient history, but we seem to agree on this, so moving on.

One point that I wanted to make that I forgot before was that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that many books didn’t make it into the Bible, because those books didn’t fit the facts. I mean, someone compiling a history book today probably won’t include an account of WWII praising Hitler and denying the Holocaust, even though many people do, because it doesn’t fit the facts. This should raise the question of what kind of information or knowledge you demand before you accept a historical claim, and not just what you could look up, but what you actually do look up, and what your requirement for knowledge is before you believe a historical claim.

I am curious about the evidence that New Testament writers added insignificant details about Jesus to make him more human, could you elaborate?


Sean:
The best answer is I don’t know. It’s quite possible that Jesus told someone before his death or after his resurrection, but I certainly don’t know. But the main point is that Luke is trying to record as closely as possible the events that occurred and not creating a myth.

Hail Crom said...

Listen up christians, your bible is a joke. Deep down christians realize this which is why they constantly abandon previous positions. A fine example of this is william lane craig suggesting the resurrection of dead saints after the crucifixion was a metaphor.

Mat 27:50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
Mat 27:51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.
Mat 27:52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,
Mat 27:53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

Funny how william lane craig arbitrarily picks and chooses which passages are literal and which are metaphor. This shows how desperate christians are to cling to their religion.

He says the mark 16 account is sober history, simple and showing no signs of embellishment. Does this mean the matt, and luke versions are embellishment then? Apparently it would. Secondly, the story of the son of god being raised from the dead in mark is sober history showing no signs of embellishment?

The gospels are mythology/fiction through and through. The mark account begins with john the baptist prophetically announcing jesus' coming, then baptizing him and then the holy spirit descending on him, and a voice from heaven saying "you are my beloved son, with you i am well pleased."

Then he gets led into the wilderness for "40" days to be tempted by satan (apparently john forgot to mention that whole story).

Then he calls "12" disciples and goes into a synagogue and starts arguing with demons.

If this isn't pure mythology then what on earth is? Once the genre of the gospels is clearly identified as MYTHOLOGY, then as Robert Price notes, arguing about the details is moot.

The apologists pathetic attempts to call these stories sober unembellished historical accounts is laughable. This is just the gospel of mark, from here it only gets worse when we look at the additions matt, luke and john throw into the mix.

It doesn't matter who his disciples were, or to speculate about their intentions. We know people make things up, we know people get deceived easily by charismatic and persuasive figures, we know people play tricks on other people. Take your pick of any natural explanation and it is infinitely more likely than the christian explanation.

David Koresh had over 140 followers, 82 of which died with him in his compound believing he was jesus christ.

Appealing to the writings of religious fanatics is not proof that miracles occurred. Christians stick to your faith, because you have no evidence.

Hylomorphic said...

"Personal" is necessary to bridge the gap between eternal existence and temporal causality. Otherwise you need and eternal cause, in which case a number of absurdities come up.

...why?

I'm really not getting what advantage a personal cause has.

Perhaps you mean that only a personal cause could have made the decision to create something to move from eternity to temporality.

But such a decision must either be a decision of the sort we're capable of understanding--a process, a temporal process--or it must be some sort of eternal decision only analogically to be called a decision. If it's a temporal process, then temporal causation is already around, and there's no gap to bridge. But if it's an eternal decision, it is ipso facto an eternal cause, and subject to whatever absurdities a non-personal eternal cause would be subject to.

Greg Mills said...

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't historicism a relatively new concept in church, uh, history? It's sort of a Victorian attempt to rationalize theology, right?

Because in the history of the broader Church (you know, the one most of the world belongs to), you don't see any conception of history as an endless chain of cause and effect or of radical separation of past and future.

Particularly in the traditional high liturgical churches, "church" time is informed by eternal return, the entry of the celebrants into an atemporality where the mundane-particular and the cosmic-universal blur. (cf. Eliade)

Looking at Mediaval church art, we can see Mary as a tuscan merchant's daughter and the Magi as Swabian peasants. (I know, I know... the "true" church started at the Kentucky Cane Ridge Revival, but bear with me.)

A world-historic interpretation is largely beside the point to millions of christians worldwide.

The Jesus-in-real-genuine-"first century" clothes is as much as an expression of the "empirical" spirit of the Victorian museum and packaged holy land tours as the expression of Jesus' essence.

So, with historicism, you can't appeal to an audience that should have some sympathy to your cause -- the traditional churches, and you can't appeal to the rational because as much as you try, you're going to find yourself in some sort of weird presuppositional position that is frankly embarrassing.

Sounds like a fine recipe for a parochial echo chamber.

Steven Carr said...

SEAN SLATER
Jesus was alone. How does Luke know what Jesus prayed and that he saw an angel. The disciples are asleep.

CARR
That is easy to answer.

In the first-century world, sleeping witnesses lacked all credibility and their testimony would not be accepted in court.

And yet the author of Luke has witnesses who are asleep.

This proves that the story is true, because how else do you explain that the witnesses were sleeping, which would be really embarrassing in the first-century world, where the testimony of sleeping witnesses was not accepted in court?

sean slater said...

Stephen Carr

What are you talking about?

Sleeping witnesses are more likely to be correct than non-sleeping witnesses,because no-one would ordinarily believe a sleeping witness therefore they could not have lied? Why then do we ordinarily reject their testimony?

So something is more likely to be true the more preposterous it is, simply because it is more preposterous?

You seem to think that 1st C Judeans were uber-skeptics who debunked christian claims using reason and evidence.

Rubbish, given the myriad of claims of gods and demons and supernatural entities of all hues and colours at that time, then it would seem that people were ready to believe almost anything. I doubt there was a Judean James Randi pointing out the inconsistencies in religious and supernatural claims.

What is far more likely is that the writer was writing things he thought were likely or had heard from someone else, or perhaps he filled in the narrative in bits that he felt were necessary. Perhaps there were additions in a text of Luke by someone who thought this would help the story along and thiseventually became part of the cannon.

Instead of trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes, Please use some common sense.

If there were no witnesess then how could someone else report what was said?

Lord Polkington - Perhaps of course Jesus told someone what was said and that he had been visited by an angel and it got back (somehow) to Luke. Is this really likely? Luke was writing decades after the event, how could he possibly have determined - verbatim - what was actually said?. Surely it is more likely that the writer simply made, at least some detail, up?

Problem is, once you admit to this then inerency becomes problematic so you will do everything to deny this.

With regards to other historical claims. I don't see anyone making claims that we have to worship Julius Ceaser and demand tax-breaks for doing so. Whether he actually crossed the Rubicon is not really of earth shattering importance and accepting or denying this claim cannot hurt me. Christians claim that accepting the proposition that a 1st C woman gave birth to a child without first having had sex is so important that I should dedicate my life to this proposition. It then becomes far more important that I see strong verifiable evidence.

Lord Thorkington said...

Sean:

I wouldn't expect anyone to base their faith solely on the historicity of the Bible. My first question as an atheist was, "Does God exist?" not "Is the Bible 100% accurate?" After thoroughly looking through arguments for God, I was most convinced on epistemic grounds that it is more likely that we can have true knowledge if a personal God is responsible for giving us cognitive faculties that, when properly functioning, are geared at delivering us true beliefs. This is the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism that Alvin Plantinga is responsible for. Again, I am perfectly willing to elaborate on this point if anyone is interested so as not to, and I have come to like this phrase, "pass the parcel".

So, as far as I'm concerned, the primary question is if God exists. I think the answer is yes based on a multitude of great theistic arguments, especially Plantinga's EAAN. The next question is, "If God exists what kind of God exists, and why is there an apparent disconnect between God and myself?" "How do we account for so much evil in the world?" etc...

I think there are wonderful arguments that support Christianity in each respect, but it would be naive to expect anyone to have faith in Christianity based on the historicity of the Bible.

On another note, I think Plantinga has also made great arguments as to believing in Christianity as properly basic, and more importantly warranted Christian belief on the grounds of it being properly basic. If you're interested I can elaborate more on this as well.

Cromm said...

Lord Thorkington:

"If you want contemporary evidence that miracles still happen I can offer none except testimony (which I certainly thinks counts as evidence – it’s good enough for law)."

Eyewitness testimony is also widely acknowledged as perhaps the single most unreliable form of evidence there is.

"So without the Bible we can know quite a bit about Jesus. He lived, performed supernatural feats, was worshipped as God, and was crucified (among other things but that will suffice for our purposes)."

It most certainly will not suffice to establish Jesus as having "performed supernatural feats", or even having existed in the first place. Nothing you've said with regards to writings that reference Jesus don't apply equally well to Hercules.

"I think quantum physics allows for seemingly “extraordinary” events to fall well within the realm of “ordinary” in that we must redefine “laws” to “provisional descriptions of observed regularities in nature.”

Even if I grant you this, and it is not clear to me that QM is a license to believe in woo-woo, the onus is still on you to substantiate the occurrence of an event that falls well outside of regular experience.

"The only way it is “extraordinary” is if you adopt methodological naturalism before you begin your scientific inquiry, which, as I will maintain, is not science at all."

Totally wrong. One doesn't need to assume methodological naturalism at all in order to point out that miracles would be pretty damned unusual and impressive, if they occurred.

"Also, your argument proves too much, if you apply that criteria to any “extraordinary” event in history you will be obligated to dismiss much of history including many non-miraculous events, like Hitler’s extraordinary evil, for example."

What. Utter. Crap.
For one thing, Hitler's action are painfully well documented. Secondly, if for some reason there was no intersubjective evidence whatsoever of Hitler's actions, one would, in fact, be quite justified in expressing skepticism that they occurred.

Cromm said...

Also:

"After thoroughly looking through arguments for God, I was most convinced on epistemic grounds that it is more likely that we can have true knowledge if a personal God is responsible for giving us cognitive faculties that, when properly functioning, are geared at delivering us true beliefs."

Good for you. However, even if I were to grant that it's more likely that our cognitive abilities lead to true knowledge if a Sky Daddy set things up that way, that doesn't itself constitute a reason to think that there is actually is one. You're setting the cart before the horse by assuming that things that work out better for humanity must be true.

Cromm said...

Also:

"After thoroughly looking through arguments for God, I was most convinced on epistemic grounds that it is more likely that we can have true knowledge if a personal God is responsible for giving us cognitive faculties that, when properly functioning, are geared at delivering us true beliefs."

Good for you. However, even if I were to grant that it's more likely that our cognitive abilities lead to true knowledge if a Sky Daddy set things up that way, that doesn't itself constitute a reason to think that there is actually is one. You're setting the cart before the horse by assuming that things that work out better for humanity must be true.

Lord Thorkington said...

Cromm:

First, your condescending tone is unnecessary. Calling God a "Sky Daddy" serves no other purpose than ad hominem attacks. I am interested in testing my beliefs against good argument.

"Eyewitness testimony is also widely acknowledged as perhaps the single most unreliable form of evidence there is."

Unfortunately, this is how most history comes to us, especially ancient history, so if you want to dismiss it, you have to dismiss most of history. Which others, and maybe you, are perfectly willing to do, I don't know. But I am not willing to do that.

"Nothing you've said with regards to writings that reference Jesus don't apply equally well to Hercules"

The historicity of Jesus is much better documented than Hercules, because the historicity of Hercules isn't documented at all, at least that we know of. But that is veering off topic. If we can't agree on a few historical facts about Jesus, then we have to toss out nearly all of ancient history. Nearly any respectable scholar, atheist or not, will agree that
1. Jesus was a Jewish teacher from Galilee
2. He was regarded as a healer/prophet/Messiah
3. He was baptized by John the Baptist
4. He was crucified by order of Pontius Pilate.

If we can't agree on at least this level of historicity, I can post more evidence for you. If we can't though, I think the better question to ask is what justification you require before you believe a historical claim. For example, you say, "Hitler's action are painfully well documented." Do you know this because you've been told it or because you've actually dug the evidence up. Now, maybe you have dug it up. But most people, for most claims, will believe it based on the fact that they COULD look it up. And if you have dug up the raw evidence for the holocaust, I'm sure there are plenty of other historical claims that you believe "on good authority." Well what exactly is "good authority"? Is it what you read in a history book? Is it what your history teacher tells you? For example, in your college history class your professor tells you that based on archaeological evidence we believe that Wooly Mammoth's existed so many years ago. Now, most people, myself included are going to believe such claims without ever leaving the classroom. I have never seen real Wooly Mammoth bones, but even if I had seen them in a museum, would I believe it because the plaque next to it says so? I could trace the evidence to the actual archaeological dig, assuming there were plenty of pictures taken and documents written. But still I might believe all these things without ever leaving a library. And what would I really be doing? I would be reading an eyewitness account of the archaeologist who performed the dig. And as you said, eyewitness accounts are the most unreliable evidence. How could I prove that the bones I see at the museum actually came from the spot the plaque says they came from? The bottom line is that I can't, I have to accept it on some degree of trust, and yes, faith.

Take the holocaust as an example. Most people probably believe it happened because they've read it in books, they have been told about it, and because it is widely accepted. But we COULD dig up the raw evidence right? Maybe not, let's say we went to the death camps in Poland, what would that prove? That certain structures exist in a certain place? That doesn't prove what happened there. To know what happened there, we have to rely on the biased eyewitness accounts of the Allies who discovered it, which we agree are not very good evidence at all.

Now, of course I believe the holocaust happened, but hopefully you can see how weak our justification for believing most historical claims is. But the life of Christ and the Gospels (and Bible at large) are at least on no shakier ground than other ancient history we believe, especially because of the strong intersubjective testimony of the various authors, and extrabiblical confirmation of various events.

"You're setting the cart before the horse by assuming that things that work out better for humanity must be true."

In the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism we see that the theory of evolution isn't concerned with producing in us mostly true beliefs, but that it's interested in producing adaptive behaviors promoting survival. Painfully oversimplified, it demonstrates that given evolution and naturalism you and I can hold mostly false beliefs and still exhibit behaviors that promote survival. For example, I could believe that the polar bear on his hind legs and bearing his teeth wants to race and so I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. This gets body parts in the right place for survival while producing a false belief. Therefore, if evolution isn't interested in producing true beliefs, it more than likely hasn't produced the true belief of naturalism, hence we have a defeater for naturalism. The Christian doesn't encounter this problem because the Christian believes that God created her with properly functioning cognitive faculties that produce in her mostly true beliefs. This argument doesn't reject evolution, just naturalism.

"One doesn't need to assume methodological naturalism at all in order to point out that miracles would be pretty damned unusual and impressive, if they occurred."

Yeah, this maybe true, but God is a pretty unusual and impressive being with the capability of doing all sorts of unusual and impressive things. And if he exists, which my previous argument implies, then it's not all that surprising that he could perform miracles.

To recap:

EAAN suggests that a personal agent is responsible for ensuring that our cognitive faculties produce in us mostly true beliefs. You may be willing to drop all claims of true belief, but then so goes your atheism and naturalism. I am not willing to do that.

If this personal and powerful (implied) agent, whom I will call God, exists, then it is not all that surprising that he is powerful enough to perform miracles, and that those miracles are recorded accurately (as accurately as history can prove anything)in history. In fact, it would be a miracle that we can even hold true beliefs.

Greg Mills said...

Lord Tharkington -- I think comparing the historical veracity of the Holocaust with the supposed documentary evidence is a red herring, especially when we're speaking of miracles.

I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the holocaust. But in the reports of the holocaust, the claim made by historians are familiar to me as human activity that has a casual framework. I can picture the events described, hideous as they are, because they are in the realm of human behavior.

Similarly, I have a better sense that Julius Ceasar is relating more or less something that could be true -- he makes no claims that violate physical laws. He could be lying about everything, but he at least isn't too ambitious in his mendacity.

Ptolemy is out to lunch, however, because several of his claims do not map back to anything we have experienced or observed.

In reading stories of the miraculous from the bible, I have some problems them.

-- For relating would be hugely significant events, the bible is skimpy of particulars. For example, Lazarus. No one thought to ask, you know, what's being dead like? Strange, counter intuitive events happen, alien to anything to the mundane, naturalistic world, and glossed over without any specificity.

-- The miracles often are similar to miracle stories in other religious and mystical traditions. If the god depicted in the bible is the author of those miracles, then we should give the same benefit of the doubt to other gods that authored similar miracles, if we are to strictly base it on ancient texts. Christianity has the advantage of having a modern, thriving folk tradition plugging the holes with constant casual interpretation that the Osiris cult doesn't. But interestingly, certain Christianities do not give credence to the miracles claimed by other Christianities. (What God do you worship? Are you worshiping the same god as the Ethiopians or the Assyrians?)

-- The miracles, largely because of my first point, are so vague as to be incoherent in some cases. I don't "get" the feeding of the 5,000, or the smiting of the tree. They are strange claims that might be impressive if they were fleshed out a bit in the text, but as such they are barely comprehensible, to me anyway. There is not enough who, what, when, and how to be coherent, much less believable.

Now, we could argue that by the textual standards of the age, this is the best we can expect, that we can't hold ancient to a modern standard of objectivity. But if I am to believe that this is the word of a god worthy of worship, I HAVE to hold it to a higher standard of veracity than I extend to Julius Ceasar, or the Venerable Bede, or even David McCaullogh or Barbara Tuchman.

Lord Thorkington said...

Gregg:

You make some good points. And so it is important to distinguish between miracle claims and other claims when we are evaluating history. For example, Jesus makes definite claims of his own deity, which are extraordinary in their own right but the claims themselves certainly don't violate any laws of nature. For example he says, "I am begotten of the One God, before Abraham was, I am." The Hebrew words for "I am" were God's very name, "Yhwh." Jesus is saying that he is, in fact, the incarnation of the eternal God. This is one of the most explicit claims to his deity, but there are several others.

This is significant in itself because no other religion has this behind their miracle claims, if they make miracle claims at all. Buddha wouldn't have said he was the son of Bramah, Mohammed would never have claimed to be Allah.

But the question remains: What is so special about the Christian claims? The answer is that the Christian hypothesis covers much more ground than any other. If we can at least tentatively accept monotheism on cosmological, moral, ontological, design, and evolutionary arguments (among others) then the question becomes: What kind of God is it? The best and most complete story that answers that question is the Christian story. Because here, unlike any other story, you have a character who is actually claiming to be the incarnation of that One True God of the theistic arguments. Now, in a narrative sense, what better way could you imagine for an eternal infinite being to let His finite creatures know who he is and what he wants then to manifest himself as one of them and tell them who he is and what he wants? But he doesn't stop at coming down into his creation, he returns to heaven with creation in tow.

In a historical sense, I think we are obligated to believe that he made these statements (based on the criteria for believing non-miraculous historical events previously discussed), even if we aren't obligated to accept the miracle claims themselves.

So either Jesus is lying, or he's nuts (which most reasonable accounts of his life would dismiss both) or he is the Lord he claims to be.

I think this provides the historical and narrative standard of veracity we desire for accepting this account over others.

Greg Mills said...

I think there are other, more subtle explanations between the delta of lying and insantity and divinity in the case of the claims of Jesus. Political, poetic, subversive, philosophical all fit.

I don't doubt a historic Jesus could have existed, and that he was an extraordinary man, though I don't buy the claim of the singular nature of his divinity somehow means it's true. Being the only claimant of something strange doesn't move the veracity needle for me, and I'm pretty sure it can be shown that Jesus's particular claims are an amalgam of various near east mystery stories that were ping-ponging around in that part of the world at the time. I don't know nothing from nothing, though. I'm an ad man.

There's also the issue of geography. Jesus didn't get too far afield in an obscure province of a continental empire. He operated temporaly and spatial in a region that could make sense of his pronouncements on cultural basis, suggesting that he was of his place and his time.

And, again, I'm going to harp on the miracles. In the literature of miracles, Jesus didn't do anything extraordinary. He managed logistical feats in a part of the world where logistics is a constant challenge, so again, I think the reportage of his works show a parochial bias. He is a man of the first century near east. If he appeared in Sturgis in the late twentieth century, he produce beer and spark-plugs (not to be flippant, but, for the sake of illustration, I'm being flippant).

Now, on to something interesting you said: "Now, in a narrative sense, what better way could you imagine for an eternal infinite being to let His finite creatures know who he is and what he wants then to manifest himself as one of them and tell them who he is and what he wants?"

The narrative sense is what concerns me. It follows as a folk story. It is literature, and it is literature that has been vetted and edited and recast, and just some of the souls that have added cultural baggage to that literature are the Capadocian Fathers, Charles Dickens, John Calvin, Saint Herman of Alaska, Billy Sunday, John of Leyten, Karl Marx, Dorothy Day, the Council of Nicea, Bob Dylan, Marcus Garvey, Oliver Cromwell, a bored Franciscan illuminator, Aristole, St. Anslem, Jim Jones, the guy who cut you off in the church parking lot, Ted Haggert, you, me, Pope Pius, The Sound of Music, the guy who leads bible study, my mom when she taught sunday school, Ozzy Osborn, Bishop Romero, Ronald Reagan, etc. etc. etc.

And the particular faith you belong to, who codified what makes you a ______ist and what was their agenda? Which Christians will you break bread with and which are anathema and why?

What or who is being worshipped after two thousand years of filters? Is it truly a scrappy Stoic rabbi who by all reasonable considerations should have looked not unlike Yassir Arafat, or at least Frank Zappa?

Or is the accretion of generations of typos, personal vendettas, ethnic superstition and unexpressed hopes?

Do your ideas of this divinity come from a relatively untouched place, or did the persons who taught you the particulars of your brand of faith just slap on another layer of interpretation?

These are my main issues with the text, which as it stands (to me anyway) can only be considered a human text.

Thanks for your patience. I have to go feed manna to my shamir.

(C'mon dude. A Shamir? I know it's OT, but puh-leese)

Lord Thorkington said...

Greg:

I can truly see where you’re coming from, but consider the implications: Either Jesus said the things the Bible records or he didn’t. If he did, then what would be his motives? He knew he would be killed for claiming to be God, no Pharisee would let him get away with that and he knew it. What would motivate someone to live a few years of notoriety based on a falsity and insist on their lie, or whatever is an appropriate word, until they had to suffer one of the worst deaths imaginable. People don’t take lies that far, save for insanity. He doesn’t seem to have been a rich man for his notoriety, in fact all signs point to poverty. He didn’t gain a herem, again, all signs point to chastity.
Ok so maybe he didn’t say the things the Bible says he did. But the implications of that are that his followers, desiring notoriety, power, whatever, put words into his mouth after his crucifixion and knowingly deceived a lot of people. Now, depending on how far you want to take their mythical creation, maybe they made up the whole story or just added parts. Either way, their creation got them into a lot of trouble and they certainly didn’t achieve the kind of power, notoriety, whatever, that they might have desired. In fact, the early Christians became the most abused, persecuted, and martyred group of the era (and there is very strong extra-biblical evidence for this). Again, appealing to common experience, people don’t die horrible deaths and live lives of persecution for stories they know they made up.
The “narrative sense” I’m talking about is not the Bible itself. I might have said metanarrative to be more precise. What I’m talking about is a story that two people on another planet much like ours, with all our philosophy and science but none of our theological history might be able to speculate about. Suppose these two people on this other planet are sitting at a bar and speculating about the God of the theistic arguments they have. Bob says, “Well we have this personal, moral, powerful God/Creator out there. What do you think he wants from us?” Bill replies, “I have no idea. But if he’s so powerful, he should turn himself into something we can understand (like maybe become one of us) and come among us and tell us what he wants because we could sit around here speculating all day and never figure out what this kind of infinite Creator wants.” Bob says, “Too true, and whatever he wants, we probably haven’t been doing very good job of it, given this apparent disconnect from him/her/it, so this Creator should let us off the hook for the things we’ve done that he doesn’t like - if we stop doing them when he tells us.” Bill jumps in, “Oh yeah, that’s good Bob, and you know what else he should do?” “What?,” “He should rescue us out of this shit-hole, he should take us back with him to eternity.” “Oh good call! That would be like, the perfect conclusion to this story.”
So in the metanarrative sense, it is perfect (I realize my version is far from perfect ), outside of any context we have for it. But the really cool thing, is that this perfect metanarrative is our perfect metaphysic in our world. Perfect myth is our perfect fact.

sean slater said...

Lord Tolkinton

"perfect myth is our perfect fact"

Man, have you never read Orwell's 1984?

Greg Mills said...

"Again, appealing to common experience, people don’t die horrible deaths and live lives of persecution for stories they know they made up."

No, but they will do it in service to a meta narrative that they are convinced is foundational. There is enough evidence in history of groups of irrational actors chasing meta narratives mutilating themselves, living lives of deprivation and dying horribly, happily and willingly.

In fact, history is so chockful of examples of this -- literally volumes of it -- that we have to assume that the early Christians were such a group and thus not unusual in their dedication.

As far as our friends Bob and what's his name... I'm not someone who demands god do tricks. I'm not sure what "god" is and I've yet to find someone who can tell me in a way that doesn't rely on narrative and negative definitions. I think both sides assume too much about the concept and that if you spend anytime looking at the literature (which is all we have) it is sketchy to say this least.

I hate to say it, because I know it sounds awful, but I think that the religious tend to worship theologians, and not gods, because the concept of a god simply does not have concrete basis and even the most sincere believers cannot agree amongst themselves what they worship. Apologies.

I

Philip R Kreyche said...

He knew he would be killed for claiming to be God, no Pharisee would let him get away with that and he knew it. What would motivate someone to live a few years of notoriety based on a falsity and insist on their lie, or whatever is an appropriate word, until they had to suffer one of the worst deaths imaginable.

So either people know what they say is false, or they know it is true? People aren't allowed to be convinced of something that happens to be false?

This goes along with the original followers (supposedly) dying for their beliefs. People don't have to know for certain whether something is true to be willing to die for it. Every Christian who has died for their beliefs who was not in a position to see or experience the events of the Gospels can attest to that.

Even you, for example: would you die rather than give up your faith? Were you born after the events in the Bible? If so, then you yourself are an argument against your own claim. Once again, you do not need to be in a position to know for certain whether or not something happened in order to be willing to die for it.

Greg Mills said...

I remember watching an interview with a survival of the Heaven's Gate debacle. He got cold feet and disengaged himself from the cult before they went to join their leader up on Hale-Bopp (or whatever idiocy they believed).

Here he was, fit as a fiddle with a beautiful daughter and he was in existential knots that he didn't commit to ritual suicide.

"But you're alive now. How can you justify the guilt you feel?"

He said (and this struck me and stayed with me): "You don't understand... I rejected paradise. I rejected a higher reality. I was a coward."

I believe he later killed himself.

Nice illustration of the emotional prisons humans can put themselves in over meta narratives.

In my extended family, we lost a young child to a meta narrative, a Bible-based religious meta narrative. And when I say lost, that child is dead, murdered because of the false certainty of a theologian/theorist.

People believe things that are incorrect, and will degrade themselves and slaughter each other over it.

And I bet up until the moment when that murderer who killed the child took his or her own life, the promise of paradise were right there to comfort them. There was no doubt in action, there was no pause. I wouldn't surprised if there was a biblical quote on deck in the murderer 's mind to frame the slaughter just right.

Yay, irrational belief!

Even if we could say the claims of your faith are novel, the actions of your co-religionists aren't. Some are extraordinary, most are decent, a few are evil. Just like the general population.

Cromm said...

Lord Thorkington

"First, your condescending tone is unnecessary. Calling God a "Sky Daddy" serves no other purpose than ad hominem attacks. I am interested in testing my beliefs against good argument."

"Ad hominem" refers to a very specific logical fallacy that is not committed simply by using a sneering tone.

"Unfortunately, this [eyewitness testimony] is how most history comes to us, especially ancient history, so if you want to dismiss it, you have to dismiss most of history. Which others, and maybe you, are perfectly willing to do, I don't know. But I am not willing to do that."

I don't want to dismiss it, I want it to be considered critically.

"The historicity of Jesus is much better documented than Hercules.."

It was not my intention to get into a pissing match about which mythological figure is more historical. Let me rephrase my original statement; like Jesus, Hercules is also mentioned by a number of ancient writers who were not a in a position to have met such a hypothecial individual, and they also attribute a number of fanciful feats to him that can't be confirmed by any means known to us.

"If we can't agree on at least this level of historicity, I can post more evidence for you. If we can't though, I think the better question to ask is what justification you require before you believe a historical claim. For example, you say, "Hitler's action are painfully well documented." Do you know this because you've been told it or because you've actually dug the evidence up. Now, maybe you have dug it up. But most people, for most claims, will believe it based on the fact that they COULD look it up"

Indeed I have looked it up. There are multiple, exhaustive lines of evidence for the holocaust that anyone with a modicum of interest can review for themselves. Even if you were to totally discredit half a dozen of them somehow, there would still be a horrific quantity of evidence available to us.

"But still I might believe all these things without ever leaving a library. And what would I really be doing? I would be reading an eyewitness account of the archaeologist who performed the dig. And as you said, eyewitness accounts are the most unreliable evidence. How could I prove that the bones I see at the museum actually came from the spot the plaque says they came from? The bottom line is that I can't, I have to accept it on some degree of trust, and yes, faith."

You are playing fast and loose with multiple meanings of the phrase "eyewitness accounts". Archaelogists can actually produce more than just their say so when attesting to things. The physical evidence they bring back can be evaluated by anyone with the skills, time and interest. I agree that there comes a point where a layman simply has to take their word for it, but in that case, there is an important difference between justified faith and faith as a justification that comes up. People with relevant expertise can not just speak authoritatively about the truth of their conclusions, but those conclusions are often amenable to independent evaluation; they can make predictions that can be tested against reality. We can see whether our "faith" in them is justified. They are not asking anyone to believe them purely on the basis of a leap of faith.

"Take the holocaust as an example."

Ok.

"...let's say we went to the death camps in Poland, what would that prove? That certain structures exist in a certain place? That doesn't prove what happened there. To know what happened there, we have to rely on the biased eyewitness accounts of the Allies who discovered it, which we agree are not very good evidence at all."

There are also the survivors themselves, tattooed as they often are with identification numbers, and the meticulous records the Nazis themselves kept. There are films taken before and after the camps were liberated, and a metric ton of other lines of evidence.

"Now, of course I believe the holocaust happened, but hopefully you can see how weak our justification for believing most historical claims is."

Not really, no.

"But the life of Christ and the Gospels (and Bible at large) are at least on no shakier ground than other ancient history we believe, especially because of the strong intersubjective testimony of the various authors, and extrabiblical confirmation of various events."

They are on much shakier ground than, say, the life of Julius Caesar, which is much better attested to by all manner of primary sources during his lifetime, as well as archaeological evidence. Also, please keep in mind that "intersubjective" means "distinguishable from something pulled out of one's butt"; it's not clear to me at all that the various authors of the Gospel provided much intersubjective testimony.

"Therefore, if evolution isn't interested in producing true beliefs.."

I grant you this.

"..it more than likely hasn't produced the true belief of naturalism, hence we have a defeater for naturalism. "

Who says "evolution" produced the belief of naturalism? Even if it did, and we assume that evolution is unreliable at producing accurate beliefs, it wouldn't follow that naturalism would have to be one of them. Processes that are not good at producing true beliefs are not excluded from doing so, and you are assuming your conclusion by declaring it "likely" that naturalism is false.

"EAAN suggests that a personal agent is responsible for ensuring that our cognitive faculties produce in us mostly true beliefs."

No, it doesn't. At most, it suggests that we can't take naturalism for granted. That whole bit about a personal agent ensuring things for you is nothing more than a post hoc security blanket invented for the purpose of taking things for granted.

"You may be willing to drop all claims of true belief, but then so goes your atheism and naturalism. I am not willing to do that."

I am willing to drop all claims of true belief that are not provisional or amenable to rational enquiry.

Lord Thorkington said...

Greg and Philip:

Your points are valid concerns for anyone in this kind of conversation, so no apologies necessary.

You are right that a lot of people tend to worship theologians instead of God, and idolatry has been the one of the primary issues for Christians and Jews since the beginning of either tradition.
However, it is not fair to judge arguments based on the behavior of the people who claim to believe them.

I should emphasize that the metanarrative isn't merely a metanarrative. It is a metaphysic, our metaphysic, that we know through our own experience. That is not to say that the metanarrative is causally efficacious on our metaphysic, it is not. But the metanarrative parallels our metaphysic that we can know through philosophy, science, history etc...

Now I know you wouldn't demand that God do tricks, because you don't believe in God. And I'm not saying that anybody must necessarily believe in a monotheistic God, or any supernatural entity for that matter, based on theistic arguments, but I think people are definitely warranted to do so, at least as warranted as any other belief.

The point of the illustration was to show that someone without our theological history, but does have our philosophy and science can have a warranted belief in a monotheistic God. The point was to show that this person could see the utter completeness and resolution in the metanarrative.

My point wasn't to say that people don't die for beliefs. Certainly they do, my argument depends on the fact that they do. My point was to say that people don't die for beliefs they know to be false. Being God or not is something we are likely to know about ourselves. That is to say, it's not likely that we would really believe we were God, if we were not, save for malfunctioning cognitive faculties.

Similarly, if I make up a story about someone, I am likely to know that I made it up.

In either case, I think it unlikely that either person would be willing to die a horrible death for something they know to be false.

Another important point is that atheists rely heavily on placing the onus of proof on the theist. Atheism is not the default position. For example, the atheist might claim that without evidence for the proposition p: “God exists,” that we are obligated to believe ~p: “God does not exist.” By that standard, if there is a lack of evidence for ~p, then we are obligate to believe p. And in the case that there is a lack of evidence on both sides, then we are obligated to believe both p and ~p, which leads us to an obvious absurdity. If the atheist says that naturalism is the default then he has begged the question because it is only by assuming that naturalism is the default that he can prove that’s where we should turn when there is a lack of evidence for either claim. This is methodological naturalism and it cannot hold.

However, when we accept that there is no disparaging onus of proof on the theist, then we can see that this is not really a question of evidence, but a question of will. This was a question that vexed me for a long time as an atheist. If Christianity were true, then no one would ever choose not to follow it if they knew what they were choosing against. I took Dawkins’ approach that there simply wasn’t enough evidence because I was a methodological naturalist, but as I’ve shown that method begs the question. If we get the circular reasoning out of the way, then we place ourselves between the two statements and we see how truly this is a question of the will. Which way do I want to go? And when we look at it like that, anyone who is rigorously honest about their method will see the issue clearly for what it is, a free choice of our will.

I am truly sorry for your loss.

unBeguiled said...

Lordy Thorkington.

A globerfunkle exists.

Do you believe that?

What should the default position be? Is the onus on you to demonstrate ~"globerfunkle exists"?

Nature and nature's laws exist. You claim something else exists as well. The onus is on you, no matter how you wiggle and squirm.

Lord Thorkington said...

Cromm:

Name-calling is implicitly, if not explicitly, ad hominem because the intent is to make disparaging remarks about someone with the purpose of discrediting anything they say or anything people associated with them say, and you're right - it is a fallacy.

Are we allowed to dismiss historical accounts because the people writing them have an agenda? You mentioned the survivors of the holocaust - talk about a group of people with an agenda. That is not a fair criteria, so we are obligated to remove it from our system.

and the meticulous records the Nazis themselves kept. There are films taken before and after the camps were liberated, and a metric ton of other lines of evidence."

Even meticulous records are eyewitness accounts. Try to treat it objectively as you want, but at the bottom of it all, there is a person behind the document with an agenda. The German soldier recording how many Jews they put to death is giving you his account of what he saw. Maybe he miscounted, maybe he exaggerated the numbers to please Hitler.

As to the films you've seen about it. You weren't there for the filming, you don't know that the cinematographer didn't coach the people in the film or the whole film was staged. All you know is a story of context attached to whatever film you perceive with your eyes.

And the plethora of evidence doesn't tell us anything except there is a lot of potentially tainted data, that we can prove neither true nor false.

My point in all this isn't to say that we can't know anything, but to say that what we think we can know so objectively isn't nearly as sure as we would like to think, but it also places everything on a much more even playing field. I realize this blurs the line somewhat between myth and history and that's ok, because we could learn something very false based on several bad accounts of history, whereas we could learn something very true about human nature or love from a novel. This also allows us to evaluate history in a metanarrative sense.

"it wouldn't follow that naturalism would have to be one of them."

True, but it is very likely that it is one of them. Likely enough by any standard of warrant to give us a defeater for it.

"you are assuming your conclusion by declaring it "likely" that naturalism is false."

Not so. My argument, or rather Plantinga's, has to do with your beliefs. Naturalism may very well be true, but if evolution is also true then it is very unlikely that we would have come to the true belief in naturalism. It doesn't assume anything about naturalism itself, only that we have a defeater for our belief in it.

"That whole bit about a personal agent ensuring things for you is nothing more than a post hoc security blanket invented for the purpose of taking things for granted."

I never said this was a necessary conclusion, it is an inference to the best explanation.

Cromm said...

"Name-calling is implicitly, if not explicitly, ad hominem because the intent is to make disparaging remarks about someone with the purpose of discrediting anything they say or anything people associated with them say, and you're right - it is a fallacy."

I simply have not deployed an ad hominem; at no point in this discussion have I attacked anyone's personal merits as a reason to disbelieve their arguments. If you can't deal with a sarcastic tone, or pejorative language applied to your favourite imaginary friend, then...I dunno. Find the strength within, I guess.

As to the bulk of your post in which you discuss how we know what we claim to know about history. Look, I'm already familiar with the epistemological issues surrounding the discipline of history. With that in mind, I personally am satisfied that the evidence for the holocaust, and any number of other historical events, is sufficient for us to draw conclusions, however provisional they may fundamentally be.

"True, but it [naturalism] is very likely that it is one of them. Likely enough by any standard of warrant to give us a defeater for it."

You keep saying this or that is likely or unlikely, but I can't detect what standard you're using to assign probabilities. Even though I grant you that evolution doesn't have to equip one with true beliefs in order to work, I have no idea how you're able to deduce that naturalism would be likely to be a belief that "evolution gets wrong". You seem to be declaring it by fiat.

"I never said this [a personal God] was a necessary conclusion, it is an inference to the best explanation."

I disagree. A quote if I may;

"The Christian doesn't encounter this problem [producing true beliefs] because the Christian believes that God created her with properly functioning cognitive faculties that produce in her mostly true beliefs."

You (Christians) needed a way to short-circuit the philosophical problems with beliefs, so you declare your God resolves them for you. That's not an inference to the best explanation, that's positing a magical, untestable 'solution' that conveniently handwaves the problems away.

Lord Thorkington said...

Crom:

I will take the insulting and belittling remarks on the chin if you insist.

"I personally am satisfied that the evidence for the holocaust, and any number of other historical events, is sufficient for us to draw conclusions, however provisional they may fundamentally be."

I am personally satisfied that the evidence for Jesus' life is sufficient for us to draw conclusions, however "provisional they may fundamentally be."

"You keep saying this or that is likely or unlikely, but I can't detect what standard you're using to assign probabilities."

It actually doesn't matter if you are unwilling to admit that the probability of reliable cognitive faculties given naturalism and evolution is low. Even if the probability of reliable cognitive faculties is inscrutable to you, that is to say you have no definite idea of the probability either way, it is still enough to give a defeater for your belief in naturalism. This is because even if the probability is inscrutable to you, the mere incapability of assigning a probability either way is enough to cast doubt on your belief in the reliability of your cognitive faculties. And thus you have a reason for withholding your belief in your reliable cognitive faculties, and thus you have a defeater for your belief in naturalism.

"that's positing a magical, untestable 'solution' that conveniently handwaves the problems away."

To complain that the best explanation is "untestable" is circular reasoning because it requires you to presuppose that the only valid "solutions" will be testable before you ever begin.

Lord Thorkington said...

on a side note:

does anyone know how to make it so that my actual name appears instead of my screen name?

when I send emails from my gmail account my name shows up, I don't know why it doesn't on here.

unBeguiled said...

Lord Thork:

from http://www.blogger.com/home click edit profile and change your display name to whatever you want.

Mats 'mcv' Volberg said...

"given our sense of cause and effect"

Cause and effect are not defined in the sense of one appearing before the other in time. The direction of causality is a debatted thing in philosophy and it very well might be that the effect might appear before the cause. (e.g. Jonathan Bennett, David Hugh Mellor)

sean slater said...

Lord T

You know what? You are right.

Guys, I'm sorry to say but Lord T is correct in something he says.

It IS very unlikely that evolution would give us the ability to accurately discern true beliefs from false ones. And guess what, it has not. If it had then surely we would all believe the same thing - the truth.

We have evolved as pattern seeking,tool making apes and using these abilities, we've managed to hit on the one thing that seems to actually work. Science, logic and reason.

Faith was a good enough way of claiming truth for most of our history as long as everyone accepted whatever the prevailing faith was. If you did not then because your claim was as good as the next man's the only way to prove it was "My god's bigger than your god" and have a fight over it. Then along came scientists who rejected the faith claims and decided to use this better tool.

50 people each has faith in their plant cure for a headache and to an extent (some work,one best of all) it is right, along comes the scientist and uses this new tool, discerns which actually works best and 49 faiths should now be abandoned. but human nature being what it is? Yeh right.

Now, we still might be deluding ourselves and science might well lead to false claims but until something else comes along, we have no way of knowing, so we may as well accept it or pack up and go home.

If you are prepared to abandon evidence,reason and logic in your attempts to argue your case, then you have already lost the argument. It is the only game in town that works, time after time after time.

Cromm said...

"I will take the insulting and belittling remarks on the chin if you insist."

The portion of the internets I usually frequent, making fun of a person's argument is not equated with insulting them personally. But whatever, I don't want to waste any further time on this, and I won't do it if it really chaps your britches.

"I am personally satisfied that the evidence for Jesus' life is sufficient for us to draw conclusions, however "provisional they may fundamentally be."

So am I, the difference is that you were smuggling in fanciful claims upthread that don't necessarily follow from the evidence available to us.

"It actually doesn't matter if you are unwilling to admit that the probability of reliable cognitive faculties given naturalism and evolution is low."

Hold on now, you're getting ahead of yourself. Please take care to read what I personally have said when responding to my remarks...I suspect that you may be trotting out canned apologetics, and they aren't necessarily relevant to our conversation. I've granted you nothing as yet with respect to naturalism. All I've granted you so far is that evolution doesn't have to produce reliable cognitive faculties in order to work. That is to say, inaccurate faculties could still be adaptive. That's all. At no point so far have I indicated that I take naturalism as an axiomatic presupposition. One doesn't strictly need it in order to discuss how evolution may or may not work.

"Even if the probability of reliable cognitive faculties is inscrutable to you, that is to say you have no definite idea of the probability either way..."

I don't. Neither do you. No one does. Any attempt to evaluate how probable it is that our cognitive faculties are reliable necessarily involves relying on our cognitive faculties, and thus assumes what was to be proven.
Which is precisely why it's a big, reeking unjustified assumption on your part to declare that it's "unlikely".

"...it is still enough to give a defeater for your belief in naturalism."

No it wouldn't be, even assuming that that's a belief I hold. Casting doubt is not the equivalent of "defeating" a belief, which I take it in this context means rendering it logically invalid. The most you could say to a naturalist is to prepare for the possibility that they could be wrong, which any intellectually honest person ought to do anyway.

"This is because even if the probability is inscrutable to you, the mere incapability of assigning a probability either way is enough to cast doubt on your belief in the reliability of your cognitive faculties. "

Way ahead of you in the doubt department, my friend.

"And thus you have a reason for withholding your belief in your reliable cognitive faculties.."

Again, already there.

"...and thus you have a defeater for your belief in naturalism."

No you don't. You have a reason to doubt that, or any other belief, at the most. Which I'm already prepared to do. You've quoted me using the word "provisional", so I would hope by this point it's starting to sink in.

In the interest of discussion, I should probably point out that I consider methodological naturalism as a kind of working theory. You're not going to catch me ruling things out a priori because they contradict naturalism, so just...please don't try. It's tiresome. The most you're going to get from me is skepticism of supernatural events, but I think we both agree that's appropriate.

"To complain that the best explanation is "untestable" is circular reasoning because it requires you to presuppose that the only valid "solutions" will be testable before you ever begin."

I threw in "untestable" to illustrate that it's uninformative, not that it's invalid. You could be cheerfully making things up with respect to God and our faculties and still be right quite by accident, and thus have proposed a valid solution, but no one would ever know because it's not bloody well distinguishable from something you made up on the spot. Hence the bits about "magic" and "handwaving", which were really the more important.

Logosfera said...

@The Jesting Fool said...
"the leap of faith is not intellectual suicide".
I completely agree. "I think therefore I am" is the only truth we KNOW FOR SURE. The rest of the truths we "know" because we take A leap of faith. Unlike scientific knowledge that is based on ONE leap of faith, the naturalistic assumption/faith, the religious knowledge requires hopping around like a mad kangaroo. First you have to jump to the existence something outside nature. Than you have to jump to the ideea that what is outside nature controls nature. Than you have to jump to the ideea that what controls the nature is personal. Than you have to jump to the ideea that that person has a plan with us. Than you have to jump to the ideea that the plan was dictated to some people. Than you have to jump to the ideea that those people wrote it in a book. Than you have to jump to the ideea that it is the book you have in your hand. Than you have to jump to the ideea that Satan didn't mess with the book. And in the end you have to jump to the ideea that is OK to make these jumps. And than you have to refuse other to make the exact same number of jumps as you made to reach a different conclusion.
As I said, I agree ONE leap of faith is not intellectual suicide. But how many leaps of faith does it take to declare the brain-death?

Lord Thorkington said...

Crom:

"the difference is you're smuggling in fanciful claims upthread that don't necessarily follow from the evidence available to us."

I don't think any historical conclusions "necessarily" follow from the evidence in a philosophical sense, ancient or modern. Besides, I don't see what's so fanciful about them unless you dismiss them a priori, and what sets these claims apart are that the authors are trying to record history (they tell us as much), whereas Homer never claimed his Greek mythology was historical, for example.

And the "well they had an agenda" argument doesn't work. If it did we would have to toss out the holocaust survivor's testimony, because they have one of the strongest agendas in modern experience. I don't think either of us is willing to toss that out.
Try to think of the Bible like this: When the early councils were forming the canon they considered the relevant texts about the life of Jesus. They chose the books that were the most reliable based on how close the author was to the event. Books that didn't agree with the main body of historical claims and oral traditions from eyewitnesses, like the gnostic books that came much later, weren't included. Two points on this: The Jewish oral tradition was considered to be very reliable, in fact many people considered writing less reliable because nobody would have to remember what actually happened - and the Jews were very good at remembering, some of the best in fact. Second, is it at all surprising that the accounts that disagreed with the main body of textual evidence and tradition weren't included? Certainly not, would you include a neo-nazi's testimony in your history book about the holocaust? I should hope not, and for the same reasons too.

Also, if the early church historians considered an exhaustive amount of evidence about the life of Jesus, then it follows that there isn't going to be a whole lot of other evidence out there that wasn't either included in the canon, or considered and dismissed for various reasons. I've talked about some of that evidence earlier. But you're looking for some overwhelming body of evidence that has never touched anything Christian, which is not there for a few reasons: 1. Latin and Greek culture weren't particularly interested in Jewish culture. 2. Jewish culture was, like I said, very oral. 3. The overwhelming body of textual evidence was already considered by the early church historians.

So you see, the historical method has already been applied, and the canon we have is exactly the kind of thing history is supposed to produce. You collect the best evidence and codify it through doctrinal statements.

“I suspect that you may be trotting out canned apologetics”

Not the case.

“Hold on now, you're getting ahead of yourself.”

You may be right, I did assume you were a naturalist because most atheists are. But I don’t see how an atheist could accept anything supernatural.

“Any attempt to evaluate how probable it is that our cognitive faculties are reliable necessarily involves relying on our cognitive faculties, and thus assumes what was to be proven.”

Yes, it’s circular for the evolutionary naturalist, but not for the evolutionary supernaturalist, and that’s just the point. Because we both assume we have reliable cognitive faculties a priori, but the end result for the evolutionary naturalist is begging the question.

“Casting doubt is not the equivalent of "defeating" a belief”

First, I wasn’t giving a defeater for belief in reliable cognitive faculties, I was giving a defeater for naturalism, which most atheists hold. Again, I don’t see how they wouldn’t. Defeater is something that prevents you from being justified (or warranted) in your belief. Rendering something “logically invalid” is not the project. The project is to show that one is intellectually obligated to withhold belief in naturalism. Being intellectually obligated to withhold a belief is stronger than having a reason to doubt, or to tentatively hold a belief.

“because it's not bloody well distinguishable from something you made up on the spot.”

It certainly is. The theistic arguments (cosmological, teleological, moral, ontological) give some evidence for the existence of God and the kind of God that he is, although I’m not going to say they intellectually obligate anyone to believe in God on their own. But I’m also not creating anything to satisfy the conditions I can’t otherwise explain, this evidence is established independently.

Lord Thorkington said...

I made a mistake. I said, "Because we both assume we have reliable cognitive faculties a priori, but the end result for the evolutionary naturalist is begging the question."

I meant to say, the evolutionary naturalist assumes our cognitive faculties are reliable a priori, but the evolutionary supernaturalist doesn't, and thus the evolutionary naturalist begs the question where as the evolutionary supernaturalist does not, because for them there is a cause ensuring their cognitive faculties are reliable.

This is supported by the last paragraph in my previous post.

unBeguiled said...

Lord Thorkington said:

because for them there is a cause ensuring their cognitive faculties are reliable.

So you can be sure your cognitive faculties are reliable because your cognitive faculties inform you that God ensures they are reliable?

If that is not question begging, then there is no such thing as question begging.

We all rely on our senses and brains by instinct. Could we do otherwise?

We cannot digest food without using our gut. Could we do otherwise? Do I need to provide proper justification for using my gut?

Lord Thorkington said...

Unbeguiled:

Thanks for catching me on that. You're right, I should have just left it at: We DO both assume the reliability of our cognitive faculties, but the difference is that the evolutionary naturalist ends up defeating his own assumption whereas the someone like me will infer God as the best explanation.

UnBeguiled said...

No problem Lord Thorkington.

We are all forced by circumstance to rely on our sense organs and brains. Any attempt to "ground" that assumption in reference to something else will beg the question.

Sometimes an atheist will attempt justify her use of empiricism by appealing to the fruits of science. But that's just silly. She can't justify her use of her sense organs by appealing to what her sense organs tell her. She's then assuming up front what she's trying to justify.

Similarly, presuppers will claim they are justified in using their sense organs because the Bible tells them that God maintains the uniformity of nature. But did they read that in the Bible without using their eyes? Again, assuming up front what they are trying to justify.

Also, I have had theists label my unjustified reliance on my sense organs as 'faith'. But that's just silly. I rely on my sense organs because of the impossibility of the contrary, and so do they. That's not faith, it's instinct.

So, since you and me agree that we both assume the basic reliability of our cognitive faculties, we have a common ground from which to have a conversation.

Based on your experience, what methods have you found that reliably extend your cognitive functions?

For example two metal balls appear roughly the same size and weight, but you want to determine which is heavier.

How do you find out? Do you pray? Do you consult the entrails of a goat? Do you consult experts on metallurgy? Do you consult professional ball players?

Or do you use a scale?

I bet you will use a scale. That's science.

Using that method, we have yet to find any ghosts, elves, souls, gods, angels, or demons.

But it seems you have concluded that some things in the above list do in fact exist. Based on our common ground assumption, how did you get there? What was your reliable method?

Cromm said...

Lord Thorkington

"I don't think any historical conclusions "necessarily" follow from the evidence in a philosophical sense, ancient or modern."

Mmmmk, my bad, I kinda suspected that word might cause a misunderstanding. I don't mean it in a philosophical sense; all I'm trying to say is that believing that Jesus performed miracles on the say-so of biblical authors is not warranted...simply because they say so. Or so it seems to me. I don't think we're going to come to an agreement here. If you don't want to be skeptical on this point, then don't be.

As for your bit about Holocaust survivors having an "agenda". This line of argument is descending into false equivocation. No one is claiming we should accept the historical reality of the Holocaust purely on the basis of the testimony of those directly involved, as I've already blathered about at length.

With respect to how the bible was written; I'm just not qualified to talk about it. I have not studied it in any real depth. The best I can say for now is that, as far I'm aware, the historicity of the bible is considered up for debate by specialized scholars. Not the most satisfying rejoinder for you, perhaps, but it'll have to do for now.

"But I don’t see how an atheist could accept anything supernatural."

At this time, I don't see why anyone would. Supernatural events are unevidenced to any reasonable standard, unnecessary as explanations and possibly incoherent conceptually. That said, the only things atheists don't accept, by definition, are deities. An atheist could still believe in magic if they were a bit dim.

"I meant to say, the evolutionary naturalist assumes our cognitive faculties are reliable a priori, but the evolutionary supernaturalist doesn't, and thus the evolutionary naturalist begs the question where as the evolutionary supernaturalist does not, because for them there is a cause ensuring their cognitive faculties are reliable."

As has been pointed out above, everyone begs the question. There seems little choice other than to do so. The difference is, supernaturalists are introducing an additional, unevidenced variable into the equation in an attempt to make the problem go away, thus simultaneously pulling a "solution" from betwixt their nether regions (as far as anyone can tell) while begging the question about the solution itself.

The best anyone can do about this is acknowledge that they could be mistaken, about anything, while not sprinkling unneeded fairy dust on the problem.

"Defeater is something that prevents you from being justified (or warranted) in your belief. Rendering something “logically invalid” is not the project. The project is to show that one is intellectually obligated to withhold belief in naturalism. Being intellectually obligated to withhold a belief is stronger than having a reason to doubt, or to tentatively hold a belief."

Mmmk, fair enough. The issue for me is, I simply don't agree that the philosophical problems with justifying belief prevent one from holding naturalism as a tentative belief. The "tentative" part is all I see any need for when answering the question of how one could accept naturalism in the face of epistemological difficulty. In fact, I honestly don't see how one could view naturalism as anything other than the null hypothesis at this point in time; natural explanations abound, in stark, polar contrast to supernatural ones, which are nowhere to be found. To withhold a tentative belief in naturalism would be to tacitly accept supernaturalism, but that is the belief in need of evidence. For that matter, that is the belief in need of definition; I'm not convinced that supernaturalism is even conceptually coherent. What does it mean to say that something does not occur by (explainable) cause, or that it exists outside nature? It amounts to an attempt to put something (usually God) in a conceptual box, safe from the prying fingers of rational consideration, as far as I can tell.

"The theistic arguments (cosmological, teleological, moral, ontological) give some evidence for the existence of God and the kind of God that he is, although I’m not going to say they intellectually obligate anyone to believe in God on their own."

Good thing too, since those are all steaming piles of crap.

Tim Bentinck said...

This is so childish. Are there no grown-ups who speak for religion? You can't out-argue science, why try? Just say, "I believe because it makes me feel happier and I promise I won't kill or hate those who don't", and we can all sleep easier at night and you can all believe in Leprechauns and Fairies to your heart's content.

Alejandro Izaguirre Martín said...

There is no God, and I hate him!” This seems to be the subtext for much of the “new atheism ...


I can't be bothered to read beyond that point. The author must be stupid, dishonest, or both.

Lord Thorkington said...

Unbeguiled and Crom:

Sorry for the delayed response, George Berkeley stole my priorities.

The best way to look at the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism is epistemologically. In the structure of beliefs that one holds, one of the properly basic beliefs in the foundation is belief in reliable cognitive faculties. The evolutionary naturalist cannot rationally maintain belief in both evolution and naturalism – maybe one or the other, but not both simultaneously. The theist’s belief in God does not contradict her belief in reliable cognitive faculties and so she can go on rationally maintaining both beliefs.

If any subsequent objection involves a lack of evidence for God, then we’ve talked past each other. This argument doesn’t depend on evidence for God because it is not a proof for God. It is a proof for the irrationality of the combination of evolution and naturalism in our noetic structure. This is an epistemological argument not metaphysical.

“Good thing too, since those are all steaming piles of crap.”

Perhaps so, to the question-begging methodological naturalist, but I must confess, I can no longer reason with the methodological naturalist ;)

Tim:

“You can't out-argue science, why try?”

No one’s trying to out-argue science. I am trying to show that science cannot justify itself. This isn’t a scientific question, but a philosophical one.

UnBeguiled said...

"one of the properly basic beliefs in the foundation is belief in reliable cognitive faculties."

Right. I understand the EAAN. I also understand evolution.

Evolution provides us reliable cognitive faculties. My reliable cognitive faculties, extended by the inter-subjective reliable methods of science lead me to naturalism.

The EAAN fails because the premise that natural selection would be unlikely to lead to reliable cognitive faculties is false. It seems to me the people that argue for the EAAN don't have a clue about how natural selection works, and a big part of the cluelessness is that they have a contra-causal dualistic view of the mind.

More here:

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/wesley_robbins/contraplantinga.html

Our beliefs, for the most part, reflect reality. Only a dualist like Plantinga could come up with his strange examples like running from a tiger in an attempt to get eaten.

How could that belief come about?

Only if you think the content of the mind is generated in a contra-causal fashion.

Lord Thorkington said...

"Only if you think the content of the mind is generated in a contra-causal fashion."

Well that's just it! Evolution is traditionally committed to just that - that our beliefs are not causally efficacious on our behavior. That's epiphenomenalism. That's the view that T.H. Huxley took. And of course the quote from Patricia Churchland that's been getting some significant play: "a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four f's: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive...Improvements in sensorimotor control confer and evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism's way of life and enhances the organism's chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost."

However, the argument doesn't even necessarily deny that the content of our mind is generated causally, that is in the purely materialistic sense of our mind (brain states, etc...) It doesn't even deny that our beliefs (whatever they may be on the materialistic/naturalistic account) are causally efficacious on our behavior. It denies that it is probable that the TRUTH CONTENT of our beliefs is at all interested in our behavior. That is the point of his counterfactual, to show that a belief could be causally efficacious and even adaptive (which is all evolution is interested in) and still be false. And given the plethora of adaptive-but-false beliefs that evolution could yield, he finds the probability unlikely, or at least inscrutable, that it has produced in us mostly true beliefs, obligating us to withhold that belief.

On a side note, I just want to add that I am thoroughly enjoying the discussion :)

UnBeguiled said...

"Well that's just it! Evolution is traditionally committed to just that - that our beliefs are not causally efficacious on our behavior."

What are you talking about? That makes no sense.

"And given the plethora of adaptive-but-false beliefs that evolution could yield, he finds the probability unlikely"

Natural selection does not select for "beliefs". This is where Plantinga shows his ass. NS selects for traits. A trait that accurately models the world will be adaptive, while a trait that inaccurately models the world will likely be maladaptive.

Rather than lame arguments, if you don't like evolution, become a scientist and try to disprove it. If you don't like naturalism, demonstrate something supernatural.

These apologetic arguments are just sophistry.

Scott said...

It denies that it is probable that the TRUTH CONTENT of our beliefs is at all interested in our behavior. That is the point of his counterfactual, to show that a belief could be causally efficacious and even adaptive (which is all evolution is interested in) and still be false.

This appears to be another case of theism inventing a problem, then throwing up it's hands and claiming "God must have done it", despite the obvious solution: the development of a truth deducing mechanism as a side-effect of one or more adaptive features which were selected by evolution.

For example, unlike some insects that benefit from have a particular color as a means of camouflage, having green leaves isn't necessarily beneficial for plants. However, Chlorophyll is green and it is beneficial because allows the conversion of light into energy via photosynthesis. Here the color green is a side effect that has no direct advantage in evolutionary fitness.

We could also create an analogy using various home construction techniques in regions with adverse weather, such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

When compared to those make of brick or concrete, wood framed homes are less likely to survive adverse weather. However, brick homes also have other advantages that are not directly related to it's ability to withstand storms. For example, brick homes require less maintenance, are less susceptible to insects and are better insulated regarding heat and sound.

These properties have little to no advantage regarding a buildings survival, yet they are still clearly beneficial.

Should it have been the case that a wood framed building were more resilient to adverse weather, such indirect properties would not have been "selected."

Once such a truth detecting system developed, it would provide a wide range of advantages which were not merely limited to survival. You could think of evolution as the first stage that boosts us into consciousness. From there, the game changes significantly as we discover the wiring behind the board.

While Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi addresses this subject in detail in his book "The Evolving Self", here's a link to an interview which provides a high level overview.

Directing evolution through consciousness

Lord Thorkington said...

"What are you talking about? That makes no sense."

I'm talking about the fact that traditionally, strict evolutionists like T.H. Huxley have called beliefs epiphenomenal because they don't enter the causal chain leading to behavior. But even if they do enter the causal chain, it is their content that Plantinga is most concerned about.

"Natural selection does not select for "beliefs". This is where Plantinga shows his ass. NS selects for traits. A trait that accurately models the world will be adaptive, while a trait that inaccurately models the world will likely be maladaptive."

You're absolutely right! This is exactly what I'm trying to say. Natural Selection does not select for beliefs, it selects for traits, namely behavioral traits. So as long as our body parts end up in the right place for survival then the beliefs are both causally efficacious and adaptive, but you still haven't addressed the counterfactual of the plethora of potentially causally efficacious, adaptive, but false beliefs.

"Rather than lame arguments, if you don't like evolution, become a scientist and try to disprove it. If you don't like naturalism, demonstrate something supernatural."

I like evolution fine, as far as it goes. It's true, I don't particularly like naturalism, though I understand its appeal (I was a naturalist for a long while) but I think this argument does a good job of showing why evolution and naturalism are incompatible.

UnBeguiled said...

"it is their content that Plantinga is most concerned about."

Yes I understand. So how do you and Plantinga propose that a person could acquire the "content" that the best way to get eaten by a tiger is to run away from it? Or worse, how would a person acquire the belief that he wants to get eaten by a tiger?

Certainly, human beings acquire all sorts of strange beliefs. But the vast majority of our mundane day to day beliefs are accurate.

I don't feel compelled to defend epiphenomenalism any more than I will defend the view that piston gremlins live in my car's engine.