Thinking Christian

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Ah, the Irony: Dawkins, Memes, and God

Posted on Jan 31, 2013 by Tom Gilson

Book Review Preview

Soon I’ll be posting a review of David H. Glass’s Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists. When I read this on p. 181, though, I just had to post a preview. This one sentence captures the tone of the whole book (the topic is Richard Dawkins’s concept of memes).

It is surely ironic that one of Dawkins’s most significant contributions to human thought is a concept that cannot be detected directly, which many people think does not exist in reality because the evidence for it is unconvincing, and that many think is of no use as an explanation — precisely the same criticisms he levels against the existence of God.

I’ll share more later, but please don’t feel as if you need to wait for the full review before you get the book. It’s excellent.

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62 Responses to “ Ah, the Irony: Dawkins, Memes, and God ”

  1. Ray Ingles says:

    There is a difference between ‘detected directly’ and ‘detected’, though. See neutrinos.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    See also the dispute concerning the existence of memes (you can look it up).

  3. Tom Gilson says:

    Oh, and by the way, I’m a bit confused: what does that distinction have to do with the statement in the OP?

  4. G. Rodrigues says:

    There is no comparison to be drawn between neutrinos and memes; the latter should be junked with so much pseudo-science.

  5. Beez says:

    A neutrino detector is directly detecting SOMETHING, if only result of the interaction between the neutrino and something else. Otherwise, I may as well point out that I can’t directly see objects – only the interaction of photons with those objects.

  6. Victoria says:

    Plus, we have a tested and working theory for neutrinos (It’s called Relativistic Quantum Field Theory, aka, Particle Physics and the Standard Model). We use this framework to design experimental scenarios and to interpret the results.
    Even with all of that solid experimental and theoretical work, we still got the neutrino wrong – why the little suckers have mass after all!, and it took astrophysics (specifically solar physics and the solar neutrino problem) to fix QFT.

    Think of quarks too. We infer their existence from experimental data, interpreted by the Standard Model.

    Is there such a solid and well-tested theoretical framework for memes?

  7. Victoria says:

    Don’t ask me how that Belly Fat link got bound to my previous post – too funny :)

  8. Robert Jones says:

    Beez,

    Perhaps a better example is the recent discovery of the Higgs boson. We can never observe a Higgs particle directly, but we can infer its existence by looking for its decay products. In science, you don’t have to directly detect something to have confidence that it exists.

  9. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Victoria:

    Think of quarks too. We infer their existence from experimental data, interpreted by the Standard Model.

    Quarks are actually a very good example because they cannot be observed free, not even in principle, due to asymptotic confinement.

  10. Victoria says:

    @G. Rodrigues
    Exactly :) I love being a physicist :)

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    So if we can know that which we cannot detect directly, what does,that say for theism??

  12. Robert Jones says:

    Victoria,

    In your view, is the evidence for the existence of God as strong as the evidence for the standard model of particle physics (with massive neutrinos)?

  13. Victoria says:

    @Robert
    First, are you implicitly assuming or intimating that we know God and know of Him in the same way that we know about elementary particles?

    The way I know God and the way I know QFT are different ways of knowing completely different things. I happen to think that there are several lines of evidence, drawn from science, history, philosophy and the human experience, that collectively add up to a very persuasive case for believing in God, specifically the Triune God of the Bible, and specifically His stepping into human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The collective case points people to Him and invites people to come to Him in faith (which is based on that case, but also requires trust, commitment, repentance and obedience and worship – for He is the Sovereign King of Creation). To truly know God, one must come into a relationship with Him. This is more than just evidence and facts and the intellect, it is a matter of the heart, the will, the soul and the spirit – it involves every aspect of a person’s very being and life. By coming into a relationship with God by faith in Jesus Christ as one’s Risen Lord and Saviour, a person receives the indwelling presence of the Third Person of the Trinity – the Spirit of God Himself, and we have moved way beyond ‘head knowledge’.

    So, yes, the ‘evidence and what we know’ are sufficient to justify the Christian’s faith and experience.

  14. Robert Jones says:

    “The way I know God and the way I know QFT are different ways of knowing completely different things. I happen to think that there are several lines of evidence, drawn from science, history, philosophy and the human experience, that collectively add up to a very persuasive case for believing in God”

    You’ll have to elaborate on exactly what you mean here. I agree that there are different ways of knowing things, but I think that theists still bear a burden of proof, and the evidence that they need to present is not unlike the evidence used in science. You obviously believe that God can interact with the physical world, through miracles and the creation of the universe. But in order to establish anything about the physical world, it seems to me that you have to have some sort of empirical evidence. Just as we cannot accept a theory of physics which makes no contact with experiment, we cannot establish the existence of miracles or other physical manifestations of God unless our arguments are somehow based on observations. You say that there is compelling evidence for the existence of God coming from philosophy, but since philosophy deals with the logical consequences of clearly stated assumptions, I don’t think that philosophy per se can ever establish anything about physical reality. Do you agree? If so, how strong is the empirical evidence for God’s existence compared to, say, the evidence for standard model of particle physics?

    “The collective case points people to Him and invites people to come to Him in faith (which is based on that case, but also requires trust, commitment, repentance and obedience and worship – for He is the Sovereign King of Creation). To truly know God, one must come into a relationship with Him.”

    Don’t you have to believe in God before you can have a relationship with him? Are you saying that one has to believe in God on weak evidence in order to eventually know that he exists?

  15. Victoria says:

    First, I did not say that there was compelling evidence from philosophy…I said there were several lines of evidence from a number of disciplines that add up to a persuasive case for belief.

    I did not say one comes to belief without evidence to support it, and the evidence is not weak. Yes, one has to believe in God in order to have that relationship, but that belief comes from looking at that collective case and following it to the Person it points to.

    Whether a person wants to follow the evidence is another matter entirely. I can’t help you with that.

    There are other threads in this blog where we are discussing that evidence, so I suggest you go to one of those threads.

  16. Melissa says:

    You say that there is compelling evidence for the existence of God coming from philosophy, but since philosophy deals with the logical consequences of clearly stated assumptions, I don’t think that philosophy per se can ever establish anything about physical reality

    I don’t think that’s quite right. Philosophy deals with the logical consequences of clearly stated premises. Those premises should be based on our experience of the world and the conclusions should accurately reflect reality including the physical.

  17. Victoria says:

    @Melissa
    And I never even used the word compelling :)

    @Robert
    When I say persuasive, I mean that there are sufficient grounds for taking a closer look at the implications of the Christian story.

    The Christian story is centered on the Person of Jesus of Nazareth – His life, death and yes, His resurrection. The historical evidence for Him cannot be dismissed, at least not as easily as atheists and skeptics would like to. It points us to the presence of the supernatural – if you take away the supernatural elements, you have nothing left of any significance. It challenges all other worldviews and metaphysics. The Christian story is that Jesus is the very God Who is behind the whole of reality stepped into human history, and His resurrection declares Him to be Who He says He is, and Who the apostles knew Him to be. The whole of the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself, His actions in history, His words, written in human language by His human authors.

    try here
    http://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2013/01/rationalizing-christian/

  18. Robert Jones says:

    “First, I did not say that there was compelling evidence from philosophy…I said there were several lines of evidence from a number of disciplines that add up to a persuasive case for belief.”

    I see. So do you agree that any argument for the existence of God must ultimately be based on empirical evidence? The claim that God exists is, at least in part, a claim about the physical world, so an argument for God’s existence should ultimately come from historical, scientific, and other forms of empirical evidence, right? If this is so, then shouldn’t knowledge of God’s existence be comparable to knowledge of science?

    “There are other threads in this blog where we are discussing that evidence, so I suggest you go to one of those threads.”

    I’ve been following this blog for some time, and I’ve seen some interesting arguments, but certainly nothing nearly as convincing as the arguments for established theories of science. I’ve also seen this idea that there are different “ways of knowing” mentioned quite a lot. But it seems to me that knowledge of God’s existence is not so different from knowledge of science. As I’ve argued, both require some sort of empirical evidence.

  19. Robert Jones says:

    “Philosophy deals with the logical consequences of clearly stated premises. Those premises should be based on our experience of the world and the conclusions should accurately reflect reality including the physical.”

    Yes, perhaps “premises” is a better word. The point is that you cannot “prove” that God exists by a purely rational argument because God is usually understood as something that affects the physical world, and a purely rational argument does not really apply to physical reality. Any theory of the physical world must be based, at least on some level, on our observations and experiences.

  20. Victoria says:

    The evidence is there for people to follow. Those who do will find God in the Person of Jesus Christ at the end of the trail. Are you willing to do that, Robert? If not, then I’m done here.

  21. Robert Jones says:

    Victoria,

    I want you to know that I am very interested in understanding the arguments for Christianity. I have read the article that you linked to as well as most of the comments, and I’ve been reading this blog for several months in order to better understand Christian beliefs. I’m also sorry if I’ve come off as aggressive, but I’m just trying to ask a very specific question.

    It seems to me that the evidence for God is similar to the evidence used in science in that it is necessarily empirical, and you seem to agree that the strongest evidence is historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. So my question is this: How would you, as a scientist, rate your confidence in this evidence compared to the evidence for various theories in physics? For example, how does it compare to the standard model? How about quantum mechanics? How about relativity? You say they are different kinds of beliefs, but I do not see why they are impossible to compare.

    Again, I’m just trying to understand how you, as a Christian and a scientist, view the evidence in support of your beliefs.

  22. bigbird says:

    I seriously doubt that Dawkins himself would regard memes as his “most significant contribution to human thought”. Most memorable perhaps (primarily because the term is catchy), but not the most significant.

  23. bigbird says:

    Robert: The claim that God exists is, at least in part, a claim about the physical world, so an argument for God’s existence should ultimately come from historical, scientific, and other forms of empirical evidence, right? If this is so, then shouldn’t knowledge of God’s existence be comparable to knowledge of science?

    Rather, I would compare knowledge of God’s existence with evolutionary theory, given the context of this thread.

    As Dawkins says, we can’t observe evolution as it is happening, at least not to any significant level other than the mutations observed during experiments like Lenski’s. Evolutionary theory relies on circumstantial evidence.

    In a similar way, the existence of God may not be amenable to the rigours of scientific experiment. There is, however, considerable circumstantial evidence that makes belief in God reasonable – at least as reasonable as believing the reductionist account. This evidence is both historical (e.g. the life of Jesus) and scientific (e.g. fine tuning).

    Thomas Nagel’s latest book has an excellent discussion of the weaknesses of materialist reductionism.

  24. bigbird says:

    I’ve been following this blog for some time, and I’ve seen some interesting arguments, but certainly nothing nearly as convincing as the arguments for established theories of science.

    You are not comparing equivalent concepts. The arguments for the established theories of science can be confirmed by scientific experiment. So far so good.

    But what about the broader scientific project that attempts to explain why the universe is intelligible, how we got here, and how we are able to even appreciate that the universe is intelligible?

    How does that compare to the arguments for theism?

  25. Victoria says:

    Robert
    My confidence in the evidence that undergirds Biblical Christianity, especially that of its roots in objective, real history, and especially the historicity of Jesus Christ is absolute. I can say this as a Christian, because I have been through the process of following that evidence for myself, making the journey from unbelief, sin and rebellion to belief, where I had to acknowledge the claims of Jesus Christ to be ‘My Lord and my God'; that belief led to a response, which is what faith is in the Biblical sense, to commit myself to Jesus Christ as Lord, King, Redeemer, to surrender to His rule, to repent of my sins (which were many – I could have been that woman in Luke 7:36-50). I did not do this on my own – I had Christian physicist colleagues who showed me what Christianity was all about, and encouraged me to investigate it. Not to be left out is the fact that true faith is the gift of God, and that nobody can say “Jesus is Lord and God” except through the work of the Holy Spirit in his or her life.
    I can say this with the confidence that comes from being a Christian, with the indwelling Holy Spirit.
    I am convinced that anyone who is willing to do the same things that I did, indeed the same things that all genuine Christians have done at some point in their lives, will find God.

    The presumption of insufficient evidence for faith to respond to – that is not the biggest stumbling block that holds a person back from belief in Christ; sin, stubborn rebellion, intellectual pride, peer pressure, a mistaken idea of self-sufficiency, and even spiritual deception by a being who will do anything to keep you from joining God’s eternal Kingdom – those are the biggies, and people will rationalize them by claiming ‘intellectual objections’. The fact is that those intellectual issues have reasonable answers – that one can take a position of faith without having to check your mind at the door to the church, so to speak. I know this from experience, as do many of my Christian brothers and sisters – you undoubtedly have met some of them here.

    As a physicist, I accept various physical theories as the inferences to best explanations that we have so far, subject to revision and correction as new discoveries and insights may come along. They are descriptions of our current understanding of the properties, dynamics of the universe as we can observe it (operational science); based on that operational science, we can also infer things about the formative history of the universe. All very interesting and useful, but not a matter of my eternal destiny or how I live my life here on earth. Christianity, on the other hand, is all about those things.
    What is holding you back, Robert?

  26. Victoria says:

    @Robert
    You might also want to read John Lennox, God’s Undertaker, where he discusses modern science and Christianity (he’s another Christian physical scientist – physics, if I recall correctly).

    @bigbird
    Nicely said :)

  27. Robert Jones says:

    bigbird,

    Thank you for your responses. In your first post, it sounds like, in your view, the evidence for Christianity is as persuasive as the evidence for evolution. You’re saying that in both cases, the evidence is not “direct evidence” except in a rather limited way. Is that right?

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re getting at in your second post. Are you saying that the broader philosophy of science is more comparable to theism than the scientific theories themselves?

  28. Robert Jones says:

    “My confidence in the evidence that undergirds Biblical Christianity, especially that of its roots in objective, real history, and especially the historicity of Jesus Christ is absolute.”

    Okay, thanks for clarifying. I have to admit that it’s pretty shocking to hear you claim absolute certainty about an historical event. In my whole life, I have never been absolutely certain of anything. I certainly don’t have more confidence in the accounts of Jesus’s life than I have in a 5-sigma Higgs signal or QED predictions which are confirmed to ten decimal places… In any case, I thank you for your honesty.

    “What is holding you back, Robert?”

    Honestly, I just don’t see a compelling argument for the existence of God. I know you’re going to tell me it’s sin that’s holding me back, but I’m telling you honestly that I just don’t find these claims compelling.

  29. bigbird says:

    In your first post, it sounds like, in your view, the evidence for Christianity is as persuasive as the evidence for evolution. You’re saying that in both cases, the evidence is not “direct evidence” except in a rather limited way. Is that right?

    I’m not trying to directly compare how persuasive the case for each is, as that depends on the individual.

    In the US, it’s likely more people find the claims of theism more persuasive than they do the claims of evolutionary theory. But many of those are probably unfamiliar with the evidence for both.

    But yes, in both cases the evidence is largely circumstantial. You can’t demonstrate evolution in a lab, and you can’t run an experiment proving God exists (well, I suppose you can but it’s a rather large assumption that God will cooperate with your experiment).

    Are you saying that the broader philosophy of science is more comparable to theism than the scientific theories themselves?

    Not the philosophy of science, but the broader scientific narrative that claims to be able to explain how we got here. This and theism are both claims about our origins.

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Robert, thanks for being in this discussion!

    I agree with Victoria: I have total confidence in the historicity of Jesus Christ as recorded in the NT.

    But I wouldn’t say that’s quite the same as “total certainty.”

    Here’s the difference, in my mind. I’m aware of the distinct possibility I could be wrong on any topic. Still I can place confidence in that which is worthy of it.

    Over Christmas we had someone stay at our home while we were away. I knew him a little bit, but not well; certainly not well enough to trust him with our home, if that was all I had had to go on.

    But there are people I trust completely who trusted him completely. On that basis I had complete confidence that we could leave him with the keys to our house and our second car while we were hundreds of miles away.

    I have that much confidence and even more in the historical and ontological truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

    The reasons are not only historical, by the way. They are existential, moral, rational, and (in Aquinas’ sense) almost purely logical, based on the large picture of reality that we all experience. It all ties together.

  31. bigbird says:

    Honestly, I just don’t see a compelling argument for the existence of God.

    And honestly, from your point of view I don’t see one either.

    I think the evidence available shows that belief in the existence of God is reasonable and rational. But it is not compelling for many, at least not from your side of the fence.

    The evidence will only take you so far. You are unlikely to find certainty. There comes a point where, like many things in life (such as falling in love), a step of faith must taken. Not faith without evidence, but faith based on evidence that is reasonable but not necessarily compelling.

    I should add that once that step has been taken, many (most?) Christians find the case for faith considerably more compelling – personal experience of God naturally increases confidence in his existence.

  32. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Robert Jones:

    You are both right and wrong. The classical arguments (*) for the existence of God do take features of the world as premises. For example, the First Way is related to motion or change, as (contra Parmenides and its modern followers) a real, objective feature of reality. But the arguments are deductive like a mathematical proof, and they are laid out at the metaphysical level, or more precisely, the level of philosophy of nature, not at the level of the empirical sciences. These are the things that science itself must *presuppose* to even do its job.

    By this terse description, you will understand, while I don my Thomist hat, why the evidence for God is overwhelmingly better than say for evolution or quarks.

    I should also add that here I am dealing only with the philosophical arguments for God’s existence and what follows from them. The arguments for Christianity have a radically different character, as of necessity they center on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is an historical event and must be treated as such, with all that this entails.

    (*) Favoring Aristotelian-Thomism, these are the arguments I am interested in for the most part, although there are other arguments that I think can be made to work (e.g. Kalam) or that while in themselves are not compelling, and even if successful prove very little, they are interesting because of what they point to (e.g. cosmological design arguments like fine-tuning ).

  33. Victoria says:

    @Robert
    God doesn’t want to compel you to believe in Him and to commit yourself to Him. Learning Who God is, coming to trust Him is more like falling in love with a Person than it is an exercise in scientific analysis of a collection of facts and arguments. He does not ask us to not think and reason, for He has provided us with evidence and knowledge that we canthink about and draw conclusions from. But it is more than that – He wants you to take the time and effort to get to know Him – you want to know Who God really is? You look at the portraits of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. You see what He did while He was on earth, you see what He did to rescue His fallen creatures, to make it possible for us to get back the relationship that He meant us to have in the first place. You learn what the implications are of His death and resurrection, what it all means, and what He offers to us, to you.
    Make no mistake, the stakes are high – to reject Him is to remain in your condition of spiritual death and separation from Him for all eternity; to believe and trust Him is to choose life for all eternity, to be joined in a relationship with Him here and now, to join with countless others who have done the same. It is to see reality with new eyes, to see it illuminated with a light that you could not have dreamed possible while you were in the dark.

    That evidence we spoke of- that is light shining through the darkness, illuminating the trail – it is the source of the light that you should be looking for, though

  34. Victoria says:

    Actually, I’m going to amend

    Learning Who God is, coming to trust Him is more like falling in love with a Person

    to

    Learning Who God is, coming to trust Him is to fall in love with a Person, and One Who already loves us at that.

  35. BillT says:

    When I first read about the concept of a meme I thought it was worthy of outright laughter. I think though its meaning, at least in common usage, has changed. I get the impression its come to be used to describe a concept or idea or talking point. Now, Dawkins may still subscribe to its original meaning but for him that would be somewhat down the list of questionable ideas that he champions.

  36. Ray Ingles says:

    First, are you implicitly assuming or intimating that we know God and know of Him in the same way that we know about elementary particles?

    Does Glass’ quoted text make sense if we don’t make such a comparison between ways of knowing Gods and memes?

    I mean, if the ways of evaluating the existence of such things are entirely different, then the passage is just pithy but facile, right?

  37. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    God doesn’t want to compel you to believe in Him and to commit yourself to Him.

    Of course, believing in someone – or even someOne – doesn’t compel commitment. Falling in love with my wife was a process, certainly – but we were introduced first, and had conversations and such. I didn’t have to love her first just so she’d talk to me.

  38. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    That’s right, and God has introduced Himself to us, in many and various ways, and in these last days, in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is God who invites us to come to Him in the first place – He always makes the first move. The problem is on our side.

  39. Victoria says:

    I think we should try to clarify the distinction between knowing God and knowing about God. The former, at least from a Christian perspective, is to be in a personal relationship with Him, and to have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit – so to be experientially connected to the Triune God. This is knowing a Person – I think it would be fair to say that this is direct knowledge.

    Knowing about God includes things like what He has revealed to us through His Word – we know about His attributes and what He is like (in a limited way, of course). This too is direct knowledge, but of a different sort than the first kind. I think that this includes the historical information about Jesus Christ as well. There are things about God that we could never know unless He tells us Himself, or in the case of Jesus Christ, steps into human history to show us Himself.

    We also know about God through the evidence for Him that He has left for us to find. The evidence is not God – it is a pointer to Him. I think Paul has this in mind in Romans 1:18-32 and Romans 2:1-16, as does David in Psalm 19. This is indirect evidence that points us to God – the proper response is to follow the pointers to Him. When you are lost and stumbling around in the dark, this evidence points the way to the One Who is its source.

    I’m thinking out loud here – I hope that clarifies how I see it, at least.

  40. bigbird says:

    By this terse description, you will understand, while I don my Thomist hat, why the evidence for God is overwhelmingly better than say for evolution or quarks.

    I think it is fair to say that most philosophers find the various philosophical arguments for the existence of God (such as the Five Ways and their derivatives) far from compelling.

    Alvin Plantinga says he doesn’t think the traditional arguments for the existence of God are all that powerful. They help show that faith is rational and reasonable. But ultimately, like our belief in the existence of others minds, we accept that God exists because it seems to us to be true.

  41. Victoria says:

    @bigbird

    Then perhaps it is fair to speculate that the difference between an atheist and a Christian is this: the atheist looks at the evidence, thinks it is unconvincing, and looks no farther; the Christian, on the other hand, is a person who was once an unbeliever, but faced with the evidence is curious enough or motivated enough to follow it. Having met God this way, the unbeliever becomes a believer, and with eyes opened by his or her new faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, can look at the evidence with a new perspective and say “OF course! How can anyone not see this?”.

    In all of this discussion, we can’t ignore the work of the Holy Spirit – He is the one who whispers in peoples ears, coaxing them along; sadly, most people refuse to listen, and for reasons far darker than ‘intellectual objections’.

  42. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    Does Glass’ quoted text make sense if we don’t make such a comparison between ways of knowing Gods and memes?

    I mean, if the ways of evaluating the existence of such things are entirely different, then the passage is just pithy but facile, right?

    Are you seriously arguing that we know about memes in the same way we know about elementary particles?

  43. Ray Ingles says:

    Melissa – Not at all.

    It’s just that many people – including this very blog – were amused and/or exasperated at the whole “God particle” business a while back. The way to know God is indeed presented as different from the way we know the Higgs boson.

    Are those the only two ways of knowing, though? Memes, if they exist (I rather think ideas are too ‘analog’ to compare well to genes except maybe as an occasionally apt analogy), would be detected sociologically or perhaps even neurologically. But that’s different from historically, spiritually… or physically.

    So it seems to me that Glass is engaging in the same kind of confusion that was pointed out quite capably here and elsewhere re: the “God” particle.

  44. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    most people refuse to listen, and for reasons far darker than ‘intellectual objections’.

    It’s interesting that an atheist can belive a Christian to be honestly mistaken, but not vice-versa.

  45. Victoria says:

    @Dear Readers
    Don’t let Ray’s deceptive tactics fool you.

    @Ray
    because the atheist holds no concept of a holy and sovereign God Whom humanity has rebelled against; the atheist does not believe in sin and God’s justice; the atheist does not believe in God’s redemptive plan through the Person of Jesus Christ – His life, death and resurrection.

    The Bible explicitly teaches what I said, from Genesis to Revelation.

    Paul makes this very clear in passages like Romans 1:18-3:20, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and 1 Corinthians 2:6-14, Ephesians 2:1-8, Galatians 5:16-25, John 3:16-21, Genesis 3:1-24, Psalm 14, Revelation 21:1-27…the thread of human sin and depravity is all through the tapestry of Scripture.

    The atheists who regularly post here are indeed mistaken about everything Christianity is; there are many reasons for that, and the Christian position is that the primary reasons are that unredeemed human beings are spiritually dead in ‘trespasses and sin’ and caught in the web of lies and spiritual deception woven by the ‘god of this world’ – Satan, the Evil one.

  46. Victoria says:

    oops – little typo in #46. forgot to put a break in the verse list after Galatians. Obviously Paul did not write John, Genesis, Psalm 14 or Revelation :)
    Just thought I’d correct that to short-circuit any potential facetious comments

  47. SteveK says:

    Victoria,

    Having met God this way, the unbeliever becomes a believer, and with eyes opened by his or her new faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, can look at the evidence with a new perspective and say “OF course! How can anyone not see this?”.

    This discussion you’ve been having, coupled with the recent ‘fake girlfriend’ story of the NFL’s Manti Te’o, got me thinking about our natural ability to fall in love with someone we never met or someone who doesn’t really exist.

    Atheists don’t believe God exists. That’s a given. The question on my mind is why don’t most of them fall in love with God as they might fall in love with a movie character or a character in a novel?

    The answer seems obvious to me. These people don’t like the character of God, and I don’t think it is a stretch to say that THIS is what’s keeping them from repenting and from following and worshiping him.

    It seems like the quest that many (not all) atheists are on has very little to do with answers to questions about proof, evidence and God’s ultimate existence. But that’s all we seem to be talking about.

    You don’t need any of those answers to fall in love with a ‘fictitious’ God who loves you, who gave you life, who gives you grace and blessings every day, who sustains you, who wants to spend eternity with you and who loved you enough to do something about your sinful condition.

    To the unbeliever I say start there before you move on to questions of evidence, etc. If you try to do it in reverse order I suspect you will never become convinced enough.

    I say that because I don’t know anyone who has the will and firmness of mind to repent from their sins and follow a God they dislike just because one day they became convinced he existed.

    We are His portion and He is our prize
    Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
    If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking
    So Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss
    And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
    I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
    When I think about the way He loves us – David Crowder Band “How He Loves”

  48. Victoria says:

    @SteveK
    Hmmm…an interesting thought.

    Of course, when I suggest ‘following the evidence’, I do mean ‘turn around and look at the One the evidence points to’. That Person is Jesus Christ, and His portraits are painted for us in the New Testament documents. He is the Person they should get to know. If they do that with an open mind and open heart, with an attitude of humility and a desire to learn of God and listen to Him when they encounter Him there (and they will, as all Christians will testify from our own personal experiences), they will be drawn to Him.

    Unfortunately, as soon as we make that point, the skeptics and atheists with axes to grind, who haunt the blog, rush in with their attempts to discredit those documents; and so we have to deal with that misdirection, if only for the sake of the other people reading the blog – the people whom you refer to here

    It seems like the quest that many (not all) atheists are on has very little to do with answers to questions about proof, evidence and God’s ultimate existence. But that’s all we seem to be talking about.

    I’d like nothing more than to be able to help these folks see the incomparable beauty and majesty of our Lord Jesus Christ, without the constant distraction of having to unsheath my sword (but that is the reality of the battle we are in, is it not? Ephesians 6:10-18).

    But we also have this battle to engage:

    The answer seems obvious to me. These people don’t like the character of God, and I don’t think it is a stretch to say that THIS is what’s keeping them from repenting and from following and worshiping him.

    Those same atheists have poisoned the well when it comes to God’s character, and we need to show those who are actually seeking (to know the reason for the hope that is in us) His real glory and character.

    The other side of this coin is that such a person will encounter the living God, and see themselves as they really are, and they run away without hearing God calling them to come to Him and be healed. Remember Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6:1-7? “Woe is me, for I am ruined…for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). Fortunately for Isaiah, he stayed long enough to hear “your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven” (Isaiah 6:6-7).

    What do you think?

  49. SteveK says:

    I think I agree, Victoria.

    …but that is the reality of the battle we are in, is it not?

    It is. I guess you could say that my comment was really directed to the skeptics that are anti-God, and my hope is that they would realize that they need to stop the “if only I had evidence I would repent and believe” lie.

  50. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    the Christian position is that the primary reasons are that unredeemed human beings are spiritually dead in ‘trespasses and sin’ and caught in the web of lies and spiritual deception woven by the ‘god of this world’ – Satan, the Evil one.

    Exactly. I can believe that Christians are honestly mistaken. Christians beleive – explicitly teach – that atheists are dishonestly mistaken, that what we say we believe is not true and we actually believe in God, we just won’t admit it.

    Since Christians really beleive that, it does put kind of a damper on conversations like this. I mean, Victoria is quite literally convinced I’m lying to her and myself. So how seriously can she really take what I say?

    Answer: she doesn’t, she outright calls me “deceptive”.

  51. Ray Ingles says:

    SteveK –

    they need to stop the “if only I had evidence I would repent and believe” lie.

    And there’s SteveK, saying I’m lying, too.

    Imagine, just hypothetically, that I wasn’t lying – that I, y’know, believed what I said I beleived. How persuasive would their comments be?

  52. SteveK says:

    Ray,
    I didn’t single anyone out, so if what I said doesn’t apply to you then it doesn’t.

  53. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    you are a master of twisting my words around to suit your own purposes, which is why I call your strategy deceptive. Or did you just fail reading comprehension 101?

    Exactly. I can believe that Christians are honestly mistaken. Christians beleive[sic] – explicitly teach – that atheists are dishonestly mistaken, that what we say we believe is not true and we actually believe in God, we just won’t admit it.

    Since Christians really beleive[sic] that, it does put kind of a damper on conversations like this. I mean, Victoria is quite literally convinced I’m lying to her and myself. So how seriously can she really take what I say?

    What I said implies none of these things.

    I did not say I think that you are lying to me – I am quite sure that you are really convinced that metaphysical naturalism is the correct worldview. I am quite sure that you do not believe in God, and that you are an atheist to the core. Why else would you spend so much time and effort on this blog and other Christian web sites (like Feser’s) challenging Christians’ beliefs and trying to demonstrate that Christianity is false?

    I take what you say very seriously, which is why I fight so hard against it. You are not the enemy, however. The god of this world who has deceived you is, and you are unwittingly(I hope) doing his work for him.

    I said atheists are deceived into believing a lie (atheism), and that the reasons go deeper than just intellectual objections and supposedly unconvincing evidence. I am saying that your worldview (metaphysical naturalism and with it, scientism) is false, and based on a lie from hell itself. Being spiritually dead, you have no way of finding your way out of the lie on your own, which is why Christianity insists that it takes the Holy Spirit to open a person’s heart and mind to discern the truth. Being dead in trespasses and sin, people love the darkness and shun the light (John 3:17-21 NASB)

    For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
    For this is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

    Remember too, that I said that all Christians were once unbelievers, especially those of us who were not raised in the faith, who came to Christ in adult life.

  54. Victoria says:

    Oh, and if you think I was being harsh when I said this

    The god of this world who has deceived you is, and you are unwittingly(I hope) doing his work for him.

    I said atheists are deceived into believing a lie (atheism), and that the reasons go deeper than just intellectual objections and supposedly unconvincing evidence

    I am just paraphrasing Ephesians 2:1-3 NASB – Paul is writing to the Christian community based in and around Ephesus:
    And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
    and 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 NASB (Paul’s followup letter to the Christian community at Corinth):
    And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God.

    The phrase ‘god of this world’
    means

    ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου: (a title for the Devil, literally ‘the god of this world’) one who has power or authority over this world (or this age) and is so recognized by people of the world—‘the god of this world, the Devil.’ ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου ἐτύφλωσεν τὰ νοήματα τῶν ἀπίστων ‘the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers’ 2 Cor 4:4.
    The expression ‘the god of this world’ may be understood in two senses: (1) the god who rules over this world or (2) the god whom the people of this world trust or worship. Though many persons have traditionally interpreted ‘the god of this world’ as the one who rules over this world, it is the second meaning which probably fits more accurately in the context of 2 Cor 4:4.

    Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (143). New York: United Bible Societies.

    It refers to the world system, which is opposed to the true God, and to the malevolent entity, Satan, who is behind that system. See John 8:43-44, Revelation 12:9 and Revelation 20
    :7-10 for additional segments of the thread.
    Also, when Paul uses the phrase ‘lusts of the flesh’, he is referring what our sinful human nature craves and does (and not just sexual immorality). See
    Galatians 5:16-24 (he provides a list in Galatians 5:19-21)

  55. Victoria says:

    I keep trying to edit my previous comment, but it never seems to take :)
    I wanted to add this

    It refers to the world system, which is opposed to the true God, and to the malevolent entity, Satan, who is behind that system., followed by:

    See John 8:43-44, Revelation 12:7-10, especially verse 9 (And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world… – literally ‘the adversary(devil) and Accuser(Satan)’, and Revelation 20:7-10, esp verse 10 And the devil who deceived them….

    The reference to the serpent brings to mind Genesis 3, and the serpent who deceived Eve. Well know we know who was behind the serpent in the first place.

  56. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    Why else would you spend so much time and effort on this blog and other Christian web sites (like Feser’s) challenging Christians’ beliefs and trying to demonstrate that Christianity is false?

    Mostly it’s because I see so few Christians who actually seem to understand how atheists think. So many times, when the fact that I’m an atheist comes up (and believe me, I’m not at all evangelical in my personal life) people say things like, “But you’re so nice! I can’t believe it!”

    Now, perhaps this is a converse case. Do you really think that “atheists are deceived into believing a lie” and at the same time that they are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20)? I just don’t see how “honestly mistaken” and “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” go together.

  57. Victoria says:

    @Ray

    Now, perhaps this is a converse case. Do you really think that “atheists are deceived into believing a lie” and at the same time that they are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20)? I just don’t see how “honestly mistaken” and “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” go together.

    To the first question, yes! You can be both deceived and held accountable for acting on that deception, and actively promoting it, trying to draw others into it. Look again at the events of Genesis 3 – did God let Eve off the hook because she was deceived? Short of full out demon possession, Satan can’t make you do anything against your will. He starts out by telling you half-truths and subtle distortions of what God has revealed or said (Genesis 3:1), and then outright lies (Genesis 3:4-5) – He appeals to the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the arrogance of self-sufficiency of life’ 1 John 2:15-16, which is pretty much what Eve thought in Genesis 3:6, and now we are all stuck with a corrupted human nature (still in the image of God, but horribly tainted).

    I like the commentary from the NET Bible on that passage in 1 John 2:

    The genitive βίου (biou) is difficult to translate: (1) Many understand it as objective, so that βίος (bios, “material life”) becomes the object of one’s ἀλαζονεία (alazoneia; “pride” or “boastfulness”). Various interpretations along these lines refer to boasting about one’s wealth, showing off one’s possessions, boasting of one’s social status or lifestyle. (2) It is also possible to understand the genitive as subjective, however, in which case the βίος itself produces the ἀλαζονεία. In this case, the material security of one’s life and possessions produces a boastful overconfidence. This understanding better fits the context here: The focus is on people who operate purely on a human level and have no spiritual dimension to their existence. This is the person who loves the world, whose affections are all centered on the world, who has no love for God or spiritual things (“the love of the Father is not in him,” 2:15).
    sn The arrogance produced by material possessions. The person who thinks he has enough wealth and property to protect himself and insure his security has no need for God (or anything outside himself).

    Since you don’t understand it, perhaps this will help
    http://bible.org/seriespage/present-wrath-god-romans-115-32
    http://bible.org/seriespage/indwelling-sin%E2%80%99s-power-through-deceit

    For the readers who want to learn more in depth, there are a whole series of articles here:
    http://bible.org/topics/343/Hamartiology%20(Sin)

    And with that, I’m done here.
    Ray, you have heard the truth of Christianity, and now you are responsible for how you deal with it. God will hold you accountable for what you have been told. I can do no more for you here. The rest is between you and God.

  58. SteveK says:

    And at about the 30-34min mark of this debate, Dawkins demonstrates the truth of my comment in #50. His atheism has very little to do with evidence. It has a lot to do with the fact that he doesn’t like God. Dawkins and Satan have a lot in common.

  59. Victoria says:

    I was listening to John Macarthur while driving home last night, and he has an entire series on how Satan does his dirty work.
    John referred to Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed (Luke 8:4-15) to illustrate this. Jesus’ own explanation of the parable is (from the NET Bible)

    Now the parable means this: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in a time of testing fall away. As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the worries and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for the seed that landed on good soil, these are the ones who, after hearing the word, cling to it with an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with steadfast endurance.

    I think we have seen atheists and skeptics who fit the first three categories very clearly. The path, John explained, is so hard-packed and compressed that seeds can’t even take root; by analogy, skeptics who fall into the first category have a hardness of heart so great that they will not listen to the Word of God – it never gets to them and the devil snatches it away and they are left as though they had never heard it at all. How many times have we had to explain the same things over and over again to the same people? Ray and others like him who have never even pretended to believe are in this category – easy pickings for the devil and his minions, no challenge at all for Satan’s misdirection.

    The second and third groups we see in the apostate ex-Christians and pseudo-Christians turned atheists who show up in here. They are people whom Paul talks about in 1 Timothy 1:18-20 and 1 Timothy 4:1-2 and 2 Timothy 3:1-9 and John in 1 John 2:18-19.

  60. Ray Ingles says:

    So… I honestly don’t believe in God because I dishonestly harden my heart?

    Ray, you have heard the truth of Christianity, and now you are responsible for how you deal with it.

    Four years of Catholic high school religious instruction didn’t count, I guess. Glad you at least got it right. :-)

  61. Victoria says:

    @Ray
    Sigh…whatever.
    Goodbye and good luck.

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