The Moral Double Standard

Here is a great quote on the Christian position for the moral authority of God.  See the full post here.

“I am attempting to bring out into the light how severe the moral double standard is that we often apply to God.  In our ordinary, daily affairs, we invoke a set of straight forward and clear criteria for what sorts of things are wrong, which things are heroic, and which things are morally good.  But in our ideas of God we throw all of that out.  God is required to do none of the things we normally expect moral agents to do.  If he acts like the worst sort of negligent monster, again that is overlooked.  In effect, none of our judgments about good and evil apply to God, but we insist:  not only is God good, he’s the ultimate exemplar of moral perfection.  Nevermind that he doesn’t do any of the things that morally praiseworthy people do.” 

H/T: Matt McCormick

Lessons Learned: The Rules of Engagement

Saw this on Pharyngula.  This chart could have come in handy in the discussions below; oh well, live and learn.

Trolling For Jesus: DiscipleoftheWord. Part I

There is nothing that is more dumbfounding than bigotry and hate-mongering.  Unfortunately it seems prevalent in the blog world behind the screen of internet anonymity.  For some the safety of the keyboard hidden in the quiet of their own home allows for the venting of frustrations in ways and words that would never be used in face to face conversation.  For others the vitriol is raised to an art form, and the TROLL is born.  Scouring the internet blogs and message boards this individual seeks out those who will fall prey to their obsession; an obsession with abusiveness in complete anonymity.

Tough Questions Answered, Bill Pratt’s apologetics blog has fallen victim to such a TROLL.  Lying in stealth behind the moniker of DiscipleoftheWord is a radical fundamentalist Christian who feels obligated preach to, castigate, insult and condemn everyone he encounters.  Not satisfied to harass the Skeptics, his natural opponents, he also goes for the jugular of his fellow believers.

In the middle of a conversation and debate that had been taking place for nearly a month DiscipleoftheWord implanted himself in the discussion and launched a full onslaught of disrespect, hate, bigotry and sarcasm justifying his every word as sanctioned by God, backed with the authority of the Bible.

Below is the first exchange with participants of the discussion before DiscipleoftheWord successfully ran the majority off and ended the debate.  You can find the full unedited discussion here.

Bill Pratt says: May 19, 2010 at 9:20 am

Willie, if someone asks you a complex question that would take many hours and thousands of words to adequately answer, what would you do? What if that person knows that you have written about the question in many different places, but they refuse to read that material and instead demand a unified and re-packaged version especially for themselves?  This is the problem I am having. What would you do if you were me? How do I answer your question without dropping everything else I’m doing for the next month?

DiscipleoftheWord says: May 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm

@Bill Pratt: If you confess that you have certain doubts about the Christian faith, then that is your problem not all of Christianity’s.  It is a problem of ignorance, irrationality, and a deficiency in your righteousness and intellect. What you need is prayer, study, and divine grace for your soul. 

It takes a very particular variety of hypocrisy to translate this malfunctioning of faith into an approach to apologetics, and then to take pride in it and call it humility. If you introduce doubt into the people of God, and in turn cast rebellion into their hearts. You are a wolf in the disguise of a sheep, discouraging the assurance of the faithful, while making an excuse for the sons of hell. Shame to you. Let your type of humility burn in hell, because it does not proceed from the revelation of God but from the limiting arrogance of man.

 Willie G says: May 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm

 I am pretty certain the words above are those of a comment Troll seeing how they in no way reflect either the content of the original post or the discussion that followed. If they are authentic they speak volumes to the position of skeptics and further evidence of why throwing off the fetters of religious delusion was the right thing to do.

DiscipleoftheWord says: May 19, 2010 at 4:34 pm

 Whose a comment trolled? (Sic)  Introducing a positive tenet of Christianity with a negative premise is exactly what I am pointing to.  And if I might join this debate:  The fact that Bill thinks he can in anyway turn Willie G to the Gospel with an intellectual argument proves his spiritual stupor.  Willie G … ha[s] never been in Christ and in no way represent the Born Again nature of a believer.  What is born of God cannot be unborn…, no matter what Bill says.  And Willie G, you are the very Son of Hell I am speaking of.

Does Bill think his intellectual arguments apart from the Word of God can save Willie…? Or does Willie G believe that his secular arguments can shake the faith of a regenerated believer?  You fools…neither can happen.  Willie G can no more see the Kingdom of God anymore than he can see his own depravity and absolute inability to understand spiritual things.  Bill you’re a religious coward…tell him that the wrath of God is being revealed against all ungodliness…tell him that the wages of sin is death.  Tell him the truth….that he is Hell bound.

Doubting T says: May 19, 2010 at 8:36 pm

 You are either a great example of Poe’s Law (i.e. A parody of a Fundamentalist is indistinguishable from the real thing.) or mentally dysfunctional I can say no more, except, if you are truly typical of folks that post on this site, then Bill and Darrell have a problem with how this site is represented to even Christians.

DiscipleoftheWord says: May 19, 2010 at 9:46 pm

 LOL… You’re offended?  So what?  You’re at a Christian Blog arguing that there is no rational reason to believe in God.  You’re an enemy of the Lord I serve.  If Bill and Darrell do not believe that an unbeliever will perish in Hell then they really can’t call themselves Bible believing Christians can they?

John 3:18: “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  What did you expect to hear?…”

Willie G says: May 20, 2010 at 8:10 am

It never ceases to amaze me how a Troll will ruin both a conversation and the integrity of a blog. But of course this Troll is just doing the “Lord’s” work.

DiscipleoftheWord says: May 20, 2010 at 9:11 am

Oh boohoo, is that all you have Willie G, integrity?  In your first post you accused Bill of being delusional.  In your second post you accused him of being condescending….ect, ect. (Sic)  I smell arrogant self contradiction and it stinks like flesh.  Aren’t you going to pull an epicurean riddle out of your hat?  Or maybe you’d like to challenge the TAG argument?  Or why God doesn’t heal amputees.  How about the problem with Evil?, or we can discuss you allegations against “Christian Atrocities”.  You could run over to the Annotated Skeptics Bible web site and copy and paste a few verses out of context to try and refute the living God (if you’re mentally challenged that is).  It is you that is here under a guise, a guise of intellectualism, but there is nothing new in what you say.  You guys are a dime a dozen.

 1Co 1:18 “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise , And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”

 Bill Pratt says: May 20, 2010 at 9:31 am

[Doubting] Thom: if you read through the blog, you will see that I get attacked by both Christians and skeptics. DiscipleoftheWord has been commenting on another post, but I refused to continue talking to him when he continuously used derogatory words to describe my views. He is obviously frustrated that I won’t get down in the mud with him and sling some of it around. Such is my life….

 DiscipleoftheWord says: May 20, 2010 at 10:10 am

Oh how that man suffers.  Bill your hatred for me must be profoundly deep that you would rather side with unbelievers than men of God.

 Bill Pratt says: May 20, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Greg [DiscipleoftheWord], I definitely do not hate you and I am not siding with anyone. I just wish you would tone it down and speak with more humility – that’s all.

Willie G says: May 21, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Bill, never acknowledge a Troll. Call them out as being a troll and then totally ignore them or block their return. Otherwise they will never stop.

A Tough Questions Debate: DagoodS & Bill Pratt

Continuing the discussion found at Tough Questions Answered, a fellow skeptical blogger, DagoodS of Thoughts From A Sandwich, took unkindly to a comment Bill made about deconverted christians having a “Pollyanna view of Christianity”This began a separate comment theme that brought the skeptics in the thread to the conclusion that no true attempts to answer their questions would be made.  This coupled with the entrance of a typically nasty Troll nearly brought to entire thread to a screeching halt.

Willie G says:

April 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Bill Pratt says: “You see, what you fail to realize is that God has chosen to use flawed and fallible human beings in the framework of human history to accomplish his purposes. We are included in his plans and he allows us to be important actors in the drama he has written, but there is a catch with this approach: Christianity turns out to be messier than some of us would like.”

That is an incredible encapsulation of why so many former evangelicals have turned their backs on their former faith. You paint god as the tyrannical playwright that fully orchestrates the “drama” of human existence in all it’s ugliness, with all it’s tragedy, gross neglect and evil encounters, then add that it is all his plan and he “allows” us to play. There is far too much deleterious inuendo here to ever accept your final appeal to the appreciation of any kind of a divine “plan.” Rather it points clearly to delusion.

Bill Pratt says:

April 22, 2010 at 10:22 pm

…I would say the reason any evangelicals turn their backs on their former faith is because they were taught a Pollyanna view of Christianity that was so naive and simplistic that when the first little trouble occurred in their faith, it fell apart into a million tiny pieces.

DagoodS says:

April 23, 2010 at 8:19 am

Bill Pratt says: “By the way, I would say the reason any evangelicals turn their backs on their former faith is because they were taught a Pollyanna view of Christianity that was so naive and simplistic that when the first little trouble occurred in their faith, it fell apart into a million tiny pieces.”


Oh, sure…you can say that…you’d be wrong, of course, but nothing prevents you from saying it. *wink* Now—proving it? Whole different kettle of fish…  We understand the claim of human interweaving with divine. Where the trouble comes is determining a method of differentiating between what is “human” compared to “human + divine” (however one cares to define that.) Some claim this writing is just human, others claim the writing is human + divine. Others claim that writing is human + divine; while opponents disagree.  What many of us were faced with was coming up with an arguably consistent method of determining what writings (or persons or miracles or claims) can be differentiated from solely human. Sure, we understood the human element in creating the Protestant Bible. The question is not that at all; the question is how to determine any divine element within something we all agree is human?

In simple question form: “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”

Bill Pratt says:

April 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm

I think I already addressed this in the blog post. The doctrine of inerrancy holds that the original writing is inspired by God and therefore without error. Christians are agreed on some 99% of the New Testament text, based on textual criticism, so that’s what we would hold as inerrant, at least in the NT. This number has moved very little since textual critics began their work a couple hundred years ago or so. If it does move a little bit up or down based on new findings, it’s no big deal since we’re dealing with such a small part of the text.  There is no dichotomy between divine and human in the Bible. The church has always held that God, through the agency of humans, inspired the very words of the biblical books. We don’t say this word is from God and that word is from a human. We say that they are all from both, working in coordination.

DagoodS says:

April 23, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Bill Pratt says: The doctrine of inerrancy holds that the original writing is inspired by God and therefore without error.

You do understand that is circular, correct? The Bible is inerrant because the Bible self-claims to be Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos), and theopneustos means it was inspired by God, and since God cannot error, the Bible must be inerrant.

But let’s say, for a moment, it is inerrant. And let’s say, for the moment, our copies are 100% exact duplicates of the original. We both agree the originals (and copies) were made by humans. This still does not answer the question—what method does one use to differentiate between human writings and human + God-inspired writings?  I can grab a Hallmark card. It is inerrant, and 100% exact copy of the original. It was written by a human. What method do I apply to determine whether it is or is not equally God-inspired? Other writings, such as the Book of Mormon, Qur’an and Science and Health with Key to Scriptures claim to be written by humans, but with a divine touch.  If I granted them the same latitude I grant the Bible in terms of inerrancy and copies—what method does one use to determine those are or are not God-inspired?  Simply claiming a human writing has additional divine influence is insufficient. We have plenty of such writings. We have entire books of such writings. We have books that were once in the Bible (Epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement, Wisdom of Solomon.) We have books that remained in dispute for a long time (James, Epistles of John, Revelation.) We have entire sections of the Bible that have been both in AND out of inspiration–Pericope de Adultera, ending of Mark, Johannine Comma.

I’m sorry, perhaps I missed it in the blog entry. Maybe you can point it out. “Given a string of words, what method do we use to determine that string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”*

*I should note I don’t use the term Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) to sound impressive or show off some archaic knowledge of Greek. I use that term because it is singularly used, and we have no other works utilizing it—not even other places in Christian writing. We understand it is a combination of “God” (theo) and “Spirit or wind or breath” (pneuma) yet that is insufficient to necessarily explain what the author meant, nor what he meant by “Scripture” (graphe.)

Bill Pratt says:

April 24, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Dagoods says: “You do understand that is circular, correct? The Bible is inerrant because the Bible self-claims to be theopneustos, and theopneustos means it was inspired by God, and since God cannot error, the Bible must be inerrant.”

I was not presenting an argument for inerrancy. I was stating what inerrancy is. You’ve made that mistake several times with me now. You criticize me for not presenting sound arguments when I am not presenting arguments at all (you did the same thing with the whole Misquoting Jesus comment string). I like to just discuss things sometimes without always developing a 5-point thesis and then marshaling evidence for it. I would appreciate it if you would try to give me the benefit of the doubt a little more. If you want me to always answer every comment you make with a well-structured argument, then let me know.

How one arrives at the doctrine of inerrancy is through a process that goes through several steps, the first being the demonstration that the God of Christianity exists. Every time you and I correspond we seem to eventually come back to this point. You asked me to prove the historicity of miracles without presupposing the existence of God, and I said that was foolish. You are now asking me to prove inerrancy, and I am telling you that you cannot do so without first establishing the existence of the Christian God. We have done some of that work in previous blog posts, if you’re interested.

DagoodS says:

April 25, 2010 at 11:51 am

I apologize for the confusion I caused with my comment on inerrancy. I should have resisted temptation.

Really, what I am focused on is “inspiration”—what Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) is typically translated in 2 Tim. 3:16. Not inerrancy. In fact, I was attempting to take inerrancy out of the picture, by granting it for the moment. I also tried to take textual variants out by temporarily granting 100% accurate transmission .  It still leaves us the question as to what human writings are theopneustos–presumably divine influenced under orthodox Christian doctrine. Your blog entry indicated (essentially) Christians shouldn’t be worried that flawed and fallible humans were involved in the creating of Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) writing. And we all agree (I think) other writings by other flawed and fallible humans are also claimed to be theopneustos by other flawed and fallible humans.  If we are not to be bothered by this, I am curious what method one would use to differentiate between the correct flawed and fallible humans who declared writings by flawed and fallible humans to be theopneustos as compared to the incorrect flawed and fallible humans who declared writings by other flawed and fallible humans to be theopneustos.

In other words, “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine that string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?

Bill Pratt says:

April 25, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Same answer as before. The existence of the Christian God must be established first. Without that, there is no hope in determining which “inspired” writings from the many religious traditions are truly inspired. We would be left with total agnosticism.

DagoodS says:

April 26, 2010 at 9:22 am

Unfortunately, even establishing the Christian God does little to help us on our way (and can dangerously interject subjectivity into the topic.) I’ll explain. 

First, there is nothing technically within the requirements of a Christian God necessitating inspired writing. Think of it this way, according to Christianity, 1000’s of people were converted to Christianity before there was a single Christian writing! (Acts 2:41, 47) [Arguably, at best one would have the Christian interpretation of the Jewish inspired writing—the Tanakh.]  Therefore, we not only would have to establish a Christian God—but a Christian God that desires to communicate in writing. A narrower version. But even that is not enough. There are various claims as to how this Christian God communicates in writing: Directly by angel (Qur’an), or on golden plates (Mormon) or through human interaction (Creedal Christianity and Christian Science.) Now we either have to establish a method to determine which means the Christian God uses! Creating the same problem I have asked in each comment—what method do we use?  Or, alternatively, we presume it is through human compulsion—“inspiration” if you will. Now we have to establish: 1) A Christian God who 2) communicates in writing by 3)human instrumentality.  Here we come very close to question-begging; assuming the very conclusion we are trying to prove. To prove an inspired writing, we use a particular inspired writing to first establish a God would utilize inspired writing, and then claim this must be the inspired writing! This becomes dangerously circular:

1) The Bible is used to prove a God using inspired writing.
2) A God using inspired writing proves the Bible is inspired.

Secondly, this still leaves us with methodological problems. As I previously pointed out, even Christians who hold to 1) a Christian God that 2) communicates through writing by 3) inspiring humans…even such Christians debate over what phrases, verses, words, clauses and even chapters and books are included within Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos). We are left clamoring for a method to make the same determinations.

Please understand, I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I have asked the same question three times, and have yet to see a method provided. Am I to presume you have such a method—giving you the benefit of the doubt—but that you are not willing to share it with us? Is that what you are saying?  Simply establishing a Christian God is insufficient. Attempting to establish attributes of this God to align with an inspired writing flirts with question-begging, and introduces another question of methodology—how do we determine which means such a God would use? And even after establishing all that, we are still left with the same question—what method do we use to determine a certain string of words is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?

DagoodS says:

May 19, 2010 at 9:26 am

As I had posted a few replies, I remained subscribed to this blog entry and have been following the discussion. There have been numerous occasions where I lifted my fingers to keyboard to write a response, and then refrained to avoid interrupting the conversation.

First of all, I have many sentiments similar to the positions postulated by Willie G & Doubting T. Not a shock, as it sounds we have comparable backgrounds in deconverting from Christianity.  I have respectedyour indication regarding the intent of this blog. That you are providing abbreviated posts to Christians posing inquiries. I think Willie G very accurately reflected my thoughts when he stated this blog could more aptly be named, “Giving Christians the Answers They Want To Hear.”  However, when you make statements like, “I would say the reason any evangelicals turn their backs on their former faith is because they were taught a Pollyanna view of Christianity that was so naive and simplistic that when the first little trouble occurred in their faith, it fell apart into a million tiny pieces,” I do feel a desire to probe your position on that. Since you are informing the world what I (the former Christian) am doing—and I think you are incorrect—I question how you reached that position.

I found your question to Willie G….intriguing:

Bill Pratt says: “Were there certain key facts you learned that made Christianity intellectually impossible to believe, facts that I am not aware of?”

If one looks back at the comments I have asked one question. Four Times. “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine that string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”  One might also notice that question has remained unanswered.  One fact that made Christian belief difficult and eventually unable to sustain was the fact apologists avoid method questions like the plague. Oh, they love to debate nuance and interpretation and possibilities—but start asking for a method and they find themselves at a loss. Ask them to stay consistent with a method and the system crumbles.  The reason I find method so important is that it works toward removing bias in determining answers. Doubting T correctly asks, “What is your alternative for seeking the truth without bias?“  Therefore when you portrayed my deconversion along lines it was not, I started asking questions. Perhaps I was utilizing some “Pollyanna” view of Christianity; perhaps Bill Pratt had the answers to the tough questions—answers I could not locate on my own research.  Alas, it appears you do not.

The only reason I am posting a reply now is to inform lurkers. You have made a claim about skeptics and former Christians in particular. You now have had three (3) deconverts step in, say, “No, that is not correct” and provide questions. All three have pointed out what appears to be avoidance in answering those questions.

I will leave it to the lurker to determine whether tough questions are being answered.

Bill Pratt says:

May 19, 2010 at 9:46 am

The reason I neglected fully answering your question is the same reason I have not fully answered Willie’s. You are both asking questions that require very complex answers – answers that entail a significant amount of effort on my part to pull together a lot of information and formulate it into a unified and coherent response. I did think about your question, and conceived outlines that would fully deal with it, but then realized that the material needed to fill out the body of the outline would be substantial.  As long as we stick to issues that we can debate in bite-size chunks, I’m glad to – and we did that for a while. But I simply cannot, for time reasons, address the kinds of questions you are asking in the way you would like me to address them.  When I have tried to give you bite-size answers to your complex questions, you have immediately criticized the answers as inadequate and incomplete, so I figured, “What’s the point in continuing?” You and Willie are portraying me as unable to answer your questions, when the truth is that I am unwilling for time reasons.  If you were me, what would you do? I am using a medium (blog) and dealing with time constraints that demands pithy dialogue. Your questions are better suited for book-length efforts, and I simply am not willing to do that. What is the solution?

DagoodS says:

May 19, 2010 at 11:32 am

Bill Pratt says: “When I have tried to give you bite-size answers to your complex questions, you have immediately criticized the answers as inadequate and incomplete…”

Er…um…huh? Can you possibly point out where I indicated your answers were inadequate and incomplete? Irrelevant to the question—yes! Red Herrings—yes! But not “inadequate and incomplete.” Let’s look at the history, and lest you fear I am misrepresenting it any way, I will provide links:

Bill Pratt says: You see, what you fail to realize is that God has chosen to use flawed and fallible human beings in the framework of human history to accomplish his purposes.…
Jesus is both divine and human; the Bible is both divine and human.

Fair enough…based upon your past indication this was addressed to Christians with an abbreviated response…I left it alone. But then in the comments you stated:

Bill Pratt says: By the way, I would say the reason any evangelicals turn their backs on their former faith is because they were taught a Pollyanna view of Christianity that was so naive and simplistic that when the first little trouble occurred in their faith, it fell apart into a million tiny pieces.

Whoops. Now you decided to tell the world what I—the former Christian—was all about. As I said, I decided to probe a bit, just to see how “Pollyanna” you thought my position was. How much did YOU think about the questions my “Pollyanna Christianity” thought about?

I asked (essentially) one question, “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”  You responded with a comment regarding inerrancy and textual criticism. (Curiously you also indicated you dealt with this in the original blog entry, but now seem to claim this would be far too complex to deal with in a blog entry.)  I attempted to keep the focus on the question involved—inspiration—by conceding inerrancy and textual accuracy. I was attempting to demonstrate those were separate and irrelevant issues to the central question, which I repeated: “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”  You again responded about inerrancy, despite my already stating inerrancy was not what I was questioning about.  I reply again explicitly stating I was “taking inerrancy out of the picture” and again asked: “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”  You then claimed the existence of the Christian God must be established first. Again, this was a point already conceded by me.  I pointed out even having a Christian God is not enough, as those claiming such a God exists are still left with the problem of methodology. They may agree such a God divinely inspired writings, but disagree over what writings are inspired. Leaving us with the same question I asked before: “Given a string of words, what method is used to determine said string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?”  At this point, you abandoned the conversation. Now you indicate the answer is ”very complex”–why didn’t you say that in the first place?

Bill Pratt says: You and Willie are portraying me as unable to answer your questions, when the truth is that I am unwilling for time reasons.

How can we tell this difference? I’m not trying to be (too) harsh here, but this sounds a lot like something we heard as children in the playground. “I know the answer; I’m just not going to tell you.” When we all knew the kid didn’t actually know the answer.  How can we tell the difference between your not having an answer, and your having an answer, but just not willing to share it with us? “Very complex”? This should be a most basic, foundational question–well-established! Anyone making the claim some writings are human+divine should have a method in place as to how they made such a determination! Especially in light of a blog entry that says, “Don’t worry if those human+divine writings are ‘messier than some of us would like.’”

It has been my past experience (I’ve asked this question before, see) apologists ALL run away from it. I suspect because the method they are using is that of first declaring their particular Bible is inspired, and then looking for support for that conclusion. When poked and prodded on it, they realize it is ad hoc and can be demonstrated as inconsistent. *shrug* I may be wrong, but I haven’t had an apologist take me up on this question. Ever.

Bill Pratt says: If you were me, what would you do?

First, I would be extremely careful to make broad sweeping claims about other people’s motivations. I would avoid terms like “Pollyanna” or “naïve and simplistic.” (I would also avoid terms like “deluded” and “intellectually honest” as well.) I would stay away from generalized psychoanalysis regarding theistic positions and fathers.  If I did make such claims, I would be prepared to back them up, OR willingly apologize for using terms considered offensive by the other. Otherwise the terms tend to backfire in my face. Like calling the other person “naïve and simplistic,” yet they ask one (1) question and I would require (in your words) “book-length efforts.” If they are “naïve and simplistic” yet with one question bury me in months (again your words) worth of work just to respond—what does that make me?

Secondly, in terms of responding to the questions—it would depend on the person I was responding to. I tend to love the in-depth research involved on some minor nuance that only 2 or 3 people actually care about. I revel in minute details. If it was some troll who wandered into my blog and popped off one question…no…I may not answer it. I may search out on my own, but depending on time constraints I may not. If it was someone engaging with me over a period of time; who seemed to put together some rationale for their position—yes, I would spend the time to respond.

Thirdly, it would depend on how important I view the question. I’ve never studied abiogenesis more than a cursory basis; so apparently I have never found that question very important. Although, in my defense, nor would I write a blog entry on it either!

Fourthly, I am extremely cognizant of lurkers. Ever read a deconversion story? One thing that is universal is that we read. We read and we read and we read. We were (are) looking for answers. We read forums and blogs and magazines and articles and books…and anything we can get our hands on. We rarely enter the discussion because we want to see how all the sides respond to each other. Time and again we thought, “There’s a good point by the Christian—what will the skeptic say? There’s a good point by the skeptic—what will the Christian say?”  I lost count of how many times I watched a Christian walk away not answering a question. Questions I, as a lurker, thought were quite legitimate. That bothered me. A lot. So I looked for the answers myself, only to see other Christians walking away. And yes, I often saw, “I know the answer, but I’m not going to invest the time to answer it.” I wondered why not.  In short, Bill Pratt, if it was me—I would be answering the questions.  But I am not you, of course.

Bill Pratt says: Your questions are better suited for book-length efforts, and I simply am not willing to do that.

O.K.—great! Welcome to internet world! Why do you care what I would do, if you have already decided what you—a different person with different motivations—are going to do? It is your privilege as a human to choose to answer what questions you want, and disregard those you do not want. I fully support that.  C’est la vie

DagoodS says:

May 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I will confess a bit of frustration. I often (as in times almost uncountable) see claims made on Christian apologetic sites about what skeptics say. And the Christian apologist then deals with the alleged claim “There were no Hittites” or “There are no non-Christian writings on Jesus prior to the Third Century” (remember that?)  [a]nd the Christian apologist then takes down these straw people or extremely weak arguments. I imagine a chorus round in the background, congratulating the “strenuous defense” [note slight sarcasm] of Christianity.  On rare occasion, I join in and ask a question. 9 times out of 10 it will be on methodology. Then I am bombarded with complaints similar to what I have heard here. “Too hard!” “Too long!” “I know the answer, but don’t have the inclination to share it.” “You ask too much.”  Why don’t Christians want to deal with the hard questions skeptics ask? Why is it they only want to deal with the easiest and lightest objections?  (P.S., I’ve heard Dr. Turek in action and was less than impressed. Does his book provide a method to differentiate what writings are theopneustos and which ones are not?)

DiscipleoftheWord says:

May 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm

@DagoodS, What you are asking Bill to do is argue from a non spritual perspective.
You want answers to questions that can only be answered from a Biblical persepective.
The problem is not with Bills answers but with your inability to perceive what is truth.
Since you cannot believe you cannot believe that anybody at all can believe.
Since you cannot see or hear spiritual truth you canot believe anybody else can either.
The problem is not with Christians apologetics but is within you.

DagoodS says:

May 21, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Ah, DiscipleoftheWord, therein lies the rub. In order to have a “biblical perspective,” I would need to know what “biblical” is. The very question I have been asking! What method does a wee humble atheist such as myself, use to determine a certain string of words qualifies to be in the Bible?  Without such a method, I could never gain a “biblical” perspective. Yet no Christian seems willing to provide such a method.

DiscipleoftheWord says:

May 21, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Let me define it there for ya genius.  The entire Cannon of Scripture.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

2 Peter 1:20-21 “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

2 Peter 3:14-16 “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Clear it up for ya?

DagoodS says:

May 22, 2010 at 6:25 am

Thanks for the three passages, DiscipleoftheWord. (Thanks especially for recognizing my genius; so rarely acknowledged these days! *wink*).  Unfortunately, this doesn’t answer the question: “Given a string of words, how do we determine if that string is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)?” All these do is attempt a description—not provide a method.

2 Timothy 3:16 does indicate (although there is a question of grammar I will leave aside for now) “All Scripture is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos)…” but it doesn’t tell us what “scripture” is! If you believe Paul wrote this (I suspect you do), this would only include the Tanakh. But does it include the Apocrypha? Is it the Septuagint language or the Masoretic text? Does it include Daniel? Esther?2 Tim. 3:16 doesn’t say.  2 Peter 1:20 is an attempt to describe the doctrine of inspiration, but doesn’t tell us a single writing that is inspired.  And even if we grant 2 Peter 3:15-16 as equating Paul’s letters to Scripture, the author doesn’t list a single book qualifying as “Scripture” NOR does s/he list what letters of Paul they are referring to! Did the author have the same letters we have? Less? More? Did s/he have the other letters to the Corinthians? To the Laodecians?  The three passages do not list a single book qualifying as Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos). After reading them, can we tell if Hebrews is? Or John? Or Gospel of Peter? Or Epistle of Barnabas? Or even, ironically, 2 Timothy or 2 Peter–since they don’t even include themselves!  Nope—we are no further along in our inquiry as to what qualifies as “biblical” in order to have a “biblical perspective.”  Worse, as the verses don’t include even a Book, they certainly do not address the more specific examples I raised earlier such as the Pericope de Adultera or the ending of Mark.  After asking this question so many times my fingers are numb, it appears to me the method Christians use is, “I think this string of words is Θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) because someone told me it was, and I’ve never sat down and thought of any other way to make the determination.”  In other words, it is opinion.

DiscipleoftheWord says:

May 22, 2010 at 10:16 am

LoL…thanks for the laugh this morning.  What part of “all” is confusing you?

Bill Pratt says:

May 24, 2010 at 6:58 pm

DagoodS, thanks for the response. I will take your criticism to heart and try to learn from it. As I said, I am not willing to give a lengthy response to your question, but I will give a brief one which you will surely find inadequate. Here goes:

If I have a text that claims to be inspired by God, I must first ask what kind of God. Step one is using the tools of philosophy and science to establish what kind of God, if any, exists (we are filtering out incorrect worldviews in this step).  If I find that the kind of God exists which the religious tradition attached to the text in question asserts, I must now ask whether the text in question comes from a true representative of that God. Just because a God exists doesn’t mean that every religion that claims a text is from that God truly is.  How do I know who a true representative is? I study the historical records about the alleged representative(s) of the religion attached to the text in question. If I find that history corroborates the status of the alleged representative, I then study what the representative of God said about the text in question. If he says it came from God, then I believe that it came from God.  There is my rough and ready outline. Consider the question answered.

DagoodS says:

May 25, 2010 at 9:04 am

Thank you very much for the response. I believe this is the first time anyone has even attempted to frame a method and I confess I was pleasantly surprised to see you try. Yes, I would dig much deeper, but that is not your intent with this blog, nor your style. You have provided something and I do appreciate it.  A few points:

1) I think your approach is correct. I would agree one needs to start off with demonstrating a God, then demonstrate a certain type of God (i.e. one that communicates through writing), and would utilize this method. Your method begins well.

2) If we consistently applied this method, we would have a very different Bible. We would lose Hebrews (the author is unknown, and therefore no determination could be made whether the author was a “true representative.”) We would lose the ending of Mark and the Pericope de Adultera as being unknown authors. We would certainly lose sections that authors explicitly state are NOT from God—e.g. 1 Cor. 7:12-15. In fact, there are only a few areas where authors indicate what they are saying is from God. Much of the Epistles, and Acts of the Apostles would be gone.  Of course, if one argues Jesus was God, we could arguably apply this methodology to say Jesus’ words would qualify, but this means we could include 1 Clement and its quotation regarding Jesus’ statements. Or Papias.  Further, we introduce tension regarding modern scholarship. When to embrace it; when to reject it? Without traditional claims to authorship, we may lose Moses as the author of the Pentateuch, and thus we lose determination of “true representative” Not to mention difficulties surrounding the authors of Isaiah, the Chronicler, Esther, Job, etc. Additionally the problem with the anonymity of the Gospel authors, the pseudo-pauline works, 1 & 11 Peter, the Johannine epistles.  As an example, many Christians extol the scholarship of Dr. Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses–yet Dr. Bauckham indicates Matthew the disciple did not write Matthew the Gospel. Do we gain historical accuracy, only to lose Matthew’s theopneustos? Or do we start to abandon this method to retain Dr. Bauckham?

I am thankful you framed a methodology. I cannot possibly see how this methodology would result in the claim “The Bible, because it is divinely inspired…” [as stated in the original blog entry] since the Protestant Bible does not conform to this method.  And that is something that bothers me about Christianity. (How serendipitous to bring this all together in the end!)  Thank you for the discussion. Unless you provide a different method, or clarify some of the terms, I will end our interaction here. It is only polite to allow the owner of the blog the last word…it is yours, sir!

Bill Pratt says:

May 25, 2010 at 7:48 pm

My method ended before considering the issue of canonicity. Given that we have a religious movement that is authenticated by a true representative of God, and given that this movement has produced many written documents, how does the movement determine which documents come from God. I don’t believe I have ever covered this on the blog, although I have studied the topic in the past. Suffice to say that you raise important issues about the canon of Scripture. I plan on addressing them eventually. For now, I will say that there are criteria, but that they do not always yield certainty. Some books we aren’t sure about, but many of them have passed the criteria with flying colors, so the situation is not so dire! The books that the church has always been sure about give us more than enough information about Jesus and God to make our way home to him.  God bless you.

A Tough Questions Debate: Greg

In the midst of a great debate and discussion at Bill Pratt’s Tough Questions Answered blog we were interrupted frequently by theistic interlocutors who wanted to hack and slash at the skeptic and beat them over the head with a heavy old english book and then duck for cover.  Although the exchange below has been heavily scrubbed to free it of the vitriol (you can read the original in all it’s glory here) and clear hatred of having long held beliefs challenged it proved to be an exchange that provided the opportunity to stretch my thinking and further iron out why some things just don’t make sense.  See this post for the original Tough Questions Answered entry for full context.

Greg says:
May 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm

WOW. I am continually amazed as to how Atheists seem to believe they are the ONLY ones who understand “science”. The fact that most of the early scientists believed in God is quite puzzling.
Way way up the chain Doubting T seems to think my good friend Bill is without scientific aptitude (he has many other faults but science he knows!).

His statement: [Doubting T] “You seem to be working from several assumptions, whereas, virtually all of the atheists I know have no assumptions and accept the results of the scientific method and evidence. In essence, you put faith over reason and we take the opposite view.”

is completely false!! Atheists make assumptions every day. They first assume God does not exist (do they have absolute proof?? No, then it’s an assumption). They assume that the universe is either eternal (which it can’t be according to the science of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics) or they assume that it sprung seemingly self-caused from nothing. Both of those assumptions are ridiculous. Nothing can be self-caused because it would have to first exist to cause something. We all know that not even the GREAT STEPHEN HAWKING and all of his almost infinite wisdom can use science to explain how something can come from nothing. Nothing is the absence of everything so how could anything come from it all by itself?  But sometimes atheists assume that the universe did come into existence and they assume there is no God so they in turn assume their position to be the only possible one. Then they assume that multiple universes “might” exist and matter can leak from one to the other creating “our” Big Bang. They also assume there is no need to regress the 2nd law back to the multiple universes to where the first matter came from.

Everyone on this planet makes assumptions and not even atheists are excluded. Science is so full of assumptions to claim it is based purely on fact is to clearly not have any understanding of science. Darwin made hundreds of assumptions for Origin of the Species. He had ZERO observable, repeatable evidence to support his assumptions and still there are virtually no reliable reasons to believe in macro-evolution today. Darwin must have made assumptions about first life and the birth of the universe as well because he did not address them. I’m thinking he assumed his hypothesis to be correct and he needn’t bother with the details.

Please go and find me science that explains how the system for blood clotting could have evolved. Or explain to me thru science how the fish evolved over millions of years to the amphibian? Did the theory of evolution not apply here because certainly over the millions of years that the fish was developing a land based respiratory system it is tough to explain how it would have helped the fish to better gather food or repopulate thus allowing that mutation to proceed? Why wouldn’t the lungs just have disappeared then as Darwin’s theory states?  In fact… aren’t you “assuming” that virtually all of the atheists you know don’t use assumptions? Have you literally sat with them all for 24 hour periods checking their every statement and thought to something that science can back up with observable repeatable data? I assume not.

Do you believe it is morally bad to murder everyone in a specific family, neighborhood, city, or country based purely on the enjoyment of murdering people? If you say yes, then please use observable repeatable science to prove your case. See, without someone to define what is good and what is bad, everything that happens is just subjectively good and bad. You have opinions and I have them. Neither is absolute. I say Hitler was bad, you say he was good. But again, without a definer there can be NO absolute definition.

Now I know you will try to explain to me how morals evolved because of how they protect the tribe or herd but that is not absolute. Your definition of morals change as evolution sees fit to change them. The morale code I am bound to NEVER changes and is clear and concise  Please use science to explain why science exists at all. This should be easy….  But then again, I’m just another delusional, non-scientific Christian without a clue. I keep searching for the clues to de-convert me but there just aren’t any. Seems elementary to me Watson.

Willie G says:
May 25, 2010 at 4:04 pm

…. So maybe you would like to take a stab at answering my question which I will rephrase once again:

Even if all of the arguments listed in various comments above do indeed strengthen the probability for the existence of a god, why the christian god? Why not Allah and his prophet? Why not Krishna, or Vishnu? Why not Ra or Mithra or Baal? Since you are agnostic toward the existence of all these gods, why are you not agnostic towards Yawheh? Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God?

Greg says:

May 25, 2010 at 5:46 pm

….  As to why the Christian God vs. all the other false gods…. Please see any one of the numerous posts that Billy has presented to explain the evidence for Jesus and Christianity. I will not spend any more time defending my God because he needs no defense and you have been given all the proof you need to believe (Rom 1:18-20).

Why is it that when a Christian challenges an atheist we are being rude but the reciprocal is to show how delusional we are? I beg of you to search in science for a logical answer to any of the below and then i would be more than willing to change my view if they are rationally sound:

1. Origin of the universe

2. Origin of Life

3. Evolution of blood clotting

4. evolution of any system in the human anatomy

5. Origin of ABSOLUTE morality

Bring a solid argument and i will be more than willing to listen….

Greg says:

May 26, 2010 at 8:46 am

…please also understand that I continually search out “meaning” and truth. In fact, I’m the Christian that watches almost every program that NatGeo has about evolution, parallel universes and anything with Stephen Hawking. I listen carefully but I hold the programs accountable to the principals of science. And do you know what i most often hear, words like possible, probable, might (as in might have happened this way), could have, and the like. Also, the statements most often made have no scientific data to support the statement (at least any that is observable and repeatable).

I grew up watching Dr. Carl Sagan on PBS talk about the billions and billions of galaxies but he never could give me a good explanation for where they came from. Even at an early age I understood that nothing can come from nothing, and certainly [not] by a self imposed act. Again, is it wrong for me to ask atheists to use science to support their beliefs? Unfortunately, when we Christians do ask we just get told how stupid we are and that we don’t understand. Seemingly you would think that someone would prove to us that God doesn’t exist using adequate science but they don’t.

….  My desire is not to prove anyone wrong; God will do that on judgment day. It is my desire though that lost people come to an understanding that God does exist, we are not worthy of his love, he gave us the law which we did not uphold and had planned from the beginning to offer his Son as a living sacrifice to atone for our sins; that because of Christ’s sacrifice those who accept him as Lord and Savior are given a grace that is unearned and it is this grace thru our faith in Christ that provides for our salvation. Apart from this all are lost and will spend eternity separated from God.

I truly apologize if you think I am trying to be condescending or trying to offend you. I only ask for the same “scientific” proof to support atheism that you ask of a Christian. I really can’t see how one request can be so offensive and the reciprocal not the same.

I am sorry you choose not to try and answer or at least seek valid answers to the questions I asked in previous posts. If you seriously study the logic behind what the world has offered as answers you can clearly see the errors in the logic. I do have an open mind and open heart but you think I am closed minded because I do not believe as you do.  I clearly cannot convince you of anything nor am I trying to. My original post only asked for someone claiming to understand science to use it to explain clearly how and why some things exist. No one seems to want to do that though. If the science were so clear wouldn’t it be quite easy to prove me wrong?

Willie G says:

May 26, 2010 at 3:59 pm

….I hope you are ready to read and think, because this is going to be a long one.

You said: “…I continually search out “meaning” and truth…. I’m the Christian that watches almost every program that NatGeo has about evolution, parallel universes and anything with Stephen Hawking.”

Although I watch and enjoy NatGeo, the Science Channel, Discovery, etc as well, you have to know that these programs are not “Science”. Rather they are entertainment distilled for the masses. Sure the topics are of things relating to science (i.e. about evolution, about astronomy, about biology) but they are not university training in research methodology, experimentation methodology, or the general principles of the scientific method. Peer reviewed scientific white-papers are above the abilities and education of the general public and have to be watered down to generalizations in order to be entertaining to the masses. If you want to debate the evidence for evolution, molecular biology, genetics, astrophysics or cosmology you are going to have to study the sources and the published works of the scientists themselves. Then and only then will you be qualified to offer a dispute of the masses of evidence that has been accumulated. You say you like Stephen Hawking, well I can promise you if your exposure to him is only on television, or even in reading his book “A Brief History of Time” that you may not like him so much after trying to digest any of his peer-reviewed papers on quantum mechanics and gravitational singularities.

You said: “I listen carefully but I hold the programs accountable to the principals of science… Also, the statements most often made have no scientific data to support the statement (at least any that is observable and repeatable).”

 

I’m not exactly sure how you are holding a program accountable to anything, especially a program that is designed to deliver general information and provide it in an entertaining format that will appeal to most people possible and earn the most advertising dollars that it possibly can. NatGeo makes no claims that it is providing scientific proof of anything. They are merely reporting the findings and claims of scientists. To do anything more would put their audience to sleep, or worse result in everyone changing the channel.

You said: “…I most often hear, words like possible, probable, might (as in might have happened this way), could have, and the like.”

Here is our biggest disconnect. If you understand the scientific method as you claim then you know that science, in all cases, makes only limited and temporary claims to truth. A scientist looks at evidence (verified factual data) and states a hypothesis about what they think is possible or probable in relation to that body of evidence. Groups of like hypotheses are gathered and linked to form a synthesis. This synthesis is them referred to as a scientific theory (not a theory in the common sense that it is a guess, but rather a body of hypotheses that are supported at varying levels of certainty) or the best understanding of how a certain thing functions. Each individual hypothesis is the tested with carefully designed experiments in order to disprove the hypothesis. A true scientist will never speak of absolute truth, but will only speak of what has been observed and verified at this point in time. Only the theist will speak in terms of absolute truth never allowing for future variance.

Since you mention watching the shows of Sagan and Hawking I think I’ll let them speak to your misunderstanding of the scientific method:

” There are many hypotheses in science that are wrong. That’s perfectly all right; it’s the aperture to finding out what’s right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny…. The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge and there is no place for it in the endeavor of science.”

 

–Carl Sagan in Cosmos

“Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory. As philosopher of science Karl Popper has emphasized, a good theory is characterized by the fact that it makes a number of predictions that could in principle be disproved or falsified by observation. Each time new experiments are observed to agree with the predictions the theory survives, and our confidence in it is increased; but if ever a new observation is found to disagree, we have to abandon or modify the theory.”

– Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time

You said: “…Carl Sagan [talked] about the billions and billions of galaxies but he never could give me a good explanation for where they came from.”

 

No scientist on earth would ever make any claim to have used the scientific method to establish a position on the origin of the universe. The discussion of origins is left to the realm of philosophy and theology. Only a fool would claim to “know” where “they came from” as you say. The statements that you will hear scientists make are that based on the evidence that we have and understand at this point in time we have found everything to this point to have a natural explanation, so with regards to the origins of our universe, although we cannot explain it yet, there is no evidence that would lead to hypothesize about an type of supernatural cause. Until that evidence presents itself we will continue to pursue a naturalistic explanation.

Again Carl Sagan has some pointed thoughts here:

“The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.”

–Carl Sagan in Contact p. 162

You said: “…is it wrong for me to ask atheists to use science to support their beliefs? Unfortunately, when we Christians do ask we just get told how stupid we are and that we don’t understand.”

It is absolutely your right to ask me to present evidence to support any statement that I claim to be a positive fact. Since this response is running so long already I am not going to argue anything other than to your comments I am addressing here. If you want to challenge me for evidence on some particular item, then ask about something I stated specifically when you respond and I will address it.

For the record I have never called you stupid or even questioned your intellect. I do however question your true understanding of the scientific method and what scientists’ motives and objectives are. I believe that you have a very shallow understanding of science that leads you to make some very misleading and misguided statements about the claims of science. (That is not an insult. That is a challenging and confrontational statement, but not a personal attack).

You said: “…you would think that someone would prove to us that God doesn’t exist using adequate science but they don’t.”

This is a prime example of why I hold that you do not truly understand either science or it’s methods, and further do not understand philosophical methods of logic and argumentation. Plain and simple, you cannot prove a negative. Neither I nor anyone who has ever existed can prove to you using science, chicken feet or a Ouija Board that your God or any gods does/do not exist. You cannot prove a negative.  Why is this? You may ask. Because no matter how many times I proclaim gods do not exist because I have found no evidence sufficient prove his existence you can always say “then keep looking because you haven’t looked in the right place.”

So again, plain and simple, you can only prove a positive. You and all god believers everywhere are making a positive claim; “God Exists.” So the burden of proof is on you, not me. You must present evidence that demonstrates and proves the existence of God. We can never say that God truly does not exist. We can only say that adequate evidence has not been presented to accept the he/she/they exist. Therefore we are agnostic to the existence of supernatural beings.

You said: “You say that my only desire is to prove you wrong? Isn’t that your desire, to prove that all Christians are delusional?”

I’m sorry but I desire to prove anything. I was asked a specific question, how do I explain that some many people in the world, many highly intelligent believe in a god. I answered that question by stating that they are delusional. I was then told that for various reasons that Bill presented that my position was weak. So I asked a very specific question that has yet to be answered, and again it went like this:

Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God?  That doesn’t sound like I’m trying to prove anything does it. I was told my position was weak, and I asked why. That’s it.

You said: “Is that not being mean spirited as you accuse me?”

Absolutely not. Lots of people are deluded about lots of things. That doesn’t mean that they are mentally deficient or even mentally ill. It means that they have been misled or misguided so deeply that they have become blinded to any contradictory information. I understand that no one would like to have this term (delusional) applied to themselves, after all it would be very embarrassing to have to admit that, but it is not derogatory in the sense that all of you here are taking it. If you don’t like being thought of as delusional, then I challenge you to answer my question.

You said: “My desire is not to prove anyone wrong; God will do that on judgment day.”

Threats are totally not helpful Greg. If I don’t believe in God then why would I concern myself with a non-existent judgment day? All this kind of thing does is drive a wedge between us and shut down the dialogue. Although we may disagree with one another very strongly don’t you think there just might be something we can learn from one another if we keep talking? I think we can. However, if you are going to just threaten me with judgment and Hell, then go talk to someone else.

You said: “I only ask for the same “scientific” proof to support atheism that you ask of a Christian.”

As I stated above I can offer no scientific proof for the non-existence of God. I can only refute evidence you present for his existence. So maybe a good place to start would be for you or somebody here to answer my question that I have asked about 40 times now.

You said: “I am sorry you choose not to try and answer or at least seek valid answers to the questions I asked in previous posts.”

Why do you answer my question with a question? Bill and I were deep in our conversation before you ever showed up in this thread. You have already distracted me from paying attention to Bill, the person I really want to dialogue with, and now you demand answers to your questions. Go get your own blog post to hijack, I already hijacked this one!!

You said: “If you seriously study the logic behind what the world has offered as answers you can clearly see the errors in the logic.”

 

I have, and I don’t.

You said: “…you think I am closed minded because I do not believe as you do.”

No, I think because you have been deluded by your church, Christian culture and American religious society in general that you are closed minded. I really don’t care what you believe. You can believe anything you want.

You said: “My original post only asked for someone claiming to understand science to use it to explain clearly how and why some things exist.”

I do understand science. How and why are two different questions that are not answered by the same methodologies. I can offer you scientific evidence for how many, many things have come to be, others are mystery and will probably never be understood. I cannot tell you why. I have no knowledge or evidence of why things came to be. I am relatively certain that when that answer is discovered it will be found in nature. I have been presented no evidence to believe otherwise.  Sorry for the length of this response. I didn’t know how to address it any shorter.

A Tough Questions Debate: Eric Sawyer

For primary context for this discussion see the primary conversation.  In the midst of a debate with Bill Pratt of Tough Questions Answered Eric Sawyer jumped into the discussion with some very interesting points and perspectives.  Although our conversation was brief Eric brought a courteous and respectful change of pace to what had become a heated conversation.

Willie G says:

May 26, 2010 at 10:26 pm

I actually like the moniker Philistine Dog. It truly made me laugh out loud. And the thought of having my own private corner of hell in the mind of the likes of DOTW gave me a chuckle as well. In fact I think I will use both of these phrases as the title and subtitle of a new blog that will discuss what skeptics should expect from lunatic fundamentalist Christians when they chance upon them while asking honest seeking questions.

R. Eric Sawyer says:

May 26, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Thanks WG. The Philistines sometimes get a bit of a bad rap, I think. If I remember rightly, I think David spent some time amongst them.  I’ve probably offended enough on this topic, though I should probably bow out unless I have something burning my tounge out to say.  BTW, I think you are wrong, and importantly so, but you seem as honest and as rational as most of us. (and as dishonest and irrational as most of us, for what THAT is worth!)

Willie G says:

May 27, 2010 at 8:42 am

You said: “I think you wrong, and importantly so, but you seem as honest and as rational as most of us.”

This is the first time in this long thread that you have engaged with me directly. Since you have now stated that you think that I am wrong in an important way I am assuming that you have some more developed thoughts on my question. Would you mind taking a few minutes to elaborate?  Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God? Why do all the philisophical / apologetic / experiential arguments lead you to Yawheh and not Allah, Vishnu, Ra, etc?  Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God?

R. Eric Sawyer says:

May 27, 2010 at 7:08 pm

(By the way, Willie, I can appreciate your idea of reading people who disagree with you. I have a couple of atheist blogs I visit from time to time ((Billy)) the Atheist being one, and have found it to my profit. Those guys give no quarter, but on the rare times I post there, the interaction always helps me cut the bs out of my argument, and they have alway treated me with about the same level of respect I give them. I learn very little by only reading people who agree with me. The only danger, Willie, is as true for you as it is for me. And that is to develope a love of debate for its own sake, not as a route to truth upon which I should change my life, but just because it is entertaining. Doing that can lead either one of us to an intellectual, emotional and spiritual life fragmented from our real self, and therefore illusionary. I don’t have much more hope for the eternal existence of the illusionary human than I do for the illusionary unicorn. Probably less – there may yet be real unicorns)

Willie G. wrote: Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God? Why do all the philosophical / apologetic / experiential arguments lead you to Yawheh and not Allah, Vishnu, Ra, etc? Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God?”

Willie (or should I say PhD –for Phillistine Dog? Maybe Willy G., PhD.?)  I’m afraid I am not going to be able to give you answers that satisfy an intellectual proof. That is largely why I have avoided speaking directly to that issue on this thread. But I will be happy to lay out some of my thoughts.

My difficulties are several: first, I wish to defer to those who have spent for [sic] time with the classical arguments, and suspect both Bill and you surpass me on that score. I am not likely to strike fire where my superior has not.  Secondly, and probably more to the point, I do not believe such an irrefutable argument for the existence of the Christian God is to be found. This is decidedly not due to any ambivalence on my part: you saw (if you particularly enjoy watching train wrecks) me publicly state that I affirm 95% of our late friends theological statements. I’ll hold to that. I’m as knee-jerk orthodox as anyone. But from what I can see from the statements of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, it doesn’t seem as though a Q.E.D. proof was intended. Paul does indicate in Romans 1 that at least the beginnings can be plainly seen, and that seems evident to me. At the very least, I think we can see that someone/some principle/something is “in charge”, and further, that it ain’t me.

Lastly, what proofs I do have involve anecdotal evidence. As an undergrad, most of my training was in statistics and experimental design, for an intended academic career in psychological research. That path has been long abandoned, but it did leave a residue of “how do you know what you know, and how does one prove it?” Probably one of the more useful “abandonded” majors anyone could have. But anecdotes are not proof, only suggestions for further research (and more grant money).

With those disclaimers, I’ll dive in.  My path has not been terribly different from what you describe. I became a practicing Christian in High school, a committed one in univ., but about 10 years after that, I went through a crisis of faith that compelled me to throw it all away, like a bag of worthless stones. I remember standing at the end of a jetty off of Galveston Island praying to “whoevver is listening, if anyone.”  Some six – twelve months latter, when I next took up the issue, I tried to figure out what I did actually believe. I discovered that I was a theist – that I definitely believed that there was a God (and by pretty clear deduction, this meant one and only one, whatever I should call him or it), later I found that I believed this entity to be good, and later, that it was personal (meaning having the characteristics of personality, and person-hood, not that he was necessarily connected to ME). This took me close to a year, but having got this far, the whole of Christian orthodoxy came rushing back as if a dam holding it back had broken. This re-affirmation, or re-discovery was both intellectual and emotional. I feel a lot of kinship with your struggle, but where I “bounced off” some bottom, you broke through. That was not due to any virtue in me that you lack; some would see it as me lacking a virtue you possess. But I do not believe it was from within me, and I don’t understand it outside of God’s grace.

To get more to the question, I take it that your question does not relate to specific deities proposed in other systems (I know v. little about comparative religion, although ignorance is often not an impediment). Rather I see it as a question about Christianity v other religion in abstract – why THIS instead of any other system one could devise?  And partly, the answer is as subjective as why I married the woman I did.  I did not read the book, her CV, and say “this proves it – she is the one for me!” Instead, I engaged a process of right foot – left foot, where my advancing intellectual knowledge of her fed my advancing emotional connection, which being found to be reliable so far, led to further exploration and advances in relationship until the point of commitment was reached.

My belief in God as the Christian story describes Him (and from here forward, I’ll just refer to “God” meaning this whole phrase) is not primarily intellectual at all. But it is also not primarily emotional. It is hand-over-hand leading to an experiential understanding that I believe is central to authentic relationship; and I think that this is what God desires. In fact, I think it almost the prime desire of the universe. I wish I could give mathematical proofs (there are mathematical true things, but I don’t think any of them ‘prove’ God) but I think He intends things to be a little more willful from us, and a little less compelled.

Working backward, I can buy many of the arguments Bill would bring forth, and I think many of them true. Given the starting points I gave from Romans, that God is real, and I am not God, I can develop the doctrine of Trinity, creation, the fall, the restoration, and the ultimate consummation of the last chapters of the Revelation. There are of course, quite a bit that confuses me, but I find that the Biblical narrative holds together as a coherent story from beginning to end, even with all the diversions (like a Russian novel), and that unity both supports and is supported by my emotional experience. I find that, as I explore Christian doctrine, I find it shedding light on all sorts of experiences in this world, from sexuality to agriculture. I find that, like the sun, God is hard to look at. But by the sun, I can see everything else more clearly. And, if there truly is a trancendent, self-existant being who created all things including the very fabric of space and time itself, this is exactly what one should expect to find.  Still working backwards, if this God I posit above wishes to relate to us, then it would have to be in one of two fashions: a) Shakespeare must put something into Hamlet’s head about the author, or b) Shakespeare must write himself into the story. And Christianity’s claim is that God did exactly that: revelation and incarnation.

Willie, I could go on ad nauseum in the same fashion, but my point is either made or not by now. There is much that I don’t understand. After some 35 years, I am just beginning to see something of the mystery of how the death of Jesus and his resurrection is of personal benefit to me. I’ve long accepted it, but I am just starting to understand it a little, like a 2nd year physics student and quantum mechanics.  I believe in the Christian God because I heard a little, and asked him “is this true?” I understood that answer to that question as something like “come and see” I go back and forth between learning and experiencing, and should trust neither one, anymore than I should try to get down the road by hopping. The more I have understood and accepted the Christian story, the more sense this world, my place and your place, and everything else seems to make. If this story is indeed central to existence, I could expect no less. But I honestly do believe that there is relationship at the bottom of it; that God intends nothing less than the healing of this creation and us relating to him as in a marriage. Everything I have submitted to that framework fits, and is illuminated by it. That is why I believe it. That is why I believe there is great good to come for all who will accept it.

Willie G says:

May 28, 2010 at 3:45 pm

You said: “…what proofs I do have involve anecdotal evidence…. My training was in statistics and experimental design…. [It left] a residue of “how do you know what you know, and how does one prove it?” But anecdotes are not proof, only suggestions for further research….”

Let me offer some statistics which illustrate the difficulty of my question:

There are estimated to be over 4200 religions worldwide. Of these there are now recognized 12 major religions (criteria being: large number of adherents, widespread reaching multiple countries, independent distinctness from other religions, possessing a body of doctrine [scripture or holy book], still in practice today). Christianity is largest world religion today with over 2 billion adherents.

See: http://www.theologicalstudies.org/classicalreligionlist.html

It is estimated that worldwide there are over 34,000 Christian denominations with greater than 15,000 being recognized by the IRS for tax-exempt status in the United States alone.

See: http://www.goshen.edu/news/pressarchive/02-25-08-roth-folo.html

The religions of the world are dispersed across the globe in very specific cultural and societal divisions, highly influenced by historical, political and socioeconomic dispersal routes.

See: http://www.worldreligions.psu.edu/maps-introduction.htm

While none of these facts are intended to be proof of any philosophical position, they clearly point to the difficulty of answering my question of reasonableness. You speak of anecdotal evidence and experiential and emotional knowledge but can you point to any evidence to demonstrate that had you not been born and raised in the United States or some other culturally Christian society that you would still have anecdotal evidence for the Christian God. I would proffer that had you been born in Saudi Arabia, Iran or Iraq you would have anecdotal evidence of the true presence of Allah. Had you been born in India the evidence would be to Vishnu.  But lets focus just on Christianity. You have stated earlier that you used to be of one denomination and now you identify as Anglican (I think). While your particular denomination is more on the liberal end of the continuum, as has been loudly demonstrated in this thread there are others counted in the 34,000 or more other denominations that hold you not to be a Christian at all. I may be castigated as the Philistine Dog and the spawn of Satan, but I’m reasonably sure the DOTW considers you my next door neighbor (so keep the noise down over there!). So why is it reasonable that you have “Anglican” anecdotal evidence other than that is what your unique cultural, geographical, educational experience imposed upon you.  DOTW is convinced 100% that he is of the “true” faith, because his interpretation of his holy book is correct. I’m fairly confident that we could find between 15,000 and 33,000 just as sincere, passionate and outspoken folks that disagree with him in favor of their “true” faith and interpretation of the holy book.  But now step outside of that demise and add that there are 11 other major world religions all possessing their unique holy books as handed down by their unique holy gods. Multiply that by the thousands of sects contained in those religions (not to mention the 4188 minor world religions) all being influential culturally, socially and most important geographically, and suddenly my question is virtually impossible to answer.  In short, I would hypothesize that you are a Christian in general, and an Anglican in particular because you want to be. You find it, as Bill has said, “intellectually stimulating” and the practice of it has brought you a feeling of peace and security and it helps you be a good member of society and do good works for your fellow man. Plus, it allows you to formulate answers for questions that you have not been able to answer otherwise (viz. meaning and purpose of life, death, afterlife etc.).

R. Eric Sawyer says:

June 2, 2010 at 11:10 am

DOTW said:but why is experimentation a rational way of discovering true information about reality?”

Willie G said: “Wow. That’s all, just wow.”

I don’t know that anyone is nessesarily claiming that experimentation is NOT a rational way of discovering true information (BTW, that would not imply that it is a universal tool for producing such results. The fact that a hammer may be the only tool in my toolbox does not imply that it is the best or only tool for driving screws).  I would rather take it that “experimentation as a rational and effective tool” cannot come down from Mt Sinai , unless one wants to assert “divine revelation” as the underpinnings of science. For what it’s worth, I’m OK with that. I think that phrase [is] limited and limiting, but not wrong.  More likely, we have to avoid taking science as a given, else we are subject to all your doubts about religion.

What then are the underlying supports to scientific method and experimentation as ueseful tools?  One is that I asume the universe is rational. I can make no headway unless I take that as a baseline. But so taking it, because it is useful, is a long way from proving it or demonstrating why it should be so.  Another foundational idea is the idea of causality. Things happen for a reason. (Please forgive me for basic scientific philosophy, I expect you know these things) Is this normative, or simply discriptive? Is there a distinction between the two? Is causality universally operative? if so, how do we avoid B.F. Skinner’s (among others) idea that even our “rational thought” is simply conditioning?  If “science” is taken as a bedrock assertion on it’s own, it becomes a semi-religious idea, subject to all the weak points for which you call religion to task. It also needs to answer for them.

Willie G says:

June 2, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I think your comment overall is very broad and will be difficult to adequately respond to as you have crossed boundaries of many disciplines (scientific methodology, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy, theology, etc.). So I will make an attempt to zero in on what I think is pertinent to the overall discussion (please let me know if you think I have missed your intent).

You said: “[A] foundational idea is the idea of causality. Things happen for a reason…. Is this normative, or simply descriptive? Is there a distinction between the two? Is causality universally operative? If so, how do we avoid B.F. Skinner’s (among others) idea that even our “rational thought” is simply conditioning?”

I want to make three points based upon your entire response, but using the above quote as the starting point:

1. It is outside the capacity human reason to prove the existence of entities or events outside of the natural world.

Causality is a foundational ideal, or law if you will. However causality breaks down at the point of “infinite regress.” It is outside our natural ability to establish the truth or untruth of an uncaused cause. Science limits itself to the observable natural world and speculates (guesses, hypothesizes) what else there may be based on those observations.

2. Genetics, social-conditioning, innate psychological biases, survival instinct prevent us from ever possessing absolute certainty about anything, therefore everything is to be scrutinized.

I am very much in line with B.F. Skinner and many of the existentialist philosophers. We are all biased, conditioned, genetically and environmental predisposed to certain understandings. The only way we have any hope to overcome is to rationally question everything, all truth claims must fall under scrutiny and the more rational the methodology used for this process the more sure we can be that we have eliminated (or at least barricaded) our conditioning.

3. Science and the scientific method have proven to be the most reliable method for obtaining an understanding of the natural world and the humans that live in it as part of that natural world.

 Science is consistently and steadfastly making mistake after mistake, failure after failure, false conclusion after false conclusion. As a result of this process of elimination the antiquated falsehoods of the past are tumbling one by one. The workings of the natural world are being discovered, documented and leveraged. The myths of ancient civilizations are being refuted and replaced with observable, tested hard data. Superstition has eroded for the last 500 years to the point that religious belief pre-enlightenment is not even recognizable to the religious of today. Agnosticism, skepticism and scientific scrutiny have taught irrefutably the wisdom that nothing is undeserving of the critical and questioning eye.

So Eric, I ask you, in the light of the fast advance of science and it’s impact upon the knowledge base of the world, what other method seems reasonable to you to ascertain some semblance of truth?

R. Eric Sawyer says:

June 2, 2010 at 5:36 pm

You said: “1.  It is outside the capacity human reason to prove the existence of entities or events outside of the natural world.  Causality is a foundational ideal, or law if you will. However causality breaks down at the point of “infinite regress.” It is outside our natural ability to establish the truth or untruth of an uncaused cause. Science limits itself to the observable natural world and speculates (guesses, hypothesizes) what else there may be based on those observations.”

I can understand about causality breaking down in infinite regression. Although perhaps not totally. I can see why it would be impossible for science to speak to the cause of something that had no cause. Does it also follow that reason has nothing to say about something that has results, even if it has no cause? As we walk back along the chain, when we reach the first link, can we not even describe the chain, and the place of that link in it, how the other links relate to that pattern, even though our method is powerless to say what comes before the first?  Perhaps a more powerful example would be in the quantum realm, where, if I understand, causality breaks down pretty far. Statistics, probablility and uncertainty rule. And yet the sum of all that chaos, the world on our scale, seems pretty well causally anchored.  In providing fuel for your fire, I am acknowleging that you rghtfully put a hedge around science: as great a tool as it is, there are some problems that just don’t lend themselves to it. The question is that, given this “black-out zone” that science cannot look through, what (if anything) lies beyond it, how is that veil pierced, and with what reliability can we regard the answers. Actually, I think this may be a fair summary of our questions to date.

You said:2. Genetics, social-conditioning, innate psychological biases, survival instinct prevent us from ever possessing absolute certainty about anything, therefore everything is to be scrutinized. I am very much in line with B.F. Skinner and many of the existentialist philosophers. We are all biased, conditioned, genetically and environmental predisposed to certain understandings. The only way we have any hope to overcome is to rationally question everything, all truth claims must fall under scrutiny and the more rational the methodology used for this process the more sure we can be that we have eliminated (or at least barricaded) our conditioning.”

To tell you something completely obvious, I know very little philosophy. I ran into a lot of Skinner in school,”Beyond Freedom and Dignity” was all the rage. I disliked him intensly, but I could not then see the answer.  But I agree greatly that we are conditioned to an astoundingly and distressingly great degree. In fact, one of my private opinions is that movement “into God” is also “into truth,” and that part of the freedom we are to develop into is freedom from all these things, elevation from being another causal link (and nothing more) into something much more capable of being an actual initiator of events, the way we claim God (as ‘un-moved mover’)is. A part of man being made in God’s image. Even secular mental health practitioners seem to regard movement toward this type of freedom as movement towards health and wholeness.

You said: “3. Science and the scientific method have proven to be the most reliable method for obtaining an understanding of the natural world and the humans that live in it as part of that natural world. …”

I agree with you about the power of the scientific method, and its results. The danger with any successful technique though, is that its practitioners can assume that it is the right tool for any task. And with that, we have come full-circle. The fact that science is a very good tool does not change what you said earlier about science knowing that it has limits.  Knowing that we may be lacking in other tools does not make science an appropriate one. As you put it “… Agnosticism, skepticism and scientific scrutiny have taught … that nothing is undeserving of the critical and questioning eye.” This including agnostism, skepticism and scientific scrutiny.

You said: “So Eric, I ask you, in the light of the fast advance of science and it’s impact upon the knowledge base of the world, what other method seems reasonable to you to ascertain some semblance of truth?”

Fair enough…. But true reason knows what it cannot know, and that is (at least) in any existance beyond causality.  Anything on that side of the veil cannot even in theory be reached from here. It may not be knowable at all. But if so, it would have to be by revelation from “that side”. This does not come within a mile of proving that it happened, but it does show that, if there is to be such knowledge, it must come from the other side, not from beneath reason,and that is a common error, but from beyond it. It is subject to reason once it comes within our grasp, but not before.


A Tough Questions Debate: Bill Pratt

After a very long and heavily interrupted discussion concerning the reasonableness of belief in the Christian God I have decided to condense the conversation to the key lines of thought with the key participants.  This is part one of the discussion that I have been having with Bill Pratt, author of the apologetics blog Tough Questions Answered.  I have removed all comments from other participants in order to make the discussion more easy to follow.  Additional posts will follow with my discussion with other key commenters.  Below is the original post written by Bill that initiated the discussion.  I include it in it’s entirety for context.

ORIGINAL POST:

Are There Things that Really Bother You about Christianity?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Does it bother you that the Bible is composed of 66 different books instead of one single tome?  What about the fact that there were errors made in copying some of the Bible manuscripts over the last few thousand years?  Does it cause you to doubt Christianity because there are some difficult passages in the Bible?  Do you wish Jesus didn’t say some of the harsh things he said?  Do you find it strange that the biblical authors come from vastly different backgrounds (e.g., shepherds, kings, fishermen)?  Or that they composed poetry, historical narrative, allegory, and apocalyptic letters instead of a theological/moral textbook with each point being carefully outlined (e.g., “see section 11.3.4.7 for why murder is wrong”).  Does it irritate you that Jesus only ministered for a few years and covered a limited range of topics?  Are you worried about the way the canon of Scripture developed over time in the church instead of God sending Scripture to earth in a black obelisk, like  in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey?  Do you wish Jesus and the apostles had addressed more social ills than they did?

Listen carefully: If these kinds of things really eat at you, you have either rejected Christianity or you have erected barriers around your faith so that you can shut off your brain and not think any more.  You see, what you fail to realize is that God has chosen to use flawed and fallible human beings in the framework of human history to accomplish his purposes.  We are included in his plans and he allows us to be important actors in the drama he has written, but there is a catch with this approach: Christianity turns out to be messier than some of us would like (emphasis mine).

Jesus is both divine and human; the Bible is both divine and human.  Both of these are tenets of Christianity, so why do so many of us want to drop the human part of the Bible and the human part of Jesus?  Jesus, as the God-man, was sinless during his life in earth, but that doesn’t mean he was some kind of emotionless Spock with no feelings and no passion.  The Bible, because it is divinely inspired, is inerrant in what it teaches, but that doesn’t mean that God had to compose the Bible as a dry textbook that dropped from the sky one day, avoiding all human interference.

Learn to appreciate the fact that God has included humanity in his plans.  The sooner you do, the better you’ll understand Christianity.

DISCUSSION:

Willie G says:

April 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm

That is an incredible encapsulation of why so many former evangelicals have turned their backs on their former faith. You paint god as the tyrannical playwright that fully orchestrates the “drama” of human existence in all its ugliness, with all its tragedy, gross neglect and evil encounters, then add that it is all his plan and he “allows” us to play. There is far too much deleterious innuendo here to ever accept your final appeal to the appreciation of any kind of a divine “plan.” Rather it points clearly to delusion.

Bill Pratt says:

April 22, 2010 at 10:22 pm

I would say the reason any evangelicals turn their backs on their former faith is because they were taught a Pollyanna view of Christianity that was so naive and simplistic that when the first little trouble occurred in their faith, it fell apart into a million tiny pieces.

Willie G says:

April 23, 2010 at 10:27 am

This is so typical. The first line of defense when faced with the realization that someone has rejected what you cling to always seems to be to denigrate the experience and understanding of the one who lost their faith. “If you just believed what I believe,” or “you weren’t really a christian to start with,” or any other assumption you can think of not to have to deal with the fact that men and women of extreme intelligence who have immersed themselves in scripture, the christian fellowship, evangelism and ministry and earnest seeking of god’s face and personal relationship with him have authentically found their beliefs deficient in plausible content and have simply and often painfully walked away.

Bill Pratt says:

April 23, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Willie, I’m not trying to offend anybody; I’m just telling you what I’ve witnessed time and again when dealing with ex-evangelicals. I’m sure there are some ex-evangelicals who do not fall into this camp, but most of the ones I talk to do fall into this camp.  Now it’s your turn to offend me. Tell me how you explain the fact that men and women of extreme intelligence have immersed themselves in scripture, the Christian fellowship, evangelism, and ministry, and have found their beliefs to be perfectly plausible, reasonable, and intellectually satisfying. There are millions of them, so what gives?

Willie G says:

April 23, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Bill says: “Now it’s your turn to offend me. Tell me how you explain the fact that men and women of extreme intelligence have immersed themselves in scripture, the Christian fellowship, evangelism, and ministry, and have found their beliefs to be perfectly plausible, reasonable, and intellectually satisfying. There are millions of them, so what gives?”

First of all, I do not want to offend you or anyone else here. I seek only dialogue. As one who has weighed their faith on the scales of truth and found it wanting I continually seek diverse points of view that will help me to either confirm or deny my current position. In this search I have quickly tired of the same old arguments and theistic short cuts of those who would quickly cling to their long held beliefs blindly and condemn or at least discount the honest seeker who has discarded those same long held beliefs. Fair enough?

Now, to address your question: I alluded to my position in my first comment above. I would propose that the problem is one of delusion. While the application of this term is not original to me, it is striking to me that people of all religions, not just the masses that you refer to in the Christian faith, will cling to their beliefs in the face of contrary evidence and reason and will further attempt to excuse inconsistencies and out right horrors and atrocities committed in the name of their religion and their gods.  This smacks of neuro-pschycological conditioning similar to what is found in all cases of what we would commonly refer to as brainwashing. Although I am not a proponent of his combative and militant style, nor his general nasty approach and rudeness I nevertheless refer you to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Also, John Loftus new book The Christian Delusion is outstanding from both the point of view of Christian apologists and Atheist/agnostic philosophers.

One thing I would like to point out, and I hope you don’t find this insulting, is I am surprised to see you lean on an appeal to the masses as a basis for a truth claim. I have read this argument in your archives as well and was dumbfounded that anyone would appeal to the majority as a source of confirmation. There is nothing more dangerous than group-think. This very thing has led many a cult to a suicidal rampage. The fact that Atheists find themselves vastly outnumbered in no way discredits their claim to truth, nor does numerical superiority of any religion seal the deal for it’s truth claim.

So, I basically ask that you and I have a dialogue based on our own search for truth. I in no way doubt your sincerity. I believe you are deluded. I believe that I was deluded as well. I believe I have awakened from the delusional haze and have made the decision to no longer drink the kool-aid. I am not here to attempt to convert you. Although, if you are honest, I believe that you would have to admit that since I stumbled onto your site you are here, in fact, to attempt to reconvert me. And I’m ok with that. But I will insist that your arguments be intellectually charged, clearly logical, and not just the same old tired drivel that gets tossed out at the skeptical world because you have nothing of substance to say.

You and your colleague are here under the guise of apologetics. I can tell by the commenters (one of whom I read regularly) that you have several very honest, well versed, highly educated skeptics in the house and along for the ride. The nature of your site being a blog invites interaction and dissent. So I’m here to see what you have to say. I hope you are here to accept my respectful dialogue.

Peace to you.

Bill Pratt says:

April 25, 2010 at 6:13 pm

You said: “I would propose that the problem is one of delusion.”

You further say religious folks are brainwashed. I appreciate your honesty, but I wonder why you bother dialoguing with people who are deluded and brainwashed. After all, these kinds of people rarely, if ever, respond to rational evidence or argumentation. You said that I must be trying to re-convert you, and I won’t argue with you, but why exactly are you talking to me? Delusional people are hardly worth spending serious time with.

You said: “I am surprised to see you lean on your appeal to the masses as a basis for a truth claim.”

I think you have misunderstood me. I do not claim that majority opinions must be true or are even strong evidence for truth. I always bring up this point in order to force people to come to terms with why they are in a minority. The fact that a viewpoint is shared by most people demands an explanation from those who do not share that viewpoint; that’s all. If you do not come up with a decent explanation for why most people are wrong about an issue, I worry that you really have not taken the majority view seriously.  In your case, you believe that 95% of the people who are alive and who have probably ever lived are delusional, and that you are part of a minority that have somehow escaped this delusion. That is a fact worth stating and thinking about. It may say something important about you, but only you can know that. So I guess I should follow up with the question of why is it that you were able to escape the delusion? And then, why haven’t I escaped?

Willie G says:

April 25, 2010 at 7:36 pm

You said: “I wonder why you bother dialoguing with people who are deluded and brainwashed. After all, these kinds of people rarely, if ever, respond to rational evidence or argumentation. You said that I must be trying to re-convert you, and I won’t argue with you, but why exactly are you talking to me? Delusional people are hardly worth spending serious time with.”

I suppose the basic answer is that I feel a great affinity with and for those who still cling to faith in the supernatural, especially those who seem open to examining questions in an intellectual and academic way. You seem to be one that finds your faith to be reasonable (i.e. you don’t seem to have “blind” faith). I was once fully indoctrinated, brainwashed, deluded. Once my faith was forced under the scrutiny of reason and science my faith began to crumble and the shroud of delusion began to lift until eventually I could no longer reasonably hold to my previous faith. However, as any adequate student of science will tell you, the objective of science is not to prove a hypothesis correct, but rather to disprove that hypothesis. Therefore, there is no better place to check for error in your assumptions than the source. I seek out theistic intellectuals that are willing to dialogue, discuss and debate to make certain that I have not come to false conclusions. So in essence I come to you, though I may think you are deluded, to find evidence that I have drawn faulty conclusions. This is why I admittedly get irritated when presented with canned, tired, worn out attempts at rebuttal. I will always be a seeker. I will not find what I seek by engaging only those that agree with me. I must also stay in touch with those who are contrary.

You said: “If you do not come up with a decent explanation for why most people are wrong about an issue, I worry that you really have not taken the majority view seriously.”

I ask a little levity here. Without divulging my entire life’s history let’s leave it at me being fully engrossed and invested in all things Christian and evangelical. I not only took the majority view seriously, I was the majority view, I proselytized based on the majority view, I gave and sacrificed all that would be considered dear for the majority view. When I walked away from what I now refer to as delusion I was crushed spiritually, emotionally, socially and economically. I have paid a massive negative price for my deconversion that carries serious personal repercussions to this day (20 years later). So please, do not question my serious consideration of the majority view.

You asked: “why is it that you were able to escape the delusion? And then, why haven’t I escaped?”

Delusion is an awful thing. One who is mistaken can be corrected. One who is confused can be redirected. One who is ignorant can be enlightened. But one who is deluded can only be changed by the most unpleasant, and sometimes violent intervention. I was able to escape only through the most unpleasant heart-wrenching and personally devastating and socially isolating experience that I could ever imagine. My life has been rent asunder. Everything I ever cherished and held dear has been torn from under me. I have been rejected and tossed aside by nearly everyone that ever meant anything to me. But now I am free. Free from the bondage of religious delusion. The cult has been scourged from my brain, and now I stand alone, just me and my days on the earth.  My experience is why I said in an earlier comment that I am not here to convert you. If you are as deluded as I was, I would never wish the pain of my deconversion upon you. I cannot explain why you have not escaped, but I daresay that if you continue to engage people like me in the conversations you seem to be inviting, that it is only a matter of time. Ancient supernatural superstition cannot stand the onslaught of modern reason. If you continue to expose your faith to those who have escaped it will be weighed in the balance, and it will be found wanting, and you will either escape the delusion, or you will become a cowering dishonest theist.

I look forward to your response.

Bill Pratt says:

April 28, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Willie,
Thanks for your honesty and openness. I do not doubt anything you say about your de-conversion, and I imagine it was and remains extremely painful. One of the first things I want to ask God when I finally get to meet him face to face, is “Why are there intelligent people who looked at the evidence for your existence and found it to be strong, and others who looked and found it to be weak?”

Please indulge me a little bit; I am not trying to brag, but just give you my background so you can get a sense for who I am. I have been engaging non-Christians, and especially atheists, for 7 years now. I was ranked third in my high school class of 500 students, have an IQ of 140, and received an electrical engineering degree from GA Tech, one of the toughest engineering schools in the US. I have saturated myself in the arguments against Christianity. I meet weekly with skeptics at a friends’ house.  Why do I continue to believe? Just from my brief bio, you can see that I probably have the intellectual chops, that I’ve studied the evidence for and against, and yet my faith remains solid. There must be something more to de-conversion than mere intellectual exploration of the issues. There are many people like me. So why don’t we deconvert? This is the question that bothers me.

I can only conclude that there are spiritual, emotional, moral, and volitional issues also at play when someone believes or doesn’t believe. It has to be more than mere intellect, because the empirical evidence shows that there are many Christian intellectuals. What are your thoughts on this question?

Willie G says:

April 29, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Bill says:I’ve studied the evidence for and against, and yet my faith remains solid. There must be something more to de-conversion than mere intellectual exploration of the issues. There are many people like me. So why don’t we de-convert? This is the question that bothers me. I can only conclude that there are spiritual, emotional, moral, and volitional issues also at play when someone believes or doesn’t believe. It has to be more than mere intellect, because the empirical evidence shows that there are many Christian intellectuals. What are your thoughts on this question?”

This is a big and important question and one that I’m not sure I can do justice to without a considerable amount of time and space. So I will attempt to answer briefly without taking over your blog space. I only ask that you assume positive intent if something seems not fully developed. Please follow up with additional questions if you require more detail for clarity.

“I’ve studied the evidence for and against, and yet my faith remains solid. There must be something more to de-conversion than mere intellectual exploration of the issues.”

First of all, intellectual exploration is not the equivalent of de-conversion, but rather the responsibility of anyone that would make a truth claim with regards to any subject whatsoever, whether religious or non-religious in nature. We are creatures endowed with intellect and the powers of reason. We owe it to ourselves to be agnostic towards all truth-claims that lack explicit empirical evidence to support them. We take this approach towards nearly all ideas that are presented to us, especially religious ideas that are outside our cultural and familial experience. Here in lies the problem. We have no difficulty in rejecting the truth claims of those that do not share our religious culture and habitual practice. In fact we dismiss them out of hand without fear of consequence. But after years, if not decades of religious indoctrination we are so culturally and experientially invested in what we have always “known” to be the truth that we struggle to objectively examine those truth claims in the light of reason. Since we cannot bring ourselves to even consider that we may be mistaken we refuse to hear the objections of those who have agnostically approached our claims and have cast them aside as preposterous. Until you can forcefully and even violently step outside of your biases (biases that we all possess) and approach the tenets of your faith agnostically, examining them in the light of reason and scientific method I would propose that you never will resolve this issue. John Loftus refers to this as the “Outsiders Test of Faith.”

I was much like you in this regard. I was an apologist, an evangelist, a lifetime believer seriously invested in the Christian faith. I could not imagine how anyone could possibly not see Christianity as the absolute truth for which I claimed it to be. Over the course of a decades’ long journey, piece by piece it began to unravel, come unglued and eventually dissolve as I studied and examined critically claim after claim in the light of reason. So intellectual exploration is not the equivalent to de-conversion, but rather it is like the lighting of a fuse, a very slow, long-burning fuse that if kept in an environment of scientific reason will burn passed all unsupportable truth claims until it reaches the point of no return, the ultimate implosion of faith known as de-conversion.  But as you imply, there is more to de-conversion than a simple intellectual exploration. I would like to briefly address these as you have outlined.

“So why don’t we de-convert? … I can only conclude that there are spiritual, emotional, moral, and volitional issues also at play when someone believes or doesn’t believe.”

Spiritual issues: This brings to mind the argument of William Lane Craig with regards to the “internal witness of the Holy Spirit” or what I have come to refer to as the “I know what I know therefore what I know cannot be refuted” argument. It’s exactly how the old hymn says regarding the resurrection of Jesus: “you ask me how I know he lives… he lives within my heart.”  I would contend that this is a non-argument. This is nothing more than experiential subjectivism that is 100% non-verifiable outside the psyche of the one who has the experience. You can no more objectively demonstrate spirituality than I can objectively demonstrate the real presence of the flying spaghetti monster.

Studies have clearly demonstrated the power of indoctrination upon the human mind, especially in the case where the indoctrination begins early in the life of a child. With the right level of indoctrination implanted ideas become part of the physical makeup of the brain as a new reality becomes imprinted in the mind. The power of repetition supported with a system of reward and a guilt enforced fear of failure the human mind can be convinced to do and say both the most altruistic and the most self-destructive actions. To avoid delusion we must realize that believing something to be true does not make it actually true.

I am certainly open to being shown that I am in error, but I would contend that there is no objective test that would demonstrate a state of spirituality. You may point to sincerity, and faithful dedication, good works and acts of contrition, religious practice and ritual, but none of these will prove, demonstrate or verify the existence of a spiritual realm or state outside of our physical experience. These all rather are only the proscribed actions of a religious creed. Christians do in fact like to refer to these things as an “outward expression of an inward grace” yet only those indoctrinated in that particular religion will perform those particular religious practices and rituals, and it is quite simple to demonstrate that people of all cultures and traditions, religious or otherwise will behave kindly, morally and decently coupled with altruistic good works.

So in short, if you believe that there are “spiritual issues” that lead one to de-conversion that are outside of the intellectual exploration, then I would challenge that it is the intellectual exploration that leads one to the realization that there are no spiritual issues at all, but only what we can deal with in the realm of nature.

Emotional issues: Anyone who de-converts from Evangelical Christianity who says there were no emotional issues involved was not long invested in their faith. For me personally, the longer that fuse of intellectual exploration burned the more emotional issues accumulated. The closer a de-convert comes to the summit of the de-conversion process, the more the emotional and rational discontent grows. As reason brings intellectual honesty there is a sometimes violent shaking off of chains that have long been clung to as if they were a security blanket. As eyes are opened to the light of reason one will find themselves suddenly hurt by the realization of how their lives have been negatively impacted by a delusion that was cast upon them. Unfortunately there is usually a period of hatefulness and sarcasm, cynicism and even poor behavior towards those that they feel have held them captive. This emotional reality is akin to the Kubler-Ross cycle of grief. All stages must be passed through before true acceptance can be attained. During this period many de-converts simply walk away from long held fellowships and abandon relationships leaving people wondering, and often accusing them of things that have nothing to do with their true reality.

Moral and volitional issues: I’m not directing this criticism at you personally, but citing “moral and volitional issues” is nothing more than an ad hominem argument. Christians seriously invested and committed to their indoctrination cannot begin to fathom how anyone could possibly reason themselves away from the faith so the fall back is automatically that there must be sin in the skeptics life that could not be squared with the holiness of god. Once their sin is exposed to the light, being unwilling to repent and give it up, the skeptic is forced to retreat to the shadows and deny their previously held faith. And further, for you to say “I can only conclude that there are … moral and volitional issues also at play” is a clear indication to me that you have failed to see the beam in your own eye in favor of searching for the speck in mine. I’m sorry Bill, but this is a cop out, and I’m calling “foul”!! This is self-righteous judgmental legalism at its finest. Does not the Bible teach that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of god? None are righteous, no not one? Through the death of the one man, all die? And did Jesus not exclaim to “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”? And did not the Apostle Paul opine his extreme and ongoing struggle with sins that he could not overcome (“that which I do not want to do, I do”)? In fact were not Paul’s struggles so extreme that he had to be comforted by the retort of god’s proclamation to him that “my grace is sufficient for you”? To contend that Christian-turned-skeptics walk away from their faith due to “moral and volitional issues” is both disingenuous and demeaning, and further a shallow attempt to dismiss the skeptic without dealing with his true concerns. Thus: ad-hominem.  I’m sorry for the rant, I mean no disrespect to you, but this argument smacks at the most extreme condescension and disrespect to all deconverted skeptics.

I hold that the specter of “sin” and the fear of retributive eternal punishment is the greatest single factor in commanding adherence to the delusion. The fear of burning for eternity in the fire and brimstone of Hell is etched in the minds of the evangelical world such as to hold them fast. It takes great courage to face that fear and to examine your core beliefs in the light of reason. Many Christians who have extreme doubts about their religious beliefs are kept in the pew for no other reason. They have swallowed the shallow argument of Pascal’s wager and take the better safe than sorry approach. So they live their lives convincing themselves that those things that make intellectually no sense must be taken as truth “by faith.” All the while, the intellectual reasoning and drawn conclusions that are applied to the things of faith, these same folks would never apply to any other intellectual pursuit or discipline they encounter. They would quickly recognize the ludicrous nature. But add the “god-said-it, god-did-it, god-wrote-it, god-breathed-it” element to the conversation, coupled with the promise of eternal damnation for rejecting it, and the issue is cemented and resolved. The delusion is complete.

Bill Pratt says:

May 15, 2010 at 1:44 pm

First, citing the possible existence of moral and volitional issues is not an ad hominem argument, for I am not arguing the point at all. I am not saying: “You deconverted because of moral and volitional issues only, therefore your beliefs about God are false.” That would be ad hominem, but I am not saying that, nor have I ever said that.  I am merely pointing out that human beings are not purely intellectual creatures. We possess will, emotions, and intellect. We are complex, and when we make decisions about ultimate issues, such as God, it is highly likely that all of these components come into play. So many skeptics try to argue that their deconversion was purely intellectual, and I find that to be ludicrous, to be blunt. That may be the case in a rare few instances, but in general, skeptics have emotional, volitional, moral, and intellectual reasons for not wanting to believe. In fact, research done by psychologist Paul Vitz indicates that many atheists have unresolved hatred for their father figures.

You have argued that most Christians cling to their beliefs for fear of hell, and some do. But many do not. I rarely think about hell. I have studied Christianity backward and forward and I find it to be quite intellectually satisfying, as I’ve said before. There are many others like me, so your theory for why people remain Christian is flawed, as it does not deal with all the data. The data says that there are rational and intellectual people who have no problem believing the core beliefs of Christianity.  Again, your theory addresses some of the data (i.e., there are Christians who don’t think about their faith, there are Christians who are afraid of hell, there are Christians whose faith is only undergirded by “God says it, I believe it”). This may even be a large number of Christians, but certainly not all.  But let’s say that most Christians are ignorant of the intellectual reasons for their beliefs: what exactly does this prove? A person may hold a true belief without understanding why it’s a true belief. For example, everyone believes that gravity exists, but most people cannot explain what scientific equations explain its operation.

Maybe a summary of our positions would be helpful here: You seem to be saying that any Christian who truly examines his faith in the light of reason will eventually de-convert, given that they are intellectually honest.
I say that people de-convert not just for intellectual reasons, but for moral and volitional reasons as well. I also say that I and many others are living proof that you can believe in Christianity and be intellectually honest.  Where should we move from here?  Were there certain key facts you learned that made Christianity intellectually impossible to believe, facts that I am not aware of?

Willie G says:

May 18, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Bill, you stated: “I have studied Christianity backward and forward and I find it to be quite intellectually satisfying, as I’ve said before.”

and: “But let’s say that most Christians are ignorant of the intellectual reasons for their beliefs: what exactly does this prove?”

I have spent several days pondering our discussion, your most recent response and how I would like to engage with you going forward. I am sorry to have reached the conclusion that I have come to because I was genuinely hoping for a invigorating exchange that would challenge my thinking and current positions. However, in light of the above two quotes I fear that we have reached the end of the road and it would be futile to attempt to move forward. I will attempt to summarize why I am feeling this way.

I stated in no uncertain terms that my contention is that Christians, you included, are delusional. You cling to beliefs that you would not allow for any other situation in life. You have put your hope in things that have no scientific or natural foundation. You believe in miraculous claims that are outside the realm of reason and fully discount as false the miraculous claims of all others who don’t share your particular worldview. Further you guard your delusion by confidently claiming that having studied backward and forward you find it to be “intellectually satisfying.”  Further, instead of dealing with my direct accusation of delusion and attempting to convince me why I am incorrect in my claim, and prove to me that you are not delusional you make an appeal to popularity stating that I need to explain how so many “intellectual” people can be likewise deluded. You follow that with a HUGE red herring argument that it’s not you that is deluded, but rather I must of necessity have spiritual, emotional, moral and volitional issues outside of my intellectual reasoning that have resulted in my deconversion. Unfortunately your diversion sucked me in and I spent a good deal of time trying to answer your accusation. Although I called you on this ad hominem approach, you simply wrote it off as a mischaracterization of your intent and proceeded to throw another red herring into play with your comment about atheists having unresolved hate issues with father figures.  If that wasn’t sufficient to demonstrate that you are totally dodging my objection you then make a weak analogy by comparing unintellectual belief in god to lack of understanding (but yet believing) in the LAW of gravity.

Then finally you state that: “I and many others are living proof that you can believe in Christianity and be intellectually honest.”

Again I would state that you and many others are living proof that honestly believing in Christianity proves you to be delusional.

If you would like to directly address my accusation of delusion and explain why it is intellectually reasonable to believe in the foundations of the Christian faith then I am willing to continue our conversation. However, if all you want to do is beat up straw-men, toss out red herrings and weak analogies then I’m not sure I have the energy to continue to deal with the same poor arguments that are presented by nearly every poorly informed Christian who really only believes because they live in a predominantly Christian society.  If you address my accusation of delusion demonstrating intellectually why it is reasonable to accept the claims of Christianity, then I will be glad to supply you with a long list of of key facts that have made Christianity impossible for me to believe.

Bill Pratt says:

May 18, 2010 at 9:41 pm

You ask me to prove that I am not delusional (who exactly is using the ad hominem approach? just asking…). I would point to the numerous blog posts that I have written on the evidence for God’s existence, the historical reliability of the New Testament, and the utter inadequacy of competing worldviews to explain the basic properties of our universe and the human experience. These are easy to find either by using the tag cloud, the search box, or clicking on categories in the left column of the home page.  Unfortunately I have not produced a systematized discourse on why Christianity is reasonable, as that would require a book-length treatment. This is, after all, a blog. Blogs are useful for narrowing in on bite-size topics, but not for defending complete world-views.  If you would like to know what book most closely explains my reasoned belief in Christianity, I would recommend reading I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. This books follows a classical apologetic approach to presenting the reasonableness of Christianity. There are certainly other approaches, but I prefer that one.  I’m not sure what else I can do to prove I’m not delusional.

Willie G says:

May 19, 2010 at 12:26 am

I have not made a personal attack. I stated “…address my accusation of delusion demonstrating intellectually why it is reasonable to accept the claims of Christianity…”

I am asking you a direct question. Why is it reasonable to accept the claims of Christianity? You have titled your blog “Tough Questions Answered”, subtitled “a christian apologetics blog.” This communicates to me that you have the answers to my tough questions and you are prepared to defend Christianity. I am merely asking you to do just that.  I am disappointed that you would simply wave your hand and dismiss me with a homework assignment to explore your archives. You present yourself as an apologist, a defender of the faith. I would expect you to be prepared to address the questions of the honest skeptic. You asked me why I thought so many intellectual people adhered to the tenets of Christianity. I answered that Christians were caught in the demise of delusion, social and cultural brainwashing. I asked you to demonstrate why Christian belief is not a delusion but instead a reasonable understanding of the human condition, and an intellectually sound approach to the human condition. Instead of answering my question and challenge you point me to Geisler/Turek and their tome (which I own and have studied and critiqued) which is nothing more than delusional propaganda to prop up the pre-existent faith of the Christian community. There is nothing in their book that is the least bit intellectually challenging to the skeptic community.

Bill Pratt says:

May 20, 2010 at 9:27 am

I don’t think you’re being fair or reasonable. I have sincerely interacted with you, and I have answered several of your questions. But you are throwing a doctoral thesis at me and then claiming that it’s disappointing that I won’t take the time to write it.  Are you just trying to trap me and make me look bad or do you want to tackle some smaller issues that we could more easily dissect? I am not unwilling to talk with you; I am just asking you to focus our discussion on some smaller, more manageable topics. Are you willing to do that or will you let things stand at: “I asked Bill tough questions and he refused to answer.” I’m not sure how making that statement advances anything.  What is particularly frustrating is that anyone who bothers to read this blog over a period of time has seen me answer hundreds of questions and spend considerable time over the past year and a half doing so. You have so far refused to read the other blog posts I have written and have demanded that I put everything into this one blog post comment thread.  Willie, are you acting in good faith in our conversation? What is your goal here? If it is to continue our dialogue, then please consider my time constraints. If you are only content with me writing a book in this comment thread, then so be it. Our time, on this comment thread, is at an end. I hope you will choose to focus instead.

Willie G says:

May 21, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I don’t think I am being unfair at all. I am not here to insult you, make you look bad, castigate you, or even argue with you. I came here to get a very tough question answered. Has it occurred to you that I have, in fact, read through your archives, not only the posts themselves but also the dialogue that follows? I am not being disingenuous. I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. You have simply not addressed my question on your blog, not in this post nor in any other. If you feel that you have, then please help me out and point me to it. Otherwise you seem to be saying “that question is too hard so ask me an easier one.”

Everything you have written on your blog is built on the foundation that belief in god and Christianity in particular is reasonable. Before I can dialogue with you on any particular facet of Christian theology I need to understand why it is reasonable. I will not debate a person over the ethical nature of harsh treatment of abductees aboard the alien mother ship because I reject alien abduction as a fantasy, and those who believe it and claim to live their lives based upon it are delusional. It is immaterial how the aliens decorate their spaceships and not worthy of discussion due to the fact the foundation of credibility of the entire subject matter is non-existent.

Please Bill, go back to my very first comment on this blog post. Although I allowed myself to be distracted some by your follow up comments, I have not changed my question from the beginning. You asked “are there things about Christianity that really bother you?” I stated “Yes. I think it is a delusion.” You said “I find Christianity to be intellectually satisfying,” so I asked “Why? Why is it reasonable to believe in God and Christianity?”  I can’t ask you a different question. No other question matters to me. I am appealing to you. You can judge my motives to be false if you want to, but if that is the case why do I come back again especially with the tirades of the nut-job Troll. For me, at this point in my life there can be no other question. If you want me to go ask someone else, just say so. If you think you have an answer I sincerely want to hear it.

Bill Pratt says:

May 24, 2010 at 7:17 pm

In some of my blog posts, I have given philosophical and scientific reasons for believing in a theistic God (cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments being three of them). Because of our conversation together, I am plan on doing more of that. In other posts, I have written about the historical reliability of the New Testament documents. I have written several posts pointing out the deficiencies of an atheistic worldview (no grounding for free will, morality, consciousness, etc.). I have pointed out the fact that over 95% of the world’s population believes in God, which means that less than 5% of the world is not delusional. I know you don’t like me to bring this up, but surely it’s a fact that counts against your viewpoint and for mine. Can you truly believe that 95% of all people are delusional? The blog is littered with these kinds of posts and they are easy to find.  Is there more evidence I could provide? Always, I am working on it and will continue to produce more material along these lines. Again, if there is a particular issue you would like to jump into, I’m game.

Willie G says:

May 25, 2010 at 12:38 am

So I think since you have put a stake in the ground (level setting) that I should return in kind (level setting).  Although I very much enjoy discussing and debating the various arguments for the existence of the Christian God that you posit above “(cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments being three of them)”, none of these address my question to you. All of these arguments are not sufficient to address my core question. Please bear with me on this. I am not being belligerent, or mean, or in your words trying to “make you look bad.” My question to you is the stumbling block for me. So I repeat and reword my question again for you here. Why is it reasonable to believe in god; any god; any religious faith or dogma?

Let me give some qualifying statements to set the stage for our future discussion.

    • I have not reached the point in my life-journey that I proclaim to be a strong atheist. I would say that I am agnostic to all gods and all religions. However I would say I am a strong agnostic; my interpretation being that I see no evidence to accept any claim for the existence of any god. If reasonable evidence is presented I will follow that evidence. The more I search and examine what is presented, the stronger my agnosticism has become.
    • I am extremely educated and previously indoctrinated in fundamentalist/evangelical christian doctrine. I only know your education/scriptural training background from what you have shared in your biography and comments about your current seminary training. I am in no way putting myself or my training above you, in fact I am very humble in regards to my understanding, however I am confident in saying that you can speak at any academic level with regards to both the Bible and Christian academia and I am with you. I am studied and proficient in biblical languages, textual criticism, modern and post-modern theological thought, hermeneutics, apologetics, philosophy of religion and psychology. I say all of this not to build myself up, but only to say that if you have something to say, a position to argue, then bring it please. Don’t hold back or dumb anything down. We are deep into the comments now, you don’t have to worry about your general audience, very few people will venture this deep into a thread.

Now to the point at hand, and it really is a simple one based upon the way you have presented your defense. Even if I find your arguments reasonable “(cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments being three of them)” why should I apply these arguments to your god, the christian god? Why should I not apply them to Vishnu, Allah, Thor, Zeus, Mithra, etc? I know you have heard this question before, but you have to be honest, it has never been answered. So I ask again, why is it reasonable to believe in god, any god, your god?

As for your continued insistence to appeal to popularity/the masses, I would encourage you to drop this line of argumentation as it is a well recognized fallacy and your constant repetition of it only makes you look silly in the eyes of serious students of logic and debate. I mean, really, think of all the by-gone universally accepted beliefs that have been obliterated by science: geo-centrism, flat earth, etc… So many universally held beliefs have been disproved and discredited by science and the simple growth and development of the human intellect that it is non-productive to appeal to universal belief as a measure of “rightness.” I will disregard any appeal you make to the masses out of hand, so you should really just stop doing it.

You asked me earlier why I bother talking to you since I obviously claim that you are delusional. Most christians that I talk to are not only delusional, but so deeply entrenched in their delusion that meaningful discussion is impossible (such as Discipleoftheword). You however, although we definitely disagree and at are at odds with our core positions, seem to be open to searching for truth. That’s all I ask for. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me. In fact, that is the challenge. All of my beliefs are falsifiable. In fact that is what I am seeking. Please, prove me wrong.

Bill Pratt says:

May 25, 2010 at 7:41 pm

One quick point about my appeal to the masses. I was not arguing that a person should believe in God because 95% of the population do. I was pointing out that your position is that 95% of people in the world are not only intellectually wrong about something (that has certainly happened before, as you point out), but that they are actually delusional, which is an abnormal psychological condition. I am challenging you to re-think your use of the word “delusional” as describing those who believe in God because you end up claiming that virtually everyone on the planet is psychotic, or whatever word you want to use as a synonym for delusional.

Anyway, let’s look at what the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments demonstrate. If you accept these arguments, they show, in total, that there exists a being who is self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial, unimaginably powerful, personal, super-intelligent, purposeful, and good. Using these criteria, we can then examine which gods out of your list fit this criteria. To my knowledge, the only two that do are Yahweh and Allah.  Now that we’ve narrowed down to these two, we can investigate the historical claims that are made about the founders of these religions, Christianity and Islam. We look at the New Testament documents to see if they are trustworthy and if they are an accurate report about Jesus. We ask if Jesus did anything to prove he was God’s true representative. We then look to see if Muhammad did anything to prove he was God’s representative, as he claimed. In the end, we can show with historical probability, that Jesus died and rose from the dead, as he predicted he would. He claimed that this would prove he was sent from God. Muhammad recited words allegedly given to him by an angel, and that is the only proof he offered. Nobody ever saw this angel except Muhammad. I would then say that Jesus’ claims are reliable and Muhammad’s are not.  That’s how I would approach it.

Willie G says:

May 25, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I believe we have now begun, at last, a productive discussion.  I believe that you have taken the definition of delusion to the extreme, and it is not necessary to go that far to understand my point. According to the American Psychological Association to delude is to mislead the mind or judgement.

(American Psychological Association (APA): delude. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved May 25, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/delude)

It is not necessary to carry the definition to any greater force to understand my intention in the word’s use. I have no difficulty in stating that 95% of the population of the world has been deluded, or misled in judgement to believe in beings for which there is insubstantial evidence to merit their existence. I have yet to see presented by any believer a falsifiable hypothesis for the existence of the supernatural. All religions ask adherents to accept outrageous claims without evidence. Adherents recognize that there is no positive evidence, and in the face of derogatory evidence will choose to continue to believe. William Lane Craig, in a now infamous YouTube debate stated that if he could be shown the tomb of Jesus with the rotting corpse of Jesus inside that he would still continue to believe in the resurrection of Christ. He would not abandon his faith even with the foundational event of the faith being demonstrated to be false. This is textbook, dictionary definition, delusion.

Humans need explanations. Humans need truth. After all, that is why I bother to continue to engage Christians even after discarding my faith. We are the most advanced creatures in all of the earths history. We have evolved the capacity for higher level reasoning and searching for meaning outside of ourselves. No other creature on earth has this capacity. Some of us, indeed most of us, satisfy that need with myth. The rest, remaining unsatisfied, continue to search.

Now to your logical arguments. First, I do not accept the classical arguments as demonstrative of a supreme being who is a being who is self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial, unimaginably powerful, personal, super-intelligent, purposeful, and good. While I would say that these classic arguments carry much philosophical weight and are worthy of discussion, they only leave one with a decision to make. Does the logic of the argument merit the acceptance of the conclusion?  If you build impeccable logic around a mythical foundation you still finish with myth. Aristotelean logic can only produce valid arguments, not truth. If the foundational hypothesis is based upon myth or legend, regardless of the infallible logic of the argument you still have a false conclusion.  This leaves us with nothing but empirical data. Since empirical data of the supernatural is non-existent then the only non-delsusional conclusion is agnosticism. I have no knowledge of gods or anything supernatural.

Bill Pratt says:

May 29, 2010 at 11:01 am

I would like to start with your statement:  “This leaves us with nothing but empirical data. Since empirical data of the supernatural is non-existent then the only non-delsusional conclusion is agnosticism. I have no knowledge of gods or anything supernatural.”

It seems that you grant the force of the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments, but you deny that they can lead to a supernatural being, as supernatural beings cannot be empirically known. So I think this is a core issue for us to discuss. It seems that you are setting an epistemic boundary for yourself, that anything that you cannot directly see, touch, taste, smell, or hear probably does not exist. Or, to believe in anything that you cannot directly see, touch, taste, smell, or hear is delusional.  I find this to be a very curious way of looking at the world, as there are many things we cannot directly empirically detect that we nonetheless posit as existing: the mind, moral values, laws of logic, the concept of truth, sub-atomic particles, multiple universes, and so forth. I doubt that you deny the existence of all of these things.

Would you agree that the following statement is self-defeating? “Only what can be known by science or quantified and empirically tested is rational and true.”  That statement itself cannot be empirically tested, so does that make it false? It is a statement about science, not of science. Clearly there is more to reality than what we can empirically test.

How would we have rational grounds to believe in the supernatural? Well, we look at ourselves and the world around us, and we ask, “Are there effects we see that demand a cause that is like God?” We work from effect to cause, which is just the same way we approach many things in life. Some effects demand causes that are truly exceptional. When we think about the cause of the universe, the cause of the complex conditions necessary for human life, for the existence of morality, for the existence of human consciousness, we are pushed beyond the standard material causes that can explain most things.  At this point, do we just throw our hands up and say, “Oh well. These things demand some kind of awesome cause, but we have never seen this kind of cause directly, so we must remain ignorant.” No! Because we have background information. Virtually every human has an innate sense of the supernatural; we have numerous alleged historical accounts of humans interacting with supernatural beings. Maybe the explanation for the awesome cause lies here.

Willie G says:

June 1, 2010 at 8:48 pm

You said:It seems that you grant the force of the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments, but you deny that they can lead to a supernatural being, as supernatural beings cannot be empirically known.”

I was making a rhetorical statement, as in “if I grant the force of… etc.” I did not want to get sidetracked with the classic arguments for the existence of gods as I knew they would distract us from the central tenet of my argument. As I stated in a previous post, I do not find the classic arguments effective. They have been bantered about by philosophers for ages with little effect. Each new generation has to muddle through their complexity with scores of new thinkers rediscovering the classic premises and conclusions only to end up with the same stale-mate that the previous generation ended with.  So let me reiterate what I said before, if for the sake of our discussion I was to grant that these classic arguments carry some weight for the evidence of gods, that is all that they would do; provide evidence that “something” or “some god” could possibly exist. They do not in any form or fashion establish compelling evidence for the christian god with any weight greater than for any other god. You know where I’m going here Bill, back to my original question. Why the Christian God?

You said: “ It seems that you are setting an epistemic boundary for yourself, that anything that you cannot directly see, touch, taste, smell, or hear probably does not exist. Or, to believe in anything that you cannot directly see, touch, taste, smell, or hear is delusional.”

I do not take issue with your characterization here. Science in general and the scientific methodology in particular has well established that what cannot be demonstrated evidentially are either non-existent, or beyond our ability to know. That is clearly why science does not deal in the realm of possibility, but rather probability. If I can’t see, touch, taste, smell, or hear a thing (1st order experience), nor see, touch, taste, smell or hear evidence of a thing (2nd order experience), then although it may be possible for that thing to exist, it is not probable. There is no reason to invest oneself in what is not probable. I have no 1st or 2nd order evidence of either leprechauns or unicorns. Could they possibly exist? Yes. Is it probable based on the evidence I have? No. So why bother.

You said: I find this to be a very curious way of looking at the world, as there are many things we cannot directly empirically detect that we nonetheless posit as existing: the mind, moral values, laws of logic, the concept of truth, sub-atomic particles, multiple universes, and so forth. I doubt that you deny the existence of all of these things.”

Bill I can’t help but think you are playing word games here, or being disingenuous so as to dodge my question. I don’t want to get drawn into a battle of semantics. I am being straight forward with you and telling you exactly what I think. I find your statement a little silly. The mind, moral values, laws of logic and the concept of truth are all the products of natural physical processes within the brain. Our ability to conceive of them is a by-product of our humanity; our ability for higher order thinking. As for sub-atomic particles, multiple universes, etc. you know as well as I do that much of advanced science is highly speculative and hypothetical as mankind and science searches for knowledge and understanding. This line of thinking is getting us nowhere.

You said: “How would we have rational grounds to believe in the supernatural? Well, we look at ourselves and the world around us, and we ask, “Are there effects we see that demand a cause that is like God?” We work from effect to cause, which is just the same way we approach many things in life.”

You are making an attempt at the scientific method here, but in my opinion are falling short. You are proposing a post-modern methodology and attempting to overlay an ancient worldview. You are simply proposing a “god of the gaps.” In other words, anything that you or I or science cannot yet explain must demand god as the answer. I am not here rejecting god, I am rejecting your conclusion. We are back to my question. Why is it necessary to interject god into the answer for a currently unsolved question. And in particular, even if that is the route you find that you must take, then why the Christian God? So I would answer your question with a very large NO. Rather than hypothesize an unfalsifiable conclusion, why not rest comfortably in stating that as of right now we do not know the answer. We may never know the answer. But together humanity will continue to search.

You said: “Some effects demand causes that are truly exceptional. When we think about the cause of the universe, the cause of the complex conditions necessary for human life, for the existence of morality, for the existence of human consciousness, we are pushed beyond the standard material causes that can explain most things.”

You are absolutely right, and as Christopher Hitchens stated, “exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.” Why is it reasonable just to fill in the blank with something that is unfalsifiable because you don’t have an answer yet. Yes, we are pushed beyond the standard material causes that can explain most things. That’s why we don’t know. That’s why agnosticism becomes the default position.

You said: “At this point, do we just throw our hands up and say, “Oh well. These things demand some kind of awesome cause, but we have never seen this kind of cause directly, so we must remain ignorant.”

Absolutely not! Humanity will continue to strive and seek and find. We as a species will never acquiesce to the unknown. We will continue to march forward in the face of mystery, and seek the answers that will be found in the natural world, the only thing that we can experience and know. If gods exist, we can only know them in the natural, because that is what we are and that is where we exist.

You said:No! Because we have background information. Virtually every human has an innate sense of the supernatural…”

I would state that every human has an innate genetic drive to know. We all want to understand, and to sense that we have a purpose and that life has meaning. I am of the mind that humanity invented religion to answer that question, not the other way around.

You said: “we have numerous alleged historical accounts of humans interacting with supernatural beings. Maybe the explanation for the awesome cause lies here.

Alleged is the optimal word. You don’t believe any of the modern alleged accounts of interacting with supernatural beings. Why do believe the ancient ones. Don’t make me go into all the alleged supernatural events going on in our modern world. I know you are aware of the claims and I know that you either deny them out of hand or are extremely skeptical. All I am saying is that to be an honest seeker of truth you must apply that same degree of healthy skepticism to your own deeply held beliefs.

So to conclude, I am really asking you not for an argument, but rather to understand your point of view. Let me put it in evangelical church terms. What is your testimony? Why do you believe? You said you find Christianity to be intellectually satisfying; why is that? Why is it reasonable to believe in the Christian God, and not any of the other 4800 major and minor world religions and their associated gods?.

Bill Pratt says:

June 1, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I want to pick up again on this idea of empirical evidence. I think you’re dismissing this point too quickly. Virtually everyone believes that minds exist, that real moral values exists, that laws of logic exist, but nobody can directly see, touch, taste, smell, or hear those things. We infer their existence by looking at the world around us with our five senses and then working back from effect to cause; we infer non-material things from material things.  We cannot actually see electrons, but virtually everyone believes they exist because we see their effects. Again, effect to cause. When we find effects that demand a supernatural cause, why shut the door on that option? Why is it so hard to believe that a Mind is behind this world? We have no trouble believing minds exist, so why rule out The Mind?

I see things in the world that demand a cause which is very much like God. I reject agnosticism as the default position as I think there is ample philosophical, scientific, historical, and experiential data to conclude that the Christian God really exists. The accumulation of all of the data pushes me inexorably to this conclusion.  Let me try to put it another way. I see effects around me that demand a supernatural cause. The kind of cause that is necessary fits the description of a theistic God. I look to the historical evidence surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and I find it to be quite good. He claimed to be the unique representative of God, and he proved it by his resurrection (a well attested historical event). That’s how I find my way to Jesus.

Leaving aside the intellectual rationale, I have found, experientially, that whenever I adjust my life to the principles taught by Jesus, I find greater peace, greater comfort, greater wisdom, and greater love for my fellow man. All of the virtues that humans seek in each other are brought out more and more as I conform my life to Jesus. For me, Christianity works. It is practical. That doesn’t prove it’s true, but ultimately when we conform our thoughts and behaviors to the way the world really is, things will go better for us. The person who refuses to believe that cars drive in front of his house will only survive so long while blindly walking into the street every day. If Jesus is really God, the sooner we get on board, the better our lives will be.

Willie G says:

June 2, 2010 at 1:13 am

I’m sorry, but this is just a spurious argument. You seem to be taking conceptual entities that are products of the neurological processes of the human brain and assigning some kind of physical existence to them. Higher order thinking is a mental process unique to the physical anatomical functioning of the human brain. To anthropomorphize the existence of these processes and equate physical existence just does not follow. There is no inference required and none necessary. We are not starting with the concept and moving to the neurological workings of the brain, but rather vice versa. We understand, if only partially, the firing of synapses to activate the neural processing that takes place in the brain. This is the cause that produces the effect of higher order reasoning unique to human beings. Non material simply does not mean non-natural, and certainly not supernatural. The analogy is weak. You are not going to move me on this point.

Your example of electrons is stronger, though your conclusion is just as spurious. Only the casual reader of atomic theory accepts the existence of electrons as fact. The existence of protons, electrons and neutrons is speculative and hypothetical based on very sound scientific reasoning. It is a best guess based on the solid experimental data that atomic science has been able to produce. Science in all cases accepts the possibility of the need to alter or even abandon long held hypotheses in the event any experimental condition falsifies the currently accepted hypothetical condition. To analogize from a hypothesis of electrons which we cannot see, taste, touch, smell to “effects that demand a supernatural cause” breaks down. You are jumping from solid experimental scientific methodology with decades of proven results that have produced practical application in chemistry, pharmaceuticals, atomic energy, etc. to trying to equate it to non-verifiable, non-testable, non-falsifiable claims of the existence of supernatural entities. I am not finding this line of thinking reasonable in the least.

You said: “I see things in the world that demand a cause which is very much like God.”

And I would ask you for specific examples, and extraordinary evidence to support that extraordinary claim. You simply don’t have an answer, so you are assigning agency.

You said:I think there is ample philosophical, scientific, historical, and experiential data to conclude that the Christian God really exists. The accumulation of all of the data pushes me inexorably to this conclusion.”

This is why I am still here talking with you. I challenge you to back up this claim. Please show me “scientific” evidence for the existence of God. And I will hold you to proper methodology. Show me historical evidence for the existence of the Christian God that is any more relevant than historical claims of any other religion for any other gods. There is simply no such thing as philosophical or experiential data worth discussing. Philosophy is simply a means of organizing complex thinking into bodies of knowledge. If your starting premises are false your whole philosophy crumbles. I have been telling you from the beginning that I don’t accept your initial premises. I am begging you to explain your premises and convince me why your philosophy is reasonable. Experiential data is meaningless because it is nothing more than sheer subjectivity that is open to various and sundry personal interpretations.

Your next line of reason is strictly southern USA conservative evangelical theology. This is of no consequence to the skeptical world. You claim the “right” interpretation of your scriptures. The other 15,000 to 34,000 protestant denominations claim their “right” interpretation as well. There are as many diverse views of the historical Jesus and the events of his life as there are denominations. Your appeal to your particular theology carries little weight.

And finally you want to “leave aside the intellectual rationale.” Although this is the only thing that I have asked you for, an explanation for why believing in the Christian God is reasonable. But OK, I’ll go with it. I believe this is really the heart of your argument. Experientially you find Christianity to be a positive experience. You like it. It is satisfying personally, socially, practically and morally. It has helped you be a good person and feel good about yourself. You believe it helps you live a decent life.

OK, I have no problem with that. But guess what, I have all of that as well. I have found all of that same positive experiential data exists for my life outside of the church and belief in god. I have found total freedom to love life and my fellow man and to excel as a socially fulfilled human being by throwing off the shackles of religion. And I have a great added benefit; no more fear, no more guilt, no more worry about anything. Living life moment by moment day by day, making the most of this life here and now is extremely gratifying and fulfilling.  Please, help me see how I am missing the mark, because I’m just not seeing the reasonableness here.

Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism

Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism.

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