Debate: David Wood vs. John W. Loftus: Does God Exist?

Debate: David Wood vs. John W. Loftus: Does God Exist?

The closing event at the regional apologetics conference I spoke at last week: David Wood vs. John W. Loftus: Does God Exist?

I think you’ll enjoy this. Both Wood and Loftus are entertaining debaters. One of them makes a lot more sense than the other, though.

While you’re at it, check out the rest of “the Islamoblog of Acts 17 Apologetics Ministries.” Sharia in Dearborn? You can see it for yourself.

94 thoughts on “Debate: David Wood vs. John W. Loftus: Does God Exist?

  1. In my debate with David Wood I said:

    Even if David can successfully show that our universe began to exist and that it’s consistent with his belief in a creator God, or even if he can defend some of the classical arguments for God’s existence, so what? All he’s done is to show that these things are consistent with his faith. But just showing that they are consistent with his faith does not show that his faith is probable. For they are also consistent with a god who created this world as nothing more than a scientific experiment who thinks of us as rats in a maze, wondering what we will conclude about it all and how we will live our lives. Such a belief is consistent with a divine tinkerer who is learning as he goes. Such a belief is consistent with a god who created the quantum wave fluctuation that produced this universe as his last act before committing suicide. Such a belief is consistent with a creator god who guides the universe ultimately toward an evil purpose, but who has chosen to maliciously present himself as benevolent to play a trick on us. If this god existed then all of the evidence leading David to conclude a good God exists is planted there to deceive us by such a god. David rejects these other god-hypotheses, but why? I can see no reasonable objection to these other god-hypotheses. They are just as possible as his god-hypothesis. That is why scientists cannot posit theistic explanations for answers to the origin of the universe. For once we allow supernatural explanations into our equations then most any god will do, since there seems to be no way to exclude them.

    What do you think of this?

  2. John,
    You asked:

    What do you think of this?

    I can tell you what I thought of it.

    Even if David can successfully show that our universe began to exist and that it’s consistent with his belief in a creator God, or even if he can defend some of the classical arguments for God’s existence, so what? All he’s done is to show that these things are consistent with his faith. But just showing that they are consistent with his faith does not show that his faith is probable. For they are also consistent with a god who created this world as nothing more than a scientific experiment who thinks of us as rats in a maze, wondering what we will conclude about it all and how we will live our lives. Such a belief is consistent with a divine tinkerer who is learning as he goes. Such a belief is consistent with a god who created the quantum wave fluctuation that produced this universe as his last act before committing suicide. Such a belief is consistent with a creator god who guides the universe ultimately toward an evil purpose, but who has chosen to maliciously present himself as benevolent to play a trick on us. If this god existed then all of the evidence leading David to conclude a good God exists is planted there to deceive us by such a god.

    In this opening bit, it seems to me like you conceded the debate, which was to argue the question “Does God Exist?” David gave arguments for a God who was at least an immaterial, creative being who was the ultimate source of moral value. Here you haven’t challenged those arguments, aside from questioning the conclusion of the moral argument. But questioning the conclusion of the moral argument without arguing for which premise is false doesn’t really harm the argument.

    David rejects these other god-hypotheses, but why? I can see no reasonable objection to these other god-hypotheses. They are just as possible as his god-hypothesis.

    First, this isn’t the topic of the debate. The topic of the debate is “Does God Exist”, but so far you are arguing about which God exists. Second, here you admit that you can see no objection to these other god hypotheses! But if you don’t have any objection to those, and if you don’t have an objection to David’s (ie, showing how one of his premises is false) then you are yielding to your opponent on the issue under discussion.

    That is why scientists cannot posit theistic explanations for answers to the origin of the universe. For once we allow supernatural explanations into our equations then most any god will do, since there seems to be no way to exclude them.

    First, this last bit is a non-sequitur. As you are using the term here, science is in the market of generating testable theories to explain concrete (or physical) phenomena. This doesn’t have anything to do with whether a God exists or which God exists, so it does no harm to David’s arguments. Moreover, since scientific theories exclude agent causation by definition, why would a person qua scientist propose theistic explanations for concrete phenomena? The point relevant to your discussion with David would be: can a person qua philosopher infer God’s existence given what we’ve come to know about the physical world? I think David argued that we could make that inference, while your response here simply reaffirms a common definition of science. That’s consistent with David’s position, and is not an objection to his argument.

    I’m not sure why you decided to argue the way you did. I’m a theist and would of course disagree with your position. But I thought you gave up an awful lot of ground right out of the gate, and didn’t really address David’s premises forcefully throughout. To your credit, you finally did discuss the “interactionist” problem any dualist needs to confront, but not until much later on in the debate, and then only briefly.

    I won’t add to my comments any further, as that might risk letting the thread get too far off-topic for Tom’s liking.

  3. Yes, I conceded the debate in one sense. I conceded the possibility that there is a god of some kind. But I said “so what?” You see I’m open to the possibility a god exists. But big deal if one does. For in order to believe in David’s particular God it demands a lot more by way or argumentation than he offered. He did not even offer an argument against any one of my suggested alternatives. In fact he can’t. And neither can you. Which means agnosticism should be embraced. I’m at heart an agnostic, you see. And agnosticism leads us to atheism, but that’s a definitional discussion.

  4. I like Thomas Reid’s answer to your first comment better than what I would have said, John. (Welcome to the blog here, by the way.)

    To your 2:13 pm comment, I would say this:

    Having conceded the possibility that a god exists, you then say, “Big deal if one does.” I would continue to press the point that David and Thomas have both made, which is that you apparently weren’t interested in the question of the debate. “Big deal,” you say. The typical next line from one who says that would be “Why should I care?” To which the appropriate response might be, if you don’t care, then why did you travel all the way to Cheseapeake, VA to debate it?

    For in order to believe in David’s particular God it demands a lot more by way or argumentation than he offered.

    I think David (and Thomas and I) would gladly agree with you on that. In your debate he said something to this effect: “If you’re offering to debate the specifics of Christianity, I accept.” But that wasn’t the topic of the debate you were having there that night, so it’s at least premature, if not outright wrong, for you to say neither he nor I can offer an argument against your suggested alternatives.

  5. Awwwww. Why did I debate? You haven’t figured it out? My goal is to change minds. And as I argued, if one of my other god hypotheses cannot be argued against, as I think is the case, then David has not made a case for anything that he wishes to worship. A scientific god? An evil god? A dying god? They are all what one would call Pyrrhic victories. Where do you go in defense of Christian faith from any one of them? To do so you must argue from the Bible that your belief in God has historical evidence for it. But then I offered a few arguments against the Biblical God too. It was a two pronged attack regardless of whether you or anyone thinks I lost the debate. Grant him his possibility and no more than that by taking the rug out from under him after doing so.

    I thought it was brilliant, but then I do slap myself on the back a time or two. 😉

  6. So let me see if I understand this. You concede the topic of the debate, argue a different topic which no one counters (because, of course, it’s not the topic of the debate) and then declare yourself the winner. And you say you do this to “change minds”. Well you may well change some minds but I would doubt it’s in the direction you think.

  7. SteveK, no, not at all. The debate was not whether a scientific god exists, or a malicious one. Surely that is not what the debate was about. I conceded THOSE kinds of gods, you see. And most atheists think those kinds of gods are possible, even if unlikely. The God you think exists must be more than what I conceded. If all you wish to affirm are those kinds of gods then fine, David won. But as I said, big deal, so what? He can get no more traction from those concessions than that. Such concessions do not concede the particular God he was defending. He did not defend his particular belief in God. Let me put it to you this way. Let’s say he and I agreed there was a scientific god who considered us as rats in a maze. Now what? How can David defend his particular God when a scientific god is the only one I allowed for in the debate?

  8. No, but how about, “A malicious god probably exists. So What?” Or, “God committed suicide after creating the world. So What?” Or, “God created us as rats in a maze. So What?”

  9. John,

    I’m still perplexed as to how your thought process worked in regard to this debate. The topic was “Does God Exist?”. Clearly, you agreed to that topic. Then, instead of arguing this specific topic, you decide to concede it up front and proceed to argue a different one. Then, you proclaim that David has no answer to this different topic because he is just unable to offer anything.

    I’m sure David would be happy to debate Christianity in particular; he even said as much. Plenty of other apologists would likely take you up on that debate as well.

    But my question is: how on earth are you even remotely complaining or accusing David of not addressing the very thing that was NOT the topic of the debate?

    I know you said you want to “change minds” but honestly, whose mind are you changing when you argue this way? Is this not a fallacious sort of reasoning?

  10. Tom, before we debate such topics we must keep in mind what we mean by God. There are a multifaceted number of definitions, you see, even Paul Tillich’s “ultimate concern.” So, which God were we debating? I was merely choosing to debate David’s particular kind of God. Or do you contend that we were debating whether or not God is what people consider to be “ultimate concern”?

  11. You see, in a Muslim country we would be debating whether Allah exists. And in others whether Yahweh exists. In still others whether other gods and goddess exist. Would you be happy if all David could defend is that Thor exists? Would you say that a successful defense of Thor’s divinity is a resounding victory for your side?

  12. Even a successful defense of Deism is a denial of David’s God, you see, for a deistic God is a denial of David’s God. Would you be happy to admit that a successful defense of a deistic God is resounding victory for your side?

  13. If any God/gods exist, then atheism is wrong. And the existence of some lesser god is not exactly incompatible with Christianity, and in fact could be indirectly supportive. I think any result which would utterly rule out atheism and be neutral to supportive of Christianity/theism would be a victory.

    This reminds me of speaking with an atheist who admits that a given argument for God works, but even if it does it doesn’t establish Christianity. Fantastic – plenty of theists admit to arguments that only go that far. But their success still dumps atheism out the window.

    Yet another atheist bus campaign slogan!

    “God probably exists. But I bet it isn’t your God, so nyeh!”

  14. Tom, you fail to understand atheism, which is par for the course. There are many different views of what an atheist is, so I cannot fault you too much. I am an agnostic atheist and I wrote about what that means in my book WIBA. In any case every atheist I know says it’s possible that a god of some kind exists. It’s just that none of them think this is probable. So all I was doing was admitting the possibility that some kind of God or gods exist. A possibility is not a probability, you see. And I was placing back to back several other options regarding which God or gods exist to show that these God hypotheses cancel themselves out so to speak, since unless David was willing to defend his particular kind of God he has not defended the existence of any God at all. For unless he can show out the most many possibilities which one exists then he should affirm an agnosticism about them all. And although I didn’t argue further my claim is that agnosticism leads to atheism.

    I mean, really, can you tell me why any of these other deities are less probable than yours without using the Bible?

    Cheers.

  15. I understand atheism quite fine, John. As well as how there’s a claimed variety of different types of atheism, and debate over who counts as what (which inevitably is more about lame tactical thinking than honest evaluation.)

    You, however, don’t seem to understand theism. The very fact that you’d imply that defending an argument for the “deistic God” would be damaging to Christianity indicates that much. The number of theists who advance and defend arguments for a God who, if the arguments worked, would only establish a basic deistic or theistic God is considerable. The idea that the Christian is exclusively interested in arguments that advance or defend the specifically Christian God is ludicrous.

    What’s more, did you not read my reply re: “other deities”? Even the existence of Thor is not incompatible with the existence of the Christian God, and can in fact be indirectly supportive. I’d say even directly supportive, depending on the particular arguments and claims involved. So it’s not immediately apparent why the existence of, say… Zeus matters to me whatsoever.

    Allah’s existence is more on target – but I don’t need to disprove the existence of Allah anyway. Hell, many and most arguments that support the existence of Allah can likewise support the existence of the Christian God, or the Jewish God. A Catholic, say, no more needs to deny the existence of Allah than two historians disagreeing about the acts and character of Lincoln are therefore each accusing each other of denying that Lincoln exists.

  16. “I mean, really, can you tell me why any of these other deities are less probable than yours without using the Bible?”

    Actually, the argument from morality does this quite well as Francis Collins (among many others) so convincingly explains in “The Language of God”. There are others as well. The existence of beauty, truth, altruism, charity, love and many other aspects of our character point to a God other that the many silly alternatives you propose. What you fail to admit is that if God was other than we understand Him to be we would be other than we are.

    (Actually, I’m sure you do understand this but choose instead to engage in a lot of hand waving as an attempted distraction.)

  17. The bottom line is that Christians like David and others here claim to know what we’re talking about when we use the word “God.” Why should that be the case? Why this God rather than that God? is my question.

  18. Whoa. Could we please get a bit more explanation of this claim?

    Even the existence of Thor is not incompatible with the existence of the Christian God, and can in fact be indirectly supportive. I’d say even directly supportive, depending on the particular arguments and claims involved.

    This may be obviously true in your head, but it’s not obviously true to the rest of us. (Actually, pretty obviously false, as the Norse mythology and the Christian mythology are mutually exclusive in many ways.) Please elaborate.

  19. Okay, then. What we were debating is whether David’s particular God is probable, i.e. the Christian one. And so my point was that even if David could show that some nebulous God exists such a belief is only consistent with his particular God’s existence. It does not make his belief in his God probable. For until he can show his belief in his particular God is probable he has not shown anything. Any number of other god’s are likewise probable, which reduces his whole argument to little or nothing. For when we allow supernatural explanations into our equations then most any god will do, as I said. This means that we should not attempt to insert supernatural explanations into our equations. Such explanations, all of them, are not probable since they become unfalsifiable at that point for that reason.

    You don’t like my argument. I understand. But it’s powerful and I see no reasonable response to it so far.

  20. NFQ,

    Thor != Norse Mythology. Johnny Appleseed was a real person. The question of various things attributed to Johnny Appleseed is a distinct question from whether Johnny Appleseed exists/existed.

    Speaking of legendary figures, Carl Sagan was expressly not an atheist – he said he’d have to know a lot more than he did to make that jump. I suppose you know a lot more than Sagan, eh?

  21. John,

    You still don’t seem to understand that even showing that some “nebulous God” exists still destroys atheism on the spot, and at the very least increases the probability of David’s particular claim – and that before realizing that every Christian who argues for the existence of ‘God’ then moves on to arguing for the existence of the Christian God. If you fail to see how “The Christian God exists” becomes more probable by demonstrating the existence of God (even a vaguer, more ‘deistic’ God), there’s not much I can do to help you.

    And just so I fit in: I’ve given tremendously powerful arguments here that decimate your views, and I’ve seen no reasonable responses. Hey, that’s kind of fun to write.

  22. Claim:
    My dad let himself in and picked up the money.

    Rebuttal:
    No, there was no person in the house and so the money is still here.
    Answer:
    Yes, see, there are footprints on the carpet and the money has been removed.

    Rebuttal:
    That only shows some vague, unknown person was here and probably took the money.
    Answer:
    Exactly.

    Powerful Argument:
    That is only consistent with your claim that your dad did it … it doesn’t make make your claim more probable.

    ?

  23. I don’t think that anyone interprets “proof that Thor exists” to possibly include, “finding a high school yearbook that has a picture of a kid named Thor Johannsen.” We’d mean something more like, “proof that there exists a deity named Thor with the powers delineated in Norse mythology.”

    Or … when you talk about “the existence of the Christian God,” are you including the the existence of something with absolutely none of the properties of the Christian God as outlined in the Bible?

    You have still not responded to my actual question. How could the existence of Thor be at all supportive, indirectly or directly, for the existence of the Christian God? This is a strange assertion to make.

  24. You have still not responded to my actual question. How could the existence of Thor be at all supportive, indirectly or directly, for the existence of the Christian God? This is a strange assertion to make.

    The Bible and the Christian God make many references to other gods active in the world.
    Atheism says there are none.

  25. The Bible does mention gods worshipped by other groups of people, but also refers to them as “false,” as “lies,” as “delusions,” and as “idols.” The Christian God is referred to as “the true God.” So… you’re saying if some other god, not even one that’s ever mentioned in the Bible, turned out to be real, that would validate the claims made in the Bible? Maybe we use the words “delusion” and “false” in totally different ways.

    I can refer to the deity you believe in, in writing or speech, without implying that your deity necessarily exists. (In fact, I have been doing exactly that this whole time.)

  26. John wrote:

    Okay, then. What we were debating is whether David’s particular God is probable, i.e. the Christian one. And so my point was that even if David could show that some nebulous God exists such a belief is only consistent with his particular God’s existence. It does not make his belief in his God probable.

    This is bizarre, isn’t it? As near as I can tell, your objection is the following:

    (P) Arguments that serve as evidence for the existence of being B with properties P1, P2, and P3 are not evidence that being B has property P4.

    Then, given (P), we should be agnostic with respect to B’s existence. Have I got that right?

    Now, unless you show that some combination of P1, P2, P3, and P4 are inconsistent when instantiated in B, then your remark does no harm to the theist’s claim (that is, anyone who defends B). Or course, this also assumes that the theist is committed to defending P4 (say, a God who permits evil). In other words, if you concede the arguments and don’t offer a rebuttal to the existence of B, you should agree that the probability of the existence of B with P1, P2, and P3 is greater than the non-existence of B with those same properties.

    Now it goes without saying that, in the Christian tradition, these are essential properties of God. Ergo, in the debate, the Christian was provided with evidence that his God exists, but no evidence that He doesn’t exist. Again, you admit this, while at the same time thinking that you’ve provided reason for the Christian to change his mind! I really don’t understand the thought process here.

    John, it’s not enough to state (P). You have to argue for the inconsistency of the set of properties, or provide some other kind of defeater. “So what?” is entirely consistent with the theist’s position, it’s not a reason to dislodge the theist from their view. Argue for God’s hiddenness, or the probabilistic argument from evil, or something else. “So what” is admission of defeat in a debate setting.

    I’ll now refrain anymore from helping an atheist defend their position.

  27. NFQ,

    “We’d mean something more like, “proof that there exists a deity named Thor with the powers delineated in Norse mythology.”

    “A deity named Thor” with the appropriate powers existing is different from “Norse Mythology” being true. It’s conceivable that, say.. Thor could exist, but many claims from Norse Mythology are incorrect or false.

    “You have still not responded to my actual question.”

    You didn’t ask me a question. You asked me to elaborate further, and I did.

    As for the question, as I already said, it would depend on the demonstration. If it’s demonstrated that beings exist with supernatural (muddy word as that is) powers, that’s indirect support. Suddenly claims that certain feats (miracles, for example) aren’t possible because they’d require supernatural abilities and such are wiped off the table as valid objections. It’d be akin to demonstrating the existence of an angel or a demon – it doesn’t get one to God, but it does lend support.

    Now, I did ask you a question in turn: Do you know a lot more than Carl Sagan did?

  28. I must say that I’m as perplexed as everyone else concerning John’s reasoning.

    First, he said I only defended a scientific God. Well, if John only listened to my first three points, that claim would seem true. Actually, I argued for a timeless, immaterial, transcendent, intelligent, powerful Creator who is the ground and source of all logic and the ground and source of all moral values. If that’s not God, I don’t know what is.

    Now here John would say, “But that doesn’t prove all of the Christian’s beliefs about God.” Well, that wasn’t the topic. The topic wasn’t, “Can David, in a 20-minute opening statement, prove every Biblical statement about the Christian God.” If I wanted to prove that Christianity is true, then, after proving that God exists, I would argue for the resurrection of Jesus. Notice, however, that the question of Jesus’ resurrection is logically separate from the simple question, “Does God exist?”

    Consider an alternative scenario I presented in the debate. Suppose the topic of a debate is “Is there an afterlife?” I would proceed to offer evidence drawn from Near-Death experiences, and perhaps evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. In other words, I would answer the question. Here it seems John would reply, “But David didn’t prove the existence of the New Jerusalem, or how high the walls are, or that there’s a street of gold, or that there are giant pearls! Therefore, he hasn’t proven his particular view of the afterlife. So I win!” Apparently, John wouldn’t feel at all obligated to answer the question “Is there an afterlife?”

    This approach sounds quite desperate to me. John has declared to everyone that he is under no obligation to actually address the topics he agrees to, and that in any debate, no matter how specific or general the topic, he’s going to simply attack Christianity to try and establish doubt among Christians.

    It’s strange that John said in the debate that he wants Christianity to be true. It sounds like he’s so filled with hate for Christianity that he can speak of nothing else.

  29. As a further example, suppose John agrees to debate me on the topic: “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” I proceed to argue, in my opening statement, that Jesus died, and that He was alive again later. I conclude: Jesus rose from the dead.

    John stands up and says, “Well, even if it’s true that Jesus rose from the dead, David hasn’t proven that Jesus was resurrected, i.e. that He was raised to a glorified state. Further, David hasn’t proven that belief in Jesus’ resurrection is necessary for salvation. And he didn’t even show that Jesus died on the cross for sins! These are all Christian beliefs, and yet David hasn’t proven that they’re all true!”

    Right. All I would have proven is that Jesus rose from the dead, which would be the topic under discussion.

    Again, John has openly declared that he is under no obligation to address the topics he agrees to debate. He is free, he claims, to talk about anything he wants to talk about, provided it’s an attack on Christianity. Shocking. Absolutely shocking.

  30. One final example.

    Suppose John walks up to David Beckham and says, “I challenge you to a race!”

    Beckham replies: “I accept your challenge. Let’s race and see who’s fastest.” He then walks to the starting line of the racetrack.

    John, however, leaves the racetrack and heads to the soccer field, where he stands in front of the soccer goal and starts kicking balls into the net.

    Puzzled, Beckham finds John and says: “I thought you wanted to race. What happened to the race?”

    John replies: “Well, the only reason you run is to score soccer goals. Hence, my challenge was really about scoring soccer goals. And since I just kicked ten goals while you were on the racetrack, I declare myself the winner.”

    See the connection? John agrees to debate the existence of God. But in the debate, he says that I’m only interested in proving that God exists because I want people to believe in Christianity. Therefore, our debate is really about Christianity, and since I didn’t prove that Christianity is true, he wins.

    Does John’s reasoning make sense at all? I’m starting to think that John’s debates may help more than we know. As Christians, we typically believe that people like John are in rebellion against God. But atheists maintain that they are soberly examining the evidence and rejecting it. But when people like John are so filled with anger against Christianity that they throw reason out the window and can’t even focus on a topic, it seems to favor our view.

  31. Joseph A.,

    At first, you explained hardly anything. Someone named Charlie did most of your elaboration for you. While I understand what you mean here about how proof of something supernatural could suggest the existence of other supernatural things, I still don’t know how it’s possible for the existence another deity to “directly support” the existence of a deity claimed to be “the one true God.” I am also skeptical that if Thor was anything more than just a dude who owned a hammer, there wouldn’t be some aspect of him that contradicts with some necessary aspect of your god. Unless you’d be satisfied by a proof that the Christian God exists but that the Christian account of creation, morality, death, and the afterlife are all wrong. As the Christian God is kind of a big deal on those topics, I’m not sure in what sense it can be said that the Christian God still exists.

    At any rate, fine, it’s conceivable that there is some supernatural thing that exists that the Bible just forgot to mention. You could find that thing was true, and it wouldn’t contradict the Bible. (Other deities, though, I’d think would be a big enough deal to include. Maybe that was just a bad editing decision. 😉 )

    I’m not going to derail this discussion by answering your obviously antagonistic question about Carl Sagan here. If you really just want to harrass me about my choice of blog title, you can find my email on my site and you are welcome to contact me that way.

  32. Do you religious guys have a return policy for apostates like Loftus? I want our credibility back. This guy’s a lemon nickle and diming away our claim to reason.

  33. David, just what God would you be happy in defending? Answer us that question. Describe him or her to me. Are you happy with Tillich’s “Ultimate Concern” as a God? THAT my friend is your problem.

    All I did was to argue on behalf of what is known as “Hume’s Stopper.” It comes from David Hume. You know, the greatest English speaking philosopher that ever lived. So if what I’m arguing for is, well, bizarre, then you might try explaining why Hume is considered such a great philosopher and yet made such a stupid argument.

  34. John,

    What you call Hume’s stopper has nothing to do with Hume, and you might want to try reading Hume before you appeal to him for support. Hume would roll over in his grave if he heard your arguments, claims, and beliefs.

    As for what I would be willing to defend, I’d be happy having a debate on all kinds of topics. I’d be happy debating Does a Creator exist? Why? Because I believe in a creator, and I would be happy defending this belief, even without going into details about the creator. But don’t I believe other things about this creator? Of course. But I’m still happy to address a specific question, one that will refute atheism. I’d also be willing to debate topics like Does life require an Intelligent Designer? But don’t I believe that this designer has specific attributes? Yes, but why wouldn’t I want to answer this question, which would refute Naturalism, and leave other questions aside for other debates? I’d be happy to debate topics like Is Mind-Body Dualism True? Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Is God a Trinity? Is Christianity True? Is Atheism False? Is Jesus God? etc. But in every case, I would answer the question I agreed to answer, rather than try to satisfy some absurd demand that in any debate, I must prove that ALL of my beliefs are true, all at once.

    John, you accuse Theists of being inconsistent. Yet you’re one of the most inconsistent people I’ve ever met. You would NEVER demand such a burden of proof of anyone except Christians. As I showed in the debate, you would never apply the Well, it’s possible that there’s a deceptive God tricking us about all of this reasoning against anyone but Christians. Again, using this sort of objection, I can’t even know that YOU exist. Do you still not see this? It’s possible that a powerful alien is tricking me into believing that you exist. This isn’t a supernatural explanation. Aliens would be part of the natural world. Since an alien could be tricking me, I shouldn’t believe that you exist (following your reasoning). You would never be this skeptical. But when we turn to God, you say, Well, an evil God could be tricking us about all of this; therefore we shouldn’t believe in God.

    Notice that, following your reasoning, there is absolutely nothing God could do to convince you. If God appeared to you, you could always say, Well, maybe an evil God is tricking me.

    Don’t you find it odd that you’ve designed your epistemology so that nothing would ever qualify as evidence of God’s existence? Can you really claim that you’re being reasonable?
    Your hatred of Christianity is obvious, John. Don’t try to deny it.

  35. Anonymous said: “Do you religious guys have a return policy for apostates like Loftus? I want our credibility back. This guy’s a lemon nickle and diming away our claim to reason.”

    Feel free to set up another debate with someone you think will address the question more effectively.

  36. If “Hume’s Stopper” is at issue, I suggest reading James F. Sennett’s response (pdf). While you go do that (and before I study it myself) I’m going to jump in with some thoughts more ready at hand.

    First, on the Thor debate, which is a side issue. It has been said that evidence in favor of Thor, if it existed, could be consistent with evidence for the Christian God. This has come into dispute. It can be resolved if one stipulates that this hypothetical Thor was indeed supernatural, in which case the existence of the supernatural is supported and atheism is undercut; and that this Thor was a false spirit operating in the supernatural realm, which is consistent with biblical Christianity. I hope that’s sufficient so that we can lay that question aside.

    Now to John and David’s debate. To paraphrase David, John, you are resorting to hyper-skepticism, which David undercut with his first words in his opening statement. The very fact that you were debating is evidence in favor of his position. You must respond to that, and you haven’t.

    Second, you have asked, “can you tell me why any of these other deities are less probable than yours without using the Bible?” Surely you know in advance where you intend to go with that. There was no rule in the debate that said using the Bible was disallowed; but David chose not to go that route. He began with knowledge and beliefs you and he shared. If he had begun with the Bible, then you would have called on him to establish the Bible’s truthfulness, and that would have been a different debate. To take David’s analogies in comment 38 another step, it would be like the two of you showing up to race a mile, and when you get there, saying to David, “in order to race this mile, you have to pole vault to the starting line. Where’s your pole?” David might very well be a great pole vaulter, (and I’m sure he knows how to defend the veracity of Scripture), but that’s not what he came to do. Changing the rules after you arrive at the event doesn’t make you a winner.

    Third, I call on you to take note of what David showed about the nature of God in his arguments. You’ve ignored it all: “timeless, immaterial, transcendent, intelligent, powerful, Creator who is the ground and source of all logic and the ground and source of all moral values.” If you think that’s consistent with your various god-versions, the burden of proof is on you to show how.

    Fourth, the various whimsical and arbitrary gods you’ve posited are inconsistent with the world as we know it. It’s getting late tonight so I won’t spell it out here, but instead refer you to something else I wrote on this. The point and purpose of that article are not fitted exactly to this debate, but I think you’ll be able to tease out the connection that does fit if you try. In short: the theistic God makes perfect sense in light of the kind of reality we live in, where science works, but I doubt an arbitrary god or a suicide god could be made to make sense in this world except in very ad hoc ways.

  37. Tom wrote: It can be resolved if one stipulates that this hypothetical Thor was indeed supernatural, in which case the existence of the supernatural is supported and atheism is undercut; and that this Thor was a false spirit operating in the supernatural realm, which is consistent with biblical Christianity. I hope that’s sufficient so that we can lay that question aside.

    Tom,

    Either you’ve had a very limited exposure to the wide range of supernatural claims made by various cultures thought history, or you’ve chosen to present a very narrow definition to support your position.

    For example, some Buddhists believe that people continue to be reincarnated until they reach enlightenment. Yet this supernatural claim need not include a deity or theistic God. Some other cultures believe that objects or even animals have special abilities – some of which include the act of creating life, etc. And, in some cases, people exhibit special abilities that represent a synthesis of the powers of nature or with anthropomorphized emotions such as love or hate.

    As such, even if this hypothetical Thor was “supernatural”, this need not lend credence to theism or even deism. Nor need it imply “divinity” or the kind of “transcendence” that is implied in classical theism.

    The problem with the “supernatural” is that it’s an explanation-less theory. As such, there simply isn’t any good reason to assume or exclude any particular boundaries or necessary elements. As soon as you open the door to the “possible”, a theistic explanation of Thor’s ability is no better explanation than a synthesis of a human being and an the natural force of lighting, etc.

    Yet you’ve presented a rather narrow version of the supernatural as if it could be the only possible explanation.

  38. NFQ,

    I find that hard to believe, since Charlie went in a valid but different direction than myself. Whatever the case, if you really are taking the tact that amounts to “if a supernatural being named Thor with supernatural powers exists, the Christian God can’t exist”, feel free. It seems you no longer are, but want to knock the Bible for not mentioning such beings specifically by name if they did/do exist. Again, feel free.

    As for Sagan, I’ll simply leave it at this: You violate his spirit. And it should be a standing lesson to you that, for all the hostility he had towards religions, he expressly would not take the step to atheism. But then, perhaps you know a lot more than Sagan does.

    Scott,

    I think Tom’s point (which I’d agree with) is that for many atheists, the utter non-existence of the supernatural is a key claim. Thor’s existence would undercut that, and not necessarily undercut the existence of the Christian God.

    David Wood,

    I was going to write on the hyper-skepticism implied by John, but I see you’ve beaten me to it. I’ll add that even something being ‘natural’ doesn’t help. Why should I trust nature? Sure, maybe I can perform experiments… but how do I know repeat experiments are really consistent? Maybe this is all part of a trick! Maybe it’s not even aliens – maybe nature itself operates as a ruse! Maybe nature naturally fools and deceives people – solipsism could be right!

  39. Scott, I was answering a specific question, not the ones you thought I should have been answering. The question was the relation between the hypothetical existence of “Thor” and Christian theism.

    Maybe you missed this: I did not say this hypothetical “Thor” would prove theism, but that it would support theism and undercut atheism. “Support” in this context means, “provide evidential reason in favor of.” It does not mean “provide proof of,” or “provide evidential reason exclusively in favor of.” The existence of “Thor” would provide support for any worldview that believes either in any of a number of religious systems, including especially polytheism, paganism, and pantheism (I doubt it would support Buddhism), in addition to Christianity with the stipulations I stated above.

    Anyway, this is a side issue that is distracting from the main conversation, and I’m asking us to stop it now. I will enforce that with the comment editing tools at my disposal.

  40. David Wood said: “What you call Hume’s stopper has nothing to do with Hume, and you might want to try reading Hume before you appeal to him for support. Hume would roll over in his grave if he heard your arguments, claims, and beliefs.”

    Well, it’s one thing to say what you did and another to show it. And I have no regard for anonymous comments such as the one you replied to.

    In any case, I didn’t expect you’d like my arguments but then I don’t suppose you would like anything else I could’ve said either.

    You will probably be one of the foremost Christian debaters before too long. It was a pleasure. I look forward to doing it again sometime in the future.

    Cheers.

  41. What, saying goodbye without responding to the strong challenge you’ve been handed on your hyper-skepticism? And without assessing the response I gave, which you said nobody could ever give, to your suggestion of multiple versions of God?

    I’m crushed.

    Or, perhaps you’re acknowledging your argument has been crushed instead.

  42. “Cheers” is often a closing salutation. You sent a signal that often means “goodbye,” and I asked you about it. I don’t think that was a reading comprehension problem.

    But as I was driving my daughter to school and coming home again, I was thinking, “That last line I wrote on the crushed argument was really reaching too hard to try to make a pun.” I was wishing I hadn’t written it. You can pile all over that if you want—it was lame.

  43. Tom wrote: “In short: the theistic God makes perfect sense in light of the kind of reality we live in, where science works, but I doubt an arbitrary god or a suicide god could be made to make sense in this world except in very ad hoc ways.”

    I see no piece of evidence showing that a trickster or scientific or tinkerer god is any better explanation for all of the David’s arguments, if I grant them. To see this argued with respect to a trickster or evil god read this. Now you might not like this argument, but it’s one of a number of alternative suggestions based in Hume.

    Since there is no way to tell which of these gods exist then there is no way to tell which of these gods exist (a redundancy I know). We should all be agnostics. And I maintain agnosticism leads to atheism.

    Q.E.D.

  44. *Ahem*

    Neither “Q.E.D.” nor the word “Cheers” should be construed as meaning these are my last comments here. I reserve the right to amend and supplement what I’ve written should I deem it worthwhile and productive in the interests of our common intellectual quest to understand our place in the universe. 😉

  45. The charge of hyper-skepticism has been directed at you and it has been argued for. The argument is not answered simply by saying, “that’s not me.” You’re seem to be trying very hard to sell your books here, John, but you’re not selling your points.

  46. Tom, let me tell you something about my books. They argue my case in a much more thorough way then I could ever possibly argue here than with these long sound bite comments. I have already made my case. If you want to read further I told you where to do so. If you want to be an apologist you should read them and answer them. If not, then not. Surely you’re not an anti-intellectual who doesn’t want to know where to research further on a topic, and surely you don’t want me to post chapter after chapter here do you? Or do you? If you won’t go to the library to read it then why would you read what I write if I post it here? And for your information I would gladly reimburse you the 50 cents I make in royalties if you buy WIBA, but then I’d also have to subtract the cost of a stamp and a shipping and handling charge for my time to do so, which, well, wouldn’t be worth it. But I will tell you that the last link in comment 55 of mine is something I used as a basis for something in my book, TCD. So there it is, for free. Enjoy.

  47. David Wood wrote: “As I showed in the debate, you would never apply the Well, it’s possible that there’s a deceptive God tricking us about all of this reasoning against anyone but Christians. Again, using this sort of objection, I can’t even know that YOU exist. Do you still not see this? It’s possible that a powerful alien is tricking me into believing that you exist. This isn’t a supernatural explanation. Aliens would be part of the natural world. Since an alien could be tricking me, I shouldn’t believe that you exist (following your reasoning). You would never be this skeptical. But when we turn to God, you say, Well, an evil God could be tricking us about all of this; therefore we shouldn’t believe in God.”

    As I showed in the last link in comment 55, I have reasons against an alien scenario that would be similar to the other conjectures there. How are they doing it? What evidence is there that they exist? And so forth.

    So your analogy fails. And once again, since you have missed it, my point is that until you can show why your God-hypothesis is a better explanation for what we see in the universe than other God-hypotheses you haven’t made your case. To show this you must use the depictions and evidence you claim can be found in the Bible which forms the basis for your particular God-hypothesis out of the many other ones.

    To use your analogy in a proper way it would be something like thousands of people all claiming that a different group of aliens from different parts of the universe are the ones who are doing whatever you might suppose they are doing (even deceiving us). How are we to decide between them? I would argue that with so many different conceptions of these aliens that a better explanation is that alien ideas are man generated and dispense with them all as probably false.

    My point would be that until there is a way to settle these alien disputes we should be agnostic about such beings.

  48. John wrote:

    My point would be that until there is a way to settle these alien disputes we should be agnostic about such beings.

    Think about this epistemological method. Don’t you see that you destroy knowledge by applying this uniformly? This seems like nothing more to me than special pleading against the God-concept. Applying this methodology, you would have to concede:

    “Look, one set of people is claiming that the germ theory of disease is correct, the other is claiming the gremlin theory is correct. How do we decide between the germ theory of disease versus the gremlin theory of disease? We can’t, so we should be agnostic about both of these options.”

    “Look, one set of people is claiming that the earth is flat, the other is claiming it’s not. How do we decide between these opinions? We can’t, so we should be agnostic about both of these options.”

    And on, and on…

    Now, you’ll probably come back and say, “Well no, we explore the evidence and make reasonable inferences that the germ theory is correct regarding disease, and that the earth is not flat. So, I’m not the skeptic you claim I am.”

    At which point myself and many other theists will say, “But John, that is precisely what the nature of your debate was about with David. One side did indeed explore the evidence, while the other side conceded the evidence while simultaneously claiming victory on a different debate topic.” So you are either a philosophical skeptic, or you are practicing special pleading for a certain epistemological method to be employed against the God-concept.

    Thanks for the exchange, I’ll let it rest now.

  49. Tom, I’m ready to let it rest too.

    Your analogies of germs vs gremlins and flat earth versus spherical earth fail for the same reasons Wood’s alien theory fails.

    The proper analogies for you are gremlins versus flying spaghetti monsters verses Russell’s flying teapot versus Thor versus Odin versus Zeus versus, well, any other ad hoc non-evidenced hypotheses. Again, that’s what you’re offering, an ad hoc non-evidenced hypothesis.

    The problem is in the very nature of those type of non-evidenced god of the gaps theories. All of them, and I mean every single one of them have no positive evidence for them at all. They are all epistemological gap type arguments which go like this: “We cannot explain something so, well, gremlins did it, or insert the explanation of choice.”

    But with regard to germ theory and a spherical earth we do have positive evidence for them.

    Cheers.

  50. The ONLY positive evidence you have for your God hypothesis over any other is to be found in the Bible. Archaeology disconfirms much of the Bible so all you have is the historical trustworthiness of the texts themselves that point to your particular explanation. And I argued against that evidence in my debate. History is considered poor evidence as I argued in chapter 8 of WIBA, so when it comes to the historical claims in the Bible over logical improbabilities I will go with logical improbabilities every single time.

    Cheers.

  51. Swinburne would disagree. Not only does he think reason provides evidence for some kind of vague god-force, but he argues (like Antony Flew) that the evidence argues for and omniscient, omnipotent, personal God. He also argues that philosophical consideration and logic make the case for God as a Tri-unity, for the Incarnation and for the Resurrection.
    These, he says, are evidenced by good thinking and not only from the Bible.

  52. The objective of reasoned discourse is to arrive at the best possible inference. This is the best we can do in this kind of discussion as proof of either the existence or non-existence of god is not reasonable. Where I believe Mr. Loftus errs is in a place where he himself admits the questionable nature of his arguments.

    In proposing “other” gods he admits that they are not probable. In this he is essentially reasoning to the worst inference (i.e., anything other than the best inference). It seems to be endemic in atheist circles to believe that any answer that offers any alternative to theism has validity no matter its questionable rationality. Mr. Loftus seems to believe that if he can add up enough of these arguments they will, in total, achieve some significance. However, an argument that reasons to the “worst” inference has no value. Zero plus zero plus zero plus zero still equals zero.

    It has been mentioned here more than once that the problem with atheism is really twofold. First, there is the problem of not being able to recognize the objective reality of the universe. However, the problem only starts here. From this flows the continuing issue of not being able to reason properly, recognize one’s own irrationality or see the truth in responses offered.

    Trying to reason with Mr. Loftus will ultimately be frustrating because he really cannot see the validity of the arguments presented to him or the fallacies in his own. On the bright side, I find nothing so encouraging to my own faith than reading the ramblings of someone like Mr. Loftus. His obvious irrationality and his resorting to hand waving instead of reasoned discourse remind me so of Luke Muehlhauser and his sad attempts at reasoned argumentation.

  53. I’m going to remind you of some things here, John, that I’m sure you must already know. You told us your goal in debating is to change minds. I would hope it would also be your goal to present a solid and convincing case for your position with respect to the debate topic. If not, I suggest it should be; otherwise you’ll have real trouble with your goal of changing minds.

    I don’t need to repeat what’s already been said about your debate with David: you didn’t make a case with respect to the debate topic; you changed the subject instead. You’ve acknowledged that here yourself. You didn’t come to debate whether God exists, but whether the Christian God exists, which is a different question. David and I have both told written here about the illegitimacy of changing the rules of competition after the game has begun.

    Here on this thread we have not had a formal debate topic, the game is more open to whatever might happen, so we’ve followed you down your path of examining the probability of other kinds of gods. Your path has included an appeal to authority (comment 41) and appeal to yourself as authority (comments 49, 55, and 59

    In comment 54 you did at least refer us to an actual argument, a restatement of the Euthyphro dilemma but in an even weaker form than that (in my strong opinion) failed argument; with a touch of the argument from evil thrown in there, though that too is in a weak form. You say,

    But to say God always does that which is good means nothing except that God does what he does. We simply use the English word “good” to describe all of his actions, and that’s it. The word “good” is just a word applied to God. No matter what this God does we are supposed to use the word “good” to describe his actions, whether it’s commanding a genocide sending a tsunami or an earthquake a fire or a hurricane.

    That’s not quite accurate. The evils you refer to are not something we are to call good; they are (as was argued there) privations of good. We do believe God can redeem them and use them for long-term good purposes, but that does not make them good in themselves.

    Then you spin Euthyphro on his heels and say,

    By these standards goodness becomes a privation of evil, you see, and so the problem is why there is goodness in the world.

    Your challenge there is to show how goodness can be a privation of evil. It’s your assertion, it’s your burden of proof.

    And as far as I can see, that’s the best you’ve offered us, and it wasn’t even on this thread.

    The best on this thread was in comment 60:

    my point is that until you can show why your God-hypothesis is a better explanation for what we see in the universe than other God-hypotheses you haven’t made your case.

    But David has argued for a “timeless, immaterial, transcendent, intelligent, powerful Creator who is the ground and source of all logic and the ground and source of all moral values.” Your response amounts to, “yeah, but maybe this timeless, immaterial, transcendent, intelligent, powerful Creator who is the ground and source of all logic and the ground and source of all moral values is an irrational, crazy, or dead god.” You haven’t made a case for that being probable, you’ve shifted the burden instead. You have to make a case for it.

    You’ve pronounced without support that archaeology disconfirms the Bible. I could pronounce that it confirms the Bible. What good would that bare assertion do? What good did yours do?

    Here’s the sum of what I’m driving at: you’re throwing around a lot of assertions, some of which are bare and unsupported, some of which are supported only by appeal to authority, some of which are appeals to yourself as authority. You’ve presented exactly one half-developed argument on this thread, which turns out not to address the argument it’s aimed at.

    It’s a lot like the debate in Chesapeake: lots of opinion, lots of assertion, precious little argument. If your goal really is to change minds, I’m not seeing you making much progress here, not even towards the kind of thing that might change some people’s minds.

    BTW, I have your WIBA that I got from you in Chesapeake, and I do intend to read it. Haven’t had time yet.

  54. Tom,

    Ok, substitute some other supernatural claim, such as the Buddha having actually being born of a lotus flower or the position of the planets actually causing a Sagittarius to become more wealthy, etc.

    Again If there exists some “supernatural” realm where “all bets are off” regarding natural rules, then why should we expect or accept any particular set of rules that are “on” at all, let alone your rules?

  55. Why did I debate? You haven’t figured it out? My goal is to change minds

    Hi John,

    If you purpose is simply to change minds, instead of addressing the actual arguments, you behaviour is not different than the one of a propagandist.

    If you accept a debate, you have to accept the possibility that your opinion be false, and your opponent is right. Otherwise a rational debate has not point at all (except to do propaganda)

    I’m at heart an agnostic, you see. And agnosticism leads us to atheism, but that’s a definitional discussion.

    I see some problems with it:

    1-If you’re a naturalist, and naturalism implies that there are NOT supernatural beings, then your naturalism seems to imply atheism, not agnosticism.

    If naturalism is true, then theism is false; so being agnostic makes no sense if previously you accept naturalism (which implies the falsehood of theism).

    2-If agnosticism leads to atheism, and not to theism, then it’s irrational to remain being an agnostic instead of an atheist.

    Therefore, you should be an atheist, not an agnostic.

    3-The existence of God is not a matter of probability, because God (as conceived by most theists) is a necessary being, not a contingent one.

    If you accept that God could exist, then (if He’s necessary), He exists.

    This is why I think a consistent atheist would defend the impossibility of God, not his improbability.

    The bottom line is that Christians like David and others here claim to know what we’re talking about when we use the word “God.” Why should that be the case? Why this God rather than that God? is my question

    But if you don’t know what mean the word God, then how are you capable of arguing about it? I cannot understand an argument for or against X if previously I don’t have any idea at all of what X means.

    If all you wish to affirm are those kinds of gods then fine, David won. But as I said, big deal, so what? He can get no more traction from those concessions than that. Such concessions do not concede the particular God he was defendin

    But you’re not realizing that your concession falsifies your worldview. If your concession implies that David won regarding “those kind of gods”, then naturalism is false (even if the specific Christian God defended by David wasn’t proved or made probable)

    You seem to be so interested in refuting Christianity, that you make concessions that refutes naturalism too, (provide they also count against Christianity)

  56. Tom wrote: Which “rules” of mine are you referring to? I don’t get the context of your question.

    Tom,

    Take the theory of Evolution. Not only does it provide an explanation as to why new species do appear based on what we observe, but it also explains why new species do not appear out of thin air every week or so. We can say the same about theories that indicate people who die actually remain dead. These theories not only indicate it’s unlikely that Jesus was bodily resurrected but also explains why we do not observe everyone climbing out of their graves after being dead for three days.

    However, you’re suggesting the existence of a realm where the natural laws behind these theories do not exist. So, what’s to prevent absolute chaos in this realm? And why doesn’t this chaos come crashing into the natural realm given it’s supposed “proximity” with nature?

    There must be some kind of “rules” to prevent such a scenario from occurring in this realm, just as there are natural laws which prevent them from happing in nature. Given your theology, there must be some “rule” that allows the possibility of the virgin birth of Jesus, but excludes the possibility that the Buddha was born of lotus flower. Or any number of virgin birth scenarios that you conclude are false.

    While I don’t want to put words in your mouth, you might conclude this because of a “rule” that supernatural powers are limited to conscious beings, rather than natural objects. Of course this is just one of many assumptions one must make to exclude other claims, such as any human being who died of a natural illness could not have been both God and Man, etc.

    However, as I mention in my yet to be approved comment, the rules that exist regarding any supernatural system are not backed up by a chain of hard to vary explanations. It’s essentially an explanation-less theory, that makes up it’s own rules as it goes along.

  57. So, what’s to prevent absolute chaos in this realm?…

    The rules that exist regarding any supernatural system are not backed up by a chain of hard to vary explanations. It’s essentially an explanation-less theory, that makes up it’s own rules as it goes along.

    I’ve already linked to my answer once in this thread. Here’s that link again. The answer goes straight to the historic core of Christianity, it’s not ad hoc in the least.

    I’m heading into a meeting so I don’t have time to respond in more detail right now.

  58. Scott,
    You wrote:

    Take the theory of Evolution. Not only does it provide an explanation as to why new species do appear based on what we observe, but it also explains why new species do not appear out of thin air every week or so.

    Evolution is an inference, therefore a possible explanation, of the fact that species appear over time, with slight differences, etc. It is in no way an explanation for the fact that we don’t observe species popping into and out of existence. The latter observation would simply be inconsistent with evolution being true. Accepting one option of a disjunct doesn’t entail it being an explanation for the other option. Theories are explanations of data, not the other way around.

    However, you’re suggesting the existence of a realm where the natural laws behind these theories do not exist. So, what’s to prevent absolute chaos in this realm?

    The consistent character of immaterial beings is one option, held probably by many Christians for instance.

    And why doesn’t this chaos come crashing into the natural realm given it’s supposed “proximity” with nature?

    But that is what a miracle is, right? A miracle is an event that violates the laws governing the natural world. But of course, affirming the possibility of miracles isn’t inconsistent with affirming that there are laws governing the natural world. The defender of miracles would just say that these natural laws aren’t inviolate.

    There must be some kind of “rules” to prevent such a scenario from occurring in this realm, just as there are natural laws which prevent them from happing in nature. Given your theology, there must be some “rule” that allows the possibility of the virgin birth of Jesus, but excludes the possibility that the Buddha was born of lotus flower. Or any number of virgin birth scenarios that you conclude are false.

    I can’t understand this, would you mind formalizing this argument? Why can’t a Christian claim that Jesus was born a virgin but Buddha was not born of a lotus flower? How does one entail the other such that rejecting one requires us to reject the other? Buddha could have been born of a lotus flower, but probably Christians believe he was not.

    However, as I mention in my yet to be approved comment, the rules that exist regarding any supernatural system are not backed up by a chain of hard to vary explanations. It’s essentially an explanation-less theory, that makes up it’s own rules as it goes along.

    So if Christ did rise from the dead, God raising Him would not be a good explanation? Is that what you’re saying? What about if objective moral truths govern our every-day decisions (if you grant the assumption that we are immaterial beings), would they not be good explanations for the activity of people? Again, we’re only talking about explanations here, which is a separate issue of what type of things actually do exist.

  59. Tom,

    There are two key points to my argument.

    First, regardless if we’re discussing the natural world or a “supernatural realm” everything is essentially unseen. This not only includes God, but the very Bible you place your faith in. We can read books because the ink on a page causes variations in the amount and wavelength of reflected light that strikes our retinas. Rods and cones create a constant stream of electrical impulses which are processed by columns of neurons in the visual cortex of the brain.

    In the case of the natural world, not only do we have an intuitive sense that we’re actually detecting ink on a page, we’ve also have an overwhelming number of chances to disprove our ability with each book we read and a number of hard to vary explanations, including theories of optics, photons, neurobiology, etc., which explains how this detection actually works.

    Since our eyes employ lenses to focus images, and our knowledge of optics indicates lenses in this particular configuration project an upside down image, we know that our brain actually vertically flips the image detected by our retina. It is in this way we know about the unseen.

    Second, to quote the article…

    He is right to a certain extent—science depends on nature generally behaving itself. But he is wrong to think this is incompatible with Christianity. It is, in fact, essential to the Christian faith, for several reasons.

    It’s not that the “theory” of Christianity is incompatible with what we observe. The problem is that any theory can make any predict what we observe. What reason do we have to accept one theory over all of it’s rivals?

    For example, the prediction that nature would be uniform, with only rare exceptions here and there, could not only be made by a theory that God that wants a relationship with us, but a theory of a tinker God who’s experimenting on us, among others. After all, the best experiments are those that run in uniform environments with very specific control variables.

    The uniformity of nature is the key feature which allows us to create chains of hard to vary explanations. And these explanations are the criteria we use to discard competing theories, resulting in the increase of knowledge of the unseen.

    But this very feature is missing from the “supernatural” by very definition. As a negative, it provides no ground rules from which to start. You’re free to completely redefine the supernatural in a way which only need be constrained to the laws of logic. But even then, theists often throw logic out then window as Christianity claims that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God.

    The result is an explanation which can easily varied to make the same prediction yet depict a radically different picture of the supernatural realm, include the number and nature of these Gods. It’s this easy variability that makes the supernatural a bad explanation in general, rather than some natural law we had yet to discover.

    Please see the following TED talk: A new way to explain explanation by David Deutsch.

  60. While researching various views on “conscience,” I read “Jung on Evil” (Princeton University Press 1995). He offers an unimpassioned view of evil which is totally dependent on humans.

    The editor, Murray Stein, summarizes Carl Jung: When humans adopt a more disinterested viewpoint, they transcend the categories of good and evil to an extent and view human life, human behavior and human motivation from a vertex that sees it all as “just so.” Human beings love each other and we hate each other. We sacrifice for each other and destroy each other. We are noble and base. And all of this belongs to human nature. The judgments we make about good and evil are bound to be biased by our own interests and tilted if favor of our pet tendencies and traits.

    In my e-book at http://www.suprarational.org I wrote a short paragraph: Evil and deliverance. Many orthodox religions personify evil as Satan, the Devil, Iblis, Mara, or other demonic forces. Most mystics hold us responsible for our own evils, not an external source. Some say that evil exists only in rejection or lack of awareness of good, or to balance good in the apparent dualities of this life…not in unitive eternal life. Mystics have to eliminate personal wrongs to realize divine oneness. Deliverance comes by overcoming the selfishness of our egos, ignorance of our minds and stubbornness of our senses.

  61. Ron,

    1. Are you really recommending we take an unimpassioned, disinterested view of evil?

    2. You’ve linked to your e-book half a dozen times here. Are we to take it that you are quoting yourself as an authority?

    3. Do you have any basis in any authority at all for your conclusion regarding deliverance? That is, other than it’s your opinion, why should we take it as true?

    4. “Some say that…” and “Most mystics…” do not qualify as evidence or authority.

    5. Most importantly, if we are responsible for our own evils, how can we lift ourselves out of that condition? Shall the bucket of dirty water clean itself with its own contents? Can “mystics … eliminate personal wrongs”? There’s an answer in Jesus Christ: we don’t lift ourselves out, he does it for us.

  62. Tom,

    1. Yes, we should be impartial to evil, unless there is something we can do to rectify it. There is no sense in worrying about what you cannot control.

    2. No, I am not the authority just an interpreter of what I have read in 180 books on mysticism and of what 19 mystics in 12 countries told me personally.

    3. …overcoming the selfishness of our egos, ignorance of our minds and stubbornness of our senses is the best that we can do by ourselves.

    4. My book is not a scholarly treatise. “Some say that…” and “Most mystics…” are from the 120 quotations of mystics, but there were other sources as well.

    5. As to the “bucket of dirty water” we must clean up our own act. Why should Jesus want to save those who continue to add dirt to their lives?

    I was raised a Congregationalist, went to Sunday school, sang in the church choir, read the Bible, and understand the Protestant principle that Christ died for our sins. That does not make sense to me; a mystical approach does.

  63. Ron,

    1. Partiality and worry are not the same category of responses, but you’re treating them here as if they are. You’re implying that we should only think or feel negatively toward evil that we can personally affect. Is that what you mean to say?

    2. Thank you for recognizing you are not the authority. I’ve read (well over) 180 books too, but when I make a point here, I try to make the point in such a way that readers might assess whether the point has value apart from my having read some books.

    3. Overcoming our own selfishness is not possible. It’s like trying to pull yourself out of the swamp by lifting up on your own hair. We need someone else to help.

    4. See number 2. Your having lots of sources does not make your arguments here persuasive. We need to know the arguments, not just that you’ve read a lot.

    5. Why would Jesus want to save those who continue to add dirt to their lives? Because he knows we are but flesh, and because he loves us. See Luke 19:1-10; Romans 3:21-26; Romans 5:6-8.

    Your “mystical approach” may make sense to you, but what is it that you are approaching? Is it true?

  64. Tom,

    You prefer comments to be reasoned logically, while you accept Protestant doctrine on faith. That seems to be a contradiction.

    Mystical knowledge is suprarational, i.e. direct cognition beyond logic and reason. Mystical awareness is based on direct experience, not on personal beliefs or faith.

  65. Ron, could you be more specific, please?

    1. What contradiction is there between rationally assessed knowledge and biblical faith? (I don’t see any, myself.)
    2. What does it mean for knowledge to be “beyond” logic and reason? For example:
    a. Does it mean that mystical knowledge need not meet standards of logic and reason?
    b. Could it be internally contradictory and still be true knowledge?

    Please don’t feel constrained by my examples (a) and (b) in your answer—yet it would be helpful if you would include your responses to them, along with whatever else you may have to say.

  66. Also, I’m having trouble figuring out what this could possibly mean:

    Mystical awareness is based on direct experience, not on personal beliefs or faith.

    Here are my questions, at least the ones that come immediately to mind.

    A. How can one experience mystical awareness apart from “personal beliefs” regarding:
    (i) mystical experience (what it is, why it’s valid, etc.) and
    (ii) how one might acquire such experience and awareness?

    B. Do you not have “personal beliefs” regarding what it is that you are becoming aware of through your direct experience?

    C. You seem to be implying that what this puts you in touch with is somehow superior to, more true than, more spiritual (or something) than the God Christians know and worship, through Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Bible. What is your basis for comparison?

  67. “Rubric” answer to all the questions you pose, Tom: Syncretic wishful thinking and childish truth-avoidance. Harry G. Frankfurt has the perfect, quite concise term for it.

    Think about it: who in their right mind would try to answer WHAT mysticism is by canvassing all opinions and then either cherry-picking that which supports an agenda or mish-mashing together a “group hug” porridge notion of mysticism? It’s one of the most insidious ways of exposing a deep fear and loathing of truth.

    It reflects the “without form, and void; and darkness” of Genesis and the “neither hot nor cold” of Revelations.

  68. HolyPoly,

    I looked at your own blog. It says: Aquinas-Inspired Adult Supervision and Attitude Adjustment for the Metaphysically Challenged… and musings on life in Ukraine from a Catholic perspective.

    A quote from St. Thomas, who was a mystic late in his life:
    “All that I have written seems to me like straw compared with what has now been revealed to me.” Thomas Aquinas
    (Note: After experiencing union, he abandoned writing Summa Theologiae)

    Pope Benedict is more open to other opinions than you are. до свидания

  69. PBXVI is most manifestly NOT open to “opinions”… and neither was Aquinas. They are both open to TRUTH–something which matters little to syncretic day-dreaming. Bear in mind part of the sub-title of this blog: the Truth possess us [assuming we’re open to it]. Personal “opinions” are for the coffee table–not for eternity.

  70. HolyPoly,

    We are surrounded by endless Love, absolute Truth and ultimate Reality in all places, at all times, infinitely and eternally. True mystics are aware of it; most people are not. Divine union has no religious boundaries. The Truth is one; people call it by many names. Syncretization allows living in harmony.

    I am 70 years old, with 50 years devoted to mystical awareness. There is no need to indulge sarcastic, shortsighted, pompous people like you. In case you don’t read Russian, до свидания means goodbye. Sorry Tom.

  71. II Corinthians 11:12-15.

    You seem to be avoiding responding to Tom…

    Also, get your country and language correct: it’s до побачення in Ukraine… But, your sentiment is correct: for those who elevate syncretic “harmony” over Truth, it’s Mark 6:11 to which Christians are admonished.

  72. Used to have a blog: closed due to lack of a life as well as “going overboard” per Ron’s [correct] observation.

  73. I for one would still like to hear Ron’s answers to my questions at 12:11 and 12:23 yesterday.

    Holopupenko, I have some thoughts I’ll send you by email. I welcome the interaction with Ron.

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