Evidence and the End of Christianity

And speaking of evidence for God, here’s Matt Rossano putting forth an interesting idea:

Now this may seem too whimsical to be taken seriously, but the important point is this: however one envisions convincing scientific evidence of God, let’s suppose we’ve got it. Let’s further suppose that this god is pretty much the god we all expected to find — not Aristotle’s reclusive thought-contemplating-itself god or Plato’s disappointingly limited Demiurge, but the “golden rule,” Ten Commandments kind of god with whom we are all pretty familiar. This God is now on the same footing as gravity, evolution, and the germ theory of disease. He is an accepted scientific fact. Now what?

Well nothing major — only the end of both atheism and Christianity.

Now, as I recall, Paley and his fellow natural theologians thought they had precisely such evidence. Somehow they overlooked that their arguments represented the end of Christianity. Let’s see what Rossano has in mind.

The part about it being the end of atheism seems clear enough. But how does it imply the end of Christianity:

For those who find Christianity to be a stubbornly abhorrent strain of the religion virus, this ought to be a moment of much rejoicing. How so? A fundamental tenet of Christianity is free will. It is no stretch to say that Christianity without free will is simply not Christianity anymore. The Christian God grants humans free will and will not interfere with its exercise. Humans are free to believe or not believe, free to follow God’s laws or free to sin and separate themselves from God. God condemns no one. People condemn themselves. This is all standard, mainline Christian theology and it all gets utterly demolished by convincing scientific evidence of God.

We really aren’t free to believe or not believe in germs, gravity, evolution or other firmly established scientific facts. We can foolishly try to deny them, but their effects are with us and their laws hold regardless of our attitude. If I jump off a cliff, it matters not a whit whether I believe in gravity; I’m gonna fall. The laws of physics, Mendelian genetics, viral contagion, etc. — my beliefs about these things are irrelevant. I follow their dictates. I suffer or enjoy their consequences.

The kindest spin I can put on this is that Rossano is using the term “free will” in a very nonstandard way. Evidence is never a threat to free will. Whatever God-supporting evidence Roassano is imagining, people will have entirely the same choices after hearing it as they did before.

The effect of the evidence, and this seems to be what Rossano has in mind, is to make certain choices seem more or less reasonable than they would without that evidence. But that is entirely separate form concerns about free will. Close to half the American population flatly rejects evolution, for example. I am sure they will be surprised to hear that actually they are not free to make that choice. People like Rossano (and myself) might think they have made a foolish decision, but that is neither here nor there.

Even taken on its own terms Rossano’s argument is very weak. Let us suppose we really do have evidence that is so strong that every reasonable person is now convinced of the truth of Christianity. Does that imply that humanity does not need a savior? Does it imply that God did not assume human form and later die on a cross? Does it imply that our fate in the afterlife does not depend on decisions we make in this life? The evidence Rossano imagines would not mean the end of Christianity. It would only mean the end of the notion that belief by faith alone is admirable.

Since Rossano intends his essay as in part a rebuke to “scientific atheists,” I would add that overwhelming evidence of the sort he describes, while it would be nice, is not really what we are asking for. I would settle for something strongly suggestive of God, like the sorts of evidence Paley offered. You could certainly accept Paley’s argument that the interlocking complexity of organisms points strongly to an intelligent designer without also accepting Christianity. Likewise for the arguments of modern ID proponents. It is just a pity that their arguments turn out to be completely fallacious. Without any such physical evidence, and with contrary evidence in the form of evil, suffering and divine hiddenness, we are left wondering what exactly is the reason for according any plausibility to the notion of God.

Rossano continues:

The Christian God is not supposed to be like that (at least not in this life). His laws are not the laws of physics. One believes in him and follows his laws out of love and gratitude, not because of being compelled by necessity. It’s my choice if I want to hate my neighbor. If I see a greater immediate gain from not doing unto others, then I should be able to do that and God can’t get in my way. But if God is like gravity, then I will suffer the consequences of breaking his laws just as surely as I’ll break my neck if I step off a cliff. Love of God is as meaningless as love of the inverse square law.

This is just completely wrong. According to traditional Christianity, you absolutely suffer the consequence of not believing in God regardless of your opinion on His existence. There is no “I didn’t believe in you!” exception when receiving your fate in the afterlife. The atheist is in precisely the same position in the afterlife as the gravity-denier is upon stepping off a cliff.

Moreover, how does love of God become meaningless just because it is based on evidence? The usual thinking is that God lays out his laws and commandments with our earthly happiness in mind. You do not unhappily follow God’s laws because you are pondering your fate in the afterlife, you follow them happily because you know He has your best interests at heart, and He is much smarter and more farsighted than you. If this is true then the effect of a mass awakening to God’s reality would be a far more just and contented society. That hardly seems meaningless to me.

If the scientific atheist is sincere in claiming that it is a lack of evidence that compels disbelief, then he or she ought to be able to specify the type of evidence necessary to reverse this situation. What are the conditions under which the God hypothesis gains support and are these conditions even possible?

I think I have already implied my answer to this question, but let’s look a bit more closely.

First, to reiterate, it is not just lack of evidence that compels disbelief, though it is certainly a big step in that direction. There is also the existence of evidence against the Christian notion of God.

More to the point, Paley believed he had strong evidence for God, and it was evidence of a sort that convinced virtually everyone who considered it seriously. Now let us suppose that all of the lines of evidence that support evolution had turned out differently. Suppose the fossil record showed us that modern animals were all there, in their present form, right at the start. Suppose instead of a universal genetic code we found instead numerous, fundamentally different codes, and that the distribution of these codes corresponded to some reasonable notion of created kinds. Suppose we had discovered that the universe really is just six thousand years old. Science could very easily have discovered all of those things. If it had would anyone today think Paley was being foolish?

Conclusive proof that God exists? Certainly not. You could always hold out hope that further research will reveal a naturalistic explanation. But it would certainly get me thinking!

Comments

  1. #1 The Science Pundit
    August 17, 2010

    First, to reiterate, it is not just lack of evidence that compels disbelief, though it is certainly a big step in that direction. There is also the existence of evidence against the Christian notion of God.

    Exactly! I’ve never been one to say that I don’t believe in gØd for lack of evidence (though that’s certainly part of it). The main reason I’m an atheist is because gØd (all gØds really) is a made up fictional character, as are all “his” variations and derivations (including the Deist gØd), and there’s plenty of evidence to support that conclusion.

    As for stating the evidence that would convince me, the Christians pretty much make that impossible by defining their gØd with such infinite properties. What possible evidence could this gØd give me that I couldn’t dismiss as either hallucination or an example of Arthur C. Clarke’s sufficiently advanced technology? The (now ailing) Christopher Hitchens once brought up a similar point. He asked: that even if we accept every single miracle in the bible as fact, how does that prove that Jeebus was actually gØd? (hint: It doesn’t.)

  2. #2 The Science Pundit
    August 17, 2010

    To elaborate on my above comment, what possible evidence could a being show me to prove that she/it is omnipotent rather than merely powerful beyond my comprehension?

  3. #3 Todd
    August 17, 2010

    The last quote you include from Rommano’s piece is a perfect example of how religious believers commonly abdicate when it comes to providing evidence to support their arguments.
    Science has developed standards of evidence over centuries of inquiry, and while those standards may vary in the particulars from field to field, the intellectual and conceptual process is consistent. The type and amount of evidence often depends upon the question at hand, what is already known or understood about a given topic, and the techniques available (and employed) in order to address a given question. It shows a fundamental misunderstanding (or lack of understanding) of science to demand that scientists articulate a standard of evidence beforehand, especially when it comes to the supernatural.
    How is it, exactly, that we are supposed to know what evidence would support “the God hypothesis?” The “hypothesis” itself is fundamentally untestable. More importantly, we are under no obligation to provide an evidence “checklist” for someone else’s unfounded claims.
    Ultimately, I would tell Rommano (or anyone else making such a demand) that “the God hypothesis” is his hypothesis, not mine, and thus it is his responsibility to find and report convincing evidence.

  4. #4 Aaron
    August 17, 2010

    You know, if God was like the deities in DnD, I would be devout. There the clerics pray and people get healed, zombies burst into flames, water is created from air, etc. Verifiable effects.
    Perhaps DnD is partially responsible for the growing number of non-believers in the US. It has raised the bar for belief.
    “What do you mean, YHWH doesn’t heal amputees? Pelor does it all the TIME!”
    BTW, I am not crazy, and I am certainly aware that DnD is a game based on fiction, and has no effect on realty other than sapping my income, wasting my time, and helping my friends avoid girls. :P

  5. #5 Ken
    August 17, 2010

    The argument just seems to be a slightly more philosophical (and verbose) version of Oolon Colluphid’s argument about the Babel Fish and the non-existence of God.

  6. #6 Paul Murray
    August 17, 2010

    Now, as I recall, Paley and his fellow natural theologians thought they had precisely such evidence.

    Nails it, really. And he misses what christianity is really about, with respect to free will. It’s not belief/nonbelief in the mere existence of God. The bible itself points out that the demons in hell believe in that (James 2:19).
    Christianity is about allegiance, about choosing to be in God’s team, which in practice means obeying whichever religious leader is threatening you with hellfire.

    Never fear. Even in the face of compelling evidence that the ten-commandments-writing midianite-genocide-condoning firstborn-egyptian-children-killing contemptible middle-eastern despot god of the bible really exists, we will remain as free as ever to reject him.

  7. #7 GAZZA
    August 17, 2010

    Aaron@4: I wouldn’t, necessarily.

    Barring the possibility of actually going and meeting the deities – which is possibly only in some games – I would maintain that wizards are able to perform similar miracles without recourse to a deity, and that I had no compelling reason to believe that priests weren’t just misguided wizards. Heck, I have played such characters, many times. :)

    Of course if you have the sort of DM that likes to thunderbolt you for blasphemy, that sort of character isn’t playable.

    But I’ll grant you at least that it would be better evidence than the so-called “real” gods have.

  8. #8 Marcus Pendergrass
    August 17, 2010

    Very nice post. Rossano’s ideas, besides being nonsensical, aren’t even new. “Sophisticated” believers have long used arguments similar to his to try to show why there can’t be unequivocal evidence in favor of God: if there were, there would be no necessity for faith, which God prizes above all.

    I find it interesting that Rossano works so hard to show that theists and atheists are somehow on the same footing, epistemologically speaking. In his case, both points of view would be equally trivial if there were compelling evidence for a deity. Another well-worn trope is to claim that in the absence of certainty either way, both points of view are equally “faith based” (see for example “Atheists are Believers Too” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pete-enns/atheists-are-believers-to_b_681169.html), another recent Huffington Post post).

    As you point out, all this completely ignores the compelling evidence against the God of the Bible, most notably the problem of suffering. Moreover, it shows a complete misunderstanding of the relationship between belief and evidence. The rational point of view is that beliefs are valuable when they could be overturned by evidence, but have not been. The “faith based” view is that beliefs are valuable precisely when they cannot be overturned by any evidence whatsoever. I can make up beliefs of this latter sort all day long. It’s much harder to come up with beliefs that could be falsified, but haven’t been. That’s the business of science.

  9. #9 Keith Harwood
    August 17, 2010

    I was under the impression that the claim that solid scientific evidence for the existence of God prevents free will is a claim made by the Christians thenselves. It is their explanation for the hiddeness of God. So if God is no longer hidden free will vanishes by the Christians’ own logic. I suspect this might have been Rossano’s point.

  10. #10 Art
    August 17, 2010

    Given positive proof of the existence, and active engagement, of a Biblical God would give science pause. Atheists would have to modify their stance.

    But I also think that the scientific atheists would adjust gracefully after some time. First thing they would do is modify their belief to provisional status and set about testing to see if God is definitively a God. By classical definition God must be omniscient and omnipotent so these scientists would start to poke around the edges to find God’s limits. Find a limit and, by definition, God is not a God. He/she/it may be an advanced being, perhaps a form of demigod, but if there are limits then he/she/it is not a God. Also there are many questions to ask. If the Judeo-Christian God is real them how about Greek/Roman or Hindu Gods. And if they are real then there would develop a branch of science rating and ranking Gods.

    It would also be interesting to find out who or what created these Gods.

    Seems to be the existence of God wouldn’t be a long-term barrier to science and even atheism would rapidly adapt by shifting from non-belief to ranking, defining and finding the limits of Godhood.

  11. #11 Wowbagger
    August 18, 2010

    Marcus Prendergass, #8, wrote:

    Sophisticated” believers have long used arguments similar to his to try to show why there can’t be unequivocal evidence in favor of God: if there were, there would be no necessity for faith, which God prizes above all.

    That particular definition of faith – and its supposed value – has always bothered me.

    I mean, to read the bible there’s no way you could convince yourself that the people in it doubted God’s existence the way people do today – he certainly didn’t hide from the Israelites the same way he hides now.

    Really, it seems like it’s only in recent times that faith has come to mean ‘choosing to believe despite there being no evidence of his existence‘ rather than ‘having confidence that the god we know exists will look after us as he has promised – even though he’s been quite a dick about it over the years’.

    That this has happened over the same time period that saw science discover so many things without coming across any indication of a god being present (or even necessary) seems more than a little coincidental.

  12. #12 Anton Mates
    August 18, 2010

    It’s amusing to characterize “standard, mainline Christian theology” according to Rossano’s piece:

    A fundamental tenet of Christianity is free will. It is no stretch to say that Christianity without free will is simply not Christianity anymore. The Christian God grants humans free will and will not interfere with its exercise. Humans are free to believe or not believe, free to follow God’s laws or free to sin and separate themselves from God. God condemns no one.

    So no total depravity or sovereign grace or any sort of hardcore predestination.

    The Christian God is not supposed to be like that (at least not in this life). His laws are not the laws of physics. One believes in him and follows his laws out of love and gratitude, not because of being compelled by necessity.

    So the Christian God did not create our universe’s natural laws.

    It’s my choice if I want to hate my neighbor. If I see a greater immediate gain from not doing unto others, then I should be able to do that and God can’t get in my way.

    So the Christian God did not design us with a strong tendency towards love and altruism. (Paging Francis Collins)….

    But if God is like gravity, then I will suffer the consequences of breaking his laws just as surely as I’ll break my neck if I step off a cliff. Love of God is as meaningless as love of the inverse square law.

    So there aren’t sure consequences of breaking God’s laws; as Jason says, presumably this would imply that you can choose your afterlife.

    As far as I can see, this suggests that >50% of the world’s Christians are Doing It Wrong. Perhaps Rossano should tell them; I’m sure they’d be happy to refine their doctrines accordingly.

  13. #13 L.
    August 18, 2010

    Its also worth noting that the bit about the Christian God not condemning people and people condemning themselves is a touch of drivel. Beyond the fact that it’s like saying “I didn’t kill him…the bullet did!” God rather expressly condemns a great, great number of things and isn’t remotely the laid back teddy bear therein presented.

    But I suppose that’s something of a nitpick.

  14. #14 Wowbagger
    August 18, 2010

    Anton Mates wrote:

    So no total depravity or sovereign grace or any sort of hardcore predestination.

    Once again I’ll draw on the memory of a conversation I had with David Heddle on this; IIRC, predestination does not count as an infringement of free will because you aren’t being forced to love or reject God, you’ve been changed (if you’re one of the saved) so you want to love God, and changing you into someone who wants to do something ≠ forcing you to do it – apparently.

    Should you be able to comprehend why they aren’t the same thing then you’ve done a better job than I was able to – though I expect that heddle probably explained it a bit better than I did.

  15. #15 Anton Mates
    August 18, 2010

    Wowbagger,

    IIRC, predestination does not count as an infringement of free will because you aren’t being forced to love or reject God, you’ve been changed (if you’re one of the saved) so you want to love God, and changing you into someone who wants to do something ≠ forcing you to do it – apparently.

    Quite true, if you define free will as the Calvinists do, but I don’t think that works with Rossano’s usage. Heddle has said, for instance, that a devoted mother is free but still “morally incapable” of microwaving her child–she could choose to murder it if she wanted to, but she’s not capable of wanting to. Rossano, on the other hand, seems to think that a free person must be capable of altering even their own desires: “It’s my choice if I want to hate my neighbor.”

    Should you be able to comprehend why they aren’t the same thing then you’ve done a better job than I was able to – though I expect that heddle probably explained it a bit better than I did.

    Oh, I can see some justification for that position. If reprogramming your desires counts as a violation of free will, then none of us are free, since our desires are always affected by factors beyond our control. Unless you see a big difference freedom-wise between God forcing you to love your kid, and natural processes forcing you to feel the same way. Personally, I don’t.

    OTOH, it’s kind of hard to imagine what sort of decision wouldn’t be free in Heddle’s sense. If I spike your drinks and you get really belligerent and start a fight with someone, you’re still acting according to your desires; I just altered them for you by getting you drunk. Hell, if I put a gun to your head and order you to start fighting, you’re still acting according to your desires, since presumably you desire not to get shot.

    So free will goes from something no one ever has, to something everyone has all the time. And meanwhile, most of the world prefers to define it in ways I’m pretty sure are incoherent. Ah well.

  16. #16 eric
    August 18, 2010

    Art @10: But I also think that the scientific atheists would adjust gracefully after some time. First thing they would do is modify their belief to provisional status and set about testing to see if God is definitively a God. By classical definition God must be omniscient and omnipotent so these scientists would start to poke around the edges to find God’s limits. Find a limit and, by definition, God is not a God.

    Don’t you think that’s quibbling? Lets run with your example. Scientists “poke around the edges” and find evidence to support the notion that this individual did create the universe, did give humans a soul, and does control the afterlife. But maybe he doesn’t know what the price of fish in China was in the year 1083 BC. Don’t you think it would be a bit obtuse to decide he must not be God?

    Like Jason, I think we could or would settle for strongly suggestive evidence. Your notion, Art, seems to me to be the sort of hair-splitting creationists sometimes use on scientific evidence for evolution. “Sure you’ve shown that descent with modification can create bacterial strains with the novel ability to eat citrate…but that doesn’t mean you’ve shown evolution.” Your ‘find a limit and he’s not God’ argument sounds a lot like that to me.

  17. #17 Kevin
    August 18, 2010

    Two points:

    1. According to the Christian mythology, satan knows with certainty that god exists, yet explicitly rejected him. Poof: There goes Rossano’s free will argument.

    2. I have long argued that I would accept someone’s conception of a deity just as soon as they had met the following conditions:

    – Described the ontology of the being in question. Not its attributes (all-loving, all-powerful), but its substance, its essence. This description must be agreed upon by all parties in order to make any headway, or even to take the next step. If we don’t know what it *is*, how will we know when we find it?

    – Describe how to detect this being. If it interacts with this universe, it must have some sort of method to do so, and that method would be inherently detectable. Describe the methodology, and validate that methodology.

    – Demonstrate that the methodology in question has indeed detected *something*. Preferably validated by a disinterested third party.

    – Demonstrate that the methodology in question indeed has detected what you’re looking for (a “god”) and not something else (a super-intelligent alien; an extra-dimensional species of rat, etc.)

    – Demonstrate that the god that has been detected is indeed the god that *you* claim is god, and not some other. Yahweh, Chthulu, Quetzlcoatl, Shiva, Zeus, Ea, and hundreds of others are proposed as the entity. Why yours and not theirs?

    – Do this without referencing any holy book.

    So far, not one person has even come close to establishing a coherent ontology for god. “It’s a spirit.” Well, what’s a “spirit” made of? How can you know for sure? Does it have an energy signature? Take up space? Have gravity? Demonstrate any property in its interaction with our universe that can be demonstrated and validated?

    I thought not.

    Many claim I’m being too rough on theists, because my goalposts are too high, and that “supernatural”, by definition, means “outside of detection by normal means.”

    Tough. If you want to play the game, you have to play by the established rules of the game. Those are pretty much the same rules for determining whether the Higgs boson exists, or whether string theory is true, or proving the inflationary model of the “pre”-universe.

    The problem with theists is that they haven’t done the math. They’ve leapt to a conclusion without even generating a testable hypothesis.

  18. #18 Curt Cameron
    August 18, 2010

    According to Rossano’s own logic, I deduce two things:

    1. He must believe there is no free will in heaven. People in heaven would be in the direct presence of God, no?

    2. He must believe that there is no Christianity in heaven.

    Sure does sound like Douglas Adams’ example of the Babel Fish being proof of the non-existence of God, but applied to Christianity instead of God his own self. Christianity can’t exist without faith, therefore proof of God would make Christianity disappear in a poof of logic.

  19. #19 JimV
    August 18, 2010

    I am not a biblical scholar, but spent about 12 years going to Sunday School and church regularly, and then sporadically for a while after that, and I can’t recall any biblical justification for the thesis that the Christian god is enamored of free will. It seems to be me he hardened and softened hearts right and left, as the whim took him. I think this is an argument that apologists came up with, long after biblical events, to explain why their only evidence consists of tall tales from antiquity, and random coincidental “miracles”, which do not meet the standards required in science or courts of law.

  20. #20 Geoff
    August 18, 2010

    I don’t have any evidence proving God either way. I do, however, consider the facts pieced together in the relatively unknown field of astrotheology as overwhelmingly proving the non-credibility of Christianity and other solar deity-based religions. See http://www.truthbeknown.com, but don’t be put off by the mystic slant. The author is classically educated, heavily resourced and archeologically hands on with significant primary source material. Read before you judge.

    The propensity for a budding society to star gaze, then relate familiar star patterns to the agricultural cycle, then to antrhopomorphize them and invent mythologies around them and finally turn to worshiping them as gods appears to be self evident when looked at religious history from an anthropological stance.

    When the halo is shown to evolve from the solar disc, when Jesus is admitted to no longer be the reason for the season, but instead the winter solstice is, when the life of Jesus can be shown to be heavily plagiarized from Egyptian, Greek and Roman sun gods many centuries his senior, Christianity melts like dry ice on a summer sidewalk.

    There may or may not be a god. Whatever. Nothing I do will ever prove it either way, so I choose to live life in the here and now. However, the mass destruction and misery that follows organized western religions based on sun worship has got to go. Exposing Christianity and the rest of the ancient solar-deity religions for the farces they are should be among society’s top priority.

  21. #21 eric
    August 18, 2010

    Geoff: blah…See http://www.truthbeknown.com…blah

    Mental note to self: as a correlate to Poe’s law, it is also hard to tell the difference between a real crackpot theory and advertising.

  22. #22 386sx
    August 18, 2010

    By classical definition God must be omniscient and omnipotent so these scientists would start to poke around the edges to find God’s limits. Find a limit and, by definition, God is not a God.

    I can foresee all kinds of problems with this approach. For example, the classical definition of the Biblical god is omniscient and omnipotent, but yet the Biblical god is not omniscient and omnipotent, which can be observed by uhhhh reading the Bible. But yet the classical definition of the Biblical god is still omniscient and omnipotent. So obviously omniscience and omnipotence are quite subjective definitions which can be applied to a freaking turnip if someone felt so inclined.

  23. #23 386sx
    August 18, 2010

    How so? A fundamental tenet of Christianity is free will. It is no stretch to say that Christianity without free will is simply not Christianity anymore. The Christian God grants humans free will and will not interfere with its exercise.

    That is true. It is also true that the Christian God interferes with free will all the freaking time, i.e. for example read the Bible, or have some prayers answered or something. Yes, that’s right, both statements are true, even though they are complete opposites. Welcome to Burger King®, where you can “have it your way”, whatever you want.

  24. #24 Koray
    August 19, 2010

    As an atheist there is no form of ‘evidence’ that I would be convinced by. All types of evidence only imply superiority; a super intelligent alien army may load my brain up on neuro-reprogrammers to make me believe that red is blue and up is down. Then, a yet even more advanced alien army can come by and they too reprogram me to think that right is left.

    Since I cannot rank these guys, all I know is that they are more powerful than I. Yet, god is supposed to be the absolute supreme being.

    @ Wowbagger:
    Indeed characters in the bible/koran appear quite oonvinced of things, and those who commit sin appear truly wicked because they know they’re on camera but just don’t care.

    Assume that a god exists, who praises belief in him without any evidence. If this assumption is true, then you should not try to validate this assumption as that would be construed as evidence.

    Assume that I can sell you a weight loss pill, which would work as long as you don’t try to confirm that it works by weighing yourself in. I don’t know why you’d make this assumption, but I’m glad to help.

  25. #25 Kevin
    August 19, 2010

    @Koray #24

    “Assume that I can sell you a weight loss pill, which would work as long as you don’t try to confirm that it works by weighing yourself in.”

    …or take the pill. You can buy the weight loss pill, but it won’t work if you take it. And you’re not allowed to ask why it won’t work if you take it, because then it won’t work, either. You have to buy it, not take it, not ask why you can’t take it, and not weigh yourself to see if it worked. You have to assume the pill works at a distance; but that sometimes the question as to whether the pill works is “no”. And sometimes, it’s “maybe; wait a while”. Only very very rarely will the pill actually make you lose weight; and then, its actions will be indistinguishable from random chance.

    …Oh yes, you have to pay for the pill with 10% of your income for LIFE!

    Such is the way of religion.

  26. #26 James Sweet
    August 19, 2010

    I don’t think Rossano is entirely wrong, except that a) he misses the point that his feelings on the matter represent only one of many strains of thought within Christianity, and b) he misrepresents the position of scientific atheists (largely as a result of a).

    I whole-heartedly agree with Rossano that the practice of praising faith while submitting “evidence” of your God is self-contradictory and self-defeating. If you really believe that faith is a good thing, the last thing you should be doing is seeking evidence. Please.

    Obviously, however, not all strains of Christianity put such a high emphasis on faith. In fact, the Evangelical movement — the one which, in the US, seems most prone to submitting “evidence” of their beliefs — is much more about obedience than faith. That is Rossano’s first misstep. Convincing evidence of Jeebus’ divinity would be the end of some forms of Christianity, but not all.

    His second misstep comes in failing to recognize a condition embedded in his logic. I reiterate a sentence from two paragraphs ago: “If you really believe that faith is a good thing, the last thing you should be doing is seeking evidence.” Scientific atheists do not typically believe faith is a good thing, as I’m sure Rossano knows. Thus, from our perspective, the fact that some strains of Christianity depend on a lack of evidence is an irrelevancy. Yes, we understand that those sects believe that a lack of evidence is exactly what we would expect — we think that is silly and reject the premise.

    I do think that, buried deep, there is still a message for atheists buried in there. There is a strain of religion which, because of its emphasis on personal faith, manages to be mostly theistic and yet not really make any claims about objective reality. In fact, taken as far as Rossano seems to want to take it — that one ought to be a good person out of love, and that the reality of God has nothing to do with it — this type of theism starts to blur the line with atheism. I mean, I kinda feel that way too!

    This type of theism, while barely theism, is a) pretty much immune to reason or argumentation, because it makes only subjective claims; and b) is mostly unobjectionable, as long as it steers away from bigoted/anti-progressive dogma. As an atheist, it’s worth remembering that.

    When I am discussing with someone of this mindset, I like to ask them, “So how is your worldview functionally different from atheism?” They generally cannot answer :) Basically, these folks are objectively atheist, but subjectively theist. I find that a little silly, but I also don’t find it particularly objectionable.

  27. #27 Amber
    August 20, 2010

    @All
    I am a Christian, and on this blog, perhaps a lamb among wolves. But after reading all of these posts, there are many things I’d like to form a response to, however the central issue I’m going to focus on is the problem of the existence of suffering, if you’ll allow me to comment.

    If God is the God of Christianity, and is therefore a good and merciful and loving God, how do we rationalize suffering, especially of the “innocent”? Is God evil? Is He not powerful enough to “fix it”? All of this presupposes a basis of ultimate good and evil by which you can judge God (moral absolutes), which if there is no God, does not exist. The best you can say consistently is “some things I find undesirable or desirable.” If there’s no absolute standard of good and evil, the issue of suffering provides no basis from which you could say God must not exist. If you admit that there is no absolute standard, you would have to say that rape or child molestation is not inherently wrong, but merely “inconvenient” to society and not in the interest of self-preservation or something along those lines – but not wrong.

    God can do all things He chooses to do, those things within His character – and His purposes are good. If we do not make the assumption that suffering is not good, then there is no problem. The a priori assumption that suffering is not a good thing is the ultimate problem. In many cases, an innocent person might be made to suffer at the hands of a criminal. From one side it’s certainly bad, because that criminal is doing a bad thing and God would prefer them to choose differently. Suffering is a tragedy at one level in this case. No one would suggest that everything about that event is good. However, God does not make the choice for the criminal, but He certainly determines the consequences or outcomes. He can transform the experience into a positive experience. I’m not suggesting this is unilaterally the case and that everyone who suffers will have a positive outcome in the long run– but that the Bible says those who are followers of Christ CAN have a positive outcome, and the net result of those who are seeking to follow Christ can be a positive one based on the person’s response to the suffering. Psalm 119:71 – It is good for me that I have been afflicted that I might learn Your statutes. And as Christians, we also never know when God has chosen not to allow the outcomes of this criminal – or anyone else – to be successful, thereby protecting us. Example: A child suffering abuse. Though God doesn’t cause the abuser to think or plan the abuse (the sin originates with man), He doesn’t prevent it when He could, so how can you still say He is a good God? God has informed us that if we receive suffering with a certain response (as laid out in the Bible), it can be worked to our benefit. If a person doesn’t like a certain bitter medicine, and they have a disease that the medicine would help, but they refuse to take the medicine, they can’t blame the doctor that they didn’t benefit from the medicine. God has the last say about the final circumstances. Romans 8:28 – In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

    If we truly seek the truth, we have to hear all sides. If you are interested in reading opposing viewpoints, I highly recommend a couple books by C.S. Lewis (who was originally an atheist) – Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain.

    Also, you might check out http://www.thenarrowpath.com. Many of my ideas have come from one of his lectures on the problem of suffering, and he happily takes calls from anyone and everyone on his radio program every day on any subject related to the Christian faith, whether believer or nonbeliever.

  28. #28 eric
    August 20, 2010

    Amber: If we do not make the assumption that suffering is not good, then there is no problem. The a priori assumption that suffering is not a good thing is the ultimate problem…

    …God has informed us that if we receive suffering with a certain response (as laid out in the Bible), it can be worked to our benefit.

    Well, that’s a somewhat unusual solution to the theodicy problem – saying evil actually isn’t all that evil. However I don’t think it works for me. If someone stood by and let a child be abused (your example) with the justification “if you see things my way, child, you will learn something positive from the experience,” would you respect that bystander? Think he was acting morally?

    I wouldn’t.

  29. #29 James Sweet
    August 20, 2010

    Ho hum, heard it all before.

    If there really were a Nice Kindly Sky Daddy, I’m sure he could find a better way to teach us life lessons than horrible suffering. When I want my 1-year-old son to understand that he can’t climb up on the table and grab a steak knife, I move the knife where he can’t get it, put him on the floor, and indicate to him that he shouldn’t do that. I don’t let him stab himself in the eye with the knife and then claim I am working in mysterious ways… and if I did, I’d be a bad father, eh? Like, jail-ably bad.

    God can do all things He chooses to do, those things within His character – and His purposes are good. If we do not make the assumption that suffering is not good, then there is no problem. The a priori assumption that suffering is not a good thing is the ultimate problem.

    No, I think the problem is the a priori assumption that you shouldn’t PayPal me a hundred bucks. See, all My purposes are good (by definition! You see, I asserted it, so it must be true!) If you don’t make the assumption that PayPalling me a hundred bucks is not good, then there is no problem.

  30. #30 Kevin
    August 20, 2010

    @Amber:

    You start with several assumptions that must be tested.

    1. That there is a “god”. Please provide evidence for this assertion. In particular, I invite you to participate in my challenge earlier in this thread where I offer my goalposts for god.

    2. That this god you assert that exists is “good”. Please provide evidence for this assertion. 99.99999999999999999%+ of the entire universe will KILL you in an instant. Nature is nothing but creature eating creature. Man’s inhumanity to its own species is nothing compared with its inhumanity to every other species on the planet (or indeed to the planet itself). How can any of this be objectively seen as evidence of a “good” god? Because there are fluffy kittens (who will kill a mouse in an instant as soon as they are able) or clouds in the sky (which will send lightning bolts to fry the unwary)?

    3. That this god can do “all the things he chooses to do”. Please provide evidence for this assertion. Can your god create a stone so heavy it cannot lift it? Can your god pose a question it cannot answer? Can your god make 1+1=4?

    ___
    In fact, the evidence suggests that your god is either fundamentally evil, a completely absentee landlord, or a completely uncaring one. Or, as rational people agree, imaginary. There really are no other options.

    You trivialize the “problem of evil” to the point where even mass murder is excusable. Of course, I understand the perspective, given what a genocidal monster Yahweh is depicted as in your holy book (and yes, you have to take the OT with the NT; sorry, cherry picking only the “nice” verses isn’t allowed).

    This, of course, is the problem many of us have with Christianity. That no crime is too abhorrent, no “sin” too large that it cannot be forgiven merely by wishing it so.

    Christianity asserts that Jeffrey Dahmer is in “heaven” because he was “converted” before he got shivved in prison, while the young men he murdered and ATE are in “hell” because they were unrepentant homosexuals. How is this anything other than the most amoral, indeed anti-moral, philosophy ever proposed by man?

    Your post does nothing to further your cause; in fact, only fixes our perception that the “moral argument for god” (look it up) is as untenable as any other apologetic. It’s also laughable that you would claim moral relativism while your co-religionists claim moral absolutism. You can’t even agree on the simplest of concepts among yourselves.

  31. #31 R O'Brien
    August 20, 2010

    3. That this god can do “all the things he chooses to do”. Please provide evidence for this assertion. Can your god create a stone so heavy it cannot lift it? Can your god pose a question it cannot answer? Can your god make 1+1=4?

    Can God create someone so dim that he does not understand that “an omnipotent agent is not required to be able to bring about an impossible state of affairs?”

    Yes, He can.

    In fact, the evidence suggests that your god is either fundamentally evil, a completely absentee landlord, or a completely uncaring one. Or, as rational people agree, imaginary. There really are no other options.

    The evidence suggests Kevin is pretentious, fatuous, and vapid. Really, there is no other option.

  32. #32 Amber
    August 20, 2010

    @ Kevin – I’m not sure where you drew the conclusion that I was claiming moral relativism. I absolutely believe in moral absolutes… :) If you’ll restate where you saw that, I’ll try to clarify. Also, if 99.9999999999999999999% of the universe will kill you and you are, in fact, alive, that seems evidence to me that there’s a higher power out there, since your “rational” odds of survival in that scenario seem slim to none. I think also there’s a misunderstanding of the word “chooses” when I said God can do anything He chooses to do – I followed that with “those things within His character.” By that I mean that His character will determine what He will choose, and He will not choose things that lay outside that character, which is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. For instance, God cannot tell a lie (Hebrews 6:18). I believe the Bible (both Old and New Testament) reveal His character to us. To the question of whether or not there even is a god, any god at all, I ask you as a starting point to providing that evidence (such as it may be, as we all know both sides of this debate end up on faith at some point) – do you believe in moral absolutes? I think it has to begin with answering that question, and the discussion proceeds from there.

    @James & Eric – God takes the evil of man’s choices and converts the suffering it causes into good for those who love Him. He absolutely had a better way of doing things, but He gave us a choice, and we chose to rebel, so we blew it. Stabbing ourselves in the eye wasn’t the choice – obeying or not obeying Him was the choice. He was kind enough to offer us a way back to that original relationship with Him, though, but we again have to choose it. I also need to clarify that evil does not equal suffering – I was not saying that evil isn’t all that evil. If someone does something evil to you, and you suffer for it, you are not evil in your suffering, and the suffering itself is not evil – the original act was evil.

    @ R O’Brien – I realize you were cracking a joke, but on the old argument surrounding whether God can create a burrito so hot He can’t eat it or whatever other random example you want to use, I’d recommend again thenarrowpath.com or even giving Steve Gregg a call – he gave a very eloquent response to that argument that I would not say as “prettily” and that would take up a lot of space.

    @All – Somehow as humans we have this idea that God (perhaps not you as an atheist, although many of your complaints against a god seem to center around what you think it should or shouldn’t be like) owes us something, that we deserve something, that life should be fair according to our definition of fair. But if there is a God, He doesn’t owe us anything. Despite that, as His creation, He loves us as a father loves His children (at least that’s the best earthly analogy we have), and wants to know us and be known by us. How does an infinite God accomplish this? He comes to earth as a man. We as men are sinful (if you’re reading this and you’re perfect, let me know). The Old Testament reveals God’s character, and that a holy God cannot abide sin (and incidentally, that death entered the world as a result of man’s sin). This is critical – ALL men are sinful – ALL men are condemned based on their sinfulness – NONE are innocent and free of sin. The punishment for our sin is death, but God wishes that none should perish. So how does He reconcile this? He comes in the form of man and lives the PERFECT life that we couldn’t, and because He is God, when He is killed, He overcomes death, defeating it for all of us, should we only choose to believe in Him. Nothing we do earns that for us; nothing we do is good enough to accomplish that for us. It is a FREE gift, a gift of incredible mercy and grace. All we have to do is believe it, reach out and take that gift, and it’s ours for all eternity.

  33. #33 Bill Rohan Sr
    August 21, 2010

    If you could prove a god exists you would be proving that “something” exists that is not the kind of thing that science can prove exists. There is no sense in entertaining this mental “experiment”!

  34. #34 hoary puccoon
    August 21, 2010

    Amber @27
    “All of this presupposes a basis of ultimate good and evil by which you can judge God (moral absolutes), which if there is no God, does not exist. The best you can say consistently is “some things I find undesirable or desirable.” … you would have to say that rape or child molestation is not inherently wrong, but merely “inconvenient” to society and not in the interest of self-preservation or something along those lines – but not wrong.”

    Excuse me, YOU think you have the right to tell ME that since I don’t believe in god I don’t have the RIGHT to make moral judgments? Where, precisely, do think you got such a right? From telling lies about the age of the earth? Let me tell you, your religion has made you arrogant, bigoted, and disrespectful of others’ views. Yes, I can make absolute moral judgments. I just made one about you.

  35. #35 386sx
    August 21, 2010

    All of this presupposes a basis of ultimate good and evil by which you can judge God (moral absolutes), which if there is no God, does not exist.

    If there is a God, then “poof” suddenly moral absolutes exist. Okey dokey! Makes sense! (Not.)

  36. #36 386sx
    August 21, 2010

    Amber makes all kinds of factual statements about things Amber couldn’t possibly have any idea if they are real stuff or not, let alone if they are even true about the stuff Amber doesn’t even know are real stuffs.

    Credibility: 0%
    Delusional index indicator: 100%

  37. #37 Chris Morrow
    August 21, 2010

    Although she didn’t give any theodicy I haven’t heard before, I’m glad Amber brought up the problem of evil, because that is the one thing that, for me, makes the case against God absolutely airtight. If God is defined as omnimax, which he almost always is, then I don’t think he’s probably non-existent; I think he definitely is. For things to be otherwise would violate the law of non-contradiction. I can’t see the compatibility of our world’s kind of suffering with an omnimax being, and don’t try to tell me that this is because morality is subjective. I can’t see a world where disease and hurricanes or rape are “really” moral any more than one where ten divided by five is “really” seven.

    Now, I say this without having experienced much suffering myself, merely being aware of its (apparent) existence by very credible second-hand reports that even theists do not deny (indeed, most of the reports come from theists). But even if suffering didn’t “really” exist (all those who appear to suffer are just p-zombies in a simulation created for me, Chris Morrow), then God would be dishonest, thus not all-good. So the Real God appearing tomorrow would be unable to make up for the previous evidence against him by showing me that It Was All a Dream.

    Putting the omnimax question aside, however, I’m perfectly willing to grant the existence of an Extremely Powerful Being who might as well be God. I wouldn’t say “but maybe it’s just an alien from another dimension”, because even if it is, so what? What’s even the significant difference?

    I would remain open to the possibility of aliens behind the apparent deity, but let’s not forget that that’s a possibility for even the most minor of claims. “You don’t know that that’s orange juice — it could be some other drink from another dimension, put there by Really Powerful Aliens.” In the here-comes-God universe, I’d be happy to say “I know that God exists” as much as I am saying “I know the sun will rise tomorrow”, even though the only thing I “really” know is that at least one mind-ish-thing exists, the one which can roughly be called “Chris Morrow’s mind”.

    Going back to the PoE… if two people are madly in love and deeply committed, and at some point one of them is informed that the other is cheating… there’s a moment of disbelief, isn’t there? Even, often, a moment of, “No, no, you’re lying!” What about for Christians when they hear about natural disasters? Why do they so readily accept that they really happened? Yes, of course, because the evidence is so strong, but what I’m saying is that that ready acceptence doesn’t jive well with belief as anticipation.

  38. #38 386sx
    August 21, 2010

    Sure Chris Morrow, I guess it’s possible that everybody is as self-deluded as deluded religion people. (I guess.) Okay, then everybody has 0% credibility and 100% on the delusion index-o-meter. Great! I guess!

  39. #39 Chris Morrow
    August 21, 2010

    386sx: Perhaps several addenda need to be made to my arguments about simulations.

    First off, I give the prior probability that we are living in a simulation of some kind as very, very close to zero. Because of this, it’s not the case (for me) that “everybody has 0% credibility”. Secondly, even if we discovered that the Matrix was real… well, I’ll use an example to say what I mean.

    The only way I can see for the theory of evolution (to pick one example) to be proven wrong would be to demonstrate that everything we had thought was evidence (fossils, DNA, observation of biomes, breeding experiments, computer algorithms) was in some way fraudulent. But because all that stuff is so “enmeshed” with everything else we know to exist, the ultimate result would need to be a “proof” that everything is “fraudulent”; that is, that we are in a simulation. In this case, evolution would be just as “false” as almost every other proposition anyone had ever made. Or, to flip things around, it would remain a perfectly true description of the workings of the Matrix, where beforehand it had been (or so we thought) a true description of “reality”. So, basically, evolution would be as true as anything else up to that point.

    (Hamlet is a fictional character. But it’s still much, much more accurate to say “Hamlet is the prince of Denmark” than “Hamlet is the princess of Mars”.)

    Such as it is… people’s interpretation of what’s “really” going on seems to be in such concordance that it makes sense, as a rule of thumb, to give people credibility in their reports about “reality”. The thought problem I use is this: An audience leaves a one-screen movie theater. Half of them have just had the visual and auditory experience of watching Blade Runner, the other half of Citizen Kane. How often does that happen in real life? Not at all, that I’m aware of, or that I’m aware anyone else is aware of. It seems well beyond the bounds of the remotely probable. In real life, our experiences and reports of them are sufficiently in accord that we don’t have to decide that either reality is a simulation granting unrelated experiences to each of us, or that a significant number of us are schizophrenic (either situation being one which would reduce the credibility that a given statement addresses reality).

  40. #40 eric
    August 22, 2010

    Amber: @James & Eric – God takes the evil of man’s choices and converts the suffering it causes into good for those who love Him. He absolutely had a better way of doing things, but He gave us a choice, and we chose to rebel, so we blew it.

    No, “we” didn’t. According to Genesis, Adam and Eve did, and God has chosen collective punishment taken to its most ridiculous extreme as a response. Modern 20th century cultures, OTOH, have rejected collective punishment as wrong, immoral, and only acceptable in situations where no better form of justice is available.

    Stabbing ourselves in the eye wasn’t the choice – obeying or not obeying Him was the choice.

    I doubt the 1-year-old in question even comprehends the concept of obedience to God, so punishing them for not doing it is the action of a monster.

    But even if you’re right, are you saying that you find it perfectly morally appropriate to punish a 1-year-old with death, disease, and imperfection for their entire existence because they happen to be a precocious 1-year-old and say “no” not any authority figure they happen to encounter?

    I was not saying that evil isn’t all that evil. If someone does something evil to you, and you suffer for it, you are not evil in your suffering, and the suffering itself is not evil – the original act was evil.

    Right – the original act is evil. And is permitted by God to occur, along with loads of natural disasters. That IS the theodicy problem. There is simply no good reason for an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent deity to allow the world to exist in its current form. Perhaps some evil is required as part of free will, but the amount in this world is far more than necessary to permit free will, and it affects far more innocent children than can ever be morally justified as a form of punishment. Unless you want to claim that all those 1-year-olds have it coming?

  41. #41 Amber
    August 22, 2010

    @Hoary – as far as your last comment, or “judgment,” I’ll be the pot and you be the kettle…LOL. With regards to your statements about moral judgments, you’re correct – I don’t have the right to tell you anything or vice versa. What I’m claiming is that God does. And what I’m asking you is, presuming you’re right and there is no god, who decides what’s moral/right and what’s not? Who, or what is your source of moral authority?

    Evidence of the Bible’s validity and credibility:
    1. Hundreds of Bible prophecies have been fulfilled, specifically and meticulously, often long after the prophetic writer passed away. More than 300 prophecies were fulfilled by Christ Himself. There is no other book, ancient or modern, that does this on such a tremendous scale.
    2. It is a collection of 66 books, written by at least 40 different men over a period of 2,000 years and yet is clearly one book written with perfect unity and consistency throughout.
    3. There have been innumerable archeological confirmations of the Biblical record. Whenever it touches on an aspect of history, it is always accurate. The evidence we have for Christ’s life, death and resurrection is greater than that which we have on Plato or Homer ever having lived. No, it cannot be scientifically proven, because of course it is not a repeatable event or reproducible experiment. But the evidence of historical research is the same as that used in a courtroom, and there’s plenty.

    @Eric – there is evidence in the Word of an age of accountability. No, I don’t believe God condemns one-year-olds. Also, I think mankind has proven through its decisions that we would have fared no better in the Garden of Eden than Adam and Eve did. It’s glaringly apparent, to me anyway, that we are all sinners – I don’t know anyone perfect. With regards to just how bad this world is, you cannot blame God for man’s choices. You CAN “blame” Him for giving us a choice in the first place – but would you rather He hadn’t? And perhaps we don’t see any good reason for a lot of things, but could we perhaps allow for the fact that if there IS an omniscient being, he has a lot better ability to make that determination?

  42. #42 Damian
    August 22, 2010

    What I’m claiming is that God does. And what I’m asking you is, presuming you’re right and there is no god, who decides what’s moral/right and what’s not? Who, or what is your source of moral authority?

    In effect, we are, and I don’t see how that is controversial. Of course, I don’t mean that if we all decided that murder was good that it would suddenly become ethical to murder, but I do mean that if a sufficiently strong and sound argument could be made for murder being a good, and if it managed to survive challenge, then it could be.

    This is why we have a discipline called moral philosophy, and why it is thought necessary for us to have laws as well as various organizations around the world which influence our moral thinking. The very fact that the moral zeitgeist has shifted so much over time, even among Christians, is evidence against an absolute standard (or, at least, one that we know of).

    Nobody is suggesting that these issues aren’t complex, of course. They are, which is why there is still so much debate about it even today, and likely will be for a long time to come. But the fact is that very little of the moral philosophy that is worked on today makes any mention of God. The reason for that should be obvious. Most moral philosophers don’t believe that it is a very fruitful avenue to pursue. That obviously doesn’t mean that they are correct, of course, but it’s worth thinking about why that is so.

    The reason that many philosophers don’t believe that it is worth pursuing is because it isn’t immediately obvious that we should follow God’s commands even if He were to exist, or that something commanded by God is automatically moral. I’m sure that you have heard of the Euthyphro Dilemma? If you haven’t:

    “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

    The reason that it is a dilemma even to this day is because the first horn (Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good?) suggests that God is not the source of moral goodness and that God is simply “passing on” an external source to us. The second horn of the dilemma (Is it morally good because it is commanded by God?) suggests that, if God commanded that we ought to think that murder or rape were good, then that is what we ought to do. But that’s absurd, as I’m sure that you would agree, because I wouldn’t care if God appeared to me right now and told me that murder was good, it wouldn’t influence my beliefs at all.

    And there are further problems with any kind of morality that is commanded by God. There are thousands of religions in the world, and tens of thousands of different sects within those religions, all teaching and believing something slightly different. Without an objective method of discriminating between those religions and sects, have you not then just introduced subjectivity in to your beliefs about morality?

    In other words, unless you can show that the sect that you belong to is objectively the correct one, and that your beliefs about that which is moral are objectively true, you effectively no longer believe in an objective morality, never mind one that is absolute, because you don’t actually know that your beliefs are objectively true beliefs. You may have gotten lucky, but the chances are that you are wrong. The very fact that there is so much disagreement between Christians (not to mention with other religions) is evidence that Christianity does not provide an objective morality.

    Also, given that there are thousands of modern moral dilemmas that are not mentioned in the bible, how do you decide what to do in those instances? You may suggest that you take inspiration from the bible, but you can’t guarantee that you are influenced only by the bible — in other words, we know that many of our beliefs are emotional and that we then invent ad hoc reasons for believing them — and there are some very specific moral dilemmas of which there doesn’t appear to be anything in the bible that could help you to decide what to do. At best, you would simply be guessing about what God wants you to do.

    In fact, you are almost certainly borrowing from secular moral philosophy, and I would argue that you are doing so even for many of the moral beliefs that you would claim biblical. There is very little detail and nuance in the bible about morality, and it is actually human beings who decide what the exact definition of murder is, for example. You won’t find that exact definition in the bible.

  43. #43 Wowbagger
    August 22, 2010

    Amber wrote:

    1. Hundreds of Bible prophecies have been fulfilled, specifically and meticulously, often long after the prophetic writer passed away. More than 300 prophecies were fulfilled by Christ Himself. There is no other book, ancient or modern, that does this on such a tremendous scale.

    If I wrote a book today that said that I predicted the winner of the 2009 superbowl and then gave it to you saying that I wrote it before the event, would you accept that I was telling the truth? If not, why not?

    2. It is a collection of 66 books, written by at least 40 different men over a period of 2,000 years and yet is clearly one book written with perfect unity and consistency throughout.

    Except for the parts where it doesn’t – see here for list, which currently numbers 456.

    Not to mention that the contents of this book were decided upon by a group of people, who chose to exclude plenty of material – almost certainly because of how radically different and inconsistent the events described were.

    3. There have been innumerable archeological confirmations of the Biblical record. Whenever it touches on an aspect of history, it is always accurate. The evidence we have for Christ’s life, death and resurrection is greater than that which we have on Plato or Homer ever having lived. No, it cannot be scientifically proven, because of course it is not a repeatable event or reproducible experiment. But the evidence of historical research is the same as that used in a courtroom, and there’s plenty.

    Fictional works include non-fictional events and place all the time. The Harry Potter books mention London. London is a real place – should we then assume that the other events that occur in the book happened, and that magic is real?

    And if we assume, for argument’s sake, that Plato and Homer weren’t ‘real people’, what difference does that make? We still have their words and can take from them whatever benefit we can.

    Your Jesus not existing on the other hand, renders your entire religion worthless, beyond the few aspects of the philosophy attributed to him which can be considered useful or interesting.

    No, I don’t believe God condemns one-year-olds.

    I thought you said you were a Christian? A one-year-old dies in an unsaved state, that child is punished for eternity. How is that not condemnation? More importantly, how is that just, or fair?

  44. #44 hoary puccoon
    August 23, 2010

    Amber @42:

    What gives me the ability to make value judgments is the millions of years in which my ancestors lived in social groups. Genes for skills like understanding another’s point of view, instinctively protecting the troupe’s infants, and respecting a signal that a rival had backed down, rather than fighting to the death, have flourished and spread for millenia.

    THAT is where my morality comes from. It’s where your’s comes from, too. Projecting your natural ability onto an imaginary figure who– if you actually read the bible, rather than accepting your preacher’s pre-digested bull, you will discover– was often a cruel, vindictive, evil force, has not made you more moral. It has only made you more sanctimonious.

  45. #45 R O'Brien
    August 23, 2010

    What gives me the ability to make value judgments is the millions of years in which my ancestors lived in social groups. Genes for skills like understanding another’s point of view, instinctively protecting the troupe’s infants, and respecting a signal that a rival had backed down, rather than fighting to the death, have flourished and spread for millenia.

    THAT is where my morality comes from. It’s where your’s comes from, too. Projecting your natural ability onto an imaginary figure who– if you actually read the bible, rather than accepting your preacher’s pre-digested bull, you will discover– was often a cruel, vindictive, evil force, has not made you more moral. It has only made you more sanctimonious.

    That’s a quaint just so yarn but sociobiology (as applied to humans, at least) is akin to extispicy.

  46. #46 eric
    August 23, 2010

    Amber: And perhaps we don’t see any good reason for a lot of things, but could we perhaps allow for the fact that if there IS an omniscient being, he has a lot better ability to make that determination?

    You originally posted here to try and give a Christian defense to the problem of suffering. The rest of us don’t see a moral reason for it (from an omni-everything God).

    But now you seem to be agreeing with us. This paragraph pretty much concedes the point that suffering makes no sense. Because you are now arguing that even though we can’t make sense of it, we should believe there is a sense, a rational reason for it anyway.

    Look, you can’t have it both ways: either you think we can make sense of it (suffering), or we can’t. Which position are you taking? If you think we can’t, then I’d hazard to guess that most of the posters here would agree with you on that.

  47. #47 hoary puccoon
    August 23, 2010

    re R O’Brien @ 45
    (General information: Extispicy, according to Wikipedia, is the “practice of using animal entrails to predict or divine future events.”)

    Well, yes, RO’B, extispicy is akin to the current field studies of baboons and great apes, in that 2500 years ago or so, when extispicy was seriously practiced, the practitioners were trying to learn something about the world– not just use some ancient text as an excuse to bully anyone who didn’t kow tow to them.

    The big difference is that conclusions from extispicy couldn’t be replicated, whereas– in spite of the difficult conditions presented by field work in Africa– studies of social tendencies in primates have been replicated again and again.

  48. #48 R O'Brien
    August 23, 2010

    The big difference is that conclusions from extispicy couldn’t be replicated, whereas– in spite of the difficult conditions presented by field work in Africa– studies of social tendencies in primates have been replicated again and again.

    Besides the problems inherent in such non-human primate studies (e.g., anthropomorphizing the non-human primates, the investigators seeing what they want to see or even engaging in fraud), neither you nor they have demonstrated any applicability to humans; you just assume it and I don’t share that assumption.

    Like I wrote, you are just spinning just so yarns. You situate your tall tales in the hoary Pleistocene Epoch, where they are immune from true scientific inquiry.

  49. #49 hoary puccoon
    August 24, 2010

    There are now many zoos where primates live in fairly normal social groups. I would encourage anyone who doubts we inherited social behavior from our primate ancestors to observe the animals carefully for him- or herself.

  50. #50 heddle
    August 24, 2010

    hoary puccoon

    Excuse me, YOU think you have the right to tell ME that since I don’t believe in god I don’t have the RIGHT to make moral judgments?

    Not to speak for amber, but this is a distortion of the argument. The argument is not: if you don’t believe in god you have no basis for moral judgments. The argument, right or wrong, is that man’s moral compass comes from god whether or not you believe in him.

    Amber

    There is evidence in the Word of an age of accountability.

    I don’t agree. The only mention of an age of accountability that I’m aware of refers to Jewish civil law. If there were and age of accountability in regards to salvation, then as Christians we would have to look at abortions as mercy killings, not murder.

  51. #51 telson
    August 25, 2010

    This article refutes and disproves claims of Zeitgeist movie, from the part of Christianity:

    http://koti.phnet.fi/petripaavola/zeitgeist_movie.html

    I suggest to read the article

  52. #52 hoary puccoon
    August 25, 2010

    heddle–

    I really, really don’t want to argue with you over scripture or theology. I know who’d win. ;-)

    The statement that Amber made which set me off was, ” … you would have to say that rape or child molestation is not inherently wrong, but merely “inconvenient” to society….”

    Excuse me, but nobody, regardless of their religious views, has to say any such thing. I believe that rape is wrong, child molestation is despicable and shrugging them off as merely “inconvenient” is beneath contempt.

    If you want to attribute my moral standard to god, I respect your right to hold that view. But I hope you can also see that Amber’s statement sounds very much like an accusation that people who don’t share her (his?) religious views have no moral compass beyond a sense of what they find “inconvenient.” And that is about as judgmental and condescending as one can be.

  53. #53 Amber
    August 25, 2010

    @Hoary – I’m glad to finally know what set you off, b/c based on your responses, I was certainly feeling that for someone accusing me of being disrespectful of others’ views, I was a bit baffled by the anger and condescension in your responses. Seeing a more fleshed out rationale of what upset you helps me see things a bit more clearly.

    If you’ll allow me, let me clarify the point I was making. I believe that without an absolute moral authority, whether it be the God I believe in or someone else’s version (b/c to debate “which” god we think is right, we first have to agree that there is one), that you cannot make declarative moral statements, even, yes, to the level of rape, etc. If “we” decide what is moral and what is not, and there is no absolute authority, how many of “we” have to agree for it to be so? Are the thousands upon thousands of people in prison simply not a part of “we” and the collective consensus? And if it’s just whatever I happen to believe, on what grounds/basis do I stand if I disagree with someone else who holds a different belief?

    I was not in any way trying to downplay the absolute crime of rape or child molestation. I was trying to point out that without an absolute moral authority, I don’t believe a person can make an argument that something is inherently wrong. What if a tribal people believes in incest, or revenge killings, or cannibalism, and that’s the way they’ve lived for centuries? Is that wrong? Or is it right “for them?” I was trying to display what I see as the heinous nature of relativism – not to downplay the heinous nature of these crimes.

    Also, in response to another of your posts, I have read the Bible, and I’m well aware of the wrath of God displayed in the Old Testament. I could go into the rationale of that as well, but I’m not sure you’re interested in a dialogue. Let me know if you are and I’m happy to do so.

    @Everyone else, more later… :)

  54. #54 eric
    August 26, 2010

    I believe that without an absolute moral authority, whether it be the God I believe in or someone else’s version (b/c to debate “which” god we think is right, we first have to agree that there is one) that you cannot make declarative moral statements

    Deriving a moral code from divine authority does not make it absolute or non-relative. Quite the opposite, in fact. That is one of the points of Plato’s Euthyphro debate – that if murder is wrong merely because the gods declare it to be wrong, morality is just as arbitrary as if it derived from humans. The only rational way to consider murder wrong in an absolute sense is to say it would be wrong for god(s) to do too. In which case, moral rules are independent of god, and there is no need to invoke him at all to make moral claims.

    So you see, you are not an absolutist either. You merely disagree with us on who’s vote counts.

  55. #55 Jetman123
    August 26, 2010

    I’d just like to point out here that despite what you might believe about sociobiology that there are proven and documented biases that humans tend to have regarding certain views on practical topics, I.E murder and child molestation. Whether you believe these were put there by God, by some other deity, by random chance or by intelligent design, it doesn’t matter – they’re there, just like physics is there.

    Be _very_ careful that your worldview is not contaminated by these. Someone posed the question that if we all suddenly decided that murder was ethical (removing the mental block in place against murder in the process, for the sake of the thought experiment), it still wouldn’t be – to which I say, to us, our beliefs, yes it would be. Murder would be entirely ethical. Even if God comes down in a Second Coming to tell us that murder is wrong, some of us would still believe murder was ethical because that was how we were raised. Likewise child molestation.

    People have very big mental blocks towards these kinds of behavior, and tend to see them as unspeakably evil. Are they? Well, to me, murder (being defined as taking someone’s life unjustifiably, not the biblical definition as I understand it) is wrong, yes, but not because my parents or a book told me to. I actually considered it’s effect before I came to that decision.

    Point being, don’t merely say THESE THINGS ARE EVIL without actually considering them. If you do that, you’re relying on your own bias only. If you’re going to take the position that murder is evil – and honestly, I would very much hope you do that regardless – have a reason for why you do it, whether it’s “God tells me it’s wrong” or “I think it’s wrong based on the fact that it destroys the potential of other people to develop, and robs us of the experience of whatever they might have been.”

    Don’t need to go on a big rant as to why it IS wrong either. I’m trying to correct a Thinking Problem here, and don’t actually think murder is justifiable. This applies to more than murder or child molestation – before you say “X is wrong and destructive and harmful”, think about _what_ has lead you to that conclusion. Likewise for “X is good and beneficial for society”.

  56. #56 SkullVodka
    August 28, 2010

    Its simple really. No one would need to have faith in god, they would KNOW. Religion isn’t big on the “knowing” thing.

  57. #57 Kevin
    August 30, 2010

    Amber:

    You have been lied to. Zero, as in not a single one, biblical “prophecy” has been fulfilled in a manner which would satisfy a neutral observer.

    Back-filling a myth to comport with other myths is not “fulfilling prophecy”. It’s historical fiction.

  58. #58 Truth Teller
    September 2, 2010

    Looks like someone forgot to read the Bokk of Revelation. Ahem … It seems to me that all atheists will be converted when they see God’s face and are judged … only it will be too late to enter into Heaven by then. As for Christianity, Christ promised His followers would rule for all eternity. So much for your projected end to Christianity.

  59. #59 Soldier of Faith
    September 2, 2010

    @ wowgagger:

    No, I don’t believe God condemns one-year-olds.
    I thought you said you were a Christian? A one-year-old dies in an unsaved state, that child is punished for eternity. How is that not condemnation? More importantly, how is that just, or fair?

    ———–

    God does not condemn 1 year olds. People, inlcuding babies murdered by abortionists, are not judged becuase they have not yet reached the age of accountability – that is – the age where one can come to terms with his own sin, recognize it as evil, then willfully repent and ask for salvation. A one year or abortionized baby cannot do this. They are automatically saved.

  60. #60 NJ
    September 2, 2010

    Any odds on whether the two previous comments are a sock-puppeter?

  61. #61 GravityIsJustATheory
    September 3, 2010

    If I robbed a bank, I would get arrested. That doesn’t mean I don’t have free will. So I don’t see why knowing God existed and would punish me for breaking his rules would violate free will.

    Also, and as a few others have already said, I disagree with the notion that faith exclusively means “belief without evidence” and that therefor conclusive evidence of God would render our “relationship with God” meaningless (let alone negate the existance of God as per Douglas Adams).

    Other meanings of faith refer to trust and loyalty (consider a faithful dog, or a faithful partner, or the motto Semper Fidelis). Arguably, this is the sort of faith that the Bible says we should have in God. If the Bible is literally true, then God didn’t spend the first 4000 years of reality giving out vague hits of his existance in the hope that people would have faith that he was real – he spent them stomping around the Middle East, sometimes litteraly as a physical person, wrestling with his chosen prophets (or showing them his “back parts”), intervening in battles, nuking cities, and killing people who approached his alters improperly dressed.

    The various Patriarchs and prophets held up as examples of faithfulness generally had direct evidence of His divine intervetion, and in some cases actually met him. Their “faith” wasn’t about believing that God existed despite the lack of evidence, it was (as Wowbagger said) believing that he would be there for you and support you, despite his tendancy to be a dick (or unreliability when facing enemies with iron chariots), and to give better results than worshiping rival gods.

    Of course, the Bible isn’t litteral true (and often isn’t even metaphorically true), but I expect it gives a good indication of what the people of the time thought. And there is very little to suggest the non-existance of God(s) was ever given serious consideration. “The fool has said in his heart there is no God” is the only reference to non-belief I can think of off hand, compared to numerous examples of people turning to other gods (and getting punished for it), or ignoring/disobeying direct instructions from God and getting punished for it (Jonah), or keeping faithful even when everything is turning to shit and eventually being rewarded for it (Job).

  62. #62 386sx
    September 3, 2010

    So I don’t see why knowing God existed and would punish me for breaking his rules would violate free will.

    Well you would have free will to believe all of that without conclusive evidence for God, as opposed to having free will to believe all of that, plus have conclusive evidence for God. Why the former is better than the latter, I dunno. I’m sure there’s some twisted explanation for it that gives everybody a headache thinking about it. Probably in this very thread. (I don’t feel like looking for baloney at the moment though. I have enough of that in the fridge.)

  63. #63 eric
    September 3, 2010

    Why the former is better than the latter, I dunno.

    Its not about better, its about adaptation – survival of the theologically fittest. Current theologies are the offspring of the theological variants that prospered in an environment where there is no evidence.

    If we lived in an environment where evidence of God was easily available and compelling, I’m sure our theologies would all discuss how empirical reason goes hand in hand with faith and how only an idiot would have faith without proof.

  64. #64 386sx
    September 3, 2010

    Current theologies are the offspring of the theological variants that prospered in an environment where there is no evidence.

    Thanks. That one makes sense. Good thing, since I’m already stocked up on baloney. If I wanted baloney I could go to the 7-Eleven!!

  65. #65 James Sweet
    September 7, 2010

    Really, you guys could completely stop debating with poor Amber at this phrase:

    there is evidence in the Word

    The “Word” (which I assume means the Bible) is not “evidence” of anything. If your a priori assumption includes that something appearing in “the Word” is evidence, further debate is impossible.

  66. #66 Guest_ryaen
    October 27, 2010

    Proud beleiver in God…and abhorrent of Christianity. Yes, it’s possible to be both. Not a muslim or a jew either.

    I think it’s absurd to say that because there is evil in the world, there can be no God. It’s just like saying because there is good in the world there must be a God. I think it’s much less absurd to be comfortable in the assumption that God is not all-powerfull like the organized religions make It out to be.

  67. #67 P. Steven Spence
    May 4, 2011

    All who interpret without the Spirit are already caught in a net leading to desolation. These that love bible interpretation without Spirit will find everything they have LEARNED to be a stumbling block to knowing the Spirit.

    The Spirit spoke THROUGH Jesus saying” I am the way” the person Jesus did not speak on his own behalf. The smallest of points overlooked by those seeking a king will render all their interpretations MEANINGLESS!!!

    The Spirit Speaks NOW saying “Let Go of the Veil of interpretation Given You by those that never KNEW ME, for they never knew the “true intentions of the heart” which is only known by the Spirit.
    The hurricanes, Tsunami, Meltdown, Stockmarket and hundreds of other things were predicted stephentree.com/melt1/

  68. #68 Science Avenger
    May 7, 2011

    MEANINGLESS

    That about sums it up.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.