Did Anthony Reject his Faith Because it Didn't Allow for Any Mystery, or Because There Was Just Too Much Mystery?

Darrel Falk on Belief.net wrote a post called Saving Anthony about a former Blogger at DC who still regularly comments here. Why did Anthony reject his faith? Falk writes:
Consider, for example, the story of Anthony outlined in his autobiographical essay which is posted at a blog-site for former Christians. Anthony had little room for mystery in his theology. Everything had to be nailed down tightly and he built his life around being-in-the-know about everything related to God. When he found that his tight theology didn't mesh with the facts, he thought he had no choice but to give it all up. So steeped was he in a theology where all the pieces had to fit together, that when he found some which didn't, there was nothing left for him except atheism itself. So Anthony, a former believer who wanted nothing more than to know God, has now decided that there is no God; he has rejected all faith, and he is a regular contributor in the comments section of atheistic blog-sites. There are likely thousands like Anthony, people who no longer think they can have a relationship with their Creator because they find pieces that don't fit into their once-neat theology.

56 comments:

Larian LeQuella said...

"once-neat theology"? WTF is he talking about? That bunch of cobbled together bronze age fables and stolen mythology has nothing neat about it! Do people actually live with that much mental dissonance?

Teleprompter said...

If by "mystery", you intend to say good meaning evil, and evil meaning good, then yes, I have no room for "mystery" in my theology.

Christian Agnostic said...

In my experience of atheists, I don't encounter many liberal/moderate believers who went on an intellectual journey and renounced all belief. The majority in my subjective experience were fundamentalist or conservative Christians who experienced some kind of awakening and embraced non-belief, sometimes eagerly, oftentimes reluctantly. Again in my experience people who were quite dogmatic and literalistic in their Christian guises transplant many of these qualities into their character as atheists. Liberal faith with its openness to possibilities, pluralities, personal experiences, narrative as teacher offers much to the seeker. Three cheers for Schleiermacher and his ilk.

Russ said...


he has rejected all faith, and he is a regular contributor in the comments section of atheistic blog-sites.

When one compares the claims made by the religious to what we observe in the lives of real people, it makes perfect sense to reject religious faith: it doesn't work.

It does not fulfill the promises and expectations that religionists constantly put forth. If we look at the Christianities, we see that their holy book is flat out wrong on so many things that no reasonable person would ever put their faith in it. Most who claim to have faith in it, observably do not, clergy and laymen alike. None, including those claiming to be Biblical literalists, acts as though they believe the Bible to be true. That is exactly as it should be since no sane, moral person can live a life guided by the Bible and expect to remain out of jail and out of the nuthouse. So, the holy book provides no justification for religious faith.

Prayer is a wholy failed enterprise. Prayer as meditation has the same effect as other focused attention techniques, so we don't see any reason for faith there. Intercessory prayer has no effect at all, and so provides no support for putting faith in an answerer of prayers.

Many commenters here at Debunking Christianity claim to have witnessed the power of prayer, but they never deliver any credible evidence. Ignorance, coincidences, and medical misdiagnoses are the raw materials of answered prayers. Real knowledge and understanding puts the notion of answered prayer to rest. Still no reason to have faith in religious claims.

Even the religious do not behave consistent with belief and their claims of prayers being answered are fanciful fabrications, so there is no reason for any of them to even claim to have faith.

Now, what we need to do is to get them to do is to freely acknowledge that their religious involvement is a purely human, social endeavor, and 100 percent supernatural-free.

Brother OMi said...

is this right? the link went to an interview with Alister McGrath...

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks OMi, I fixed it.

Rob R said...

If I read enough by Anthony, he rejected his faith because he thought the range of possible interpretation for Genesis was far more rigid than it actually is and didn't know just how rich and pregnant with truth the document could be regardless of whether it is literal as the yec's say or not. But for that matter, it's not as if the "facts" of science are any less flexible.

Teleprompter said...

Rob R,

Do you understand the differences between science and faith?

Science is willing to revise its tenets; is religion?. Science has empirical evidence; does religion?

Science IS flexible - we used to believe that the Sun revolved around the Earth - now we don't, because we have evidence that, in fact, the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Am I ever going to wake up one morning and find out that a church has decided to stop teaching something because they didn't have the evidence for it? Is that ever going to happen?

Rob R said...

Do you understand the differences between science and faith?

I understand that there often isn't a neutral definition of faith, that how one defines faith is often dictated as to how he views religion.

And I understand that virtually all knowledge has some level of epistemic risk, that is either the concievable possibility that what is believed to be known could be false or it cannot be absolutely proven, so our confidence to know anything requires some degree of faith.

Science is willing to revise its tenets; is religion?.

Religion? If I'm not mistaken, Anthony was a Christian, not a general religionist, so why speak only in the broadest generalities when the discussion was more specific to begin with. I can't speak for all religions, but any student of the major world religions, and any honest student of Christianity must admit to developement of core beliefs. The canon wasn't closed for centuries, trinitarian monotheism reached it's classical articulation around the third or fourth century, penal substitution wasn't articulated til the time of Calvin, and on and on. You see, Christianity has progressed and that's not a claim against tradition but is instead the very affirmation of it. If you don't have tradition after all, you can't progress very far since doing away with tradition and starting from scratch means starting with from scratch with no accumulated progress.

Science has empirical evidence; does religion?

It absolutely does. The empirical evidence includes so much of the historical documents from the scriptures to the rabbi's the heretics, the church fathers and so on. And the continual reexamination of that has resulted in much progress even in modern times. For example, our understanding of Paul's discussion of faith vs. works has been hugely affected by the study of ancient Judaism that has shown some of the things Martin Luther to have claimed to have been lacking. This research has also powerfuly diffused many of the proof texts behind individualistic predestination. And it has made waves even in the evangelical church that I have attended.

There is also much consideration from sociology, anthropology and ancient near eastern history.

The findings of the natural sciences have also been very important, so whether the Christian favors the creationists, the ID theorists or even you more naturalistic sorts like francis collins, the fact remains undeniable that empirical evidence is very significant to Christianity.

But we can do much better than that. Christianity is very concerned not just with more (but certainly not completely) objective data, but the subjective parts of human experience regarding personal worth, human significance and morality are very much an item of councern and developement.


that a church has decided to stop teaching something because they didn't have the evidence for it? Is that ever going to happen?

why yes. understand that the church isn't a megolithic entity and you can now wake up. Many churches have quit teaching things, some of which they should (as in most if not all with for example children damned for lack of baptism) to things that they shouldn't (virtually most christian doctrines that have been abandoned by churches like the unitarians).

Anthony said...

Rob R wrote: If I read enough by Anthony, he rejected his faith because he thought the range of possible interpretation for Genesis was far more rigid than it actually is...

No, no, no, this is not correct. Here is what I wrote in the comments section of Falk's "Saving Anthony" blog:

"For at least a year before my deconversion I considered myself an evangelical and an evolutionist. This allowed me to think more openly about a lot of things including theology. Having been a high Calvinist emphasizing imputed righteousness for quite a few years I began considering seriously what N.T. Wright and James D.G. Dunn had to say about justification and Pauline theology. I found the writings of Paul Seely on Genesis cosmology very interesting and spot on. So it is not correct to say that the reason why I rejected Christianity was because I couldn’t get the Bible and the findings of science to fit a tight-knit theology"

Gandolf said...

Hi Rob R

You said ...."But for that matter, it's not as if the "facts" of science are any less flexible."

I think Teleprompter was trying to explain what surely must be quite a big difference.

The bible is supposed to be divine and relayed through people having been passed on by some supposed God.

Its normal that Science can make mistakes that are proved to be wrong and need fixing, but science doesnt suggest at all that its anything divine or to have been passed on to us by some supposed God.

Do you really think we should expect no more of divine things said to be that of some God,than we expect from what we get through science?

Anthony said...

Rob R wrote: The empirical evidence includes so much of the historical documents from the scriptures

Would you be willing to clarify what you mean by this statement?

It was the lack of historicity of the biblical documents that ultimately caused me to lose faith in the Bible and Christianity. What I don't mean is that the early chapters of Genesis lack historicity so the Bible is wrong. What I do mean is the shear amount of historical and critical problems that Kenton Sparks details in his book. These problems span the entirety of the biblical record from the early chapters of Genesis, through the exodus, the founding of Israel, the monarchy, the exile, the gospels, and epistles.

Rob R said...

1st post


Gandalf,

I think Teleprompter was trying to explain what surely must be quite a big difference.

The bible is supposed to be divine and relayed through people having been passed on by some supposed God.


There surely are differences, one of the most important of which I noted on the focus and ability to deal with subjective concerns, concerns which are taken for granted at cost of an impoverished humanism.


Its normal that Science can make mistakes that are proved to be wrong and need fixing, but science doesnt suggest at all that its anything divine or to have been passed on to us by some supposed God.

God didn't pass theology on to us, that is part of our interpretational task of revelation, and it isn't clear to me that revelation is what needs fixing, but it's at the middle ground of theology and doctrine. And nature functions in a parallel way with regard to science. Nature doesn't need fixing, it's our understanding which needs the improvement. Granted, there are textual issues on occasion that need attention, but overall the text has shown itself very consistent with earlier documents. One might raise a ruckus over that, but I only expect it to be perfect for what it was intended for, not perfect for what it wasn't.

Rob R said...

Anthony,

No, no, no, this is not correct. Here is what I wrote in the comments section of Falk's "Saving Anthony" blog:

I stand mostly corrected.

Would you be willing to clarify what you mean by this statement?

The vast majority of Christian scholarship is concerned with the empirical data of so many of the historical documents. That you didn't find that an orthodox interpretation could chohere with those documents doesn't change the fact that they are nevertheless very much an object of Christian scholarship contrary to the claim I was responding to, that religion is not concerned with empirical data.

It was the lack of historicity of the biblical documents that ultimately caused me to lose faith in the Bible and Christianity.

History? What kind of history? History as ancient Jews would have understood it, history revealing the essensce of what happened and the nature of the personalities involved or history in terms What happened where in what order, what quantity, etc. History from the modernist perspective of so called neutrality or history that recognizes that values can't be eliminated from the selective process that is absolutely necessary in any scholarly endevor.

What I do mean is the shear amount of historical and critical problems that Kenton Sparks details in his book.

Haven't read it. A glance at the reviews I thought showed that it may be a helpful book... if far from inerrant.

Anthony said...

Rob R: History? What kind of history? History as ancient Jews would have understood it, history revealing the essensce of what happened and the nature of the personalities involved...

I do understand the difference between ancient history writing and modern historiography. This is actually part of the problem. If indeed the ancient Hebrews used contemporary methods to express their history (propaganda, after the fact prophecies, myth, etc.) then what basis is there to trust it as any different than other ancient near eastern religion or scripture?

Rob R: Haven't read it [Kenton Sparks book "God's Word in Human Words"]. A glance at the reviews I thought showed that it may be a helpful book.

I highly recommend it to you. I would in fact like to see what your response is if and when you get around to reading it.

John W. Loftus said...

I made a mistake and accidently rejected Rob's comment.

Here it is:

If indeed the ancient Hebrews used contemporary methods to express their history (propaganda, after the fact prophecies, myth, etc.) then what basis is there to trust it as any different than other ancient near eastern religion or scripture?

FYI I am skeptical of the after the fact prophecies claim. I don't think that Hebrew history is a carbon copy of just any pagan approaches. Actually, there is a significant difference where the stories of Israel take place in time and human history, contrary to so many of the pagan myths that are cyclical.

There is an honesty to ancient hebrew history that you don't find elsewhere (or not commonly). It is self effacing as the Hebrews told of their own defeats and spoke time and time again of their own moral failings.

But I don't look at the history of the Jews, the old testament independently but through what has been revealed through Jesus and through the profound theology that it makes possible, one that is very humanistic in noting what we could almost geuss ourselves, that there is something divine about humanity, and so we have it that we are created in the image of the triune God who demonstrates the divinity inherent in community. Furthermore we see why it is that we aren't simply divine but reflect it as that reflection has become marred in in human evil and perversity.

That's just a few reasons why I look positively at the old testament (and new). It's not an objective look, but such a thing isn't possible anyway.

I highly recommend it to you. I would in fact like to see what your response is if and when you get around to reading it.

I would like to read it. Unfortunately, I have about a dozen books on my shelf that are most immeadiate on my list and I am an extremely slow reader. I'm thinking that one of these days, I will pay the doctor a visit for some adult ADD meds and see if that improves the situation any.

John W. Loftus said...

Rob R, I echo Anthony's recommendation. Place those other books on the backburner and immediately get Kenton Sparks book and read it. It's that great of a book, surely to make you a more informed Christian if nothing else.

It's the best of it's kind.

Get it okay?

Anthony said...

Rob R: I am skeptical of the after the fact prophecies claim.

Then I would like to see you interact with what Sparks has to say about this as it was one of the things that hit me the most.

But I don't look at the history of the Jews, the old testament independently but through what has been revealed through Jesus and through the profound theology that it makes possible...

I know this statement of yours sounds great theologically as you are trying to interpret the OT christocentrically and christologically. But for us skeptics it won't wash. You are assuming what you need to prove. If there really aren't genuine prophecies in the OT about Christ, then that brings into question the truthfulness of Christianity.

If the "messianic" prophecies, for example, do not really talk about the Jesus of history (see Joseph A. Fitzmyer's "The One Who is to Come") then another leg of Christianity has been cut.

Rob R said...

Oh alrighty. Just to make sure we are on the same page, this is "God's word in human words," yes no?

Rob R said...

Oh, and I'm just curious but is this similar material to Erhman's miquoting Jesus (accept from an evangelical point of view obviously)?

Anthony said...

Rob R: Oh alrighty. Just to make sure we are on the same page, this is "God's word in human words," yes no?

Correct, yes.

Oh, and I'm just curious but is this similar material to Erhman's miquoting Jesus (accept from an evangelical point of view obviously)?

I haven't read "Misquoting Jesus" so I'm not entirely sure if the material is similar.

Rob R said...

Then I would like to see you interact with what Sparks has to say about this as it was one of the things that hit me the most.

I'd be surprised if sparks suggests this about all of the prophecies. AFter all, he mentions the prophecy of Tyre's destruction (I'm pretty sure I saw that in a table of contents or in a preview somewhere), which didn't quite turn out. Now while that poses an obvious problem, why would the habit of prophecy be after the fact if one didn't turn out exactly (or at all by some reasonable estimations)

I know this statement of yours sounds great theologically as you are trying to interpret the OT christocentrically and christologically. But for us skeptics it won't wash. You are assuming what you need to prove.

I'm not worried about proving just any claim of the faith. I'm satisfied to see that it is largely coherent (I'm not going to insist that I've seen all problems are solved), elegant, and satisfactory for the needs of life.

If the "messianic" prophecies, for example, do not really talk about the Jesus of history (see Joseph A. Fitzmyer's "The One Who is to Come") then another leg of Christianity has been cut.

After reading some of (and actually a bit before) Richard Longnecker's "Exegesis in an Apostolic Period", I have already accepted that much of the new testament usage of prophecy would scandalize most modernists which includes so many evangelicals. I'm aware that a better understanding of what they saw and labeled prophecy isn't like what we understand as a prediction of the future and fulfillment but is rather more often a recognition of how Jesus life echoed the Old testament. After really understanding the nature of prophecy as cited in the New, I don't expect people to be thoroughly impressed by them for apologetic purposes. What I find that is much more important is the powerful consistency of the Old Testament portrayal of God and life, death and resurrection of Jesus. For example, a book that I find that highlights just how well the life and death of Jesus fits the Old Testament God and shows just how appropriate the identification of the two is Terrence Fretheim's "The Suffering of God". I have also found N. T. Wright's discussion on how Jesus performed the vocation of God very helpful (though I have not yet read his in depth treatment on that. I presume his second volume in his 3 volume work on Jesus will go deeper into that... but that might be the last volume of that series that I will read).

Amy B said...

I found this blog by following the link to Anthony's comments on the Biologos website. I appreciated hearing your story Anthony. I am in the process of reevaluating my faith, having realized that evolution has so much support. I will definitely read the Kenton Sparks book. Are there one or two other books anyone might suggest as I reconsider the Bible with more of an outsider perspective?

thanks, John, for your work here. I wouldn't feel comfortable yet discussing these questions of mine with anyone.

Rob R said...

Are there one or two other books anyone might suggest as I reconsider the Bible with more of an outsider perspective?

The whole outsider perspective approach I think is flawed. John's basis for promoting it was out of consistency, that Christians approach all other religions as skeptics so they should do so with their own faith. The problem is that understanding other religions principally from the principal of seeking to show that they are wrong is flawed to begin with. If I want to understand another religion and why it may be commendable or why it may have some truth, I want to know what the adherent thinks. I want to know as best as I can (which will always be limited), the understanding that is held by the believers.

While John promotes the outsider's test of faith, the fact remains that it was no small matter that he was an insider and furthermore, an insider who was highly trained in a specific tradition. But as a Christian, I think some of that tradition is flawed anyway, but developments have come along in response to those flaws. John didn't persevere and grasp on to some of those developments that took place (open theism for example in my estimation resoundingly answers some of the dilemmas he raised).

Anthony said...

Amy B: Are there one or two other books anyone might suggest as I reconsider the Bible with more of an outsider perspective...

Amy, here is a list of recommended books written by evangelical scholars that show much of the issues with the Bible and biblical history.

Also see John's Take the Debunking Christianity Challenge as it lists a number of excellent skeptical books.

Anthony said...

Rob R: The whole outsider perspective approach I think is flawed.

I've seen a number of Christians make this same claim but I do not see why it is such a problem. Ninian Smart uses the language of being "outside" in his textbook Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs.

The problem is that understanding other religions principally from the principal of seeking to show that they are wrong is flawed to begin with.

With this I think you show that you do not understand the outsider test for faith. The test doesn't seek to show something to be "wrong," but asks that you take the presumption of being skeptical and let the evidence fall were it lies.

While John promotes the outsider's test of faith, the fact remains that it was no small matter that he was an insider and furthermore, an insider who was highly trained in a specific tradition. But as a Christian, I think some of that tradition is flawed anyway, but developments have come along in response to those flaws.

Whether or not there have been theological developments to answer some of the perceived "flaws" doesn't really matter in respect to the outsider test as the test can and should take those developments into consideration. For myself when I was going through my own "outsider test" I did consider some of those developments. But in the end the arguments for some form of atheism out weighed the ones for theism in my mind.

Amy B said...

Anthony-thanks much for the book lists. That will keep me busy for awhile.

Rob-I do understand what you mean about the outsider approach being flawed. However, I have spent my life interpreting the Bible from a fairly literal perspective as well as accepted Biblical inerrancy and haven't critically examined that assumption. That is what I feel compelled to do at this point. Now that I don't believe the creation account to be literal, I'd like to reexamine the way I view scripture. I do understand that some wouldn't view the creation account as errant, just allegorical, which is what I might conclude. I just don't know yet.

Rob R said...

Anthony,


I've seen a number of Christians make this same claim but I do not see why it is such a problem. Ninian Smart uses the language of being "outside" in his textbook Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs.

I think it's irreducibly obvious that if you can't describe a view and the reasoning behind it so that the adherent would say back to you "yes, that is what I believe" then you don't understand that persons beliefs. Again, the insiders test for understanding is more important than the outsiders test of faith.

Of course there is still value in an outsiders understanding in terms of understanding a view in terms of contrast, but still having a perspective that the adherent would agree to is still more basic. And I don't agree with what I think are hidden epistemic assumptions of the outsider's test of faith (granted those assumptions will be as different as the person pretending or succeeding as a skeptic... and if that doesn't highlight the subjectivity that is still at work, I don't know what would).

With this I think you show that you do not understand the outsider test for faith.

I understand it but when I described it that way, it was because of the thing that John Loftus used to commend it to Christians. He's saying that we should approach our own faith in the same way that Christians should approach other faiths. How do they approach other faiths? They do so with the principal goal of disproving them. Now I realize that isn't exactly what the outsider test of faith amounts to, but rather it is the idea of treating everything as dubious until proven reliable, which is not something that Christians can honestly if they are actually faithful. Faith on the epistemic level (while it must be noted that faith as biblical described is not purely epistemic) is about having confidence (not skepticism or doubt) even when there is the recognition that what is believed to be known is conceivably false or not absolutely provable. Virtually all instances of knowledge involve epistemic risk of this sort. Logic for instance can only be shown to be self consistent but not true by anything outside of itself, there's nothing we can do to prove the universe is a logical place, That all mathematical claims are true or false is not formally demonstrable (according to one of the world's foremost mathematician Roger Penrose) cause and effect is an interpretation our mind brings to the world and so on. Now these sorts of things are not at the same epistemic risk level as religion, but at what risk level we decide to be skeptics and what level we trust the unprovable sufficiently enough to believe we have knowledge is a subjective decision.

Whether or not there have been theological developments to answer some of the perceived "flaws" doesn't really matter in respect to the outsider test

I know. What I said was a tangential comment about the sub-tradition that John rejected.

But in the end the arguments for some form of atheism out weighed the ones for theism in my mind.

Now all you have to do is apply the outsider's test of faith to realism about an external world vs. solipsism! (and the results whatever they will be will have been reached no less subjectively)

Rob R said...

Amy, searching for a less literal way of looking at Genesis is not the same as seeking an outside perspective. There are other ways to take the authority and nature of scripture that are still within the bounds of orthodoxy.

But as for your search, are you doing it with a love and allegiance for Jesus and doing so prayerfully? If not, you're already on an outsider's quest that will not necessarily be fruitful.

Rob R said...

Just wanted to highlight that I caught a mistake of my own here:

He's saying that we should approach our own faith in the same way that Christians should approach other faiths. How do they approach other faiths?

I didn't mean to write of the "way that Christians should approach other faiths," but rather it was how they do in fact approach other faiths.

I would like to bring up another point though on the problem of saying we should approach our own faith in the same way that we approach other faiths. I am not a pluralist. While I'm not an exclusivist and readily agree that other religions may speak powerful and important truths, I hold to inclusivism which still suggests that my faith is the priviledged religious perspective and other faiths are still inferior and do contain deceptions. So of course, while I disagree that disproving other faiths should be our only goal, it is still a goal nevertheless. So why shouldn't treat our own faith with skepticism for the sake of consistency? It's because we aren't treating the other faiths with some skepticism because we think skepticism in and of itself is a generally good epistemic approach. Skepticism in and of itself is not the grounds of our skepticism. It's that we are already Christians. christianity itself is the source of our skepticism, and naturally, Christianity is not going to be the source of skepticism of itself.

It's not like I recomend blind faith. I believe that we should carefully examine everything with amongst our attitudes the recognition that the doctrine or claim that we are examining is concievably and possibly false even though we trust it. But that isn't skepticism, that's scrutiny.

The Blind faith of someone who will grasp a doctrine no matter what is not the most consistent faith after all as faith entails sticking your neck out and embracing risk. It is trust in light of embracing risk on some level (and that includes with our lives, not our world view. Christianity isn't about just believing but living and doing as when Jesus called us to believe, he meant that we are to trust and follow).

To further explain why the Christian cannot fully engage the outsider's test of faith because it is as if one suggests that one can only rationally embrace Christianity if he studies it without being a Christian, without trusting God.

edson said...

Rob, I really love your style of posting and thinking. I must learn to do the way you do it. :)

On the second note, while I do appreciate your effort and please never consider to get tired as I will never do, we must bear in our minds that no matter how much we try to market Christianity here as a reasonable faith, it is not reason or intellect that makes anyone a Christian. I mean, any successful campaign to force any ardent atheist change the mind using his intellect alone, will probably bring him to believe in Deism,and that's the least we can do.

Christianity is not an intellectual (or I should say, not purely an intellectual) endeavor. It is different and more than that. A person must (and this is a "must", as a matter of creed) realize, first, of his/her helplessness, vulnerability and limitation, prior to begin a Christian life. For example, at the core of Christian Faith, there is this thing about Jesus crucifixion to atone our sins. But with all its vitality that this doctrine entails about Christianity, still it does seem to be the most debatable of all the "absurds" of Christianity.

But then what convinced you and I to acknowledge it? It wasn't reasoning that made the atonement appeal to me! It was something so deep and out of necessity, and that is helpelessness, vulnerability and limitations of man.

While all other religions entails this component of human limitation which fuels their religious convictions and of course that is the common point with Christianity, but the difference rests on which religion satisfies human real needs and no doubt each religion is going to brag about that, and this will inevitably confuse an atheist
and honestly I recognize it to be the real problem.

In my opinion, Christianity outsmarts all others in terms of its consistency with its key life solving principles. If the problem is sin, God will justly forgive it free. If it is life, God demonstrably showed how He will give you eternal abundant life which makes a Christian spend a much less faith about its doctrines. The rest is replaced by Hope, hoping the day God will do it. And that's pretty sum up the difference with other religions (well, not the only one there are some other deatils, such as the conception of God).

So you see, the key difference is that a Christian has acknowledged (or realized) his/her vulnerability and limitations and an atheist has yet to do so. And if there is any atheist who regonizes human limitations but still see there is no point of believing in any form of God, surely that is a real strange thing to me and I cannot comment about that.

Rob R said...

Thank you edson. While I believe that rationality is essential to the church, I do understand that our faith isn't just an intellectual world view. I know if the holy spirit isn't at work with the things I write, it doesn't matter how logical or informed my writings are, it won't amount to anything and so I pray that God will be involved when I write and more importantly, when what I write is read. I don't do that all the time like I should, but I recognize the need.

I wrote a similar opinion to yours in the post about Mike Massey by John Loftus on September the 1st. Even though Massey's reasons for his belief were not thoroughly intellectual, they were valid, that God had changed his life for the better. The sort of things that I write and that Christian philosophers and theologians write is not enough. The personal claims about how Jesus changed someone's life is not enough. We need it all. It's all part of what the church must say. It's all very important.

Amy B said...

I liked Anthony's description of the outsider's test as
taking the presumption of being skeptical and letting the evidence fall where it lies. In my study of scripture I am trying to be open to all possible interpretations instead of assuming that all scripture is inerrant and inspired, thus considering only interpretations that fall within that assumption. I've always interpreted scripture in light of other scripture, making sure it all harmonizes.

Rob, you said that the outsider test of faith "is the idea of treating everything as dubious until proven reliable, which is not something that Christians can honestly (do) if they are actually faithful." Does this mean your objection fundamentally is that to doubt scripture is to be an unfaithful Christian? I consider myself a faithful Christian with doubts that can only be addressed by facing them directly instead of ignoring them out of fear that God will judge me unfaithful. I have actually done the latter for awhile, but it doesn't solve anything, it just makes me feel dishonest. I have, by the way, been studying prayerfully, as you asked.

Russ said...

Amy B,

You asked of Rob R,

Does this mean your objection fundamentally is that to doubt scripture is to be an unfaithful Christian?

What does it mean to be an "unfaithful Christian?"

There are around forty thousand distinct Christianities in the world today having no point of doctrine, no point of belief, common to them all. Even among the so-called "orthodox" Christianities there are theistic Christianities and atheistic Christianities; there are Christianities wherein Jesus is considered divine and others wherein he is not; there are Christianities that believe in miracles and those that reject them; the god in many Christianities sends transgressors to hell, in many others the god does not; and, while many Christianities use the Bible, many others reject it completely. Young Earth, old Earth. Mormons, Roman Catholic, Westboro Baptist, Jehovah's Witnesses, Wesleyans, Seventh Day Adventists, Calvinists, Congregationalists, Unitarian Universalists. There are even Christianities today that are being lead by the real deal Jesus Christ himself. Clearly, there is no single "Christianity" for people to have faith in or to be unfaithful to.

If by "unfaithful Christian" you mean unfaithful to what the members of your congregation have agreed makes up your particular sub-Christianity, then you need to realize that all the other Christianities are not being faithful to your version, and that you are unintentionally unfaithful to the teachings of thousands of other Christianties.

Fact is that the Christianities are so diverse that every Christian on the planet is destined for hell by the teachings of some other Christianity. It is truly twisted irony that some Christians are going to hell for not believing in hell and other Christians are going to hell for not believing in heaven!

Amy B, my point is simple: Christianity is whatever you want it to be. If you don't like the one you've got, you can get a different one by, A...walking across the street or by B...making up a new one of your own (about a thousand new Christianities are being founded each year now). If you choose option B, you can loosely base your new and improved Christianity on the Bible like many of today's mainstream Christianities, or you can scrap the Bible entirely and fabricate it all from scratch.

Realize there is no "Christianity Clearinghouse." There is no legal definition of "Christianity" and, at least in the US, the First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees that there never will be one. So, those who want a new Christianity, or any other religion, Scientology, for instance, just make it up. No one can tell you you're doing it right. No one can tell you you're doing it wrong. Anyone who attempts to sway you is merely telling you what their version of Christianity agrees to call "Christian truth," while other Christianities have differing "Christian truth."

If different Christianities have different "Christian truth" what does it mean to be an "unfaithful Christian?"

Rob R said...
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Rob R said...

post 1 of 3


Amy

I liked Anthony's description of the outsider's test as
taking the presumption of being skeptical and letting the evidence fall where it lies.


Don't you believe it amy. it is a myth of modernism that evidence interprets itself. It doesn't and there isn't only one possible interpretation of these things. The evidence isn't infinitely flexible as some post modernists might have you think, but we are still very active and intentional and we are necessarily biased in how we arrange that evidence. The idea of being a neutral unaffected purely rational observer is an enlightenment myth still advanced by modernists which has been rightfully and skillfully criticized by post modernist.

In my study of scripture I am trying to be open to all possible interpretations instead of assuming that all scripture is inerrant and inspired, thus considering only interpretations that fall within that assumption.

There's nothing wrong with that. But note that that inspiration or at least the idea that all scripture is truthful is itself not just one idea but there are several ways to do this. Sparks presents one way which I don't think is helpful (and these atheists would agree which is why they promote his book), but there are other ways to approach the problems he raises and uphold the inspiration of scripture. Narrative theology is one way for example that I think is well within the bounds of orthodoxy (not that I know it answers all the problems sparks raises but I know it does nevertheless diffuse all sorts of problems that have been leveled against the reliability of scripture)(Also, I don't think narrative theologians would consider themselves inerrantists, but there's also the issue of what really constitutes an error that absolutely should not be taken for granted and there is a lot to be said that for the observation that some views of inerrancy miss the point of scripture).

When you say that you are willing to consider other other possibilities, I think it is important to consider them to understand them, but for the Christian, if you face a problem with scripture that you don't know how to handle, your duty is to pray and persevere and allow God to teach you in his time. If you aren't willing to do that, then your faith is in an unnecessarily dangerous place, and you need to consider it dangerous if you take seriously the great inheretance that we have been promised not just to us individually but to the world as well as the tragedy of losing it.

I speak from experience on this. I used to be as gung ho on young earth creationism as I think anthony was, and then I hit a crisis, which had nothing to do with yec. I found out that there was something much worse than theistic evolution that was advanced within the church and had powerful biblical support from the way I read scripture (I by the way am no longer opposed to theistic evolution though I still do not believe it).

Rob R said...

post 2 of 3


It seemed to me that certain passages of scripture supported very strongly the idea of individualistic predestination. In other words, God allowed people to be born who would never have a real chance to escape damnation, that God virtually created them just to experience his wrath. I just didn't buy the Calvinist defenses of this concept and I'm not going to go into it here as to why the concept is irredeemable as it isn't the topic and it is a very in depth issue. But I was so opposed to this that I almost lost my faith over it. It took months of praying even angrily at God over these issues before I had some confident if partial explanations as to why there was more to the prooftexts for individualistic predestination than met the modern eye and there were powerful scriptural considerations against it (and this goes well beyond prooftexts such as John 3:16). It took years of studying and conversations before I felt I had a grasp where the calvinistic interpretation of some of these passages were not only baseless but profoundly against some of the central teachings of scripture.

(Now I don't want you to think that I don't view Calvinists as authentic Christians, I know some of them love God very much, but I believe this embrace of reprobation is a terrible mistake.)

I've always interpreted scripture in light of other scripture, making sure it all harmonizes.

Sola Scriptura is not the best idea that the reformers came up with. The intention behind it was good to make scripture a central authority, but there are problems with it. In the Wesleyan tradition, we speak about the Wesleyan quadrilateral which states that for our world view and theological thinking, we need to triangulate between scripture, tradition, reason and experience. run afoul of any of these and you run into problems. Interpret scripture without reason and you can make it say anything you want. Forego experience and then we won't be able to understand how it is relevant for our lives. Ignore tradition and you've placed yourself in the awkward position of making the pompous claim that the christianity was rediscovered in recent times by the reformers (who themselves actively interacted with great minds of the church often agreeing with them) or worse, some bible only non-denominational church (I'm not criticizing those churches, only the idea that they rediscovered christianity). And tradition is actually essential for an enlightenment idea that is actually a good one, the idea of progress. People mistakenly put progress and tradition at odds, and a stagnate traditionalism is at odds with progress, but progress that never establishes ideas that are to be traditionally held is a progress that never goes anywhere and is just a pointless constant embrace of novelty that never establishes anything.

And progress is very much apart of the life of the church as no honest church historian can argue that God ever quit teaching the church. the cannon wasn't close til the 3rd or 4th century, trinitarianism wasn't articulated in the form we recognize it til about the same time, penal substitution, a helpful set of metaphors of how Jesus' resurrection saves us (that evangelicals mistakenly identify as being identical to the gospel itself) wasn't described by theologians until a few hundred years ago by Calvin, and the examples go on.

Rob R said...

post 3 of 3


I consider myself a faithful Christian with doubts that can only be addressed by facing them directly instead of ignoring them out of fear that God will judge me unfaithful.

You shouldn't pretend your doubts don't exist, but there's a difference between honestly facing your doubts and viewing doubt as the normative way to approach any and all scriptural claims as the outsider test of faith would claim.

The important thing though is that you should trust God that he can meet your needs and not rely on your own abilities to answer these things which means not only relying on divine help but fellow Christians through whom God is committed to work. The thing to remember is that if you really believe these things that scripture reports, you have to realize that our faith is a battlefield and there will be times even apart from issues with the world view where you will have struggles but these struggles are times to grow. These are times to persevere and perseverance leads to growth. But you should fight for it and you know, you may even have to fight God for it. This is a biblical concept as Jacob wrestled God until God would bless him (which is the event for which God's people are named as Israel means "wrestles with God") and Jesus gave us a model for how sometimes we are to approach God like one banging on the gates of a judge until he gets a response. God's goal is not for us to have a nice pretty easy little worldview that doesn't ever bother us and never gives us headaches. God wants us to be on fire and have passion to take part in building his kingdom today.

Russ said...

Amy B,

Several times in this thread it has been suggested that you trust in a god, have faith, or persevere and allow God to teach you in his time. These are little more than prescriptions for not looking at the world realistically or objectively. Such suggestions have the primary intent of keeping you in a pew plunking nickels into the collection plate. Following such guidance will keep you from standing back and evaluating the merits and desirability of said faith or trust.

Anyone looking at the world with open eyes will see a world in which no gods are fulfilling any promises, answering prayers, or performing miracles. This is a fact that clergy in the Christianities, making their living from your donations, do not want you to know.

Look at the US, for instance. We are the most highly Christianized nation in the world, yet when we evaluate the factors comprising a good quality of life from an international perspective, comparing quality of life factors to religious involvement, we see that the US fairs quite poorly concerning precisely those matters where the Christianities claim to have the greatest positive affect.

Generally speaking, the studies demonstrate that as religious involvement increases the quality of life decreases. From the Scandinavian countries with the lowest levels of religious activity to the Middle Eastern and other Islamic theocracies with the highest levels, quality of life measures - divorce rates, abortion rates, educational levels, self-assessed happiness, armed robbery, domestic abuse, child abuse, access to health care, murder, incomes, alcholism, life expectancy, drug abuse - are at their most favorable levels in the Scandinavian countries and steadily fall off as religious involvement increases.

In the developed world, the US has the highest divorce rate, but there are Christian churches all over the place. The lowest divorce rates are found in the Scandinavian countries where very few people pay attention to religion at all. The non-religious in the US also have lower divorce rates than the religious. If "the family that prays together, stays together" is anything more than a cute soundbite, why do the non-religious have stronger marriages than the committed religionists? Given the claims of the religious, we would expect them to serve as models for marital fidelity and longevity, but what is observed is exactly the opposite.

The US ranks number 53 in the world for infant mortality, even though 90 percent of Americans are Christians. The lowest infant mortality rates are found in the Scandinavian countries (they typically rank in the top 5) where they place all-natural medicine ahead of religion. Actually taking care of each other has shown itself to be far more effective than praying for each other. If some Christian god exists, it appears that it likes the babies of non-believers better than the babies of believers.

Contrary to the high percentage of Americans claiming to be followers of the "Prince of Peace," Americans have the highest per capita murder rate in the developed world. The lowest murder rates are in Japan, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, and the UK. As God-soaked as the US is, it doesn't make us less violent toward one another.

So it goes with all those other quality of life measures, Amy B.

The claims that being part of some Christianity brings with it great personal benefit is not demonstrated anywhere among human endeavors. Being some sort of Christian does not confer any observable benefit, other than providing a pre-existing social group.

So, Amy B, in general, non-believers the world over have higher quality of life than believers which compels me to ask: what are the faithful actually putting their faith in?

Undoubtedly, American Christians pour out prayers like water over a falls before their children are born, yet infant mortality is far lower in Sweden where few expectant mothers even believe in a god. It doesn't work.

Faith buys you nothing, but it costs you much.

Russ said...

Amy B,

The following quote from Rob R makes a lot of points related to your searching for a better understanding of the world and religion's place in it.


The important thing though is that you should trust God that he can meet your needs and not rely on your own abilities to answer these things which means not only relying on divine help but fellow Christians through whom God is committed to work.


Mr. Loftus' Outsider Test essentially asks you to position yourself with a broad enough view perspective that you can accurately assess the concerns. Look at what the Christianities claim and compare it to what the reality bears out. This is diametrically opposed to what Rob R asks of you above.

Following the advice of Rob R you could spend your life "trusting" and "being faithful," and, thus, never understand that the world, that is reality or the real world, does not align with the claims coming out of Christianity. There is no reason to "trust in God." Rob says, "you should trust God that he can meet your needs," but this is observably false. Rob says you should "not rely on your own abilities to answer these things." What is actually observed in the real world is that people use what information they have available, that is what they have learned, to make their decisions. Religious people might pray, but the decisions they make are based, not on divine inspiration or guidance, but from the information they have available to them. Observably, well-informed persons make better decisions for their lives, irrespective of religious inclinations. Further, without the base of knowledge for sound decision-making, all the praying in the world will not prepare one to address important issues. Moreover, the knowledge alone allows for optimal decision-making. No prayers required.

Your directions from Rob R were to "not rely on your own abilities to answer these things which means not only relying on divine help but fellow Christians through whom God is committed to work." Note what's happening here.

First you are suppose to doubt your own capacity to find and use information appropriate for your own thought and decision-making processes. Then, you are counseled to find a biased Christian social group, some true believers, that will assert immense peer-pressure on you to conform. These "fellow Christians through whom God is committed to work" will not care about your own personal search, they want scalps, more notches in the "saved souls" tally, to show their lord at the Pearly Gates.

To get some intellectual elbow room sometimes you need to distance yourself from the biased social group, especially during the more tempestuous parts of your journey. Such a quest will be both stimulating and rewarding, and it will get you closer to what could be called truth.

Rob R said...

Anyone looking at the world with open eyes will see a world in which no gods are fulfilling any promises, answering prayers, or performing miracles. This is a fact that clergy in the Christianities, making their living from your donations, do not want you to know.

What this means is that Russ who calls himself objective is already committed to interpreting any answered prayer as statistically meaningless (without doing an actual literal statistical analysis) and that anyone claims to see a miracle is either delusional or a liar. In other words, this so called objective view has insulation built in.


as for the appeal to the alleged European secular countries, whatever that's worth, many of those countries also outstrip us in suicide, but more telling is that they are committing population suicide. Someone, natural selection doesn't like a secular country as they have low birth rates. And these birth rates will catch up with their aging populations and do bad things to their economies along with so many of those lovely statistics that Russ cited... well, accept that the muslims will fill the place of the atheistic eurpeans.

Of course the atheist also wants us to turn a blind eye to atheistic societies like China.

I've heard the opposite about the divorce rate, that while some studies have shown that the graduates of Christian colleges have the same divorce rate of the world, those couples who literally pray together, and not just the same ole same ole over the dinner table, actually have a divorce rate around %1. I've heard this from a student who took a marriage class from a psychologist with a doctorate. I intend to contact this professor to ask him about the source of that statistic.

Amy B said...

Rob R-I appreciate hearing more about your faith crisis and where you are coming from. My own crisis began over confusion, anger and incredulity over the way God has expressed his will in a way which leaves me wondering how it actually gives everyone a fair chance to learn about him, much less the free will to accept him (I'm not talking about predestination, but the ability to accept him based on reasons that are cultural, psychological, etc.) Now that I am giving myself the freedom to question, so many concerns I have had in the past are resurfacing, leading me to reevaluate everything. It is possible that this will strengthen my faith and that is what I would prefer. I'm just weary of surpressing concerns, telling myself there must be some good explanation. I've started reading Kenton Sparks' book, so that is at least a starting point. If you have a recommendation for a book on narrative theology, I would be interested in reading more about that.

Russ-you bring up serious and valid concerns about the difference in religious vs non religious countries and the ways religious ones often come up lacking. It's interesting that one of the reasons I've continued in my faith is actually that I've experienced living my life according to Christian beliefs (as I see them) as something that has benefitted me and people in my faith community compared with some I see who aren't active believers. It is working for me on a pragmatic level. I know there is also research demonstrating that those who are religious do have better outcomes on some variables. unfortunately, I've witnessed plenty of people who have been harmed in the name of religion as well.

Gandolf said...

Hi Rob R you said ...."God didn't pass theology on to us, that is part of our interpretational task of revelation, and it isn't clear to me that revelation is what needs fixing, but it's at the middle ground of theology and doctrine"

Ok i take it you mean the thoughts in these books are really just written thoughts of mere men?.Some maybe divine some maybe not even?.People should interpret what they personally think about them.

That to me would seem quite realistic and i would tend to agree.


Rob R you say to Amy... "But as for your search, are you doing it with a love and allegiance for Jesus and doing so prayerfully? If not, you're already on an outsider's quest that will not necessarily be fruitful."

If im looking for the real truth of matters,do you consider me already having an allegiance to something will not likely have any effect on the quest for truth?.

When considering christian folks and questioning the truth about them for instance,is it helpful to me to make sure i first have some type of special allegiance to atheism and atheists?.

I personally didnt first make sure to have any special allegiance to atheism or atheists or those of non belief etc,before studying christians and christianity and faith beliefs.

Please Rob R would you explain how i might have been better served by doing so.

You say to Amy ....."The idea of being a neutral unaffected purely rational observer is an enlightenment myth still advanced by modernists which has been rightfully and skillfully criticized by post modernist."

Would you say the same thing really applies to those mere men that wrote these scriptures and faith books etc in our past also?.I personally would have thought so.

Or is it special pleading for some type of concession for ancient men said to supposedly be better and above whats normal .

If so by whos authority? is their supposed abnormality to be judged.

Russ said...

Rob R,

This is a public forum where you can present your miracle claims for analysis. Also, you can exhibit your answered prayers so we can see that they could only have been so-answered through divine action. That is, so we can see that they weren't the result of efforts by humans to "be the answer to a prayer;" they weren't the product of ignorance; they weren't really mere coincidences; they weren't post hoc errors; they weren't medical misdiagnoses; they weren't stacked-deck certainties; or, they weren't just overly zealous misattributions of value-laden events.

One current high-profile prayer is the one being prayed by Christian pastors - Rev. Wiley Drake and Pastor Steven Anderson, for example - asking for President Obama to be killed. Neat, huh? Guess what? If it happens, they will claim that their prayer was answered, but will it actually be a prayer answered by one of the Christian gods, or will it be a post hoc error? Tell me Rob R, does your version of a Christian god kill people for you?

Actually a great many answered prayers fall into this post hoc category. An event that a religious someone considers desirable is prayed for(the Christian ministers desire for the President to be assassinated); the event has a good probability of happening(four out of 44 have been killed in office, and a few dozen other assassinations have been attempted); then, if the event occurs...whoopee! it's a miracle, an answered prayer, proof of the power of the living lord. Or something to that affect.

Prayers(miracles are similar, being just desirable outcomes that weren't prayed for) are always answered according to the all-natural probability of the event happening in the first place.

Ask your god for something that is actually impossible, that is, the probability of it happening, really truly is zero, then the prayer never gets answered. Never. Ever. Ever. The Christian gods never regrow amputated limbs or feed all the world's children or give everyone access to health care or eradicate disease or eliminate birth defects or let everyone win the lottery, for instance. The impossible never happens.

Ask for things that have a probability of happening of 1(or very nearly 1, anyway), that is, it essentially certain to occur, then you have stacked the deck in favor of answered prayer. Now, I know that no god is doing squat for anyone, but using the stacked-deck answered pray formula, I, too, can get prayers answered. Let's see, the sun is shining and there are no clouds in the sky, so I'll pray, "To: one of the Christian gods. Prayer: Please let the sun keep shining for one more minute." Okay, now the test. Cue the final Jeopardy music...60... 59... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... 0. Yahoo! It works! I, a complete materialist atheist, forced one or more of the Christian gods to answer my prayer!

Dumb, huh? But, that's exactly how it works. The devout, like you, Rob, simply refuse to look under the hood, and so you dupe yourself and those you have influence over.

Many parents stack the answered prayer deck against their own children. The supposedly well-intentioned parent listens to their child's prayer, then they answer it. Why? They know that no god will do it. They frame it as acting on some god's behalf, but really they have deceitfully misrepresented the world to their own child. Then, they will attribute the "answered prayer" to their version of a Christian god. It's really quite repulsive.

Rob R said...

post 1 of 2


Amy, as I interpret it, your concern is quite similar to my own concerning reprobation. I do reject reprobation in all forms whether it is due to individualistic predestination or because one happened to live outside the temporal/geographical boundaries of where the gospel was preached.

Before discussing salvation, I would first say something about the fact of pluralism. Of course there are other religions in the world that are competitors to our own. So Christians have responded to this in two commonly held ways. One is to suggest that all other religions are false and only ours is true and this position is called exclusivism. The other is to suggest that all religions are more or less equal, so the fact of pluralism yields to the theology of pluralism.

There is a third option between these two called inclusivism. In inclusivism, while God may speak through other religions, there is one privileged religious perspective that reliably tells the truth. Of course the other religions also most likely contain deceptions which are obviously not from God, but God's activity has been involved nonetheless.

I'd also suggest that this isn't simply a statement about all religions as it is about all cultures, but the point is, God's activity is found everywhere.

Now there is the parallel question about salvation. Is everyone who hasn't heard of the gospel automatically damned? Here again, we have a range with restrictivists who say yes and universalists who go to the other extreme and say everyone will be saved. Again, there is a middle ground and inclusivism is also the name of the position of that middle ground. Here, God's grace is found everywhere and we will be judged according to our response to it.

Some people feel that this undermines the importance of the great commission and spreading the gospel as people can escape damnation without it. This represents a paltry understanding of what salvation is. If we understand it just in terms of what happens after we die, then yes, this to a degree takes away from the importance of missions. However if we understand salvation as establishing a relationship with God, then no harm as done as the gospel can bring one closer to God than he could come without it. Of course some people may be lost without hearing the gospel because they might've responded to that message as they are not currently sufficiently responding to the grace of God.

Both versions of inclusivism are closely related and I hold to both though it should be noted that you can hold to more than one combination of these views. Many interpret Karl Barth for example as holding to exclusivism but also universalism.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 2


Both views of inclusivism have strong biblical evidence in favor of them. the old testament speaks of many gentiles who pleased God without becoming Jews. Scripture writes positively of Naaham who was healed of leprosy by the instruction of Elijah even though his actions betrayed a belief in animism (that God inhabits the soil of a land) In Romans, Paul speaks of gentiles who demonstrated evidence that the law is written on their hearts. In acts, in paul's speach to the athenians, Paul says that God previously overlooked idolatry, quoted the pagan "Cleanthes Hymn to Zeus" to show that God had been working in their culture and stated that somehow, God's arrangement of the nations had made it possible for men to reach out and find God.

Not only can these positions be defended scripturally, they do represent a significant portion of the tradition from a handful of the early church fathers, to the reformer Zwingli down to important Christian thinkers in our own day such as Billy Graham and C. S. Lewis.

This is a huge topic and I didn't even respond to the counter-proof texts. I could but I'll recommend to you "No Other Name: an Investigation into the destiny of the Unevangelized" by John Sanders.

There is also a four views book on the topic of religion (not primarily salvation) but I don't know the name of it. Clark Pinnock participates in that and he represents the inclusivistic view.

Russ said...

Rob R, you said,

What this means is that Russ who calls himself objective is already committed to interpreting any answered prayer as statistically meaningless (without doing an actual literal statistical analysis) and that anyone claims to see a miracle is either delusional or a liar. In other words, this so called objective view has insulation built in.

If answered prayers are not statistically meaningless, show me. If I get the same or better results without the prayer overhead, of what value is the prayer? It's a charade. If their prayers counted for anything, everyone would see the value of being Christian. But, we don't see it. Prayer counts for zilch.

Rob, I have an sincere request. Christians say that prayer works. They say it's a powerful tool that they can employ to the benefit of themselves and others. It can only be said that prayer works, if it has an observable affect. If we can't see it, the claims count for nothing. It is observed that prayer has no benefit beyond the focused attention affects of other forms of meditation or a leisurely walk in the woods, and these are all-natural. So, I'd like to ask for a demonstration that any prayer, ever, has been answered by some god. There should be incontrovertible proof that at least one prayer has been answered at some time in history, if you are to claim it works.

I've been actively studying these phenomena since I was a child. I've have yet to see even one "answered prayer" that is not better understood through naturalistic explanations.

Pretending that prayers have been answered is a social expectation among the religious. Their prayers are not answered anymore than mine are, but there is considerable social pressure to attribute desirable outcomes to a prayer having been answered. "It's an answer to a prayer" is a common expression, whether any such prayer was ever prayed. Prayer is a superstitious expression of social exchange. It's not real and it has no affect.

Notice that people never say, "Hey, I prayed for a new car and god didn't deliver," or "I prayed for a kidney donor and god shortchanged me." No, you don't hear these things. You only hear about the hits, just like psychics. What's more, other believers wouldn't stand for people reporting all of the results, including the overwhelming number of misses, since that would paint a clear picture of answered prayers being random or arbitrary.

If Christian's prayers worked at all, Christians would be observably the healthiest, happiest, longest-living and most contented people on the planet. Their lives would be so much better than the lives of everyone else that all would be compelled to convert. We don't see that. Not by a longshot. [Fact is, Christianity continues to grow only where the understanding of the world is poor and the people are vulnerable: credulous impressionable children, the ignorant, the desparate poor.]

Rob, you suggested that I dismiss prayer "(without doing an actual literal statistical analysis)." But, such work has been done. One large, long-term statistically significant study of the effects of intercessory prayer, funded by the religiously biased John Templeton Foundation, [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html] showed,

Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery

I've looked at hundreds of these things over the years and most of them were so poorly designed that they are useless. This one is top-notch, but the results do not show prayer having any affect. This is as it should be since prayer is naught but superstition.

Amy B said...

Rob-I will look into the books you mentioned that discuss inclusivism. It certainly seems more palatable that the exclusivism I was taught. However, some religions seem diametrically opposed to each other, so I have no idea how that tension gets resolved.

Russ-You said I might need to distance myself from Christian groups in my search. I do understand that. My concern has not been that they would only be interested in saving me as a way to "put a notch in their belts" as you cynically expressed, but that their anxiety over my possible loss of faith or defensiveness regarding their faith would make it difficult to have helpful dialogue. That is why I have appreciated this blog. I have tried to maintain balance in my search.

Which is why I have also appreciated comments from Rob, who maintains the Christian perspective.

Rob R said...

Gandolf,

Ok i take it you mean the thoughts in these books are really just written thoughts of mere men?.

In the quote you posted from me, I called it revelation. Of course God worked through men and there thoughts and the styles and personalities come through, but it was guided by God.

I don't know that I would stick to the way I worded that. It's not that scripture isn't theology, but it's not developed explicitely towards certain ends and questions. That is the task of Christians on the grounds of biblical theology, systematic theology and philosophy of religion.


If im looking for the real truth of matters,do you consider me already having an allegiance to something will not likely have any effect on the quest for truth?.

I consider that you probably like every single human on the face of the earth have biases whether you are aware of them or not.


You say to Amy ....."The idea of being a neutral unaffected purely rational observer is an enlightenment myth still advanced by modernists which has been rightfully and skillfully criticized by post modernist."

Would you say the same thing really applies to those mere men that wrote these scriptures and faith books etc in our past also?.I personally would have thought so.



No, they were not modernists. Neither were they neutral. The were men of faith obviously, granted for some of them that faith didn't carry the same epistemic risk that it does for us considering they saw God's works in a vivid way and they heard his voice in a way that is not common today.

Or is it special pleading for some type of concession for ancient men said to supposedly be better and above whats normal

Nope, it's not special pleading to say they had a different epistemic situation than we do if it was in fact a different situation. And the reasons for that different situation come through in the narrative of scripture.

But that their situation was different is actually not special at all. just about everyone has a different epistemic situation which is why individualistic epistemology is very naive where communal epistemologies are necessary for the kind of knowledge that our cultures enable (like science where no one can master all the information and personally confirm every aspect, thus trust in the community is absolutely necessary).

Rob R said...

If answered prayers are not statistically meaningless, show me. If I get the same or better results without the prayer overhead, of what value is the prayer?

A girl from my church went on a mission trip to central america and saw a kid get plowed on the street and he had his chest collapsed. She and the people she was with prayed over him and his chest was restored before their eyes.

If their prayers counted for anything, everyone would see the value of being Christian. But, we don't see it. Prayer counts for zilch.

no, not everyone would see it. those who don't want to see it or want to see it only on their terms won't. I didn't make this up, Jesus said as much of those demanding to see miracles.

Notice that people never say, "Hey, I prayed for a new car and god didn't deliver,"

Well, actually, yes they do. prayer isn't our ability to manipulate God. It's about enabling us to build God's kingdom on God's terms. Our prayers aren't often to that effect, so we don't often see results.

No, you don't hear these things. You only hear about the hits, just like psychics. What's more, other believers wouldn't stand for people reporting all of the results, including the overwhelming number of misses, since that would paint a clear picture of answered prayers being random or arbitrary.

A pastor who leada religious discussion group I attended noted that when he wrote down all the things he prayed for and kept track, over time the issues would be resolved.

If Christian's prayers worked at all, Christians would be observably the healthiest, happiest, longest-living and most contented people on the planet. Their lives would be so much better than the lives of everyone else that all would be compelled to convert.

hmmm. Jesus wasn't rich and he was murdered in the prime of his life. Russ, methinks that you aren't the best person to interpret what the Christian faith entails.

I'll tell you an even better indicator of the power of prayer. Lutheran Pastor Richard Wurmbrand was a Jewish Christian who suffered under the Nazi's and then the Soviets. He was tortured and imprisoned for over a decade. Christians in the west bartered for his release. They expected to find him a broken sad man and instead they found that he was a joyful person. While he saw unspeakable evil, God showed him unspeakable beauties.

Ironically, Wurmbrand says he suffered more when he came to the west because of the luke warm Christian faith here.

His example is just a drop in the bucket, Christians suffer for their faith throughout the world and they often pay the ultimate price. So no, this prayer makes everything rosy all polly anna-esque as you described doesn't cut it across the board and it isn't scriptural either.

Rob, you suggested that I dismiss prayer "(without doing an actual literal statistical analysis)."

I had something slightly different in mind When I said that, but I'll grant your claim has been met.

But you know Russ, the thing about a hypothesis such as the one you advanced (course you may mistakenly think that the whole of Christianity was tested there) is that when hypotheses don't turn out, you go back and reform the hypothesis. That is the way science works after all.

The thing about those prayer studies, well just what is it that is being tested? Are they testing the effectiveness of prayer beams? Prayer doesn't do anything, it is all about God who responds. And God has made it clear in scripture that he doesn't respond positively to just any prayer. Demand that God show up on your terms, and chances are that he won't.

That's not to say that these things can't be studied scientifically or historically.

Rob R said...

AMy


However, some religions seem diametrically opposed to each other, so I have no idea how that tension gets resolved.

Well, it's resolved easily. You see, someone is wrong and someone is right.

But the point that inclusivism makes is that religions say a lot of things,some things in common, and the common ground evidences God's work extends beyond the boundaries where God's word has travelled.

I think inclusivism is also a good perspective from which to study other religions. Sometimes the pluralists only think common ground matters. The exclusivists think that the differences are the most significant things. I'll take Paul's perspective over those any day where he found very important things to say on both grounds.

Russ said...

Rob,

This is sad. Very sad.

"A girl from my church..."

What's most disturbing about it is that you simply accept it as true. No rational skepticism at all. Really? Do you not understand that it is far more likely that, if the event occurred in any form at all, she is misreporting it. She could easily be misreporting what happened out of common ignorance of the extent of the kid's injuries. She could be misreporting to get precisely the reaction she has gotten out of you. Report of a miracle would at least make the trip worthwhile, and, of course, no one back home would be the wiser.

As I said before, tales of miracles and answered prayers are the currency of social exchange among the religious. If this girl topped off the chronicling of her quest with a miracle story, it is far more likely that she is doing so just to add some drama to an otherwise dull experience, and she knew she wouldn't be questioned. Tell a tall one for Jesus and everybody goes along with it.

I've watched these stories being contrived, Rob. I know how it works. Fibs for Jesus. Lots and lots of fibs for Jesus. Faith healers use lies and deceit every time out, and most other clergy and a great many laymen fabricate miracles at will, like parents creating answered prayers for their children. Many Christians, especially clergy, are pathological liars. It just goes with the territory.

Rob, this really is pathetic. I asked you for some kind of proof that any prayer has ever been answered by some deity and you have the gall to present this. Wow. Why not just tell us something unverifiable about an accident in a third world country? Oh, yeah! You just did.

Seriously, Rob, is this really what you accept as answered prayer, unverifiable events related to you by a child? This is not faith; this is gullibility. Such credulity makes you a very vulnerable person.

From this I can tell that what you love is the superstition. You love thinking that your version of a god has intervened, so you simply reject the far more probable explanation of the girl being mistaken or lying. You so want it to be true, that you suspend reality. By doing so, you do the girl and everyone impacted by her story a disservice.

This anecdote falls in line with what I said earlier, Rob, if prayer had any power at all, we would see it among those who pray. This is not "demanding to see miracles." This is looking at what those who pray are saying results from their prayers. They say prayer changes lives. They say prayer has great power. They say prayer sets them apart. But, I fail to see it and the numbers, statistics of all kinds - even those studies by Christians themselves - don't bear out that Christians wield any special power or have any better lives than anyone else. In fact, it is often the opposite, that is, that the numbers show that religion is associated with a negative affect on one's life. Mississippi is the most religious state in the US, and they have the highest teen and unwed pregnancy rates. Roman Catholics have the highest abortion rate of any religious identity in the US, including non-believers. Fundamentalist Christians have the highest violent crime rate of any religious identity, including atheists. The list is long and puzzling given the Christian claims of all the wonderful things accomplished using prayer.

I'm not trying to be adversarial, but it certainly does not appear as though Christianity shows any benefit over non-Christian or non-believer. The two wealthiest self-made people in the world are atheists. Half of Forbes 400 wealthiest list are non-believers. Non-believers have lives at least as satisfying and gratifying as believers, if not more.

Here, you've shown that you accept hearsay anecdotes as proof positive of miracles. Humanity can't afford such goofball misinterpretations of reality; far too many lives are at stake. The fate of men and mankind shouldn't be subject to the whims of little girls eager to please the religiously gullible adults she meets.

Gandolf said...

Hi again Rob R! you said..."No, they were not modernists. Neither were they neutral. The were men of faith obviously, granted for some of them that faith didn't carry the same epistemic risk that it does for us considering they saw God's works in a vivid way and they heard his voice in a way that is not common today."

Personally i cant see that this is any different,where is the neutral outlook?.

Why does being a modernist matter?

Like you seem to be saying already, those men of old were not neutral.They were believers.Folks already all fighting for a chosen cause.

You seem to grant them less risk, im supposing because they were around (at the time)and supposedly saw what happened?.

Yet you already admit they were not neutral,how can we know they told the truth?.Because its written in a faith book the bible?.Because their mates all seemed to agree with it in their writings also?,all being the same not neutral fellows that they were!.

I cant see why they wouldnt agree, if they wanted it their way.Wanted their cause to go forth.Not likely they would disagree is it?,if they did how likely would it be to get entered into these faith books also?.Got much of a chance you reckon?.

Are people of ancient ages supposed to be less likely to be liars or something?

Enjoy the discussion with you though, thanks Rob

Rob R said...

post 1 of 3

Russ,


I had a scientific hypothesis here that you would suggest that the girl lied without knowing the girl personally.

My prediction came true.

And the framework of this hypothesis? Everyone including russ is subjective in his approach to these things. You aren't passively interpreting the evidence as a neutral observer but interpreting it according to your materialistic biases. Miracles can't happen so those who claim then are either liars, or just didn't get a very good look.

She got a good look. They placed their hands on the child who's chest was busted open and they saw it healed before their eyes.

Also, it wasn't just this girl but I've been informed that her brother witnessed it to.

Could she have lied? Of course. I recognize the possibility that I could be wrong. And as I've already demonstrated in this thread in my posts to Anthony, virtually all knowledge entails this risk.

Perhaps if things of this nature were almost unheard of, I'd have more reason to be skeptical. But these stories aren't that uncommon. these things happen often on the mission field reported by the westerner's who go there.

Here's another one. My parents friend from college went on a mission trip with his father to Brazil

it is far more likely that she is doing so just to add some drama to an otherwise dull experience

Oh my Russ. no there's no subjectivity here, only that from one who probably hasn't been on mission trips it must've been dull, which is contrary to the descriptions of many who go on these trips and find them spiritually invigorating.

And the use of the term probability, while it is sometimes used in the context of mathematics is here, very subjectively assessed by you on the grounds of your world view, not on an actual study of the issue (as if that wouldn't have been done on equally subjective grounds). A claim you made without knowing the girl.

I've got more stories like that one like the graduate student friend of my parents who witnessed an exorcism by his father in Brazil. They saw the body levitate too. That graduate student, real credulous and dishonest guy, so credulous he got his bachelors in physics from MIT. So untrustworthy, they made him president of a college, a serious institution that was at one time equivalent to Harvard in getting students in to med school.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 3


I've watched these stories being contrived, Rob. I know how it works.

I'm sure you have and yet, I don't see the profit in constructing my beliefs around Russ's experiences. No, I'm going to trust my experience of people whom I know to be trustworthy that integrates into my own worldview which I have too many reasons to hold. Am I going to believe some things that are wrong in the process? Sure, it's definitely not an advantage you have over me as everyone does. Epistemic risk cannot be eliminated.

Why not just tell us something unverifiable about an accident in a third world country?

I told it because I knew you'd react to it subjectively. And everyone hold's unverfiable beliefs to be true. You see, everyone who is a solispsist and everyone who isn't a solipsist holds unverfiable beliefs. Unless of course you just don't believe anything is true.

From this I can tell that what you love is the superstition.

Again with the non-neutral personal involvement.

This anecdote falls in line with what I said earlier, Rob, if prayer had any power at all, we would see it among those who pray.

We do see it at work. you just have to drop the naive individualistic epistemology which if followed consistently would derail even science which makes claims that not just anyone can verify for lack of training, money for training, skill for training, access to advanced labs like supercolliders, etc.

Again, as I stated to Anthony, while there is a difference in the level of epistemic risk between a claim like this, (and actually so many other religious claims are at a different level alltogether) there is no objective test for what level is reasonable to believe something held can be an instance of knowledge.

They say prayer changes lives.

actually, if you don't believe this, you are as credulous as anyone. There is no doubt about the power of religion to change peoples lives. My dad tells me about how a patient of his told him that he remembered when his family (two generations before him) "got religion". They were scoundrals and crooked business men, but that changed.

But, I fail to see it and the numbers, statistics of all kinds - even those studies by Christians themselves - don't bear out that Christians wield any special power or have any better lives than anyone else.

Russ, you've got an ongoing problem that you haven't addressed. you are a poor interpretor and you admitted it to me, and your interpretation is based on your refusal to see beyond the shallow surface differances that some of these statistics can't gage. A survey question is often not enough to gage the level of commitment we see in the lives of christians, and without that commitment, the differences are not going to be visible. I've known people who were misrable souls who'd satisfy all those superficial standards for what makes a Christian, and then something happens to them, it's like they're zapped and they are full of life and they'd tell you that they had a spiritual breakthrough that they've given up their problems to God in a more authentic way than they had before.

Rob R said...

post 3 of 3


I'm not trying to be adversarial, but it certainly does not appear as though Christianity shows any benefit over non-Christian or non-believer. The two wealthiest self-made people in the world are atheists. Half of Forbes 400 wealthiest list are non-believers. Non-believers have lives at least as satisfying and gratifying as believers, if not more.

And Jesus didn't have a place to lay his head. And probably the world's largest Christian population, in China is also highly oppressed.

good for these non-believers atheists if money is what they have to live for.

Here, you've shown that you accept hearsay anecdotes as proof positive of miracles.

Proof? now I know you weren't paying attention.