Atheism and Evidence: Where the Conflict Really Lies

The Conflict Really Lies within New Atheism

[Reprinted from Public Discourse, by Christopher Tollefsen]

In his new book “Where the Conflict Really Lies,” Alvin Plantinga levels a devastating critique against the “new atheism” espoused by thinkers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens, collectively known as the “new atheists,” embody one of the most aggressive recent manifestations of both “scientism” and ”naturalism.” This new atheism is characterized by extreme forms of both scientism, a view about knowledge that holds that only what can be demonstrated scientifically deserves to be considered knowledge, and naturalism, a view about reality that holds that only the material world is real. Hence it is hostile to religion in all forms, viewing it as merely a kind of superstition; it is likewise hostile to much “folk” understanding, including traditional claims about the nature and source of morality.

It is thus good news for everyone that Alvin Plantinga, one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, has addressed and, I should say, systematically dismantled, the claims of the new atheists in his recently published book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Plantinga’s book, generally written at a level accessible to any educated person, is essential reading for anyone concerned not only with the claims of the new atheists and what can be said contrary to those claims, but also, as I shall discuss below, with their way of making those claims, for they have adopted a style hostile to the very idea of public discourse, a style that now threatens almost every area of contested moral and political discourse in our country.

Plantinga defends two claims throughout his book. One is that there is “a superficial conflict but deep concord between theistic religion and science;” the other is that there is  “a superficial concord and deep conflict between naturalism and science.” The bulk of the book is devoted to the first claim. Plantinga begins by discussing the conflict between theism’s claims that God acts in the world as a creator, sustainer, and guide (claims common to at least the three Abrahamic religions), and Darwin’s claim to have discovered the means—random mutation plus natural selection—by which later species, including human beings, have evolved from earlier species.

The claim of the new atheists is that Darwin’s “dangerous idea,” as Dennett calls it, proves that there is no divine agency responsible for the world. As Dennett explains, “an impersonal, unreflective, robotic, mindless little scrap of molecular machinery is the ultimate basis of all the agency, and hence meaning, and hence consciousness, in the universe.” But the claims of Darwin show no such thing: even if Darwinism accurately identifies the mechanism by which evolution has occurred, Plantinga notes, “it is perfectly possible that the process of natural selection has been guided and superintended by God, and that it could not have produced our world without that guidance.”

Moreover, there is a very good reason for thinking that the world as it is would not have been possible but for God’s agency, and that is the existence of creatures with minds. Theists believe, as Locke put it, that it is “impossible to conceive that ever pure incogitative Matter should produce a thinking intelligent Being.” Mind, theists believe, can only come from mind (or Mind). So, on the basis of this argument and several others, Plantinga concludes Part I of his book by claiming that the conflict between Darwin and theism is only apparent.

The conflict is somewhat greater as regards other scientific claims; in particular, many claims coming from evolutionary psychology and historical biblical criticism are, as far as they go, incompatible with some or all aspects of, for example, Christian belief. That all human action is a result of mechanisms selected because they enhance the power of one’s genes to reproduce is clearly incompatible with Christian normative demands to love one’s neighbor: one is not doing that if one’s actions are really undertaken for the propagation of one’s genes. And to varying degrees, the claims of historical biblical scholarship are either in conflict with revealed religion, if those claims deny straightforwardly the possibility of supernatural action in the world, or fall far short of the claims of religion, if they methodologically abstain from using any but naturalistic assumptions.

Yet none of these claims, argues Plantinga, provides defeaters for religious belief; and the reason for this is that the evidence base against which a Christian, for example, assesses the claims of evolutionary biology or biblical scholarship, includes claims that cannot be known only by science’s methodological naturalism.

Most prominently, Christians hold that some truths are known by faith, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; faith, like knowledge, is thus aimed at the truth. Plantinga writes, “My evidence base contains the belief that God has created human beings in his image. I now learn that, given an evidence base that doesn’t contain that belief, the right thing to believe is that those mechanisms [of faith] are not truth-aimed; but of course that doesn’t give me any reason at all to amend or reject my belief that in fact they are truth-aimed.”

In other words, if we take evidence gathered only from one source of truth, we will fail to have a defeater for a claim that appears true on the basis of all of the possible sources of truth: so even though the witnesses say they saw me slash a colleague’s tires (perceptual evidence), if I remember being out of town that day (memorial evidence), then the witness claims do not defeat my belief that I did not slash the tires.

But can’t the new atheists simply help themselves to the premise that science is the only source of knowledge? We might wonder on what basis they could: surely it is not a claim of science that science is the only source of knowledge. But this, as we will see, is only one way in which extreme naturalism threatens to be its own worst enemy.

In the third part of the book, Plantinga turns to the question of whether in fact theism might be in concord with contemporary science, rather than in conflict. After looking at, and giving a fairly weak endorsement to, some arguments in support of intelligent design and fine-tuning, Plantinga argues that in fact the theistic worldview is as a whole deeply consonant with the goals and successes of contemporary science.

This is because theism holds, as atheistic naturalism denies, that God has created us in his image, as rational beings. But as rational, yet finite, beings, we are truth-seekers, and for the theist it makes perfectly good sense to think that God has also created a world that is available to us to know: “God created both us and our world in such a way that there is a certain fit or match between the world and our cognitive faculties.”

Plantinga then identifies a number of features of our world, and our cognitive relationship to that world, that are much more likely, and make much more sense, on a theistic than on an atheistic picture: the reliability and regularity of nature, and its working in accordance with law; the role of mathematics in the understanding of nature; the possibility of induction; the appropriateness of theoretical virtues such as simplicity; and even the empirical nature of science, which Plantinga argues is underwritten by the contingency of divine creation. In all these respects modern science is deeply compatible with theism, a fact that renders unsurprising the further fact that all the great founders of modern science were theists, working from a deeply Christian background.

So the conflict between science and religion is, Plantinga shows, largely bogus (and I have only scratched the surface of his arguments here). But things are even worse from the standpoint of naturalism, for on the naturalist account, there is no good reason to think that our cognitive faculties are truth-tracking. After all, it is not because those faculties contribute to true beliefs that they are selected for in the Darwinian account; it is because they are likely to contribute to survival.

Can the naturalist expect, as the theist clearly can, that her cognitive faculties are reliable, i.e., that they lead to true beliefs? Since natural selection does not select for truth, or truth-tracking faculties, but for other unrelated properties, we have no reason to expect so given naturalism. Of course, we have very good reason to think our beliefs are reliable; so this claim should not bother most people. And non-naturalistic theists will believe that even if evolution is true, God has overseen evolution with a view to the reliability of our cognitive faculties. The naturalist cannot rely on any such claim.

But since the inability to rely on cognitive faculties as reliably truth-tracking is a defeater for any belief whatsoever, it is a defeater also for naturalism; accordingly naturalism turns out, on Plantinga’s argument, to be self-defeating, and cannot be rationally accepted.

So Plantinga gives a wealth of argument for the theist to use against the claims of atheism. And in this, it must be said, he exercises considerably more intellectual virtue than his opponents. Plantinga’s early chapters are devastating in revealing that the prime architects of the new atheism almost inevitably gravitate toward straw-man characterizations of their opponents’ views, attribute venal motives to their opponents, and fail to investigate the intellectual sources of Christianity, giving no weight, for example, to the classical arguments of Aquinas and Locke, or the arguments of contemporary theists such as Swinburne and van Inwagen. Their rhetoric is inevitably condescending, as the development of the recent cult of the “flying spaghetti monster” makes clear.

But what is worse, some of the new atheists seem to have adopted this strategy deliberately. Plantinga quotes from a blog post of Dawkins in which he says that those unconvinced by the new atheists “are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”

Plantinga speaks of the “melancholy” with which one should view this spectacle; yet it seems increasingly characteristic of an important strand of intellectual, if the word is appropriate, approach to the most contentious issues of the day. Those who dissent from academically “respectable” views about religion, evolution, global warming, sexual ethics, the nature of marriage, and the value of unborn human life are increasingly addressed with scorn and public shaming rather than intellectual argument and reasoned discourse; and their opponents are often unwilling even to acknowledge their good will and good faith. This is not a strategy compatible with a love of truth or a love of neighbors, and those on its receiving end should not, of course, respond in kind. The wealth of argument in Where the Conflict Really Lies points to an altogether better path.

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99 thoughts on “Atheism and Evidence: Where the Conflict Really Lies

  1. Dennett has another unsupported claim, too: the idea that evolution is algorithmic. I’m not even sure how it’s testable; I do know it’s not close to being testable right now. And, I don’t think it is algorithmic, anyway.

    • @Ken: As You can imagine, I posted the review of Plantinga because it is a good discussion piece–not because I especially like Plantinga. If you ask me, he is getting around to this late in the game.

      • I made a lazy mistake and thought it was your own review. I thought it sounded out of character for you.

  2. “The claim of the new atheists* is that Darwin’s “dangerous idea,” as Dennett calls it, proves that there is no divine agency responsible for the world.”

    Not a single one of the so-called “new atheists” makes this claim. That is, they do not say that evolution proves the non-existence of God, nor do that say that ANYTHING proves the non-existence of God. Dawkins is careful to say that it’s not even possible to disprove the existence of God. If this is Plantinga’s angle, then he’s just building strawman, and your review makes it sound like the bulk of his argument is a gigantic appeal to absence.

    This is my standard test for anti-atheist apologia – would the argument be substantially changed if “God” was changed to “Smurfs.” If the arguments would all be just as valid when applied to smurfs as to God, then they are of no real utility except as comfort to believers. “You can’t prove it DIDN’T happen” is technically true, but it’s technically true for just about ANY supernatural claim.

    I also don’t like the word “materialist,” as if an absence of magical thinking and unfounded assumptions is some kind of philosophical bias from the outset.

    If we can’t assume that the impossible is impossible, then we can’t do any empirical research at all, including history.

    Is Plantinga willing to entertain the idea that Jesus rose from the dead because he was a vampire? What makes that any less of a viable scientific/historical possibility than a Canaanite mountain god doing it.

    *A ridiculous phrase if ever there was one since atheism is an absence of belief, not a set of beliefs or an ideologywhich can somehow be “updated” or changed. It’s like saying the holes in donuts can change or become modified.

    • *A ridiculous phrase if ever there was one since atheism is an absence of belief, not a set of beliefs or an ideologywhich can somehow be “updated” or changed. It’s like saying the holes in donuts can change or become modified.

      Surely they can–donut holes I mean; poor analogy. Ex nihilo nihil fit: I wonder if it is possible to postulate an absence of belief as a something? I should have thought that atheism is the belief that there is no god or supernatural explanation for the universe. Is it the word “belief” you object to? Why?

      • Ken, I disagree. They do make this claim. Claiming that evolution proves there is no divine agency responsible for the world is not synonymous with evolution proves the non existence of God. It is implying a divine agency isn’t necessary. God’s intervention is no longer necessary because what God was supposed to have done has been explained by evolution. The implication is that ‘God’ who is inactive (God knows what they mean by God), does not exist.

        Atheism believes religious ideas of God are wrong. If atheism views of meaning and life don’t evolve like religious beliefs and ideologies, atheism sounds like a conviction absent of argument and evidence.

        Thank you for posting the review by Tollefsen. I’d be interested to read this one by Plattinga although as you say he’s a bit late joining the conversation and I’m not sure he will say anything new. However he might frame it differently perhaps.

      • Technically atheism is the entire set of people who lack theistic belief. Whoever does not have a theistic belief is atheistic, by strict definition.

        Atheists are generally subdivided into “strong” and “weak,” atheism,
        with strong atheism being a positive belief in non-existence and weak atheism being simply a lack of theistic belief without an assertion of the negative. Weak atheism tends to get popularly conflated with agnosticism, which is not a position on the existence of gods, or as (is commonly thought) a neutral position between theism and hard atheism, but a position on the EVIDENCE for God (i.e. the position that we do not have the ability to discern the answer to the question. Agnosticism does not preclude either atheism or theism. The late, noted skeptic Martin Gardner, for instance, said there was no evidence for God but that he believed it anyway.

        If there is anything “new” about these “new atheists,” it’s only that they are more frank and aggressive (particularly Hitchens) than has been previously conventional, but there isn’t any new [i]content[/i] to it. No new or modified beliefs, no new facts or claims.

        They seem to strike a lot of people as rude, but aside from Christopher Hitchens (who was rude to everybody indiscriminately), they aren’t really as rude as all that. Dawkins, in particular, is actually fairly bland and polite.

        Are they really any more rude than C.S. Lewis, though, who was as smug and supercilious (not to mention methodologically incompetent) as anybody, yet his apologetic works are warmly regarded, for the most part.

      • I’m aware of the various degrees and flavours of atheism and theism and that makes both more distinctive as philosophical positions. Most self critical theists and atheists, on reflection, seem also to be agnostic to degrees. And these diverse and broad ranging individual ideas, are philosophical positions prone to evolve and change.

        With Hitchens, I think sometimes he was right, sometimes wrong, generally always played the cynic and always brilliantly clever and funny. He was ‘terribly bad’ and ‘wickedly naughty’ but he wasn’t rude in the raw sense of the word I don’t think.

        C.S. Lewis is ‘warmly regarded for the most part’ by evangelical Christians. Personally I think he was quite good at children’s fantasy writing and wish he’d written more of that.

  3. Does Tollefsen address whether or not the same logic applies to other ways of “knowing truth”, such as LSD, calling on the Muses, bodily deprivation to induce a trance in order to communicate with a spirit world, seances, clairvoyance, channelling, astrology, teachings of Masters and gurus . . . ?

      • Your reply would seem to me to put you in the category of those who think those you argue against “are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.”

        Your own words come back to bite you: “it seems increasingly characteristic of an important strand of intellectual, if the word is appropriate, approach to the most contentious issues of the day. Those who dissent from academically “respectable” views about religion, evolution, global warming, sexual ethics, the nature of marriage, and the value of unborn human life are increasingly addressed with scorn and public shaming rather than intellectual argument and reasoned discourse;”

        You appear to be “unwilling even to acknowledge [your opponents’ good will and good faith.”

        As you say, “This is not a strategy compatible with a love of truth or a love of neighbors, and those on its receiving end should not, of course, respond in kind.”

      • When analytical critque is applied to atheists or mythtics, why is it that pariticular ones inevitably respond by deflecting that same critique, verbatim, upon those who have made it? Here, once again, is one reflecting an inability to be self critical, a deficiency of originality, overt psychological projection and a lack of sense.

      • Sorry, Steph, but there was nothing “deflecting” or “incapable of self-criticism” or any “overt psychological projection” in my question.

        It was, true, a simple question, but written in good faith. The deflection etc only came with RJT’s dismissive non sequiture “Or good sex”.

        The things I listed are all examples of means by which people do indeed seek non-scientific approaches to serious knowledge.

        The way it appears to me is that the original discussion is elitist — privileging only a certain type of religious thought vis a vis the scientific side of the debate.

        It is entirely valid to ask a question that seeks to explore the underlying logic of one side of that debate and ask if and how it can be applied more univerisally.

        There’s nothing hostile or negative about asking such a question.

        It’s a bit like taking a few words of Schweitzer from chapter 23 of a certain book that were explicitly applied to theoretical methodology of his day and asking if the same theory or logic applies to today, too.

        One can do such things with complete sincerity.

        I am sure no-one here wants to be guilty of being “unwilling even to acknowledge [your opponents’] good will and good faith.”

      • Oh dear — a typo — do forgive my non sequiture and understand that it was entirely accidental and that I do recognize it should not be spelled with that final ‘e’.

      • Well why not add bungee jumping? It’s a non sequitur. It has nothing to do with the point of the list — methods sincerely entertained by various people as ways to serious truth.

      • Godfrey: I was referring to your response to Joe’s addition. Your response to it reflects your responses to critiques elsewhere, ie, deflecting previous critique upon those who made it. Your response made no suitable sense in view of Joe’s comment and seemed to demonstrate to an observer, nothing more than a released emotional rage. I did not mention your question. Obviously your original question was not a ‘response’. Why is it that you always interpret things so literally. (Rhetorical question).

        Analogies are always false and this one is particularly irrelevant. The point of Schweitzer is that you took Schweitzer’s words out of context and applied them to a contemporary context.. You did not ask if they were applicable now, or in what way, until a couple of days ago on a thread here.

  4. @Steph

    “Ken, I disagree. They do make this claim. Claiming that evolution proves there is no divine agency responsible for the world is not synonymous with evolution proves the non existence of God.”

    Who claims evolution proves there is no divine agency in the world? certainly not Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris or Dennett or any of the other “new atheists” that I’m aware of.

    Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of the universe or “the world,” or even the origin of life anyway, it just explains what happened AFTER life got started on Earth, so it would be ludicrous for an evolutionary scientist to say evolution shows anything at all about gods except a lack of necessity to explain the origin of species, and in fact, they don’t do it.

    In point of fact, Dawkins does not even say gods don’t exist, only that they “almost certainly don’t exist.”

    Can you provide a quotation for any prominent “new atheist” claiming that evolution proves “there is no divine agency in the world” or anything to that effect?

    • Ken. I did NOT say that anybody claims that evolution proves there is no divine agency in the world. Claiming evolution proves that God is not responsible/necessary for the things that God was supposed to have done which are now explained by evolution is not the same as saying there is no God at all. You must be able to see the difference. Even theists believe evolution explains things God was once believed to have done. But this doesn’t mean they no longer believe in a divine being, merely a less active one in the world.

      • I’m afraid I don’t see your point at all. Firstly, you did say they make that claim. Following the chain:

        I first quoted from this from the review:

        “The claim of the new atheists is that Darwin’s “dangerous idea,” as Dennett calls it, proves that there is no divine agency responsible for the world.”

        To which I said:

        “Not a single one of the so-called “new atheists” makes this claim.
        That is, they do not say that evolution proves the non-existence of God, nor do that say that ANYTHING proves the non-existence of
        God.”

        Then you said:

        ““Ken, I disagree. They do make this claim. Claiming that evolution
        proves there is no divine agency responsible for the world is not synonymous with evolution proves the non existence of God.”

        Then me again:

        “Who claims evolution proves there is no divine agency in the world? certainly not Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris or Dennett or any of the other “new atheists” that I’m aware of?”

        Then Steph:

        “Ken. I did NOT say that anybody claims that evolution proves there is no divine agency in the world.”

        Perhaps you are parsing a distinction between an agency “responsible for the world,” as it was stated in Tollefson’s review, and “in” the world (as I sloppily paraphrased it)?

        Now you seem to be clarifying that you only meant that evolution shows that God is not necessary to explain the things that are explained by evolution (true), but that this does not mean that God does not exist. Also true, but since none of the New Atheists would disagree with that, then what is the problem.

        Tollefson’s claim that ““The claim of the new atheists* is that Darwin’s “dangerous idea,” as Dennett calls it, proves that there is no divine
        agency responsible for the world.” is patently untrue. This is not a calim made by New Atheists, and now you seem to agree with that.

        Evolution is not “the world.” Evolution does not explain the world. Evolution is not “responsible for the world.” Evolution is a non-sequitur with regards to “responsibility for the world.” The atheists know this. It only ever seems to be the religious apologists who don’t.

      • Ken:

        1. Evolution proves that there is no divine agency responsible for the world.

        is a simple way of saying

        2. Evolution proves that there is no divine agency responsible/necessary for the things evolution explains which God was previously believed to have done.

        ‘The world’ is used metaphorically, Ken.

        1. Evolution proves that there is no divine agency responsible for ‘the world’.

        is not the same thing as

        2. Evolution proves God does not exist at all.

        You keep repeating the two claims together as if they are synonymous. They are not. You have sloppily rephrased “Evolution proves that there is no divine agency responsible for the world”.

        Atheists and theists can both agree that ‘evolution proves that there is no divine agency responsible for the world’, ie evolution has explained the things God was believed to have done before. It does not ‘prove’ God does not exist at all.

        Now as to the ‘for the world’, which is used metaphorically as a simplification of ‘the things evolution explains which God was previously believed to have done.’…. The problem is that atheist apologists tend to take everything so literally.

    • There was. “To be an atheist is to maintain God. His existence or his nonexistence, it amounts to much the same, on the plane of proof. Thus proof is a word not often used among the Handdarata, who have chosen not to treat God as a fact, subject either to proof or to belief: and they have broken the circle, and go free.” (Ursula Le Guin, Left Hand of Darkness)… To oppose something is to maintain it.

      • It reminds me of an Anglican priest friend of mine who says “the question of the existence, or non-existence, of a ‘god’ idea, is irrelevant in contemporary intelligent conversation”. He doesn’t identify as a theist, an atheist or an agnostic. Whereas another friend, a Methodist Minister, identifies as a Christian by faith and agnostic by definition.

      • There was. “To be an atheist is to maintain God. …”

        Probably at least some justification for that argument. Although one might also argue that at least the atheist is only “maintaining” god in a state of non-existence – to emphasize the difference between a symbol, a representation, for an object and the object itself: “the map is not the territory”.

        (Ursula Le Guin, Left Hand of Darkness)…

        One of those books I’ve kept but haven’t ever found the time to re-read – should at least skim through it again; thanks for the memory … :-)

      • Existence or non existence is irrelevant – ‘God’, whatever that means, as a concept, is ‘maintained’. To ‘maintain God’ is not to say that God exists or God doesn’t exist… so effectively that which ‘some might argue’, is unnecessary.

        While fantasy, and particularly science fiction, don’t generally appeal to me, I still find Ursula Le Guin one of the most profound, eclectic and evocative, drama weaving literary artists I have ever read.

      • Existence or non existence is irrelevant

        I don’t know about for you and your situation, but to me my own existence is of more than passing relevance – at least for the moment.

        As for God’s, that also seems of more than passing relevance to a great many people and is the crux, if not the stumbling block, in a great many social issues and problems. More particularly, it is the basis for some decidedly spurious and specious if not actually fraudulent claims, primarily by religious fundamentalists, to have surpassing credibility – if God (or E.F. Hutton) talks then everyone listens – for their views on “religion, evolution, global warming, sexual ethics, the nature of marriage, and the value of unborn human life” that, in the absence of evidence – of which they really have absolutely none, should be heavily discounted and deprecated if not actively ridiculed.

        … one of the most profound, eclectic and evocative, drama weaving literary artists I have ever read.

        Probably worth re-reading then …

      • Obviously existence or non existence applies to God’s existence or non existence. I regret not being more literal.

        The idea I was trying to clarify was the idea penned by Ursula Le Guin which was about ‘maintaining’ the idea of God, without appealing to proof of existence or non-existence because neither are relevant primarily, to maintaining the idea. I don’t think anyone would dispute that existence or non existence of ‘God’ (whatever they mean by that) is relevant for most atheists and theists. However I was discussing an idea in a science fiction novel.

        And yup, I reckon. She’s also one of those authors I never pass over in a second hand book shop (so I have double ups)…

      • However I was discussing an idea in a science fiction novel.

        True. Although you concluded with “To oppose something is to maintain it.” Which, in context, looked rather like a categorical statement and a conclusion along with a deprecation of the idea that opposing – either theism or atheism – is a “good thing”.

        While I agree with scotteus’ comment about agnosticism, that position, and the one of the Handdarata, suggests an unwise “turning a blind eye” to the very real depredations that theism, in particular although not exclusively, has proven itself capable of. Seems that an effective way of opposing both, without maintaining either, is to point out – assiduously – that neither of them have any proof or evidence at all for their positions (although I think atheism has quite a bit of circumstantial evidence for its case): Zen and the Art of Undercutting.

      • “True. Although you concluded with “To oppose something is to maintain it.” Which, in context, looked rather like a categorical statement and a conclusion along with a deprecation of the idea that opposing – either theism or atheism – is a “good thing”.”

        That is an extraordinary assumption, Steersman. I said nothing about good or bad. I did not make a judgement. I was merely summarising the idea in Ursula Le Guin’s novel. I think you’re missing the point. Other people’s religious beliefs or not, their degrees towards fundamentalism, or not, are not central to the lives of the Handdarata or in fact a lot of people in the real world with real priorities of existence. Why should it be everybody’s duty to fight the war against fundamentalisms (and that includes the atheist variety). Atheism has quite a bit of evidence on its side insofar as human culturally created stories of ‘God’ but not for disproving the broader spectrum of theism completely. I think while alot of people identify as atheist or theist (in faith without proof), the honest critical thinkers among them seem often to concede degrees of agnosticism when questioned (if not by self definition as is the case with a few of my friends).

      • That is an extraordinary assumption, Steersman. I said nothing about good or bad. I did not make a judgement.

        My mistake; mea culpa. I sort of figured, since the book review was about a “devastating critique” of “new atheism” and that the post you responded to with the quote from Le Guin referenced, if somewhat obliquely, that topic, that your quote actually had some relevance to both.

        I think you’re missing the point.

        Maybe. The benefits of dialog …

        Other people’s religious beliefs … are not central to the lives of … a lot of people in the real world with real priorities of existence.

        That might be quite true, at least for some. Although Tollefsen’s comment about “those who dissent from academically ‘respectable’ views about religion, evolution, global warming, sexual ethics, the nature of marriage, and the value of unborn human life” would seem to point to some “real priorities of existence” for a great many others.

        Why should it be everybody’s duty to fight the war against fundamentalisms (and that includes the atheist variety)?

        The most succinct answer I can think of is simply 9/11. And Butterflies and Wheels, among other sites, has daily additions to the litany of horrors perpetrated by fundamentalists of one sort or another – mostly, although not exclusively, the religious variety; curious how believing that one has “Gawd” in one’s back pocket seems to give people extra scope, extra headroom, for being nasty to one’s fellow humans. And I’ve always found this quote from Sir Martin Gilbert’s Israel to be particularly telling as far as your question is concerned:

        Herzog spoke angrily of the religious fanatics. “If the murder of such a man [Rabin], of a Prime Minister, does not set the very fibres of our national being atremble, if it does not shock us to our very foundations; if we have not vomited out the curse, and uprooted the cancer, and not done away with that group of insane zealots – that badge of dishonour for our people – we are, God forbid, in danger of seeing this nightmare recur. …. The fires of destruction are burning at the edge of the camp. If we do not together, hasten to extinguish them, they will destroy our entire house. [p599].

        Considering that, at least in America, well over 50% of the population disbelieve in evolution and think that Jehovah created the whole shootn’ match some 6000 years ago it seems quite reasonable to argue that the cancer has developed to a rather alarming degree. On which Philip Wylie [Generation of Vipers] has, I think, the most succinct and cogent view:

        At least I am alarmed by it. And I hold that any man, these days, who does not live every hour in a condition of alarm – however detached or icy – is either a traitor or an idiot. [pg 14]

        Maybe time to rein-in the fundamentalists and literalists [over 50% of the population] and disabuse them of the notion that their perceptions are anything more than cognitive illusions at best and outright delusions at worst – the responsibility of everyone else, even if only on the basis of self-preservation.

        Atheism has quite a bit of evidence … but not for disproving the broader spectrum of theism completely.

        No argument there. Part of the reason why I tend to self-identify, to a first approximation, as a skeptical agnostic metaphorical panentheist …

      • “That might be quite true, at least for some.” If you step outside into the wild and wonderful real world, I think you’ll find it’s true for the majority of people who don’t spend 24 hours a day on the internet. One of the many disadvantages of internet ‘dialogue’ is that it can continue for monotonous days and become so tangential it becomes increasingly irrelevant to the original topic. Another disadvantage is that non human interaction often leads to ‘conversation’ and ‘ideas’ being interpreted literally, particularly in view of many of the mindsets of those who frequent the internet so often. I have no reason to follow B&W so you completely lost my interest by posting a link. Happy rereading.

      • steph,

        Another disadvantage is that non human interaction often leads to ‘conversation’ and ‘ideas’ being interpreted literally …

        True; it does have its limitations, some of which might be attenuated by developing technology and some of which are no worse, actually quite a bit better, than those faced by letter writers of recent and ancient history. And I expect it may contribute to, has already contributed to, the development of a global democracy of one sort or another.

        I have no reason to follow B&W so you completely lost my interest by posting a link.

        Sorry about that Chief. I know there have been some cheap-shots from that quarter, but I figured that the messenger, warts and all, might have been less important than the message – i.e., that the depredations by the fundamentalists, mostly the religious variety but not exclusively, are, I think, a serious social problem.

        Although maybe less so where you are than in North America. But then again if it is the UK – as your recent article(s) on this site would suggest – then Islamic fundamentalism there, at least, might be a case in point.

      • Steersman: There are much more reliable, sober and more accurate and articulate sources of information than B&W. But my point remains: internet ‘dialogue’ can continue for dull days and become so tangential it becomes increasingly irrelevant to the original topic. I’m not sure why you feel compelled to lecture me on the evils of fundamentalism or assume I don’t know about them. Life goes on…

        Remember to re-read Ursula Le Guin’s confession in the introduction to LHD: “I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.”

        (Don’t call me ‘Chief’ – I’m an aotearoan egalitarian)

      • Steph,

        I’m not sure why you feel compelled to lecture me on the evils of fundamentalism or assume I don’t know about them.

        Having found a brand new soapbox and a couple of somewhat unwitting or unwilling foils I figured it was a chance to read some stuff into the record, a way of calling out the gendarmes, a great opportunity to cry “The fundamentalists are coming! The fundamentalists are coming!” And a way of pointing out, to all and sundry, to all those who might be traipsing through this neck of the woods, that a great many of the religious variety are simply crazier than shit-house rats (excuse my French) – decidedly delusional as you pointed out elsewhere.

        Life goes on…

        Considering the rather apocalyptic visions of far too many of our brethren one might reasonably feel a little apprehensive about the future of that …

        Don’t call me ‘Chief’ – I’m an aotearoan egalitarian.

        Sorry; it was an attempt to inject a bit of humor that the situation seemed to call for – it was a catch-phrase from the sit-com Get Smart. I would have provided a link but it was late and it had been quite a popular hit “in over 100 countries” – although more than a few years ago ….

    • “… if God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” [Voltaire]

      And, of course, many would argue, with more than a little justification, that that is precisely what humanity has done. Although that doesn’t detract from the argument since there does seem some necessity for that invention – even if there can be too much of a good thing as seems the case in far too many people and as the annals of drug and alcohol addiction adequately attest.

  5. I’m still stuck on answering the question as to why it took Plantinga so long to get around to this topic? He’s considered, in many circles, to be the heaviest hitter in the Theist camp(at least he is from my experience of his prose). Was je waiting till Hitchens was gone? Inquiring minds want to know.

  6. While Neil Godfrey’s list of things which he questions whether they can be considered “knowing truth” was meant to be one of those condescending statements that Tollefsen talked about, it turns out that they can in fact impart knowledge of truth. Simply put, if someone gains knowledge or some insight that they did not already possess, because they were under any of the states that Godfrey mentions, and if that knowledge turns out to be true or factual, would this not be the meaning of coming to know truth? I don’t know why Godfrey scoffs at the idea that belief in God can bring with it knowledge of truth. I think the problem is that those who do not believe in God use backward logic. For example, they will say, since miracles are impossible, they could not be historical events. That in and of itself implies that God must not exist. They do not attempt to, nor could they, prove that God does not exist. So they must work backwards from the available evidence. But this is completely useless because if the God as described in the Bible does in fact exist, he could have easily performed these miracles that are considered impossible from a scientific or humanistic standpoint. So it should be pretty clear that if God does exist, and if he related things to man through the Judeo/Christian Bible, this would in fact be true knowledge.

    So what makes something impossible? I bet if you asked a scientist from the 15th century if it was possible for a man to fly 20,000 feet high in a metal vehicle, he would say it was impossible. It’s probably a good thing that some people through history had an open mind and were willing to investigate this impossibility, until it was made a reality. So what makes an airplane fly or any of the other things we have today that would have been considered impossible just a few hundred years ago? It comes from having knowledge of the physical laws and how to manipulate them to our advantage. Again, if there is a God, who would ultimately have a much greater knowledge of the physical laws and how to manipulate them, why can’t his impossibilities (miracles) be considered reality the same way that man’s past impossibilities were turned into future realities? Is it merely because man has placed himself on such a pedestal that it is egregious to think that some entity is vastly superior to him?

    But this review of Tollefsen’s book is absolutely right, no one wants to have a serious discussion on these issues. They have made their minds up already, they are not willing to be open minded, or listen to other peoples opinions. It’s just condescending ridicule, which I will probably get here as well. And those who argue for the scientific method are being hypocritical. Yes, believing in God as the creator of life and so on, has not been proven by any means, but those who do accept it, are holding onto an idea that has been neither proven or disproven. How is this any different then say string theory for example? That too has not been proven or disproven, but physicists still hold on to the idea hoping one day to prove or disprove the idea. How is this okay for one and not the other?

    Finally, another problem with having serious discussions about these issues is all the contradictory beliefs Christians have and their violent history and other bad behavior. People blame religion and the Bible for this. However, this is nonsense, if I give someone a cook book and they really screw up the recipes and make lousy food, was that the fault of the cook book or the cook? Just because people do horrible things in the name of religion, does not mean the source of the religion is horrible, only the twisted interpretation was.

    • What is the correct, non-horrible interpretation of 1 Samuel 15:3?

      Personally, I find arguments from the alleged atrocities committed in the name of religion to be irrelevant to the question, and I think religion is a product of culture rather than culture being a product religion (that is, religion doesn’t make people good or bad, it just mirrors whatever they already are – it’s an effect, not a cause), but don’t pretend the Bible is not filled with some almost unfathomably archaic tribal attitudes and ancient worldviews which are flatly indefensible now. They were already recognized as embarrassing even in the Talmud.

      • Ken,

        I was referring to what Christians have done in later centuries, not what is written in the Bible that some people consider horrible, that is a completely different issue. Unless you are implying that some of the horrible things Christians have done was based on 1 Sam 15:3. But I also agree with you when you say that religion doesn’t cause people to do bad things, it just gives them an excuse to do what they already wanted to do. That was the point I was making in my original comment.

        Also, are you implying that events like 1 Sam 15:3 are indefensible? If so, can you explain why?

      • @howardma

        You seemed to be analogizing the Bible to a cookbook:

        “People blame religion and the Bible for this. However, this is nonsense, if I give someone a cook book and they really screw up the recipes and make lousy food, was that the fault of the cook book or the cook? Just because people do horrible things in the name of religion, does not mean the source of the religion is horrible, only the twisted interpretation was.”

        So I was asking for the correct way to read that particular “recipe.”

        As to what’s indefensible about it – you really need an explanation as to why total racial genocide (including mass infanticide) is indefensible?

      • @Ken,

        Obviously you are approaching the issue as an atheist, and if your view is correct, then you are right and these things are indefensible. However, when having a discussion with someone who holds a different view, shouldn’t you at least try to answer as if you are taking my view into consideration? Not merely assuming that you are right and I am wrong and therefore my views do not need to be considered. So I ask again, if you can at least postulate the idea that the Jewish God is real, and that he commanded that the actions at 1 Samuel 15:3 be fulfilled, would this God be under the same moral laws as man?

      • Howardma:

        Critical thinkers including modern Christians, approach ancient texts with hermeneutics of suspicion. If you are dismissing the tools of critical historical method as invalid, you are repeating the mistakes of some recent atheist mythicists (one in particular) who have also pronounced critical historical method as fundamentally flawed, invalid and various other more vulgar things, in a fundamentalist fashion.

        On the other hand sometimes it’s sometimes best to reflect on Proverbs 26.4 with a tendency towards 26.5.

        Franklin: Amen.

      • Steph,

        I’m not dismissing anything, although it would be helpful to know exactly what comment of mine you are referring to. If you are talking about the last one to Ken, I was merely asking for his opinion as to what set of moral laws the God of the Jews, if real, was bound by. It’s a hypothetical or maybe a philosophical question. Are those considered stupid on this blog? Also, in my experience, a critical thinker is someone who rejects much of the Bible as historical. Which is fine by me, I don’t have a problem with anyone else’s beliefs or worldview. However, if any of these critical thinkers say they are a Christian, they are fooling themselves. I think it is a bit funny how these mythicists, atheist, and critical thinkers reject the Bible in whole or in part when they do not even know what the Bible is really saying, and if they do, I sure don’t see any of them talking about it.

      • @Howardma –

        “Morality” is an aesthetic, not an external “law.” Morality (speaking conceptually here, not in terms of legal codes) is a descriptor for a set of evolutionarily derived emotional responses to external stimuli. We are a social species evolved to survive in populations, not as individuals. This means (like many other animals) we have evolved emotional and chemical responses to the behavior and welfare of those close to us – “nurturing” instincts for young, pair bonding, defensive bonding and other survival bonds (we can even bond with animals) empathic responses (the feeling of distress at seeing one of our own kind suffer), altruism – all that stuff is “morality.” Morality is not what you do, it’s how you FEEL about what you do, and what you see being done to others. There is no objective test for “validity,” immoral is whatever you feel it is.

        That’s all a long-winded way of saying that 1 Samuel, “kill all the babies” God (I won’t say “Jewish God” because we’re only talking about one author’s conception of God, and other Jewish writings, including authors in the Hebrew Bible, have different conceptions of God) is exactly as “moral” as you feel like he is. Nobody is “subject”
        to any “moral law,” but his own.

        Or to put it another way, yes, all gods are subject to MY moral
        judgement, and while this judgement is constantly subject to revision, racial genocide and mass slaughters of infants based on nothing but their race (this was an order for a literal and absolute genocide – kill ALL the Amelekites, don’t leave a single one alive, not even the
        infants) is something that is pretty well set in stone as being on my “immoral” list.

      • This comment in particular Howardma. “And those who argue for the scientific method are being hypocritical.”

        It grieves me slightly that you claim that all of my Christian colleagues and friends, who examine texts in their historical and cultural social contexts, are fooling themselves. Only you are privileged to special knowledge of the meaning of the Bible Howardma. I suggest your question is anachronistic. Haere rā.

      • howardma,

        I was merely asking for his opinion as to what set of moral laws the God of the Jews, if real, was bound by.

        You don’t, maybe, find that question somewhat akin to the one that supposedly exercised the “intellects” of theologians of yore (and, apparently, of today), i.e., “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin”?

        Seems far more reasonable, in my opinion, to simply cut to the chase and ask what real factual tangible evidence is there to begin with (zero) for that entity or for any of the others in the same zoo. I really find it very difficult to understand, and quite risible to observe, how anyone can say, at least with a straight face, that their concept of god is the only really and truly, honest-to-gosh, real-McCoy when there have been and are literally thousands of such over the history of humanity’s evolution – most of which have, thankfully, bitten the dust [RIP] or followed Puff-the-Magic-Dragon into never-never-land.

        One would think that even a rudimentary understanding or awareness or application of an old saw – “if it walks like a duck and squawks like a duck then it is, most probably, in fact, a duck” (actually an application of inductive reasoning) – would lead most people to have the same jaundiced view of their own “god” as they apparently have of every other one. I guess worshipping one “tree” tends to preclude much awareness of the thousands of others surrounding it, much less the forest …

      • @Ken,

        I have a couple problems with your comment. Just because you do not agree with what I am saying does not give you the right to re-define words and concepts to fit your own view. Here is how Dictionary.com defines morality.

        1. conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.
        2. moral quality or character.
        3. virtue in sexual matters; chastity.
        4. a doctrine or system of morals.
        5. moral instruction; a moral lesson, precept, discourse, or utterance.

        I don’t see anything related to “aesthetics” or that morality is “evolutionarily derived.” I also looked up “moral” and it did not contain them either. Not to mention that your “long-winded” response was pretty pointless as I do not believe in evolution. But I do have an advantage over you, I can at least imagine that evolution might be true, so I could have a discussion with someone.

        However, you did get around to answering the question somewhat. But I really can’t tell if you are just humoring me, or you really think that a vastly superior being would be judged immoral in your eyes if he commanded the killing of babies. According to you, you feel this way because what you think is moral or immoral is the result of your own personal emotional response to external stimuli based on your experiences of life thus far. But what of it, who cares what you feel? The only reason people care is when enough people feel the same way, it creates a social convention, or even a law. So morality has nothing to do with truth, it has to do with the number of votes the event receives. Because if it were really true that killing a living helpless being was immoral, then we would have to include animals, fish, and insects to the list along with babies. However, these things do not get enough votes to make it universally immoral.

        Now I will explain how I feel about 1 Samuel without taking your view into consideration. The God of the Bible is a vastly superior being. His moral values are based on righteousness and truth, not on the majority consensus. God is the source and creator of all life, it is entirely within his right to take any action he wishes with the life he created. And most important, he can bring back to life anyone he wants. Can man do that when he takes the life of lower forms of life?

        @Steph,

        Well, I’m not sure how you define Christian, but to me it is someone who follows or believes in the Christ and what he did and what it stands for in relation to us. Using just one point, many critical thinkers can be eliminated as being Christian. Any who believe in evolution have to reject a literal Adam. That’s a problem, because one of the main things that Christ did was to sacrifice himself to free mankind from sin, Adam’s sin. But how does that happen? Because the man Jesus was the second Adam, a perfect man who remained perfect until death. His perfect human life was used to replace Adam’s failed life, and by doing that he inherited the human race as his offspring from Adam. So if there was no Adam, then the Christ did nothing, and the claim to be a Christian is nothing. No, I am not privileged at all, it is available to all, if they want it.

        @Steersman

        Proverbs 9:7-9

      • I have uk english as a mother tongue, reasonable french, moderate latin and greek, zilch anything else, particularly finnish and icelandic. The question, seems to me is, was whatever in samuel:1 actually written?

        It is not for me to judge it if it was or wasn’t. I don’t stand an earthly of reading the original. Religion is only protopolitics, anyway, seems to me.

      • howardma,

        @Steersman Proverbs 9:7-9

        So painting your interlocutor’s arguments as scorn is the fundamentalist’s way of putting their fingers in their ears and chanting “Nyah, nyah, can’t hear you”? I guess that saves the messy details, not to mention the wear and tear on their “critical faculties” – such as they are, of actually having to deal with those arguments.

      • Steersman,

        And just what argument might that be? I seen nothing but your own conclusions. Not only that, they are conclusions to arguments of someone else’s ideas, not mine. Provide a real specific argument and I will respond to it, if that is what you want.

      • Howardma,

        Steersman, And just what argument might that be? I’ve seen nothing but your own conclusions. Provide a real specific argument and I will respond to it …

        I would have thought my previous post to you would have been sufficient to fashion a response. But since that seems not to be the case, I’ll try and spell out a few of the questions (as arguments) that were there:

        1) Don’t you think that your question (“moral laws” and “the God of the Jews”) was pretty much the same as the ancient “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”? Particularly since, as I indicated, there is as much evidence – i.e. absolutely zero – for the divine square-dancing team as there is for the entity you styled “the God of the Jews”. Isn’t it rather pointless – unless of course one only wants to hear oneself blather – to be talking of consequences that might follow IF something is true when there isn’t the slightest bit of evidence to suggest that it is, in fact, true? Virtually the same as the proverbial: “IF my grandmother had four wheels and a diesel engine she would be a bus”; would you spend much time seriously and earnestly and learnedly discussing the question of which laws she would be bound by? Maybe print up a few schedules?

        While science also starts from such hypotheses it at least has a whole bunch of brute facts to begin with and actually attempts to corroborate the hypothesis by seeking currently unknown facts that would follow if the hypothesis is true. Religion? The only hypothesis that I know of that anyone tried to prove was on the efficacy of prayer – if God then prayer works, at least that’s the dogma, that’s what the charlatans have been promising the gullible for ages. And the results? No better than random if not actually likely to put the patients who were the subjects in a worse position. Ergo – a complete waste of time, money, effort and people’s lives. Unless you think that misleading people into believing lies is a human use of human beings.

        2) Since you claimed my comments were not related to your ideas and since you have indicated that you don’t believe in evolution and that, apparently, because it conflicts with a “literal Adam”, that justifies concluding, provisionally, that you are a Christian fundamentalist and likewise justifies asking you these questions (as I did, indirectly, in my previous post): How can you say, at least with a straight face, that your concept of god is the only really and truly, honest-to-gosh, real-McCoy when there are and have been literally thousands of such gods over the history of humanity’s evolution – most of which have, thankfully, bitten the dust [RIP] or followed Puff-the-Magic-Dragon into never-never-land? Have you never heard of the aphorism to the effect that “If if walks like a duck and squawks like a duck then it probably is a duck”? Do you not think that it has some applicability to all of the gods – all of the ducks – that humanity has worshipped over the tens of millennia of its evolution? Do you not think it reasonable that if all of those gods, including yours, show a great many similarities – as they do, including that they have all largely been rejected as figments of the imagination – then yours can also likewise be rejected as the same type of figment?

      • Howardma,

        And further to your request for “real specific arguments” and more directly related to your ideas, though of an earlier post, you said:

        Again, if there is a God … why can’t his impossibilities (miracles) be considered reality the same way that man’s past impossibilities were turned into future realities?

        3) Because you apparently don’t understand the meaning and implications of the word IF: i.e., granting that, assuming that. It means that “God”, in that case, is “that which is to be proven” and most emphatically not that which is already a proven fact: no QED until you have actually demonstrated it is true. You only get to assert that the miracles should “be considered reality” if you have proven that what such a state is contingent upon is, in fact, true, i.e., that God actually exists. You can’t make a hypothesis and then conveniently and immediately “forget” that it is only a conjecture – frequently a justification for some serious scorn if not ridicule; putting the cart before the horse does tend to produce that response.

        And, finally, you said:

        … believing in God … has not been proven by any means…. How is this any different than say string theory for example?

        4) How are apples different from whales? A world of difference, a veritable universe of difference. For one thing, string theory starts from literally mountains of facts, i.e., most of the phenomena that are real, solid, tangible and repeatable and that are already explainable by other theories, notably quantum mechanics and relativity. Then, apparently as my knowledge of it is decidedly sketchy and very limited, it makes a number of hypotheses and conjectures based both on known facts and on new mathematics and old mathematics – which has already proven itself many times over – to make a number of predictions. And some of those predictions are merely consistent with what is already known and so is not conclusive: “it has passed many non-trivial checks of its internal consistency”. And others require test equipment which is probably beyond our technology – might always be beyond our technology – so that many are dubious whether it even deserves to be called a theory. In spite of which some few physicists believe in it “with a certainty that seems emotional rather than rational” [Lee Smolin; The Trouble with Physics; pg xx]. Some similarities there with most fundamentalists.

        But the point is that it is a vast edifice of largely interconnected facts and mathematical structures most of which have a great deal of utility in our modern civilization – from nuclear reactors to the Internet to electrical power generation to all of our medical technology.

        As for “believing in god”, what, pray tell, has religion in general got to put on the opposite side of the balance scale? It is to laugh even if only not to cry. If the religious ever manage to get their acts together and agree on a particular conception then it might actually have some solid utility and value. But, as it is, it seems to have been mostly a hindrance, a set of stumbling blocks, a cause for disunity and the shedding of much blood. Definitely a few differences there, I would say.

      • Steersman,

        Like many people do, you have covered a great deal of issues in your comments. Too much in fact to answer in one comment. For now I will respond to the things that really stand out to me.

        Your number 3 question.

        You really don’t think this way do you? This is called reasoning through logic. I was attempting to bring out a point, not provide any sort of evidence for some claim of mine. So if I said, “if the sun blew up, we would not see it happen until about 8 or 9 minutes after it actually happened,” this would be wrong because I would have to prove first that the sun actually blew up before I can make this statement? That is ridiculous! This type of reasoning is used all the time, it is exploring what the most logical results might be under a postulated event.

        If you try to pet my dog, you will get bitten.

        If the president dies, the vice president takes over.

        If God exists, the miracles most likely happened.

        And unlike your example with your grandmother in question 1, these are future events, not past. For example, if it rains tomorrow, I won’t have to go to work. Here are some ways that the existence of God would be proven in the future. One, if you die, and find yourself resurrected, that should be a clue that God is real. Two, if the Apocalypse happens next week, that also might prove God’s existence. However, my original question had nothing to do with proving God’s existence, it was merely a question of what would logically follow concerning the miracles attributed to him. In other words, if God came down to earth today and revealed himself to you as the God of the Bible, would you still question the miracles?

        The point I was trying to make is the one you criticized me for, I am simply saying, from your perspective, would it be true that the miracles could be accepted, if God’s existence can be shown to be fact. Or do you have no doubts whatsoever that God does not exist? Actually, the original question was to learn about the person I was talking to.

        Lets try a science experiment. I quoted you below and changed a couple words, who are you now criticizing?

        “Because you apparently don’t understand the meaning and implications of the word IF: i.e., granting that, assuming that. It means that “God”, in that case, is “that which is to be proven” and most emphatically not that which is already a proven fact: no QED until you have actually demonstrated it is true. You only get to assert that the miracles should “not be considered reality” if you have proven that what such a state is contingent upon is, in fact, true, i.e., that God does not exists. You can’t make a hypothesis and then conveniently and immediately “forget” that it is only a conjecture – frequently a justification for some serious scorn if not ridicule; putting the cart before the horse does tend to produce that response.”

      • Steersman,

        “1) Don’t you think that your question (“moral laws” and “the God of the Jews”) was pretty much the same as the ancient “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin”?

        No I do not think they were the same at all. First, the angel question is pretty stupid, and if any “theologian” couldn’t answer this question in the blink of an eye, he wasn’t much of a theologian. The answer is all of them, if God wanted it done. “all things are possible with God.”

        What I don’t understand, is why you criticize me for doing the exact same thing you do. No, I can not prove that God does exist, but you have proven beyond all doubt that God does not exist?

        I know you have a list of so called evidence for your position, such as evolution, the history of world religions, and so on. And I have counter proposals for all of them, not that you would give them any consideration, so it is probably not worth mentioning them. And contrary to your assumptions, there is evidence of God’s existence.

        As far as the string theory analogy, as usual you completely missed the point. You are too busy making everything so complicated you missed the simple analogy. It doesn’t matter at all how many scientific facts go into the string theory, if it is proven wrong, none of that mattered did it? It would just prove that scientist can take “mountains of facts” and devise an incorrect theory from it, the way they do with evolution. However my point was simply that if all physicists were like the people on this blog, they should have disposed of the string theory long ago because it was not proven YET. That goes along with the thinking around here, if you can not prove something right now, it is not worth investigating.

      • Steersman,

        “since you have indicated that you don’t believe in evolution and that, apparently, because it conflicts with a “literal Adam”, that justifies concluding, provisionally, that you are a Christian fundamentalist and likewise justifies asking you these questions”

        I’m starting to see a pattern here, are you purposely misinterpreting my words and taking them out of context to suit your needs? I mentioned Adam in the context of critical thinkers claiming to be Christians. I said if evolution is true, then there was no literal Adam, and by extension no useful Christian religion. Unless these critical thinkers are followers of a normal human man from Israel that was called Christ and who believed he was the agent of an imaginary deity, and if he was crucified, it was to no purpose. So what does Christian mean to these people? But back to the point, you turned this around and claimed that I don’t believe in evolution because I think Adam was literal. The two have nothing to do with each other. I don’t believe in evolution for many reasons, none of which have to do with Adam. Oh and by the way, I am not a fundamentalist. Just for a primer, I do not believe in the trinity, a young earth, hell, the usual idea of prayer, the usual idea of the soul, and many more. These things are not supported by the Bible, these are ideas that were formulated later, and should not be a basis for discrediting the Bible, false religion yes, but not the Bible. That is what makes some of your comments look so amateurish, because anyone with an ounce of interest in the truth, would have investigated these doctrines and would come to see that there is a sharp distinction between what some Christians say and what the Bible says.

        “How can you say, at least with a straight face, that your concept of god is the only really and truly, honest-to-gosh, real-McCoy when there are and have been literally thousands of such gods over the history of humanity’s evolution.”

        You would think that someone who throws around all these big words would be smart enough to understand simple phrases. Where did I ever say my “concept of god” in my comment? I didn’t, I said “what the Bible is really saying” and these are not the same ideas. I was talking about the Bible, not God. I was talking about the main themes of the Bible that deal with people and conditions, not God. Anyway, I assume you are talking about the gods of the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Canaanites, etc. Who ever said that these were not real gods? There are two reasons I say this.

        1. In reality, many of these gods were passed down to other cultures, as the Greek and Roman gods are very similar, they just altered the names and stories a little. What if we were able to trace all these different gods back to the cradle of civilization, That would mean that most of these gods were originally based on god/gods of the initial ideas of a god. So to me, it is most probable that many of these gods through mans history are distortions from oral traditions passed down through the centuries of YHWH and his actions, and maybe even some of the people, that were later recorded in the book of Genesis.

        2. These were also real gods because they fit one of the definitions of the word god/elohim/theos. Which is object of devotion. Anything can be a god if you pledge your total allegiance to it. That’s why your belly can be a god.

        “As for “believing in god”, what, pray tell, has religion in general got to put on the opposite side of the balance scale? It is to laugh even if only not to cry. If the religious ever manage to get their acts together and agree on a particular conception then it might actually have some solid utility and value. But, as it is, it seems to have been mostly a hindrance, a set of stumbling blocks, a cause for disunity and the shedding of much blood. Definitely a few differences there, I would say.”

        The problem here is that you believe the lie.

        (Titus 1:16) “They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.”

        In other words, they are not Christians.

      • Howardma,

        So if I said, “if the sun blew up, we would not see it happen until about 8 or 9 minutes after it actually happened,” this would be wrong because I would have to prove first that the sun actually blew up before I can make this statement? That is ridiculous!

        Yes, of course it is ridiculous. But I wasn’t saying that and it wasn’t my point. Which is that the sense of your argument, the analogy to a time-traveller from the 15th century viewing a modern plane, is quite a bit different from the analogy you offered above. You said:

        .. why can’t his impossibilities (miracles) be considered reality …

        Not “couldn’t” but “can’t”. Now maybe that was an inadvertent slip-of-the-tongue, but the sense I get there is the difference between a hypothetical and an actuality – which is doubly underlined by your analogy: equating the reality of the plane to the (argued) reality of the miracle – ergo God.

        Your apparent argument would then be equivalent, referring again to the first one above, to you stating that because the sky has just now immediately gone totally black it is therefore true that the sun blew up (8 or 9 minutes ago). When, of course, a more likely cause is simply an eclipse – which tends to happen more frequently than novas. Likewise your entirely hypothetical miracles could have had any number of possible explanations and are therefore no proof of God’s existence.

        I was attempting to bring out a point, not provide any sort of evidence for some claim of mine.

        It didn’t look that way to me – as indicated above; more like a rather disingenuous attempt to get people to concede the reality of a supposed miracle and therefore Jehovah – in all his rather tarnished and fading glory.

      • Howardma,

        I quoted you below and changed a couple words, who are you now criticizing?

        Hmmm, didn’t someone here say something recently about the “ones [who] inevitably respond by deflecting that same critique, verbatim, upon those who have made it”?

        But that only works if there isn’t any asymmetry in the two positions; tends to backfire otherwise.

        In any case, your deflected and reflected statement was this:

        You only get to assert that the miracles should “not be considered reality” if you have proven that what such a state is contingent upon is, in fact, true, i.e., that God does not exists.

        But my hypothesis is not that “god does not exist”, only that there is no conclusive evidence – “that which determines or demonstrates the truth of an assertion” – and no proof that it does – the first asymmetry. So, to answer your question, I’m certainly not criticizing myself. But you have already, I believe, conceded that about the proof so I don’t see the argument on that point.

        As for the “miracles” that should or should not be “considered reality”, it seems some clarification is required. And since you were the one who introduced the term and from your context and perspective, I would presume that you are talking about things like Jesus’ supposed walking on water, turning water into wine, and resurrection. And if you’re not then it still seems an appropriate stand-in and should do for the sake of argument. But before those can even be given any consideration it seems you have to provide evidence that they actually happened as described. Particularly since there seems to be quite a number of very similar if not identical events claimed for various other individuals throughout history – and well before Jesus. “Extraordinary claims” and all of that.

        And, in the absence of that evidence and in light of the fact that there is any number of possible explanations – a series of hypothetical causes and effects – for the supposed events, none of which rely on any supernatural causes and for which you’ve agreed there is no proof, it is most probable – “walks like a duck” – that the supposed events – the “miracle” – cannot be considered any part of objective reality – most likely just another one of those very ubiquitous “extraordinary popular delusions and madness of crowds”.

      • Steersman,

        You are probably right that I should have used “couldn’t” in my argument. But you still have my logic backwards. I am in no way trying to say that unverifiable miracles are evidence of God’s existence, that is illogical. I am saying that many people think the miracles did not happen because miracles in general are considered impossible. I then demonstrated that what constitutes something as impossible is often simply the lack of knowledge of physical laws and how to manipulate them. So there were actually two points in my comment. One, it is not logically sound to discount biblical miracles simply on the argument that they appear impossible in relation to our current knowledge of the physical laws. Two, It seems that people often feel that because the miracles are considered impossible, that provides more evidence that God does not exist. I was merely reversing that logic and saying, logically, if it can be shown that God does exist, the miracles most likely happened. And by conceding to that hypothesis, it shows that the argument that God doesn’t exist because the Bible talks about impossible miracles is an illogical argument. It was a question in logic, not theology. But apparently, the idea of even hypothesizing God’s existence to answer a logic question is so distasteful to you, you went on some rant about everything else except the question.

      • Howardma,

        I am in no way trying to say that unverifiable miracles are evidence of God’s existence; that is illogical.

        You say that you are not saying that. But it seems to me that a close reading of your arguments strongly suggests, if not proves, that that is exactly what you are saying. For one example of several, you say:

        … it is not logically sound to discount biblical miracles simply on the argument that they appear impossible in relation to our current knowledge of the physical laws.

        But that is, at the very best, a rather egregious case of the logical fallacy known as “begging the question”; it “loads in at the front end” that which is to be proven, i.e., that the events described are in fact “miracles”: i.e., “events that appear inexplicable by the laws of nature and so are held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God”. You simply cannot call the events in question “miracles” until after you have proven the existence of the god on which their status as such crucially depends – it tends to qualify as the proverbial “putting the cart before the horse”, obstinate repetitions of which tends to produce at least understandable responses of scorn and ridicule.

        Further, while it is true, as you argue or suggest, that “our current knowledge of physical laws” is a work in progress which may have some problematic ramifications and implications, that “current knowledge” also seems to encompass the concept of acausal, non-deterministic, random or “non-lawful” events, i.e., that “God” – in the sense of an abstraction, not a real entity – does, in effect or to some extent, “play dice with the universe”. In which case it seems quite reasonable to argue that there could well be events that are, simply by definition, “inexplicable by the laws of nature”, but that are entirely and totally “natural” – i.e., no god need apply; “inexplicable” is most definitely not proof of god.

        But apparently, the idea of even hypothesizing God’s existence to answer a logic question is so distasteful to you, [that] you went on some rant about everything else except the question.

        I have no objection to “hypothesizing God’s existence” as I think it can be a useful abstraction or paradigm for our “ultimate concerns”. But when it becomes an assertion – as your hypothesis appears to be and a somewhat disingenuous one to boot, at best – as to the existence of some literal anthropomorphic entity – particularly one that condones or instigates genocide – then I question its veracity and the credibility of the individuals advancing it.

      • Steersman,

        This is getting a little tiresome having to explain myself repeatedly. I think the problem is that you think you know where I am coming from, I guarantee that you do not know where I am coming from.

        When I said: “… it is not logically sound to discount biblical miracles simply on the argument that they appear impossible in relation to our current knowledge of the physical laws.”

        I was not creating a dichotomy by my statement, this should have been plain by my use of “simply on the (singular) argument…” and it was to imply that it is unsound to use this ONE argument, other arguments may apply. But what I was really trying to get across was, as I said before, it is illogical to use the miracles as evidence for God, and the reverse should also be true, that you can not use the impossible nature of miracles as evidence of no God. So at best, if someone was trying to investigate the probable reality of God, they should not be used either way, they should be set aside as you look for other evidence. Your criticism of the word “miracles” is unwarranted. This is the English word many translators used when translating the Bible. You may want to look elsewhere for the source of these events, but you can not criticize me for using the terminology that is within the scope of the genre.

        “Miracles are occurrences that excite wonder or astonishment; effects in the physical world that surpass all known human or natural powers and are therefore attributed to supernatural agency. In the Hebrew Scriptures the word mohpheth′, sometimes translated “miracle,” also means “portent,” “wonder,” and “token.” (De 28:46; 1Ch 16:12, ftn) It is often used in conjunction with the Hebrew word ʼohth, meaning “sign.” (De 4:34) In the Greek Scriptures the word dynamis, “power,” is rendered “powerful works,” “ability,” “miracle.”—Mt 25:15; Lu 6:19; 1Co 12:10, AT, KJ, NW, RS.”

      • Howardma,

        I think the problem is that you think you know where I am coming from, I guarantee that you do not know where I am coming from.

        Well in that case why don’t you stop being so coy and tell me exactly where you’re coming from. You said, as a primer, that you did not “believe in the trinity, a young earth, hell, the usual idea of prayer, the usual idea of the soul, and many more”. But you seem to self-identify as a Christian as you were throwing stones – in quoting Titus – at those who were “not Christians”. Although that seems somewhat inconsistent as I’m somewhat at a loss as to how one can be a Christian and not believe in the trinity. But then again Eastern Orthodox has a different view on that, although Filioque seems a complete and total muddle, and Newton was an Antitrinitarian as well, a grouping that seems to include Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. So, which of the 38,000-odd sects – a rather ridiculous state of affairs in itself – within Christianity do you belong to – if any?

        Your criticism of the word “miracles” is unwarranted. This is the English word many translators used when translating the Bible.

        And, as a point of reference, why don’t you provide a few precise examples of what you mean by “miracles” so I don’t have to guess and so we’re at least on the same page there. But, relative to that quote, it seems to me that Roo Bookaro touched upon that problem in the Jesus Process thread, i.e., that the language of the Bible carries a whole slew – more fetid than not, pun intended – of premises and presumptions that predispose to a particular set of interpretations and responses. Much like the feminist arguments, generally quite reasonable, that words like “chairman” instantiate a problematic bias.

        And, in particular, “miracles” seem to carry a connotation in your mind that those events happened exactly as described. Which would be entirely consistent with your apparent support for a literal interpretation of 1 Samuel 15:3 and justifies concluding that, as Steph suggested, you are simply a fundamentalist, in spite of protestations to the contrary, and view most if not all of the descriptions of supernatural events in the Bible as literally true. Is that the case or not?

        And if it is then all of your arguments about trying to deal in “logic, not theology” is just so much window dressing as you would then simply be unable to conceive of, much less entertain and still less accept, the idea that those descriptions could have been fantasies, fables and figments of the imagination – anything but the real-meal-deal. And if such disparities in starting positions actually exist then it is not at all surprising that you would think that I am “purposely misinterpreting [your] words”.

      • “I’m somewhat at a loss as to how one can be a Christian and not believe in the trinity.”

        This is part of our problem. Your understanding of Christianity has not moved past unsubstantiated dogma such as this. If you were up to date on the subject, you would know that many biblical scholars such as Larry Hurtado, who focuses on the origins of Christianity, is in agreement that the early texts themselves do not support an idea of the trinity, much less that Jesus was God. Jesus became God gradually through the first few centuries of Christianity through speculation, interpretation, and argumentation. Jesus was a man, no less, no more. So it is no wonder many people reject and ridicule the Bible and religion when they believe it supports such nonsensical ideas, and there are many more of them.

        The reason I am here is to try and show that once you remove all this nonsense and come to a better understanding of what the Bible is really saying, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous. But you do not seem like you can get over the biggest hurdle, which is accepting the possibility of a supernatural being. So I can safely assume you have the same feelings about whether there is life elsewhere in the universe? Or for that matter, if there are other universes and other planes of existence. If you can do that, then there is room for the possibility of a supernatural (as compared to earthlings) being.

        But yes I know, you want evidence, you want it proven beyond doubt that there is a God, before you will accept it as fact. Well I’m sorry to tell you that that is not going to happen, aside from the current evidence. Which is that life, intelligence, and information comes from life, intelligence, and knowledge. You see, the problem is that God doesn’t want us to have undisputed evidence. Who would not be a follower of God if they KNEW for a fact that he existed. Probably everyone would, but would they believe and obey him for the right motives? Probably not, some would be obeying so they did not suffer in some fashion. The right motivation is to obey God because it pleases God regardless of what happens to us. That is called love by the way. It is similar to the distinction between two groups of people who do not steal from others. One group is afraid to go to jail, the other group cares about other people and does not wish to hurt them. The first group’s actions are based on a fact, if caught, they WILL go to jail or at least be punished in some fashion (a logical decision). The second group’s actions are based on a belief, they do not believe in hurting other people (an emotional decision). Even though both these groups performed the same action (not stealing) they did it for different reasons. Would a parent want their children to obey them because the children love them and they realize that their parents are trying to help them, or would it be okay if they didn’t love them, but just obeyed out of fear of punishment? That is why there will never be direct undisputed evidence of God’s existence until the appointed time for it to be revealed. Yes, I know you will say this is some copout, but I don’t know what to tell you, this is the reason you have not found the evidence you are looking for in regards to God’s existence.

        Actually, there is no reason to get into specific miracles, I was only using that as an example to make a point. The truth is I don’t really care what you believe and I am not trying to convince you otherwise. In my view, belief in God is a personal matter, and the ignorant condemnation of others should not be plastered over billboards and protest signs. I do believe however that a consensual one on one conversation is the way to go. Being on this blog might not exactly fit that criteria, so sue me. I also believe the written word is another way to go, because if you think you are going to be offended, don’t pick it up and read it then.

        But as far as me, no, I do not belong to any religion, In fact, by my own standards, I am not even a Christian. I do not always do what I know to be right. But that in no way affects what I do know about the Bible and God. And that is from many years of investigating the Bible and other’s opinions of it, including false Christian doctrine, atheist ideas, and so on for over 20 years.

        So lets put this whole thing into perspective. You want to know what evidence there is for God’s existence, right? Well as I said, there is none, and there won’t be any undisputed evidence for God’s existence. The next logical question is, then why would anyone believe in something without any evidence? There a number of reasons for this, but I think the two main answers are, one, people who were raised to be religious have these ideas indoctrinated into their heads, no matter if they are the wild crazy and unsubstantiated beliefs. This is very hard to change even when confronted with how ridiculous their ideas are. It’s like the person who believes they are ugly, and someone compliments them on their looks, and they say to themselves “maybe I’m not so ugly after all” and two seconds later go back to thinking they are ugly. This type of indoctrination needs actual therapy, and that might not even work. And these are the types of people that you keep talking about, those who have almost no knowledge of the Bible or logic, and their actions cause a lot of problems in the world.

        The second group are people who do think, and may have not been raised in a religious home like me. When these people wish to explore this religious thing, they go into it from a secular background and they evaluate the available evidence. Was it creation or was it evolution, etc., etc. Then the problem is compounded by the lies. Does the person have an accurate view of evolution? Do they have an accurate view of creation to compare? So it depends on what combination of lies and truths are being compared that will result in a decision one way or the other. And since there is no direct evidence of God, a person is swayed by the preponderance of the evidence by the way they interpret it. So anyone who believes in God is doing so by circumstantial evidence. Therefore, if someone else wants to question a person’s faith in God, they must re-examine this circumstantial evidence with them to see how they came to this conclusion. And when you have two people who derived their opposing beliefs through the preponderance of the evidence (lies and truth) by the way they interpret it, you have a religious debate that usually goes nowhere because both are arguing from the vantage point of the different conclusion they reached from the same evidence. And it may not even be the same evidence as one might be arguing from true evidence and one from false evidence. And for me I am confident that I have more true evidence of both sides then many others. But again, no one is perfect. Also, do not forget that when someone reaches a conclusion by the preponderance of the evidence, it is never a 0% to 100% result. Its more like a 40% to 60% result which does not mean a total rejection of other possibilities. It’s called an open mind. But I have also committed to my decision until the preponderance changes for me. I understand the same applies to you as well.

      • Howardma,

        This is part of our problem. Your understanding of Christianity has not moved past unsubstantiated dogma such as this.

        I understand that there are essentially over 38,000 different Christian religions along with those of “Gawd” knows how many different Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and folk deities that are running about, if not running amok, in the craniums of a very large percentage of the world’s population. What, pray tell, makes you think that I think that any one of them has “substantiated” anything? Except maybe humanity’s general gullibility.

        If you were up to date on the subject, you would know that many biblical scholars …

        Life is too short for me, or for most, to do that on any more than one or two subjects – if that. You – and others – will have to give me the “executive summary”.

        Jesus was a man, no less, no more.

        I expect that that is the most likely case – and by a very large margin, although I’m curious as to how much correspondence there is between the reality and the fictions described by the Gospels – I sort of doubt we’ll ever really know for sure.

        The reason I am here is to try and show that once you remove all this nonsense and come to a better understanding of what the Bible is really saying, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous.

        Curious that you consider fraction X of the Bible to be nonsense while all of those 38,000 sects each have their own ideas of which fractions A1 through Z38000 are likewise; seems not at all improbable that every part of it is considered nonsense by one or more of those sects – a reasonable conclusion to which might be to agree with them all and say therefore the whole thing is nonsense.

        Although I should emphasize that that pertains to the literal descriptions, particularly to the “supernatural” events; as the American moralist Philip Wylie put it, there’s much in it that is at least “profound psychology and exquisite logic”.

        But what, precisely, do you mean by “it”? Since you’ve rejected Jesus’ claims to divinity, precisely which parts of the Bible do you think are not nonsense? More particularly, which parts do you think were the supernatural miracles you referred to? Moses? Jericho? Adam and Eve as real individuals?

        But you do not seem like you can get over the biggest hurdle, which is accepting the possibility of a supernatural being.

        I can’t help but get the feeling that “supernatural” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms – a view that has some support in philosophy. But it really has as much sense to it as talking about square circles – if something exists that might be a reasonable facsimile to that supposed entity then I would think that should probably be construed as the most natural thing in the universe. No evidence for that of course so I don’t waste much time contemplating it.

        So I can safely assume you have the same feelings about whether there is life elsewhere in the universe?

        Not at all. There is at least one known location where the latter has taken place – fairly solid and durable if not incontrovertible evidence – along with some suggestion that some of the precursor chemicals are floating about in space. Hence there is some possibility that it could well happen or has happened elsewhere in the universe. Whereas there is absolutely zero evidence that a supernatural entity is even logically possible much less physically so.

        You see, the problem is that God doesn’t want us to have undisputed evidence. …. That is why there will never be direct undisputed evidence of God’s existence ….

        Nice story, but yes, a “cop-out”; really qualifies as a just-so story, one that fits a few of the facts but is more fanciful than not.

        In my view, belief in God is a personal matter, and the ignorant condemnation of others should not be plastered over billboards and protest signs.

        I’m not sure what would be a more egregiously “ignorant condemnation of others” than the lurid, barbaric and decidedly pathological visions of hell that many if not most of the faithful have for the “unbelievers” amongst us.

        But yes I know, you want evidence, you want it proven beyond doubt that there is a God, before you will accept it as fact.

        Yes, well that is sort of the meaning of the word:

        Fact: Knowledge or information based on real occurrences; Something demonstrated to exist or known to have existed; A real occurrence; an event:

        “God” really can’t be considered a fact until it is demonstrated to exist; until then it is, at best, only a hypothesis. Asserting that something is a fact in the absence of that demonstration tends to be characterized as delusional.

      • Steersman,

        I think I have had about enough of your double-talk and complete unwillingness to stay on focus. Now listen, so you can maybe learn something today.

        “What, pray tell, makes you think that I think that any one of them has “substantiated” anything?”

        Now your trying to deceptively imply that I am saying something was substantiated by secular or scientific standards. Did you conveniently forget the context that YOU yourself brought up? It was about Christians believing in the trinity, so the context and focus of the conversation is what different Christians derive from the same written word, the Bible. Are you still paying attention? So it is completely possible to substantiate or not, a Christian doctrine by examining the pertinent text in question. The doctrine of Hell, for example, can be demonstrated to be a biblically unsubstantiated doctrine. Now get the shit out of your ears.

        “Life is too short for me, or for most, to do that on any more than one or two subjects – if that.”

        It has become pretty obvious to me that you don’t like to learn anything… :)

        “Curious that you consider fraction X of the Bible to be nonsense…”

        It’s like talking to a rock, PLEASE pay attention! The Bible is not nonsense, the various interpretations of the words and events in the Bible are nonsense. Do you know what an interpretation is?

        “But what, precisely, do you mean by “it”? Since you’ve rejected Jesus’ claims to divinity, precisely which parts of the Bible do you think are not nonsense?”

        Boy, you’re no better than a fundamentalist, you have no qualms about parroting the false doctrine I just told you is not in the texts. It is Christian dogma that says Jesus was God, not the Bible.

        “I can’t help but get the feeling that “supernatural” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.”

        And I can’t help but get the feeling that Steersman is a moron, because you don’t know the definition of the words I use. Supernatural refers to something that is beyond the KNOWN laws of nature. Therefore, if and when these laws become known, it is no longer considered supernatural now is it?

        The rest is just more nonsense gibberish that I don’t have time to deal with…

      • Howardma,

        Now your [sic] trying to deceptively imply that I am saying something was substantiated by secular or scientific standards. Did you conveniently forget the context that YOU yourself brought up?

        Not in the slightest – on either account. I said, explicitly referencing the subject you think I had forgotten, that: “I’m somewhat at a loss as to how one can be a Christian and not believe in the trinity” – and to which I had added a number of qualifications and elaborations. And you had then said: “Your understanding of Christianity has not moved past unsubstantiated dogma such as this.” And I had then said, in essence, that not only had I moved past realizing that that was unsubstantiated – i.e., not supported with proof or evidence, the Bible itself counting for diddly squat in that regard – but that I had understood that none of the dogmata – the “supernatural” claims and “hypotheses” – of a dog’s breakfast of religions had been substantiated.

        It really is immaterial whether any particular dogma is “supported” by any particular text or not if you’re talking about it being “substantiated” which has a very specific meaning related to its veracity, not its putative consistency. Fairy tales can be consistent but they are certainly not true – nothing can “substantiate” them.

        The doctrine of Hell, for example, can be demonstrated to be a biblically unsubstantiated doctrine.

        You really seem to think that if it’s in the Bible then it must be true, although you are remarkably selective and extremely – and annoyingly – coy about which parts so qualify; no courage in your convictions? But that you might be able to “substantiate” something “because the Bible tells you so” in absolutely no way qualifies as “proof or evidence”, particularly for “supernatural” events and causations – at least for those who have any credible claim to being sane. To even suggest otherwise really puts you into the “fundamentalist” and “Biblical literalist” classification.

        In addition, you must completely reject the New Testament as it, I would say, quite clearly describes many assertions by Jesus that “substantiates”, by your apparent interpretation of the word, the literal existence and nature of a place or state that, for want of a better rubric, is commonly called “hell” (although I figure The House of Schadenfreude would be a good second choice):

        According to Terry Watkins at Dial-the-Truth Ministries:
        There are over 162 references in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) that warn of Hell.
        Over 70 of these references are attributed to Jesus. [for example]:
        Matthew 13:42: [Jesus, the Man Hisself says] “And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

        Just to be clear since you seem to be totally unfamiliar with the concept, that something is in the Bible is, in no way, any freaking proof for, or any evidence of, [aka “substantiation of”] the actual literal truth of what is claimed in the statements made. Some justification for asserting that they are the basis for, or the expression of, the beliefs themselves, but there is – surprise, surprise – some difference between those beliefs and whether they are actually and factually and literally true or not.

        Now get the shit out of your ears.

        Tsk, tsk, tsk; I think you’re losing it there Howardma – and in a number of other places. Somewhat nonplussed at seeing so many “No sale” signs? That I’m not buying the rather hateful, barbaric and ignorant schlock that you’re peddling?

        … you have no qualms about parroting the false doctrine I just told you is not in the texts.

        “Gawd”, but you’re obtuse: I wasn’t claiming that it was either false or true doctrine, only mentioning it as a point of reference and to acknowledge that you had rejected it – I think you’re unable to read a complete sentence without going off the rails. That first part of the sentence was only a preface to the question – which you didn’t answer, not surprisingly – as to which parts of the Bible you think are not nonsense. Care to take another run at it?

        Supernatural refers to something that is beyond the KNOWN laws of nature.

        So, up until Newton developed his laws and theory of gravitation the sun was actually, really and truly, pulled across the sky by the Greek god Helios in his chariot which would make it “supernatural” in your view? But after Newton – A.N. – Helios was immediately and magically superannuated, put out to pasture along with his horses, and the job was done by entirely “natural” mechanisms?

        You seem also to have some difficulty with the concept that there is a difference between the labels and descriptions, which are frequently very inaccurate, that we apply to things and their underlying reality – you do recognize that there is a difference between a map of a country and the country itself, I hope? But whether we know the underlying laws or not in absolutely no way says anything against the “naturalism” of the phenomena: if they exist then ipso facto, they are natural. You might wish to take a look at the word definition – although you should keep in mind that just because there is a word or two for a concept in no way justifies concluding that there is any autonomous reality to what is designated (“square circles” or “Zeus” for examples) – and the Wikipedia article on the topic, a salient point of which is this:

        One complicating factor is that there is no universal agreement about what the definition of “natural” is, and what the limits of naturalism might be.

        Or maybe Jehovah – or maybe Allah – has whispered in your ear precisely what those limits really are.

      • Steersman,

        You are so annoying, why is it you just can not grasp what I am talking about? First off, I believe the entire Bible is the word of God and accurate. Therefore, some of my comments are regarding my theology. If your going to discuss the issue with me, you will have to pretend for the sake of the argument that God is real so I can get to the point I am trying to make. If not, we have nothing more to say to each other. All this crap you keep on repeating that there is no proof for God and no proof for the things in the Bible is stupid, I already know that is how you feel, why do you keep bringing it up? You keep asking me questions, so I assume you want to know why I believe the way that I do, and I try to explain and you keep shooting it down with this no proof crap. So what do you want from me? Why do you keep asking questions you do not want answers to? Is it your hope that I will eventually see things your way? Well, I wouldn’t count on that happening. So if that is what you are hoping for, then you might as well give it up. I was once in a debate with a born again Christian that tried to get me to see the error of my ways, that debate lasted well over a year. He finally stopped asking me questions.

        “And I had then said, in essence, that not only had I moved past realizing that that was unsubstantiated – i.e., not supported with proof or evidence”

        What a surprise, you did it again! You are aware that a book does not have to be about real people and events for readers of this book to try and interpret the deeper meaning of the author, right? You have heard of the genre called fiction right? So according to your logic, all the people in book groups, etc., that discuss and interpret books of fiction are fools that are wasting their time, because the people and events in these books are not factual? So again, the point I was making had nothing to do with the Bible or God being real or not, it had to do with how people interpret what it is saying. This alone should answer about 90% of your comment in which you kept repeating the idea. And the overall point was that if you are going around telling people, one of the reasons the Bible should be rejected is because it supports the idea of a God-man, the same as other past religions, you are misrepresenting the Bible for your own gain. You are using lies to support your rejection of the Bible.

        “Matthew 13:42: [Jesus, the Man Hisself says] “And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.””

        A perfect example of what I am talking about. This can mean anything you want once you chop it out of its context and ignore its symbolism. Let’s see what’s really going on here. Jesus says this in response to the disciples question.

        (Matthew 13:36) “And his disciples came to him and said: “Explain to us the illustration of the weeds in the field.”

        What illustration? The one mentioned just prior to this at Matthew 13:24-30. Where a man sowed fine seed in his field, but at night an enemy came and over-sowed weeds along with the fine seed. The householders solution to this, was not to try and pull the weeds so as not to harm the wheat. He said wait till the wheat is ready to be harvested and then remove the weeds from the wheat, and we will bind up the weeds and burn them in the fire.

        The disciples wanted to know what that illustration meant. He tells them by equating each thing in the illustration with things that are considered reality, such as Jesus is the man who sowed the fine seed. The weeds are equated with the wicked people. Therefore, unless you think that literal weeds should be tormented forever in fire, the most proper understanding is that the useless weeds are merely destroyed with fire. It’s the same for the wicked people, they are destroyed because they are useless. There is nothing to indicate that what happens to the wicked, should be something so different than what happens to the weeds. Again, this has nothing to do whether God is real or the Bible is true or whatever. All it has to do with is what did the author of these words mean when he wrote them. I explained my reasoning of the text, can you explain why the author meant two totally different ideas for the fiery furnace, one for weeds and a different one for the wicked?

        “Gawd, but you’re obtuse: I wasn’t claiming that it was either false or true doctrine, only mentioning it as a point of reference and to acknowledge that you had rejected it.”

        If that is the case, then you better rephrase your statement. You said, “Since you’ve rejected Jesus’ claims to divinity.” That phrase implies that you yourself see this in the text. You should have said something like, “Since you’ve rejected other people’s claims to Jesus’ divinity.” By saying what you did, it can only be taken that you interpreted the text yourself, and came to the conclusion that Jesus himself claimed to be divine. So don’t criticize me because of your obtuse writing skills.

        “which parts of the Bible (do) [sic] you think are not nonsense.”

        I already answered this, apparently you missed it. I said, NO PART of the Bible is nonsense. The interpretations of the Bible are nonsense. See Matthew 13:42 above.

        “So, up until Newton developed his laws and theory of gravitation the sun was actually, really and truly, pulled across the sky by the Greek god Helios in his chariot which would make it “supernatural” in your view?”

        Are you done being a jackass yet? And another case of purposeful deception on your part. Remember, context, context, context. We were discussing if the word supernatural is a contradiction. You are here substituting supernatural with a defined theology. In keeping with your theme, are you saying that when men first noticed planets or moving stars, they reasoned for a bit, and came to the conclusion that there must be some natural law that is guiding these moving stars? Or did they consider it as something beyond what they knew as the laws of nature at that time, supernatural? But now we know what these natural laws are, and we don’t consider the orbits of planets as supernatural.

        I win, YOU lose!

      • Steersman,

        You are so annoying, why is it you just can not grasp what I am talking about? First off, I believe the entire Bible is the word of God and accurate. Therefore, some of my comments are regarding my theology. If your going to discuss the issue with me, you will have to pretend for the sake of the argument that God is real so I can get to the point I am trying to make. If not, we have nothing more to say to each other. All this crap you keep on repeating that there is no proof for God and no proof for the things in the Bible is stupid, I already know that is how you feel, why do you keep bringing it up? You keep asking me questions, so I assume you want to know why I believe the way that I do, and I try to explain and you keep shooting it down with this no proof crap. So what do you want from me? Why do you keep asking questions you do not want answers to? Is it your hope that I will eventually see things your way? Well, I wouldn’t count on that happening. So if that is what you are hoping for, then you might as well give it up. I was once in a debate with a born again Christian that tried to get me to see the error of my ways, that debate lasted well over a year. He finally stopped asking me questions.

        “And I had then said, in essence, that not only had I moved past realizing that that was unsubstantiated – i.e., not supported with proof or evidence”

        What a surprise, you did it again! You are aware that a book does not have to be about real people and events for readers of this book to try and interpret the deeper meaning of the author, right? You have heard of the genre called fiction right? So according to your logic, all the people in book groups, etc., that discuss and interpret books of fiction are fools that are wasting their time, because the people and events in these books are not factual? So again, the point I was making had nothing to do with the Bible or God being real or not, it had to do with how people interpret what it is saying. This alone should answer about 90% of your comment in which you kept repeating the idea. And the overall point was that if you are going around telling people, one of the reasons the Bible should be rejected is because it supports the idea of a God-man, the same as other past religions, you are misrepresenting the Bible for your own gain. You are using lies to support your rejection of the Bible.

        “Matthew 13:42: [Jesus, the Man Hisself says] “And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.””

        A perfect example of what I am talking about. This can mean anything you want once you chop it out of its context and ignore its symbolism. Let’s see what’s really going on here. Jesus says this in response to the disciples question.

        (Matthew 13:36) “And his disciples came to him and said: “Explain to us the illustration of the weeds in the field.”

        What illustration? The one mentioned just prior to this at Matthew 13:24-30. Where a man sowed fine seed in his field, but at night an enemy came and over-sowed weeds along with the fine seed. The householders solution to this, was not to try and pull the weeds so as not to harm the wheat. He said wait till the wheat is ready to be harvested and then remove the weeds from the wheat, and we will bind up the weeds and burn them in the fire.

        The disciples wanted to know what that illustration meant. He tells them by equating each thing in the illustration with things that are considered reality, such as Jesus is the man who sowed the fine seed. The weeds are equated with the wicked people. Therefore, unless you think that literal weeds should be tormented forever in fire, the most proper understanding is that the useless weeds are merely destroyed with fire. It’s the same for the wicked people, they are destroyed because they are useless. There is nothing to indicate that what happens to the wicked, should be something so different than what happens to the weeds. Again, this has nothing to do whether God is real or the Bible is true or whatever. All it has to do with is what did the author of these words mean when he wrote them. I explained my reasoning of the text, can you explain why the author meant two totally different ideas for the fiery furnace, one for weeds and a different one for the wicked?

        “Gawd, but you’re obtuse: I wasn’t claiming that it was either false or true doctrine, only mentioning it as a point of reference and to acknowledge that you had rejected it.”

        If that is the case, then you better rephrase your statement. You said, “Since you’ve rejected Jesus’ claims to divinity.” That phrase implies that you yourself see this in the text. You should have said something like, “Since you’ve rejected other people’s claims to Jesus’ divinity.” By saying what you did, it can only be taken that you interpreted the text yourself, and came to the conclusion that Jesus himself claimed to be divine. So don’t criticize me because of your obtuse writing skills.

        “which parts of the Bible (do) [sic] you think are not nonsense.”

        I already answered this, apparently you missed it. I said, NO PART of the Bible is nonsense. The interpretations of the Bible are nonsense. See Matthew 13:42 above.

        “So, up until Newton developed his laws and theory of gravitation the sun was actually, really and truly, pulled across the sky by the Greek god Helios in his chariot which would make it “supernatural” in your view?”

        Are you done being a jackass yet? And another case of purposeful deception on your part. Remember, context, context, context. We were discussing if the word supernatural is a contradiction. You are here substituting supernatural with a defined theology. In keeping with your theme, are you saying that when men first noticed planets or moving stars, they reasoned for a bit, and came to the conclusion that there must be some natural law that is guiding these moving stars? Or did they consider it as something beyond what they knew as the laws of nature at that time, supernatural? But now we know what these natural laws are, and we don’t consider the orbits of planets as supernatural.

        I win, YOU lose!

      • Howardma,

        If your going to discuss the issue with me, you will have to pretend for the sake of the argument that God is real so I can get to the point I am trying to make.

        That “your” of yours there and elsewhere should be “you’re” – there’s a significant difference in meaning although a slight one in sound – depending on how sloppy one is in one’s pronunciation.

        But about the only reason that I can see offhand for pretending that “God is real” is if you were trying to present a reductio ad absurdum argument whose only conclusion in consequence would be that “God is not real”. Or maybe that you were trying to advance that as a hypothesis which was to be proven. But since you have apparently already conceded that there is neither proof nor evidence for “God” – at least the anthropomorphic version of the Bible & Quran, I can’t see that there is much point in pretending it is real – I sort of gave up (put aside) playing (pretending: make-believe) “Cowboys and Indians” (the things of childhood) when I was about 6 or 7 years old.

        You have heard of the genre called fiction right?

        Yes, of course I have. But you apparently want to insist that various events described in the Bible – burning bushes, stone tablets inscribed by The Man Himself, the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus’ virgin birth and divinity [Luke 1:26-35], his death by crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, his descriptions of hell, for examples – are literally true facts which most sane people are going to call outright fantasy – being charitable. If you then want to call the Bible largely a book of fiction then we probably have no, or fewer, arguments. But you can’t reasonably have it both ways by saying that “the entire Bible is the word of God and accurate” and that it is a work of fiction.

        And the overall point was that if you are going around telling people, one of the reasons the Bible should be rejected is because it supports the idea of a God-man, the same as other past religions, you are misrepresenting the Bible for your own gain. You are using lies to support your rejection of the Bible.

        Whether it “supports the idea of a God-man” or not, the conflict and inconsistency between, on the one hand, your claims, and those of others, that the “entire Bible is the word of God” and, on the other, the fantastical, lurid, barbaric and highly improbable events noted above and elsewhere in the Bible, and for which there is not a single solitary shred of tangible evidence, is what justifies my, and others, rejection of the Bible as anything more than largely a work of fiction – at best.

        “Matthew 13:42: …” This can mean anything you want once you chop it out of its context and ignore its symbolism.

        That looks like a rather idiosyncratic interpretation of your own there – and a rather confused one to boot. Jesus is supposedly and apparently not offering agricultural advice to farmers on how to deal with a fractious neighbor, but trying to explain how Jehovah is going to treat those who don’t follow his (arbitrary and vindictive and barbaric) laws and regulations: weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in an eternal lake of fire. Unless, of course, it’s only a fictional story which then can, and should be, rejected as such.

        You said, “Since you’ve rejected Jesus’ claims to divinity.” That phrase implies that you yourself see this in the text.

        Not in the slightest; it was simply a restatement and summary of what you yourself have said several times about your beliefs in that regard – not at all a statement about what I see there.

        But now we know what these natural laws are, and we don’t consider the orbits of planets as supernatural.

        You obviously didn’t read the definition I provided last time – do take a closer look this time: definition; you might also want to spend some time thinking about the Wikipedia article on the topic as well. But the crux of the matter seems to be that “supernatural” refers to an apparent or figurative attribute – the “seems” of definition 2a – whereas “natural” refers to an actual or literal attribute. Or maybe you think that dark matter and dark energy – a significant portion of “the mass-energy of the universe” and which no current theory of physics has any explanation for – is the result of supernatural causations of one sort or another: Gremlins? Hosts of angels and devils gathering to descend on the planet Earth? ….

      • Christians today believe in evolution.

        No doubt some of them do. Not quite sure which neck of the woods you’re from but in America at least the picture isn’t quite as rosy:

        A new Gallup poll shows that, as in the past thirty years, acceptance of evolution in the U.S. has remained static. In fact, the latest statistics (light green line in figure below), show that 46% of Americans are young-earth creationists, 32% adhere to some form of god-guided or theistic evolution (dark green line), and only 15% adhere to evolution as we scientists know it (“human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process”).

        Not particularly encouraging.

        They also understand the art of storytelling in history.

        To some extent. But many of them, mostly the fundamentalists, seem to have some difficultly with the concepts of fact and fantasy and fiction in their storytelling; tend to wind up putting their thumbs on the scales when it comes to brute facts.

        The rest are fundamentalists.

        Unfortunately there are far too many of the latter and far too few of the former.

        Amen.

        “Lord have mercy on us all” – or something more secular but to that effect – might be more appropriate if we’re unable to disabuse the fundamentalists of their delusions.

      • Considering the dismal state of science education in the us and the fact that only one republican nominee “believes” in evolution I don’t find the stats surprising…tragic but not surprising.

      • … tragic but not surprising.

        Jerry Coyne [the re-blogger of the previous stats] also had a recent post titled “There is no hope for America” in which he states “I weep for my country”. Which, even as a Canadian, I can very much sympathize with – in part because America has, of course, a fairly large “footprint”. Great principles if not actually transcendent ones – and in a secular sense – but, as they say, “between the dream and the reality there falls the shadow”.

        As for the reasons for that, there has obviously been a great amount of ink spilled on the question and I’m not sure we’re any closer to a workable answer. I’d like to pin a large amount of blame for that on religion – which “poisons everything” in, of course, Hitchen’s phrasing – but that may only be the largest and most salient of the tips of the proverbial iceberg. Even if somewhat inconclusive Pogo may have the best starting point: “I have seen the enemy and he is us”.

      • We live on a big globe called planet earth, steersman. Your assumptions are very geocentric.

        And which assumptions do you think those might be? You have, maybe, some that are more heliocentric or, even, galaxy-centric? Always, or almost always, ready to be instructed: Proverbs 4:7 & 4:13 – among others of a similar nature.

        Amen = truly. OK?

        If you insist, although there is still a question or two on the floor.

      • This word in both English and Greek is a transliteration from the Hebrew ʼamen′. The meaning is “so be it,” or “surely.” The Hebrew root word from which it is drawn (ʼaman′) means “be faithful; be trustworthy.” In the Hebrew Scriptures the word is used as a solemn expression to obligate oneself legally to an oath or covenant and its consequences (Nu 5:22; De 27:15-26; Ne 5:13), also as a solemn expression to subscribe to an expressed prayer (1Ch 16:36), to an expression of praise (Ne 8:6), or to an expressed purpose (1Ki 1:36; Jer 11:5). The Hebrew word ʼaman′ is applied to YHWH as “the faithful God” (De 7:9; Isa 49:7) and describes his reminders and promises as “trustworthy” and “faithful.” (Ps 19:7; 89:28, 37) In the Christian Greek Scriptures the title “Amen” is applied to Christ Jesus as “the faithful and true witness.” (Re 3:14)

      • Yup. You forgot the Aramaic. It’s a transliteration from both the Hebrew and Aramaic.

        Amen.

        Language and ideas evolve and we can apply ‘amen’ (;’truly’, ‘synonymous with so be it’) in all sorts of contexts now. Hallelujah!

        Unless you’re a fundamentalist who doesn’t believe in the concept of evolution. Maranatha.

  7. Simply incredible; no wonder theology is getting such a bad press these days, and quite well-deserved:

    … there is no good reason to think that our cognitive faculties are truth-tracking. After all, it is not because those faculties contribute to true beliefs that they are selected for in the Darwinian account; it is because they are likely to contribute to survival.

    Seems to me that “having true beliefs” about one’s environment is going to be a strong determinant of one’s survival; guessing wrong about which plants and animals are edible and which ones see oneself likewise can’t have been conducive to leaving many progeny behind to continue the process of a species’ development. Seems that Plantinga doesn’t really understand the processes of evolution and was unable to ask himself why and how those faculties contributed to survival. Possibly a bias of some sort?

    Can the naturalist expect, as the theist clearly can, that her cognitive faculties are reliable, i.e., that they lead to true beliefs?

    That argument might have had at least a hope of being right – if all theists actually managed to agree on the attributes of god. I mean, why should Plantinga think his conceptions are any more reliable, that his “cognitive faculties” are any better, than those of various Muslim, Hindu, Aztec, Zoroastrian and Confucian theists? Except possibly as a result of incredible arrogance or equally incredible ignorance?

    Their rhetoric is inevitably condescending, as the development of the recent cult of the “flying spaghetti monster” makes clear.

    Hard not to be condescending when the evidence strongly suggests, at least, that religious belief, particularly in various anthropomorphic deities, is really on the same level of credibility, possessing the same degree of “truth-tracking”, as astrology and geocentrism and bloodletting and a great many other ignorant and barbaric practices and beliefs which humans have been prone to over thousands of years.

    Those who dissent from academically “respectable” views about religion, evolution, global warming, sexual ethics, the nature of marriage, and the value of unborn human life are increasingly addressed with scorn and public shaming rather than intellectual argument and reasoned discourse;

    To bring out what is probably a hoary old chestnut, Thomas Jefferson said:

    Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity.

    While religion may still have a few claims to fame, direct or indirect, it seems that when there are some 38,000 Christian sects, a large percentage of whom are “at swords’ points with each other on matters of creed and technique [such] that even the definition of Christianity crumples to absurdity”, when Christian pastors wind up dying from playing with poisonous snakes or suggest that the “final solution” for the “homosexual problem” is to put them all inside electrified fences, I would think that theologians should count themselves lucky if ridicule from society is the worst response they have to deal with.

    • Looks like Plantinga rolling the ole’ human depravity argument so eloquently expressed by St Auggie. One might think,however, that since human depravity is universal, Plantinga’s thoughts “depraved” and therefore lacking as well, so therefore we have no reason to trust his thoughts as well.

      • Looks like Plantinga rolling the ole’ human depravity argument so eloquently expressed by St Auggie. One might think, however, that since human depravity is universal, Plantinga’s thoughts “depraved” and therefore lacking as well, so therefore we have no reason to trust his thoughts as well.

        Not at all familiar with much of St. Augustine or even of Plantinga. And not having read any of the latter’s book I don’t know how well Tollefsen has captured what he was getting at. But from what he has written and from what you have suggested it is hard not to reach the conclusion that it’s a very large dog’s-breakfast of egregious logical fallacies and questionable assumptions. For instance, as mentioned above but which deserves a further comment or two, this has to qualify as a real howler:

        Since natural selection does not select for truth, or truth-tracking faculties, but for other unrelated properties, we have no reason to expect so given naturalism.

        For one thing, I would very much like to know which scientific journals he has cited that show a theoretical analysis proving that evolution, as defined, is simply incapable of selecting for “truth-tracking faculties”, that it is a Model-T in today’s Grand Prix. One would think, since it is obvious that we do have some of those – however created, that those faculties would have been sufficient to prove that point.

        And what other journals have managed to prove, since it obviously wasn’t evolution, as defined, doing its thing, that Jehovah had his finger in every pie fiddling the mechanisms – and in his own design to boot – so that every generation had a little more of those same faculties than the last generation? Maybe the Theological Gazette?

        And this one is equally bad:

        Of course, we have very good reason to think our beliefs are reliable

        One would have thought that both of those illustrious, if deluded, individuals would have been sufficiently aware of “The Galileo Affair” to have not entertained that idea of theirs for very long, much less published it.

        The point or conclusion should be that obviously some of our beliefs are reliable and some of them are not. And that, in the absence of evidence and verifiable predictions, neither of which Plantinga and company have in even the most miniscule amounts, beliefs and attendant claims, particularly about supernatural anthropomorphic entities, should be taken with very large amounts of salt, if not rejected as the ravings of mad men.

        Really seems that Plantinga, at least in those cases, has simply started from the premise, the hypothesis, that Jehovah exists and has just fiddled the facts, the very few that he actually has, to fit them into that rather restrictive straitjacket. And it hasn’t helped that he seems virtually clueless about the nature and mechanisms of science and evolution in particular.

        Although to be somewhat fair on the latter point, some famous biologist, whose name escapes me at the moment, said something to the effect that everyone thinks they understand evolution but (I think) very few actually do. It certainly has some tricky concepts some of which are, as they say, decidedly counter-intuitive and the details can be mind-numbingly complex. And it also seems to be a theory that is experiencing some growth or extension as there seem to be quite a few facts that don’t fit easily into the framework that was formulated some 50 years ago. And it has still not yet, I think, addressed the extent to which consciousness – at some level – may have played a role: if artificial selection is seen to have such wide ranging consequences then it seems entirely justified to think that “lower-order” organisms might be capable of similar, if more limited, results – a case, one might say, of natural artificial selection.

        But none of the foregoing really absolves Plantinga for the level of ignorance on the topic he seems to exhibit. Although I suppose one might lay part of the blame for that at the doorstep of the educational system.

  8. Pingback: Quote of the Day | eChurch Blog

  9. I think the main problem with this whole discussion as usually cast back and forth by theists and atheists is the assumption that static categories like “the Divine” and “natural” or the “material” exist other than as our dualistic semantic projections upon the whole of reality as we can perceive it. Our experiences are never reductionistically “materialistic,” even in the proverbial “hard, cold” lab. Process theism, by whatever name (Whitehead, Hartshorne) seems a better way of thinking about our “reality” even if “God” might not be the word one choses to use given the connotations from “Classic” theism. Bottom line, the very nature of reality presents us with what appear to be “mechanistic” “time and chance” “atoms and the void” phenomenon, but also “mind” “thought” and other transcendent phenomenon as well, that seem to exhibit will, reason, and the aesthetic–hence this very blog, this topic, and the discussion thereof. These are no opposing realities (mind and matter) but of one whole “panentheistic” reality. Most of us agree that “magical” thinking is not a credible casual factor in our universe (angels, demons, fairies, and projected illusions) but who among us can reduce to “normal,” i.e., our wondrous and marvelous minds and experiences of reality to what is normally described as “the merely material,” i.e., strong and weak nuclear, gravity, and electromagnetic “forces”?

  10. I admit I’ve been living under a rock on this one, but does anyone know what happened to richard r, La croix? I can’t find many references on the internet. he wrote some rebuttals to arguments by Plantinga and I was wondering if he has others other than what is in “What is God”

  11. The case for atheism essentially boils down to five things

    1) Science has revealed a network of causality that makes God largley unnecessary to explain much. Everything from lightning to the appearance of humankind and the Big Bang now has a causal explanation that leaves God with little to do.

    2) Some of the classical arguments for the existence of God, especially the ontological argument have a sophistical air to them. Hume argues that even if we accept that the universe is designed, we cannot know anything about the designer. (In particular why should she or it be the Christian God?)

    3) The morality of the classic Abrahamic holy books has a great deal of horrible ideas behind it. No matter how much theists protest that you cannot naturalistically explain our sense of morality (from Kant to Francis Collins), the fact is we don’t get all our morality from the scriptures of the Western world and its a good thing too.

    4) Theodicy- the problem of evil.

    5) It is understandable that humans want a sense of a cosmic connection to a greater whole beyond themselves. There is something to be said for Friedrich Schliermacher’s notion of religion as rooted in a “feeling of absolute dependence”. However, in popular religion this (laudable) feeling tends to degenerate into masochism, and many Westerners today feel that Eastern religions process what FS was talking about in a more productive way!

    Plantinga is a bit misleading here: “And to varying degrees, the claims of historical biblical scholarship are either in conflict with revealed religion, if those claims deny straightforwardly the possibility of supernatural action in the world,…”

    Historical scholarship can actually discredit quite a bit of the Bible without strict naturalistic assumptions. The contradictions between the Resurrection accounts are there with or without naturalistic presuppositions. There are also good reasons for falling back on naturalistic assumptions whenever possible, but that’s the subject of a different post.

  12. Pingback: The Humphreys Intervention « The New Oxonian

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