How An Atheist Proves Christians Don’t Think

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Actually this isn’t just how one atheist proves Christians don’t think, it’s how many do it. Not all, but many.

It goes like this: “The Old Testament has some really yucky commands in it. If you believe in the Bible you believe in that yucky command. For example, ‘Deformed people can’t come to God,’ or ‘Non-virgins must be stoned with stones,’ etc. But you don’t obey that yucky command, so you really don’t believe in the Bible. In fact, you can’t even stand to think about what the Bible really says.”

Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on here. For convenience, let’s give our atheist the name Richard.

Richard scours the Old Testament for yucky commands. Richard does no contextual study, takes no thought for history, pays no attention to customs of surrounding nations, considers no possible alternate interpretations, does no double-checking of the text’s translation, gives no credence to the progress of revelation (if Richard has even heard of progressive revelation), and most of all consults no Jewish or Christian thinker on the subject.

In other words, Richard presents this OT passage to us having done absolutely no thinking about it whatsoever.

Richard then says to Christians, “This passage means exactly what I think it means.” Implicit (but never stated!) in that statement is, “… without having given it a moment’s thought.”

Richard concludes that because Christians don’t have the same problem with the passage as he does, Christians do not think.

Did you get that? I’ll simplify it, letting “Richard” speak in the first person, but having him voice what’s really going on in his thought processes:

“I conclude without giving it a moment’s real thought that OT passage x means X, which is unthinkable. Since it’s obvious to me that x means X, therefore Christians believe the unthinkable X; therefore Christians don’t think.”

Clear enough yet? I’ll simplify it even further: “My not thinking provides me the evidence I need to prove that Christians don’t think.”

136 Responses

  1. Victoria says:

    This is one reason why Christians have always said that without the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, and a genuine, active faith (warranted belief + trust + commitment + obedience) in God and His truly good character (also something given to us by the Holy Spirit) it is not possible to truly understand the meaning, significance and application of Biblical Truth. When we come across such passages, it is our faith and reliance on the Spirit of God that prompts us to dig deeper, to really think about what such a passage means – in its historical and cultural contexts (how its first readers would have understood it), in the larger context of the full revelation of the rest of Scripture, and in the light of what we know about God through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. As a core Christian truth, we affirm that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed…’, (2 Timothy 3:16) written by human authors ‘carried along by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:21 ), and thus the Holy Spirit never misleads or contradicts Himself, and He illuminates our study. We affirm that His written word shows us the Living Word, so that we might know Him, trust Him and love Him, and be transformed into His likeness. Bible study should not only teach us, but it should correct us, reprove us, and train us in righteousness. The skeptic wants none of this – he wants fodder for his own sin-distorted views.

    Christians don’t believe the unthinkable X’s because we have thought about them.

  2. Victoria says:

    This is also one of the reasons Christians maintain that the Christian life is a growth process:

    2 Peter 1:1-11:
    …and His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
    Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
    For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;
    and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;
    and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
    For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
    Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall,
    and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    As we grow in obedience to Christ and more like Him, we understand more, and see more clearly.

    Perhaps this is a reason why we see so many deconverted ‘Christians’ – they never grew up.

  3. Nick says:

    Richard is someone who is dumb enough to think the Bible was written in a culture exactly like his where people thought exactly like he does and that everything has to be spelled out explicitly.

    Richard is an example of lazy atheism, also known as “new atheism.”

  4. tim e says:

    tom, that is a freeking brilliant post. thanks very much and it is easily applicable to ‘church attenders’ I know who argue for literalism that is shockingly naive!..thanks again!!

  5. Holopupenko says:

    Brilliant! The blue-heat of 10,000 stars known as truth…

    … from which cockroaches scamper away in fear and anger. A cockroach crawling toward the light of truth, on the other hand, is transformed.

  6. Victoria says:

    @Tom, Holopupenko
    Yes, an excellent post, Tom.
    I’d surely like to see the atheists’ responses to it 🙂

  7. Sault says:

    Let’s imagine a Christian. I’m going to call him Charles.

    Charles is a young adult who had just accepted Jesus into his life. Not having much previous experience with Christianity, he was excited about the direction his life was taking and about the people that he was meeting at his new church.

    Unfortunately, on the way to a business conference overseas Charle’s plane went down and he found himself stranded on a desert island with only a few tattered rags for clothes and his Bible.

    Poor Charles doesn’t know much history, or about contemporary cultures or their customs, has never heard of progressive revelation, and has no Jewish or Christian authorities to appeal to.

    All he’s got is his Bible, and it’s a King James Bible translation, at that.

    I feel bad for Charles, because without all that scholarship and historical context and progressive revelation and Judaeo-Christian scholarship and no recourse to other translations…. well, how will he ever know what the Bible actually means?

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault,

    Charles is going to have a very hard time of it. The Bible explicitly affirms the value of teaching and of community. Solo Christianity is very far from the norm.

  9. Victoria says:

    But he still has the Holy Spirit, Sault.
    The Core Christian truths are there for anyone who can read with a heart open to His work. Charles won’t know as much as other Christians with access to all those resources could know, but there is still much that Charles can learn from a consistent reliance on the Spirit of God – certainly he can come to know that Jesus died and was resurrected for him

    You guys consistently and blindly overlook the fundamental truth that faith and knowing God through His word is first and foremost the supernatural work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Of course, why should we expect anything different from you? You never had Him for yourself, you are dead in trespasses and sin, blinded by the god of this age(aka Satan) and in a state of rebellion against a sovereign God (yes, refusing to acknowledge Him is rebellion).

    [Added after Tom’s post]
    As Tom said, contrived Charles’ situation is not the norm. It will be difficult for him, but I hasten to add – not for God – is anything too difficult for the LORD? With man(alone) the situation is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

  10. Victoria says:

    Besides, this contrived scenario is nothing more than a lame attempt to parry Tom’s thrust of the sword to the heart of the matter. Our argument stands unanswered – the atheists’ vile caricatures don’t stand up to real scholarship, nor do they stand up to the power of the Holy Spirit.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Good point, Victoria. Sault, do you see the point of the argument?

  12. Melissa says:

    A cockroach crawling toward the light of truth, on the other hand, is transformed.

    and we can give thanks to God for that every day.

  13. Victoria says:

    and just to twist the blade some more….
    many of us (Christians) know (or know of) members in our churches who have Down’s Syndrome – they will probably never know much more than the basic truths taught to them – I know a few personally. What amazes me about them (and it humbles me) is that they have such a heart for God – they love Him without distraction or guile; they know and trust that Jesus loves them, died for them, and have taken Him into their hearts; they know that God has a place for them in His eternal family, and that one day He will give them a wonderful resurrection bodies, whole and complete.

  14. Holopupenko says:

    Nick is someone who is confused enough to think his “soft” atheism grants him dispensation to criticize ANY truth beyond the “soft” scientism animating his thinking.

    As such, when people read what Nick writes here, they must conform to his “new new” (new and improved “brighter” than brights??) atheism exactly, so that these people think exactly like he does (atheist IS true!!!!) but everything can be spelled out kinda, not-rigorously explicitly.

    [“Soft scientism” = notion that, well, okay (grumble, grumble I have no arguments) science may not be the only form of knowledge… but it is the BEST form of knowledge–especially over philosophy–because I say so! Compare this to a moderate realist notion: the modern empirical sciences are the MOST FUNDAMENTAL form of knowledge, but they are not the most IMPORTANT form of knowledge because the latter (as fundamental) informs reasoning to higher verities. From which of these would you buy a used car?]

    You’ve never dared to address that, Nick, have you? You’ve never dared to address the correct and fundamentally important role for the modern empirical sciences because you’re a priori committed to a “natural science is best” notion, aren’t you? You can’t, in fact, respond because otherwise you admit either (1) to the vicious circularity behind “natural science is best” or you admit that (2) something other than the natural sciences validates their epistemic efficacy and subject matters… which then undermines your “MES is best” notion.

  15. Victoria says:

    The Bible is God’s amazing book. It is clear enough for the simplest of His children to understand its core truths, yet will challenge the the wisest of His servants all the days of their lives. It is open to the humble and contrite of heart who want to know God, yet it is closed to the proud and self-righteous who want nothing to do with Him.

  16. Holopupenko says:

    Victoria:

    they will probably never know much more than the basic truths taught to them

    I’m not quite sure about that. I’m speculating, of course, but not without some pondering over it. They may, in fact, “know” better than we because they’re blessed with not being burdened by their own self-importance, and their natural expression is one of ecstasy–a bubbling over that we more “serious” folk find disconcerting.

    I’m not much into the charismatic “slain in the spirit” thing, but I don’t discount it merely because I’m a cantankerous analytic. If, for example, you read of the moments of ecstasy of Aquinas, and of his own admission after a particularly strong ecstatic experience that, “All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me,” you begin to wonder.

  17. Victoria says:

    @Holopupenko
    I know what you are saying, and I agree with it. I was referring to ‘intellectual knowledge’; a lesson on Greek or Hebrew grammar would probably be lost on them; a lesson on the cultural differences between Jews and Samaritans would not do much for them, but the lesson on the Good Samaritan they would get. As you said, their ability to know with the heart and soul and spirit is wonderful to behold. Their trust in God is whole-hearted and without doubt, and full of childlike wonder and joy.

  18. Tom Gilson says:

    Confusion alert! Nick who posted here today is not Nick Matzke. See the link he gave, attached to his name. Nick is a brother in Christ and a defender of the faith.

  19. Doug says:

    @Sault,

    I feel bad for Charles

    No need, bro’. Charles might as well be me. When I started to take the Bible seriously, I was too young to grok “contemporary cultures” or “progressive revelation”. But I was “fortunate” enough to start in Matthew, and by the time I finished chapter 7, I, too, was “amazed at [Jesus’] teaching”. I wish I could say that I’ve been more faithful to that teaching, but “miraculously” (according to you? 😉 ) my un-tutored readings put me directly in sync with centuries of Christian tradition!

    The difference between me and “Richard” is the difference between a friend and an enemy. All of us are willing to keep numerous interpretations “open” when a friend says something that we don’t quite get. On the other hand, we also typically jump for the weakness in our enemies statements. (if combox discussions aren’t enough evidence for this phenomenon, consider political advertising!) Coming to scripture as an enemy just sets one up for Tom’s criticism.

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Good point, Doug, and also Victoria on a related note. There is plenty in the Bible that’s clear and plain. The Holy Spirit guides those who will be guided by him. The deeper one studies, though, the more one understands, and it remains a mistake for Richard to conclude that his unthinking assessment of scattered OT injunctions proves that Christians don’t think.

  21. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    I was going to say, it sounded like Nick is on our side 🙂

    @Nick – nice web site, brother – I liked your review of Erhman there 🙂

    @Doug
    Amen to that story 🙂

  22. Holopupenko says:

    NICK!

    OMG! MY BAD (although my points re: Nick Matzke remain without alteration… which is spooky if you think about it). SORRY. SORRY. SORRY. Billions of blue blustering barnacles, an embarrassing lesson.

    Consider me CONFUSED… and you don’t need an alert for that.

  23. Sault says:

    Your contrived Richard and my contrived Charles…. two caricatures, but where Tom’s is a strawman, mine actually does attempt to make a point. Instead of lamenting over Charles, I’ll try saying it a different way –

    Assuming that there is one correct interpretation of the Bible, one of these statements should be true:

    To correctly interpret the Bible, we need modern scholarship.

    To correctly interpret the Bible, we need the Holy Spirit.

    To correctly interpret the Bible, we need modern scholarship and the Holy Spirit.

    If the first is true, then atheists should be able to interpret the Bible correctly. If the second is true, then any Christian that has ever lived should be able to interpret the Bible correctly. If the third is true, then any Christian who has not had access to modern scholarship won’t arrive at a 100% correct interpretation of the Bible.

    Atheists (apparently) cannot correctly interpret the Bible, so the first statement isn’t true. However, neither the second nor third statements are true either, since there is no evidence of a consistent truth derived from the Bible. There are still hundreds (if not thousands) of different denominations, after all, and many have doctrinal disagreements.

    Which creeds affirm correct Christian doctrine? What works can be considered doctrinal (OT, NT, Apocrypha, Ecumenical councils, Revelations, etc)? Was Mary born immaculately? Does man have free will to do good and evil, or just evil? Is there a Purgatory? Hell, is there even a hell? How about predestination? How about ordaining women pastors?

    I want to make a very firm point here – it doesn’t matter what your personal answers are to these questions (consider them rhetorical for now). What matters is that Christians don’t have the same consistent answers to some pretty basic questions.

    The conclusion is then either one denomination has it right, that all three statements are incorrect, or my beginning premise (that there is one correct interpretation of the Bible) is false.

    All of these options are very troubling for Charles. Did I mention that he had been cruelly indoctrinated by the science teacher at his local public school to expect the truth to be something on par with what he might find when he solved an equation or the reaction he got when he mixed precise rations of chemicals? I mean, even popular culture certainly gives the impression that truth should be pretty obvious (damn you, CSI!!!).

    Or perhaps Victoria has it right. Charles may not like it, but perhaps all that matters to God is that he gets close enough and learns those Core Christian Truths, even if he gets the rest wrong.

  24. Victoria says:

    Sault just doesn’t get that there is such a thing as core Christianity. He never has, no matter how much we have explained it.

  25. Victoria says:

    Richard is not so contrived at all – he fits the profile of almost every atheist I have met in here, and he resembles the New Atheists all too well

  26. Tom Gilson says:

    Ummm, Sault, my “Richard” is not a strawman. Your “Charles” is. Mine is accessible by the link I provided. And a whole lot of other places besides. Yours is an invention.

    That’s the first problem with your latest comment, and it’s a glaring one. My goodness, how did you think you could get away with nonsense like that?

    Your three conditions for interpretation leave out the one most obvious, which applies to all written literature:

    To correctly interpret the Bible, we need to have a desire to understand correctly what it says rather than a desire to mock and ridicule people who seek to believe it correctly.

    Additionally, they homogenize the Bible. Your “very firm point” bothers me not at all. Why should you or I think that everything in the Bible is equally difficult of interpretation? Where it says Jesus was born in Bethlehem, what it means is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. When it says he walked on water it means he walked on water. Where it says he is the bread of life, it takes more insight, and more work. The book of Hebrews takes even more. Is that a problem?

    And then there are some parts of the Bible that are very difficult to nail down. Moreover there are conflicting cultural patterns among interpreters. There are varying degrees of willingness to submit to the Bible’s authority, relative to one’s cultural traditions. And modern interpretive methods, contextual studies, and historical studies are all incomplete and subject to further work and interpretation.

    Furthermore, no one ever said the Holy Spirit’s role and promise in our lives is to make us infallible.

    All of which adds up to put the lie to your contention that Christians who have access to modern interpretive methods and tools, along with the Holy Spirit as teacher, should agree on everything.

    I’d feel more comfortable with your three-fold set of conclusions (your second unitalicized paragraph) if you would say something like “Is this what you Christians mean? Am I understanding correctly?” Instead you seem to be saying, “Here are the three possible options, and there are only these three, and they all (by the way) prove that Christians don’t think after all.”

    Which is false.

    Would you like to explore this further? Would you like to understand what we believe about these things? Or would you just like to prove to us how troubled Charles is, in view of the fact that Charles has been so mentally abused? (Have you forgotten that Charles has made a decision to follow Jesus Christ, and has the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures there on that island?)

  27. Victoria says:

    Don’t worry Sault – we will pick this up tomorrow – we are far from being finished with this

  28. Chucky says:

    Sadly Richard’s mistake is too often repeated. There’s industry out there in interweb land of quote mining the Bible out of context.

  29. Sault says:

    Why should you or I think that everything in the Bible is equally difficult of interpretation? Where it says Jesus was born in Bethlehem, what it means is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

    Excellent point – except that Jesus probably wasn’t born in Bethlehem.

    Furthermore, no one ever said the Holy Spirit’s role and promise in our lives is to make us infallible.

    Yeah, people are fallible. That’s why scientists have the peer-review process. What is bothersome about religion is that there is no correlating process… no correlating insurance to the believer and non-believer alike that the truth is exactly that.

    The point is not that “Christians don’t think” or that “Christians are mentally abused” or whatever else you’re trying to attribute to me. The point is that there is no methodological supernaturalism to give the process of finding truth any rigor.

    I find the concept that God has given us supernatural Truth but no rigorous way to determine it… baffling.

    And, quite frankly, it’s perfectly acceptable for Charles to feel that way, too. Many young believers struggle to understand what it means to believe, what it means to have faith, and why we can’t think the way we do about spiritual truth the way we can about repairing a car or solving a math equation.

    Or why even when the Bible contradicts itself (Nazareth vs Bethlehem) that it isn’t actually “wrong”.

  30. Andrew says:

    Heading in the opposite direction, Tom, there are events and teachings in the Old Testament that modern Christians often feel they should apologise for, when what we should be seeking is understanding.

    Part of the problem is distilling morality down into sound-bites: “genocide is wrong”, “slavery is wrong”, “anger is wrong”. And yet there are places God clearly demonstrates, orders and/or condones all three. This calls for serious thinking: why would a god who (we believe) is holy and consistent condone these in some circumstances and not others? Perhaps our limited view of morality is too brittle? Could our cultural emphasis on the autonomy of the individual blind us to bigger themes? Perhaps the question should be not “Is genocide wrong?” but “when and why is genocide wrong?”.

    However, we should not let the accuser off the hook either. It is too easy to assume moral truth when your audience is sympathetic to it. Neither we nor they should be happy with “It’s obvious” or “because” as an answer. Christians should take seriously the Scriptural warnings against the deceitfulness of their own heart, and seek understanding and not shortcuts. Challengers must be forced to ground their moral assertions in deep truth, and not be allowed to assume the moral or intellectual wisdom of prevailing culture.

  31. Josh says:

    Just out of curiosity, what would be a good starting point to further investigate “deformed people can’t come to God”? I want to be able to articulate a defense to that ludicrous statement, but I need a nudge in the right direction in order to look at and defend my faith in Christ in relation to an atheistic caricature of the Bible?

  32. Wolf Nelson says:

    I wonder how many ways one can interpret the command to stone a non virgin bride at the doorstep of her father. I wonder how one can explain in what context saying a man is 600 yr old could mean something else. No matter how much you think about it, some statements in the Bible simply cannot be twisted into moral or true statements.

  33. Melissa says:

    Sault,

    That’s why scientists have the peer-review process.

    First up peer review does not make scientific results infallible. Secondly theology and biblical studies also go through a peer review process before publication.

  34. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault,

    What you say about Jesus not being born in Bethlehem is irrelevant on the one hand, because you skipped the other illustration (walking on water), and confused/contrived on the other, because the page you linked to is confused. It makes much of Jesus being called a Nazarene, when that’s explained fully in Matthew 2. There’s no contradiction there. None.

    Why is there no rigorous way to prove supernatural truth? Here’s one way to look at it. Another way to view it (though please read that link first for context!) is that God wants us to be able to choose to believe in him, to know him, to love him, to trust him. I think he intended there to be a moral component to knowing him. If it were a matter of rigorous, undeniable, objective, impersonal truth, that would eliminate the personal and moral dimensions from that knowledge. Presented with the evidence and the authority behind it, who can choose not to believe that water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen (or 1 and 4 by weight)?

    Many young believers struggle to understand what it means to believe, what it means to have faith, and why we can’t think the way we do about spiritual truth the way we can about repairing a car or solving a math equation.

    Charles is on that desert island, a pure invention of your imagination which allows no room for the Holy Spirit’s working. The testimony of most young believers I’ve spoken with is the opposite of what you’ve presented here. They find the Bible to be virtually burning with life-giving meaning. In other words, do you have data to back up what you say about “many young believers struggle”?

  35. Tom Gilson says:

    Andrew, I agree with you to a point: God is God, and if we don’t understand everything he did, that doesn’t make everything wrong that he did. What makes genocide wrong is a good question. What makes slavery wrong is another one. Neither of them has a quick answer, except perhaps this: genocide and slavery as contemporary Westerners think of them are utterly evil and wrong; but the contemporary Western conception should not be given sovereign authority and be permitted to be imposed upon accounts from the Near East 2,000 to 3,000 years ago.

    These are matters that require considerable thought and study.

  36. Tom Gilson says:

    Josh, I would start in the text, for one thing, and then look to a decent biblical commentary from there. Let me know if you need more specifics.

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    Wolf,

    Have you read anything by thoughtful Christians on this topic? I suggest Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? You might discover that it’s not as clear-cut as you think.

  38. Otto Tellick says:

    This is the first time I’ve seen the terms “progress of revelation” and “progressive revelation”. Can you explain this? (An example or two would help.)

    If it’s a matter of newer passages superseding older ones, how is it that the older ones remain in the Bible, and remain valid (or, as some would say, inerrant)? If the term refers to something else, please explain.

    Also, does it refer to something that continues to this day (and if not, why not)? Do you count people like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Joseph Smith, Ellen White, etc, as examples of “progressive revelation”? (Does only one of them qualify?) For that matter, what is it, in your view, that excludes the Prophet Mohamed from being an example?

    I am familiar with the practice of explicating a chosen passage by describing the historical and cultural context of the events being described, and/or of the authors who originally put the story to paper, and even of the people made a particular translation of the passage to English. This is always useful and enlightening, whether or not the information being added can be confirmed independently — though I do worry about the propensity that people have to make stuff up when trying to contextualize Bible passages this way.

    There are varying degrees of willingness to submit to the Bible’s authority, relative to one’s cultural traditions. And modern interpretive methods, contextual studies, and historical studies are all incomplete and subject to further work and interpretation.

    I know I’ll be chided for making a judgment as an outsider, but to me, that paints a rather bleak picture for the “certainty” of faith.

    Given those facts, should Christians embrace diversity of opinion on matters of interpretation (including which parts are superseded)? If so, then a lot of schism and animosity should simply dissolve into broader unity, if not consensus. Consensus would be best, presumably, but seems unattainable in this domain. And schism seems to have a pretty tight hold on the Christian population as a whole.

    I think the basic problem here is the reliance on something intrinsically, inescapably subjective: what a given individual decides to believe based on his/her internal sense of a “holy spirit”. This makes schism an intrinsic and inescapable outcome of faith, and IMHO, that’s a form of failure I can live without.

  39. Tom Gilson says:

    Progressive revelation means (roughly) that God did not dump the whole load on Abraham (or Noah, or Adam) at once. The knowledge of God’s character and his saving acts developed progressively over time, though there are signs of it throughout the whole Bible. Some of the OT laws were superseded, as explained especially in the NT book of Hebrews; or rather they were fulfilled in Christ so that they had accomplished their purpose and were no longer needed. That’s pretty well explained in the NT.

    Some OT laws were strictly ceremonial and thus specific to the nation Israel.

    Some moral laws were progressive but not final. What I mean here is that in the context of the time, which was brutal, God called his people to be far better than the surrounding culture, but he did not call them to be 21st century liberal Westerners, if you know what I mean. That would have required, among other things, a 21st century Western economy, our centuries of moral philosophy, and more. For more on this I suggest you read the Copan book I suggested earlier to Sault. It’s more than I can get into here.

    Our understanding of God’s revelation continues to unfold. I wrote on that here. That article relates to what you wrote in the second half of your comment as well, as does this one. There are some things in the Bible that are very clear and worth standing up for. Other things are not worth dividing over. That doesn’t mean differing denominations are inherently evil, but that we ought to be willing to have fellowship with one another as fellow believers.

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    Here’s a good article on progressive revelation.

  41. Otto Tellick says:

    Melissa:

    peer review does not make scientific results infallible

    Of course not. It just leads to results that get better over time, which is all the scientists are trying to do, and they’ll always admit as much.

    Nothing that humans do or assert — and I really mean nothing (glancing at Bible) — is infallible. Lots of things are partly right, some things are more right (more accurate, more supportable) than others, but pretty much everything can be improved. To me, that’s actually a fairly uplifting thought that gives real meaning and purpose to human endeavor. Improvement is its own reward — it’s almost … autotelic! 😉

  42. BillT says:

    Sault,

    “What is bothersome about religion is that there is no correlating process… no correlating insurance to the believer and non-believer alike that the truth is exactly that.”

    You don’t really believe this do you? Christian and Jewish theological scholarship is an academic discipline just like other academic disciplines. There are journals where scholars publish their papers that are reviewed by their peers. Biblical scholarship has been going on for hundreds (really thousands) of years. In fact, the Bible is undoubtedly the most heavily studied book in all of history.

    However, there is no “exact” truth for much of this just like there is no exact truth in interpreting, Milton or Hemingway, or in sociology or anthropology, or psychology or really most, if not all, of the academic fields out there.

    BTW, if you think it’s unreasonable that theology doesn’t provide the “exact” truth could you name a few academic fields that do.

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault,

    I should have addressed this more explicitly in comment 34:

    What is bothersome about religion is that there is no correlating process… no correlating insurance to the believer and non-believer alike that the truth is exactly that.

    The question I’d like you to ask yourself, and to consider in light of what I wrote in #34, is this: What is it that makes you think a non-believer ought to be able to be sure the truth of God’s revelation is exactly that? What is it that makes you think this assurance ought to be of the same impersonal sort as science tends to provide? Why make that a requirement for religious knowledge?

    Those are hard questions that I’m asking you. We’re all conditioned by virtue of being 21st century Westerners to think of knowledge as an impersonal subject-object relationship. I invite you to challenge that assumption in the case of God, and in light of the possibility that he wants us to know him in a personal way, and to bring a moral component (love, for example) with us into that knowing relationship.

    This is admittedly a different approach to knowledge than many of us have grown up with. What I’d like you to re-think, slowly and thoughtfully (it would take time for anyone to re-think this), is the assumption that knowledge must be impersonal. Why assume that?

  44. Nick says:

    @Tom and Holo. Tom. Thanks for clearing that up. I was reading what Holo said and was wondering “How the heck did I get confused with an atheist?”

  45. Nick says:

    @Sault. The problem is that Charles does need the community and the support of others. Now he can get the basic message of salvation out of the Bible. I have no problems with that. Can he have a deep understanding? No.

    Richard on the other hand has limitations not because he’s stranded, but because he’s lazy.

  46. Nick says:

    @Wolf. Let’s start with the first one. First off, I don’t know of any Scriptural reference that says that, but I do know about stoning. Let’s look at the society more.

    To begin with, the land was everything. The land was what you depended on and your future descendants depended on. It was not cheap and it would insure your future if you had it. How was the land passed on? Through inheritance.

    Suppose you have some girl who is sleeping around. Her child will not be yours but will belong to the man she has slept with. Therefore, the land can then pass down to anyone who happens to seduce your daughter. Imagine that! Seduce a woman! Get free land!

    Of course, this could be offset by having boys who would have first dibs, but it would still be a problem. Furthermore, since sexual relations were a sign of a covenant, going outside would indicate that the covenant was not being honored and in turn, the society’s ultimate covenant with YHWH was not being honored.

    The looseness of sexual morality would go against the good of the society as a whole and it was dealt with seriously.

  47. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Otto Tellick:

    Nothing that humans do or assert — and I really mean nothing (glancing at Bible) — is infallible.

    So this assertion itself is not infallible.

    Self-contradiction is a bummer, isn’t it?

  48. You guys consistently and blindly overlook the fundamental truth that faith and knowing God through His word is first and foremost the supernatural work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Of course, why should we expect anything different from you? You never had Him for yourself, you are dead in trespasses and sin, blinded by the god of this age(aka Satan) and in a state of rebellion against a sovereign God (yes, refusing to acknowledge Him is rebellion).

    As an atheist, and a first-time poster here, I am often puzzled by this sort of argumentation. Does this rhetoric further the discussion somehow, or is it meant to stop it dead in its tracks since the atheist on the receiving end of it will often throw up his hands in resignation and walk away.

    If atheists do talk the way you say Richard does, it’s because we’re trying to point out that even the most rabid fundamentalist Christian doesn’t take his morality(at least, not the morality that matters) from the Bible the way they claim, or else they would be stoning disobedient children in the streets.

    In regards to progressive revelation, I have to ask why Christians stop at Christianity and don’t progress to Islam, the next stepping stone. And, if not Islam, then why has all revelation stopped and we haven’t had anything more in nearly 2,000 years? What about Mormonism? Is it progress or heresy?

    With regard to the OT laws, you say in a comment that they were meant for a brutal time when people were incapable of more civilized conduct. To have modern laws at time would’ve required liberal democracy then. I can accept that. What I can’t accept, however, is, since we now have actually do have liberal democracy, why does Christianity continue to bash LGBT, deny them marriage rights, deny women reproductive rights, etc. Why has there been no progressive revelation to update our religious laws to better match of liberal democratic philosophies the way progressive revelation suggests there should have been?

    Or does progressive revelation apply only to things we don’t really care about or want to do?

    To me progressive revelation means that our holy books were written by ancient men who had an idea about behavior and human interaction. Then, as we began figuring out that something were intrinsically bad(stoning children, burning witches, etc), we began ignoring those parts of our holy books that implored to do what we now know to be bad.

    @Nick #46: Deuteronomy 22:20-21.

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    tow,

    In response to your first question, I suggest you take a look here.

    If atheists do talk the way you say Richard does, it’s because we’re trying to point out that even the most rabid fundamentalist Christian doesn’t take his morality(at least, not the morality that matters) from the Bible the way they claim, or else they would be stoning disobedient children in the streets.

    No, that’s not the case.

    Please re-read the post and feel free to try again, lest you provide a further demonstration of the point it makes.

    Progressive revelation is consistent revelation. If a prior instruction is overturned, it is for reasons consistent with the overall revelation. Islam and Mormonism contradict not just instructions but basic and core knowledge concerning the nature of God and of the reality he created.

    What I can’t accept, however, is, since we now have actually do have liberal democracy, why does Christianity continue to bash LGBT, deny them marriage rights, deny women reproductive rights, etc.

    These are all liberal euphemisms for the right to sexual immorality without negative consequences, and there’s just no good reason for it, either in God’s revelation or in reasoned reflection on reality.

    Your idea that progress means “figuring out something were intrinsically bad” is more nearly correct than you might recognize. For some action or entity x to be intrinsically bad requires that moral badness and goodness have objective reality, which seems to me (and to many other thinkers) to require the existence of a transcendent Being who invests actions and entities with that objective moral character.

    Not only that, but since the Bible does not pronounce on the moral goodness or badness of every possible situation or thing, often we do engage in the process of discovering that some things are intrinsically bad.

    In other words, your last paragraph is a fine foundational premise in an argument for God. This is not meant as a gotcha, for your reflection there has the virtue of being true for many (though not all) moral judgments. It’s something you might want to think about. Hold on to your awareness of moral realities, and it could lead you to even deeper understandings.

  50. Justin says:

    TOW:

    If atheists do talk the way you say Richard does, it’s because we’re trying to point out that even the most rabid fundamentalist Christian doesn’t take his morality(at least, not the morality that matters) from the Bible the way they claim, or else they would be stoning disobedient children in the streets.

    This is a misunderstanding of Christianity by atheists, and is false. It would be like me exhibiting frustration because I was having a hard time pointing out to atheists that atheists like to kick puppies. Atheists do kick puppies. Why don’t atheists get that? Perhaps because it’s not correct?

  51. BillT says:

    “…why does Christianity continue to….deny women reproductive rights”

    Yes, love the euphemisms. Maybe TOW, if you actually said what you meant instead of hiding behind a euphemism, it might make a bit more sense.

    “Why does Christianity continue to oppose the murder of unborn children?

    Now, does that make it easier to understand?

  52. SteveK says:

    ….or else they would be stoning disobedient children in the streets.

    It was here that you jumped the shark. And you want to be taken seriously?

  53. Holopupenko says:

    @47:

    That’s one of the things about being an atheist: never having to apologize for one’s own self-refutation. Appealing to the very thing Otto denies–yep, atheism at work.

    But, let’s not overlook the fact that the Otto’s tyrannically absolutist statement is actually a false claim. We really don’t know anything with 100% certitude? Really? I can think of millions of things to assert that are true with 100% certitude. For example: G. Rodrigues did not paint the Mona Lisa. Hey, guess what, Otto? I just made an infallibly irrefutable and 100% true statement.

    Here’s another one: the human circulatory system is a closed system comprised of a four-chambered, four-valved heart interfacing with a gaseous exchange system by means of the lungs. There’s literally NOTHING new science can learn that will change that 100% true description, i.e., that knowledge is no longer contingent. (Go ahead, Otto, try to avoid the point by introducing on-going human evolution–see what a fool you make of yourself.)

    And here’s another: Otto is ignorant of some of the most fundamental considerations of Christian faith… not to speak of human anthropology… and logic.

    And atheists claim themselves to be champions of reason?

  54. Holopupenko says:

    Nick @44:

    It was the color of your e-hair that threw me off!

    😉

  55. Victoria says:

    @TOW
    The quote you mined and commented on was put there by me, not as rhetoric, but to draw attention to the real reason that atheists do not understand Christian truths – intellectual issues are the least of your problems. This is a challenge to you. Those phrases are summaries of what the New Testament actually says.
    See Romans 1:18-3:1, Ephesians 2:1-10 and 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 for examples

  56. @53: To be guilty of self-refutation I must have accidentally(or on purpose but in bad faith) refuted my own prior statement. Since this is my first post here, I cannot be guilty of that crime. Did I contradict Otto’s statement? Perhaps; I haven’t read all of them. However, as I am not a member of any doctrinal furtherance organization, I am free to choose my own stance.

    @51: Very well. A few years back, a Catholic nun working in a Catholic hospital(in Massachusetts, I want to say, but can’t remember exactly at the moment) got excommunicated for ordering an abortion for a woman whose pregnancy was in final stages of killing her. The doctors agreed with her. The child was lost regardless, all that was left was to save the woman. The nun’s bishop didn’t agree, and so the nun got turfed for doing the right thing, albeit apparently an unChristian one.

    @49:

    Your idea that progress means “figuring out something were intrinsically bad” is more nearly correct than you might recognize. For some action or entity x to be intrinsically bad requires that moral badness and goodness have objective reality, which seems to me (and to many other thinkers) to require the existence of a transcendent Being who invests actions and entities with that objective moral character.

    Why does it require such a being? Why can’t we invest it with such meaning, much as invest our own meaning into general life? That is really at the core of the great divide between theists and atheists. Well, that and the insistence that we’re all servants of Satan and we’re gonna burn…

    Not only that, but since the Bible does not pronounce on the moral goodness or badness of every possible situation or thing, often we do engage in the process of discovering that some things are intrinsically bad.

    But are we not told, consistently, and day in and day out, that the bible is a moral guide for all facets of our lives, and that if we only read it more the country’s moral fabric would reassert itself?

    In other words, your last paragraph is a fine foundational premise in an argument for God. This is not meant as a gotcha, for your reflection there has the virtue of being true for many (though not all) moral judgments. It’s something you might want to think about. Hold on to your awareness of moral realities, and it could lead you to even deeper understandings.

    By “even deeper understanding” I presume you mean one that leads in your direction? This is the other part of our great divide, the Christian assumption that humans are incapable of figuring out morality on our own, and that any time our understanding of morality improves, that somehow that proves God exists. Or, perhaps, we’re just growing as a species.

  57. SteveK says:

    Why can’t we invest it with such meaning, much as invest our own meaning into general life? That is really at the core of the great divide between theists and atheists.

    So you want to dress up and play make-believe? Who’s the rational one here?

  58. The quote you mined and commented on was put there by me, not as rhetoric, but to draw attention to the real reason that atheists do not understand Christian truths – intellectual issues are the least of your problems. This is a challenge to you. Those phrases are summaries of what the New Testament actually says.

    I am aware. Though I do not understand your comment about it being a challenge to me. Challenge to do what, exactly? What do you think calling me names and accusing me of things that are impossible for you to prove will accomplish? Five centuries ago, slinging accusations like that all willy-nilly could get a man(or more likely a woman) tortured and burnt at the stake as a devil-worshipper. They are not words to be used lightly, and yet Christians use them all the time without giving them the slightest thought.

    I am sorry if this offends, but the way I see it, saying these things makes Christians feel better about themselves, makes them feel like they are special, chosen for something the rest of us hell-damned sinners not only do not appreciate but also do not really deserve. And why? Because we question your beliefs? Because we question a book written decades(if not centuries) following the events it purports to describe? For that atheists deserve Christian scorn and fear and threats of hell-fire and eternal damnation all hidden behind words written in the early part of the 1st millennium?

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    tow, re: #56, the reason we can’t invest such things with intrinsic moral goodness or badness is because any such value we ascribe would be extrinsic. Either rape is intrinsically bad, or it’s bad because we think it’s bad or call it bad, and those are not the same thing.

  60. Tom Gilson says:

    Did you read what I linked to about spiritual knowledge, tow?

  61. Victoria says:

    @ToW
    Did you not bother to read the references I posted for you, especially Ephesians 2:1-10?

    That one specifically addresses people who were once (spiritually) dead in transgression and sin, but are now redeemed. It is possible to escape both slavery to sin and being the pawn of the devil and suffering the same fate as he will, so your flippant remark is ill-considered.

    No one is calling you names – this is what Christianity has to say about the human condition and how to fix it.

  62. Tom Gilson says:

    Further on #59:

    You used the term “intrinsically bad” earlier in the thread, and I affirmed you in that usage. If rape is intrinsically bad (and it is), then its badness is intrinsic to it. That simple conclusion follows plainly enough.

    That means that its badness is there in it, in a sense, and that when humans call it bad it’s because we recognize its badness.

    You suggested in your follow-up, however, that we might “invest” it with badness. That means that we are the ones who place the badness in it, or on it, or choose your preposition; in any event its badness comes from our considering it bad.

    So in the first case we recognize the badness of rape, in the other case we assign rape its badness. As I said before, these are not the same.

  63. So you want to dress up and play make-believe? Who’s the rational one here?

    That is infantalizing the human race. It’s also what really scares atheists. If morality has no meaning outside of God, then there is no morality at all. You can be led anywhere with religion.

  64. Sault says:

    I was right in the middle of another reply when this distracted me.

    So you want to dress up and play make-believe? Who’s the rational one here?

    Everyone pretends… even you. You literally play dress-up and make-believe every single day that you are alive, e.g. your clothes signify something because the rest of us say they do and the money that you spend means something because the rest of us says it does. You’re a rational guy – yet you play make-believe.

    …self-contradiction?

  65. Tom Gilson says:

    Don’t try to make the metaphor carry more weight than it was designed to hold, Sault, or else you’re just equivocating.

  66. Doug says:

    If morality has no meaning outside of God, then there is no morality at all. You can be led anywhere

    Quite so.

  67. @#62: But wouldn’t rape still be extrinsically bad even if God declared it so, as opposed to us? If we invest meaning into the idea that rape is intrinsically bad, all that really means is that we recognize it to be so. Something can be intrinsic without us recognizing it. We’re not a perfect species, after all.

  68. @Doug#66: Now that’s not nice, quoting outside of context like that.

  69. BillT says:

    TOW,

    Your story about the nun was very touching. It also had nothing to do with the content of your original post or my reply to you. Do you have any other stories you would like to tell us rather than deal with the subject at hand or is that all you’ve got.

  70. Sault says:

    @ Justine

    even the most rabid fundamentalist Christian doesn’t take his morality(at least, not the morality that matters) from the Bible the way they claim, or else they would be stoning disobedient children in the streets.

    This is a misunderstanding of Christianity by atheists, and is false.

    Not really. Even fellow Christians look at large portions of modern-day Christians and shake their head at their radical departure from Jesus’ teachings.

    Oh, wait, this was the post that I was looking for. It does a bit better of a job explaining what I mean – basically, that first-century Christianity would be decried as radical leftist socialism in today’s political and religious climate (obviously the two are inseparable for millions of Christians).

    NOT looking for a political discussion. Simply pointing out that large segments of modern-day Christians are seen as hypocrites both by believers and non-believers alike, and that’s what gives rise to those kinds of claims.

  71. Tom Gilson says:

    tow, re: #67, to invest is not to recognize. If you invest moral qualities in something, then those qualities are not intrinsic, they are invested.

    Rape is intrinsically bad not because God declared it so but because God made it so. It is part of the nature of rape to be bad. Because it is in the nature of rape to be bad, its badness is intrinsic.

    (I am being rather loose, for the sake of brevity, with the nature of evil as privation and as something God did not actually make. I’m hoping this is close enough for these purposes. In one sense it’s like the difference between cold and heat. Is dry ice intrinsically cold? Or does it intrinsically lack heat? The distinction in this case is hugely important, but maybe not for present purposes.)

  72. Tom Gilson says:

    What was not nice about what Doug did? If he had attributed the result to you, that would have been wrong. As it was it was more like an extended pun. And it also served to highlight the correctness of what you said:

    If morality has no meaning outside of God, then there is no morality at all.

    That’s true. But you have to keep in mind that God ≠ religion. We’re not saying morality depends on religion or on belief. We’re saying, or at least I am saying and I think others here agree, that if there is intrinsic badness to any act or any thing, then it had to come from someplace other than humans. Higher than humans.

  73. Doug says:

    @TOW,
    Recognizing truth in what you wrote is “not nice”? Really? 😉

  74. Sault says:

    Don’t try to make the metaphor carry more weight than it was designed to hold, Sault, or else you’re just equivocating.

    Hardly. The major point that you make over and over is that non-believers can’t be reasonable because they lack an objective reference to their morality. SteveK was echoing that sentiment. I was attempting to remind him that a great deal of our meaning in life is subjective.

    I won’t invest any more time in it at this point, I’m too busy chuckling to myself after reading another one of Victoria’s declarations that I’m rebelling against God. Good stuff, that.

    (Okay, I’m not really chuckling over Victoria’s posts. I’m actually still reading the “Divine Hiddeness” material.)

  75. @#71: Attributed what result to me? And you have now repeated exactly what I had complained Doug had done.

    I still don’t understand why the intrinsic goodness or badness of a thing must absolutely be defined by something higher than humans.

  76. @Doug: Because you’re quote-mining, the exact thing I was accused of doing earlier. I, at least, quoted the entire paragraph and then highlighted the parts I found salient. You, on the other hand, cut my sentence in half and called victory over that. Then Tom came along and removed the entire second sentence.

  77. Victoria says:

    @Sault
    Yeah, just keep on mocking and scoffing, like some of Paul’s audience in Acts 13 (Acts 13:41 to be specific).

  78. Melissa says:

    Sault,

    I was attempting to remind him that a great deal of our meaning in life is subjective.

    We can give meaning to the things we make because we make them with a purpose and a form that allows them to fulfill that purpose. In that respect we can also judge man made things to be good or bad on how well they perform the purpose we assign them. Natural things already have purpose and meaning (what they are is not for us to decide). Holo already explained the difference between artifacts and natural substances in the other thread in response to your questions.

  79. Justin says:

    That is infantalizing the human race. It’s also what really scares atheists. If morality has no meaning outside of God, then there is no morality at all. You can be led anywhere with religion.

    I agree that without God there are no objective moral values. Why is only the religious’ influence on morality scary? First, science cannot lead you anywhere in morality, so non-religious can lead you pretty much anywhere they want as well. Secondly, there are lots of non-religious groups pressing for their own moral agendas. Those don’t scare you at all? Your concerns seems a bit disingenuous at best.

  80. Tom Gilson says:

    tow,

    First, you’re being uncommonly over-sensitive: “Then Tom came along and removed the entire second sentence.” No. I made a comment on your one sentence, saying that it was true, as long as one paid attention to the difference between God and religion, which related to the content of the sentence you accuse me of “removing.”

    If it’s not okay to quote someone partially and comment on it, then what’s the point of saying anything on a blog??

    You say,

    I still don’t understand why the intrinsic goodness or badness of a thing must absolutely be defined by something higher than humans.

    I’ve answered you 2 or 3 times now. The short version is that if humans invest that morality in things, as you put it, then it’s not intrinsic. The shorter answer yet is that the word “intrinsic” is incompatible with what you’re trying to make of it.

    If you think I’m wrong, then please address what I wrote and explain where I got it wrong. If it’s just that you don’t see what’s wrong with your version, then I’ve given it my best shot, and I can’t help you any further.

  81. Victoria says:

    @Tom
    I think you will need to explain to TOW (and others) just why God’s design for human sexuality makes rape intrinsically evil, for example.

  82. Doug says:

    @TOW,
    “Called victory”? Hardly. I was simply finding truth (or perhaps common ground, if you like) by a very slight amendment to your claim.

  83. Sault says:

    @ Victoria

    Yeah, just keep on mocking and scoffing, like some of Paul’s audience in Acts 13 (Acts 13:41 to be specific).

    I know, I know, it isn’t nice to laugh… but I can’t help it. The sentiment that we are somehow being rebellious against God is ludicrous.

    A militaristic Muslim has a suicide vest; a militaristic atheist has a keyboard (and maybe a latte). We have more to fear from your fellow theists than you have to fear from us, yet atheists are the least trusted minority in America… go figure…

    I shouldn’t laugh, and I know it. Some people take that sentiment and run with it, and turn their faith into a rallying cry, and when faced with our disbelief proclaim it to be a war. I’ve even seen it on this blog. It’s a disturbing sentiment.

    It isn’t funny “ha-ha”, it’s funny “tragic”. But sometimes all you can do is laugh.

    I don’t have any reason to believe that you’re not a very sincere, intelligent, good-natured person who is trying to be the best person and believer that you can be – it is this one belief of yours that I half-laugh, half-cry at.

  84. Doug says:

    @Sault,
    How old is your kid? At some stage (whether past, present or future) his/her idea of “rebellion” will be out of sync with yours. Chances are s/he will also think your ideas are “ludicrous”.

  85. Josh says:

    @Tom

    Thank you for the help. It’s overwhelming sometimes to look at a verse, or series of verses and try to gain the knowledge, wisdom and understanding the Holy Spirit is trying to impart. I’m to impatient! I want to know it all now.

  86. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Sault:

    I know, I know, it isn’t nice to laugh… but I can’t help it. The sentiment that we are somehow being rebellious against God is ludicrous.

    There is nothing ludicrous about the idea. Your personal “sentiments” about it tell us more about you than about the idea itself.

    It isn’t funny “ha-ha”, it’s funny “tragic”. But sometimes all you can do is laugh.

    I agree. And the really tragic thing is that the joke is on you.

  87. Holopupenko says:

    It’s no joke.

    In witnessing atheists continuously stumble over the nonsense they oh so intentionally and objectively and meaningfully–yet vainly–attempt to promulgate here, I keep recalling that wonderful C.S. Lewis book “The Magician’s Nephew,” which is the prequel to “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” In my personal estimation, the former is better than the latter because of the life-lessons it teaches.

    The really scary part is that they feel “above” what they want to believe are simple-minded categories like “good” and “evil”. Considerations of good and evil are dubbed “meaningless” because it’s convenient for them, and their own objectives (it IS about them) determine what is “right” for them. “A perfect world begins and ends with… ME!”

    “Lord Voldemort showed me the truth. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” (Prof. Quirrell, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

    In fact, “above” good and evil invariably ends up meaning evil.

    “Evil, be thou my good.” (Satan, Paradise Lost)

    Sometimes it isn’t good enough for these knuckleheads to be evil or to smudge the lines. They have to prove their evilness by eschewing all that is good and embracing all that is bad. (Consider Otto’s nuttiness on homosexual “marriage.”)

    “The man who is to be great is the one who can be the most solitary, the most hidden, the most deviant, the man beyond good and evil, lord of his virtues, a man lavishly endowed with will–this is precisely what greatness is to be called: it is able to be as much a totality as something multi-faceted, as wide as it is full.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)

    So, like Jadis and Uncle Andrew, these poor souls think this way: “Ours is a high and lonely destiny.” Of course, everyone knows how full of crap atheist notions are. Digory captures it beautifully: “All it means… is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants.”

    Indeed.

    But they must be careful, for they’ll get precisely what they wish for… like the evil Queen Jadis: she ignores the warning in the garden. The apple she ate made her immortal, but because of her evil heart she’ll live a “life” of misery. Digory almost took the apple. But, instead, he obeyed Aslan… and ends up receiving (to, among other things, heal his mother) a new apple as the fruit of the planted one.

    Evil is cool: homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, etc., etc.–all anti-fecundal, all death-dealing at the end of the day… and all so “invigorating” for its proponents and practitioners. The lines of actors portraying evil villains–bad guys–are great, the costumes are great, they look much sexier… and then there are their toys! But they forget one cannot have a “boring” good guy without the conflict: the bad guy in most cases IS the conflict… the villain makes the plot.

    And, at the end of the day, evil cannot comprehend good. (“Look, he’s embracing his cross!?!”) And, evil ends up with its reward… yet, too bad for the villain Machiavelli was wrong… and they end up locked into strangeness like Uncle Andrew, and like the browless (in fact, utterly hairless) Satan depicted in the “Passion.”

    “What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone is as ugly as you!? You’re alone!” (Batman, The Dark Knight)

    So atheists, like Uncle Andrew are their own straw people: Uncle Andrew, despite calling himself a Magician, is arguably a product of Lewis’s antipathy towards irreligious scientists. He meddles with things he cannot understand, practices cruel animal experiments, he completely fails to understand the meaning of his discoveries beyond his selfish needs, he won’t accept the existence of anything that isn’t a part of his narrow world-view, he wants to kill Aslan without knowing who he is: “You must understand that what is wrong for a boy or one of the common rabble is not wrong for a great scientists and pioneer like me.”

    “The horror. The horror.” (Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now)

    Indeed. Atheism is a symptom of a deep hatred of reality. “Horror” doesn’t quite capture it.

  88. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault, and others,

    What if you’re wrong?

    What if there is a veil over the unbeliever’s eyes? (Have you read this post yet?)

    What if the reason you cling to your philosophical materialism, with its absurd denial of moral transcendence, its even more absurd denial of free will, its even more absurd yet conclusion that consciousness is an illusion, and its tragic denial of eternity, is not because you’ve evaluated all the evidence dispassionately, but because you are in rebellion against God. Not with guns and knives (that would be silly) but with your desires to run your life your own way, and not have to own God’s loving authority?

    Your protestations amount to this: “You Christian idiots think there’s something I don’t know, and it’s important to my destiny. Well, I’m here to tell you I understand everything I need to know about it, and I can’t be wrong!”

    What if you are wrong? Who suffers more than you?

  89. Holopupenko says:

    Indeed, who suffers more that these guys?

    And yet, these are the same folks who rail against God for the suffering they see–angrily, with great strength of purpose and meaning behind their words, objectively and absolutely.

    They bellow, shaking their fists, “Where is your God?!” in the midst of all the suffering they “see”… neglecting to LOOK at the Cross to see Him hanging there suffering WITH ALL OF US… and FOR THEM.

  90. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Holopupenko:

    They bellow, shaking their fists, “Where is your God?!”

    Indeed. But if we want to see such rebellion acted out, we do not look up to cultural midgets devoid of any wit or profundity of intellect and instead go to the literary masters that have given us the most persuasive examples of such defiance: Dante’s Ulysses, Milton’s Satan, Shakespeare’s villains (and also King Lear in his mad discourse in the middle of a terrifying storm), Melville’s Captain Ahab, etc.

  91. Victoria says:

    Thanks, my big brothers 🙂

  92. Holopupenko says:

    @90: Indeed. But then, the modern empirical sciences have, to a large extent (and with significant damage to the formation of students we would hope would be of “profound intellects”), usurped education… because they “work.” Heh. And, don’t forget, I’m speaking as an associate professor of physics. We’ve become technocrats: enamored by sound-bite “answers” and operational definitions. That view actually (long term) does more damage to science than the admitted nonsense proposed by YECers, etc. Good literature COUNTS (get it?) because it opens our minds to the human condition… which the MESs cannot do. I look to the MESs to tell me WMD’s exist in Iran; I do not–nor should I–look to the MESs to tell me whether I should do anything about them.

  93. Tom Gilson says:

    So true, Holopupenko. C.P. Snow was right. The product of it is seen in the likes of Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, PZ Myers–men (there might be women like this too) who think that their extensive knowledge of science is proof that they know pretty much everything worth knowing. Witness all their excursions into philosophy, even while claiming they don’t think philosophy is worth a hoot. Coyne is treading dangerously close now to doing the same with ancient history, of which I am sure he also knows nothing. Dawkins did something similar with his over-the-top endorsement of Krauss’s latest book–as if he knows anything about cosmology.

    You would think these men would understand the meaning of “discipline” in “academic discipline.”

  94. Justin says:

    Saul

    Not really. Even fellow Christians look at large portions of modern-day Christians and shake their head at their radical departure from Jesus’ teachings

    I don’t see how this or the rest of what you wrote is relevant to what we were discussing. Again, you skip around quite a bit without ever really finishing an exchange, tossing out one irrelevant rebuttal after another. Then you make the claim that early Christians were left wing socialists and then pronounce that you’re not looking for a political discussion. That’s simply juvenile hit-and-run debating. You didn’t really seem equipped to discuss the relationship between Old Testament law and the New Testament, so you threw something against the wall hoping it would stick. Sorry, it didn’t.

  95. Justin says:

    Stephen Hawking has actually memorialized this self-contradiction in his book, proclaiming that philosophy is dead, just before he proceeds to engage in a philosophical discussion. Although not as publically militant as Coyne or Myers, his voice carries more apparent weight because of his celebrity status, at least with the media. This should make it all the more embarrassing to other scientists who know better.

  96. Holopupenko says:

    You folks want to hit the mother-load of self-congratulatory scientistic hubris? Visit this site: http://www.edge.org. You’ll recognize the usual suspects. Make sure you have a brown bag handy, for here are only some of the things they say about themselves:

    “Edge is a salon for the world’s finest minds.”

    “To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves”

    “Science is the only news”

    “The man who runs the world’s smartest website.”

    “To accomplish the extraordinary, you must seek extraordinary people.” [“Extraordinary” is supposed to be understood as an MES term with objective meaning bequeathed by the MESs, right? Heh.]

    “We are interested in ‘thinking smart;’ we are not interested in the anesthesiology of received ‘wisdom’”

    “…consists of individuals who create their own reality and do not accept an ersatz, appropriated reality.”

  97. Tom Gilson says:

    Definition, ersatz: “being a usually artificial and inferior substitute or imitation.”

    Definition, artificial: “humanly contrived often on a natural model : man-made.”

    Got that? Now re-read this:

    consists of individuals who create their own reality and do not accept an ersatz, appropriated reality

    See the problem there? (I know you do, Holo…)

    consists of individuals who create their own reality and do not accept a humanly-contrived man-made reality

    How do they do that?

  98. BillT says:

    My goodness Holo. Your post is simply stunning. Amazing summation of the problems of a world without God creates. Its allure. Its utter emptiness. Its self deception.

  99. Justin says:

    It’s like those folks are self-contradiction magnets!

  100. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Tom Gilson:

    How do they do that?

    gods, small, petty, self-serving gods, can do anything.

    Is not one of the arguments in some atheists’ arsenal that the concept of God is self-contradictory? Wadda ya know, they are right after all, they just missed the target.

  101. Sault says:

    @ Tom

    Your protestations amount to this: “You Christian idiots think there’s something I don’t know, and it’s important to my destiny. Well, I’m here to tell you I understand everything I need to know about it, and I can’t be wrong!”

    What if you are wrong? Who suffers more than you?

    What a wonderful thing to wake up to in the morning – a sweeping mischaracterization followed by a Pascal’s Wager. Charles would not be proud of you, Mr. Gilson, and I’m not either.

    I don’t think that I’ve seen any non-believer who posts here say that they knew everything. I don’t think that I’ve seen any say that they couldn’t be wrong. I don’t *think* that I’ve seen any of the regular contributors call Christians idiots. In fact, after a brief Google search, it seems like the only person who has used the word “idiot” on this blog has been… you.

    I don’t agree with you – that doesn’t mean that I’m “rebellious against God”. That is a divisive bit of rhetoric, and does not lend itself to reasoned conversation. The reasonable position is to attempt to understand the other side’s arguments and evaluate them on their merits – something that I personally have been attempting to do.

    I run sound at a local church. I play on their worship team occasionally. I just started helping out a local Christian blues band as their sound tech. I have deep and meaningful relationships with devout Christians in my life even when I don’t agree with their theology.

    I used the illustration of Charles earlier. Have I said a single derogatory thing about him or attributed any negative characteristics to him? I lamented that a solitary Christian has no guarantee (outside of divine intervention, which is not guaranteed) to learn the deepest truths about Christianity…. that is a critique and not an insult.

    While initially I came here wondering if Christians can really think, I’ve been pleasantly surprised – I’ve got a lot to learn, and it’s helped me understand my own beliefs. I appreciate that. I wish that I had the philosophical chops to offer more of a defense – I don’t, and it sucks. Still, I’m able to contribute here and there, and that will have to do for now.

    I get it. When you’re on a roll, and are demolishing arguments left and right it’s easy to step into the self-congratulations and back-slapping and boasting. That’s natural, and very human, and I can’t blame you for some of it (for I’ve done it myself)….

    …but mischaracterizing me and my words and calling me rebellious against something I don’t even believe in doesn’t make me want to participate. It’s a little counter-productive. I don’t know if Victoria will ever understand that. It would help her greatly if she does. If you’re going to talk to non-believers in a meaningful manner in terms of apologetics especially, you need to meet them halfway (at least), and sometimes that means not speaking solely from the Bible and saying statements that (while are more or less Biblical) don’t do a damn thing to further the conversation.

    One of the things that I’ve appreciated about this blog is that it is that attempt to meet non-believers on their own turf and attempt to show why their philosophical positions are inconsistent, illogical, etc. It gives me a chance to ask questions of myself that I maybe never otherwise would have.

    Gah. I had some thoughts that I wanted to contribute, but I ended up venting. I’ll offer them up at another time – I don’t want this to be any longer than it already is.

  102. Holopupenko says:

    Sault:

    I really believe you’re being honest and heartfelt in everything you’re saying–I really do.

    Here’s the problem, though: the positions on various topics you’ve commented upon (I’m not going to regurgitate here) undermine what you’ve just said. You decry things that you then appeal to in order to make a point: you demand we behave “morally” and you decry real evils… and then you turn around and believe morality is ALWAYS subjective. The same goes with meaning, the same goes with free will, the same goes with, yadda-yadda-yadda…

    Just what, precisely, are we to think? It’s not just that on some key concepts “[your] philosophical positions are inconsistent, illogical, etc.” It’s also that because of (a result of) what we face, you (likely inadvertently) make rational discourse impossible. Trust me, you’re not challenging the faith in God of believers here. But, you (and other atheists) do challenge our faith in whether it is even possible to engage in rational discourse with an atheist–because, again, you undermine the very possibility for rational discourse to proceed.

    To a great extent this is the case because there is so much white-heat push back on God that you tend to sacrifice those things that make you human! Start with your humanity. Start with the basic fact that you, indeed, have the capacity for free will and rationality… and then explain to yourself WHAT they are and WHY they exist in the first place. Start also with the understanding that in order to have some explanation you MUST have some objective truths to which to cling.

    We get exasperated with you guys (apart from some serious ignorance about us and faith) because we DON’T (usually) talk about God but about the basics of reality. Without a solid understanding of reality (and I don’t mean you need a Ph.D.)–some of which is subject to correction, and some which is not–there’s no use in exploring why there is reality rather than nothing at all.

    Take Aquinas First Way (Argument): the very first premise of the argument says “things are in motion.” No Biblical reference, no appeal to faith, nothing but trying to come to a conclusion in the light of human reason alone. The entire argument, in fact, doesn’t appeal to faith but to reality as it is and to sound reasoning. Don’t trust me? Read it. What of faith if we can reason to God? Ahh… therein lies the beginning of a very interesting adventure in our human limits, our brokenness, and our trust in an IS–THE IS–who, scandalously, doesn’t put Himself first… for our sake.

    If even doing that brings you too uncomfortably close to God, then so be it. The choice–its implications and whatever results from it–is yours.

    Victoria:

    I’m NOT in a good position to admonish folks commenting here: my bedside manner is admittedly not the best. So, please, I offer this with the best of intentions: Sault is correct: he’s not part of the choir (yet!), so treating him as a member of the choir by offering “from the Bible and saying statements that (while are more or less Biblical) don’t do a damn thing to further the conversation” doesn’t work. You float MY boat–really. But, you don’t float Sault’s boat. The best we can do is to show Christianity is anything but irrational, and then Sault has to make up his mind.

    I’ve probably said too much…

  103. Victoria says:

    So Christians should not use any arguments or state Christian teachings that you unbelievers don’t want to hear?

    You (atheists) are free to caricature and misrepresent (through willful ignorance or worse) Biblical teachings in the most vile and scurrilous manner I have ever seen (the site that Tom referred to in the OP is at once laughable, infuriating and sad), but we are not allowed to defend it?

    We are not allowed to state categorically what historic, Biblical Christianity has to say about the human condition? about why unbelievers scoff at Biblical truths?

    I don’t think so…
    This is war, so I’m not going to sugarcoat the truth; but you are not the enemy we are fighting – you are his prisoners, as we once were. Do you think we should not tell you the truth? Do you not want to know why we think you are wrong?

  104. Melissa says:

    Our society and education system is directed towards what is useful not necessarily what is good and I’m ashamed to say I used to think the same. As an undergrad I was rather dismissive of the arts and thought it would have been a bit if a waste of time even though in my leisure I loved to read good literature and I also did the music performance subject for credit in my final year of high school as an extra subject on top of my straight maths/ science.

    Fortunately I grew up and also found Christ and recognized the difference between usefulness and goodness. To be honest I find it hard to believe that these men can be so old and yet still be so clueless.

  105. Victoria says:

    @Holo
    My last post got in before I saw your post.

    Thanks for the advice, though 🙂

    @Sault
    look, I am not trying to offend you, and it is not out of malice that I bring you face to face with the Christian truths that you so categorically deny.

  106. Holopupenko says:

    Victoria:

    I’m right there with you on @102: keep up the good work!

  107. Victoria says:

    @Holo
    Thanks – that means alot to me, coming from you 🙂 I’ve learned much from reading your posts.

  108. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault,

    Pardon me, but there’s a problem here still. First, as we have spoken here of non-believers being blinded to the light of the gospel, this is what we have heard in response:

    I am sorry if this offends, but the way I see it, saying these things makes Christians feel better about themselves, makes them feel like they are special, chosen for something the rest of us hell-damned sinners not only do not appreciate but also do not really deserve….
    ***
    I know, I know, it isn’t nice to laugh… but I can’t help it. The sentiment that we are somehow being rebellious against God is ludicrous….

    Second, what I said of that was,

    Your protestations amount to this: “You Christian idiots think there’s something I don’t know, and it’s important to my destiny. Well, I’m here to tell you I understand everything I need to know about it, and I can’t be wrong!”

    Sure, you didn’t call us idiots as I said you did. Not in that exact wording, that is; I read it between the lines of “It isn’t nice to laugh but I can’t help it.”

    But you call it a “sweeping mischaracterization,” immediately after which you mischaracterize what I said!

    I don’t think that I’ve seen any non-believer who posts here say that they knew everything. I don’t think that I’ve seen any say that they couldn’t be wrong.

    I only claimed that you seem to have the attitude “I understand everything I need to know about it, and I can’t be wrong!” (Emphasis added.)

    Your unconstrainable laughter indicates to me that you are completely confident that our position is laughable, which hardly ever accompanies anything but 100% confidence that one is right that the other is wrong. You really, honestly did come across that way when you said that. Did you not intend to? Then feel free to correct it.

    You also mischaracterized me as having offered a Pascal’s wager. That’s not what I did. I didn’t ask you, “pick whichever said gives you the greatest eternal advantage if it happens to be true.” (That’s not what Pascal said, but that’s what people who dismiss Pascal so readily usually think he said, so I’m going with that version for these purposes.) What I said in effect was, “You seem so confident you are right and our position is [updating it based on more recent comments] laughable. You act as if you think there’s no chance you are wrong. But please consider the possibility, and consider the danger you might be in if you are.”

    That’s not Pascal’s wager in any interpretation.

    And then you accuse me of

    I get it. When you’re on a roll, and are demolishing arguments left and right it’s easy to step into the self-congratulations and back-slapping and boasting. That’s natural, and very human, and I can’t blame you for some of it (for I’ve done it myself)….

    Where is my boasting? Where!? Where am I back-slapping? Where?!

    If I’m demolishing arguments, maybe that’s not back-slapping and boasting. Maybe that’s just what happens to weak arguments. What do you expect me to do when you say something that is both wrong and harmful? Lay down and let you believe it without any challenge? Why would I do that?

    I’m doing my best here, Sault, to speak truth and to support it with good evidence and logic. I’m not trying to set myself up as superior, but I am trying to set up arguments in behalf of Christianity as superior, and I don’t apologize for doing that. If I find out that I’m wrong about those arguments, I’ll quit offering them. I’ll quit believing them. I’ll quit believing what they point toward.

    Would you do that with your arguments? What if they really are being demolished? Would you give them up?

  109. SteveK says:

    Holo,

    And, don’t forget, I’m speaking as an associate professor of physics.

    Off topic, but I would enjoy hearing a brief story of two, if you have some, about dealing with anti-realistic baggage of scientism, nominalism, reductionism etc in the science classroom. What did the student say, what did you say, how did they respond?

  110. Holopupenko says:

    SteveK:

    I teach several types of classes at a NON-secular university… so, to a large extent, I’m “preaching to the choir.” I teach physics, survey of science, and philosophy of nature (with a strong historical component).

    The biggest problem I face is not a lack of faith, it’s…

    … wait for it…

    … too much faith.

    Now, before you jump down my throat, it’s partly misplaced faith. It’s applying faith in a fideistic sense (look up Plantinga’s definition of fideism – it’s very good)… and it’s maddening at times. So, when I TRY to introduce fundamental concepts that lead up to being able to handle difficult concepts like “scientism, nominalism, reductionism, etc.”, a significant portion of the time I feel a push-back/sentiment from a good portion of students along the lines of, “yeah, yeah… we don’t need details, we know those things are bad… just get to the good, polemical stuff so that our faith is affirmed.”

    Oh, brother! What ever happened to faith AND reason? What ever happened to “Love the Lord you God… with ALL YOUR MIND…”?

    Almost (but not quite) worse, such an approach by students too comfortable in their faith and misapplying it means they ARE ignorant of important philosophical points. I almost bet that, when Arianism or some of the other heresies were raging in ages past, it’s these types of students who might be most at risk of falling into those traps. Why? Precisely because one must have a good grasp of reality (= natural sciences) AND a good grasp of the human story (= history, literature, etc.) to then proceed to argue to higher verities (substance, form, change, personhood, moral categories, etc., etc.)

    [Digression: This is why the REALLY STUPID Edge.org condescension “we are not interested in the anesthesiology of received ‘wisdom’” just burns me. It’s so revealing of just how uneducated those pinheads are. If they had even the smallest inkling of what they were talking about (leave aside the historicist fallacy nonsense for the moment), they’d realize they’re repeating the very same error Descartes and others did: doubt ALL, start a revolution by abandoning ALL which preceded, and declare yourselves “smarter” than the rest. You need a microscope to find some original thinking among such chowder heads. There’s nothing new under the sun with these guys.]

    If you’re acquainted with heresies, you realize the errors stem (mostly) from a bad grasp of reality… usually originating from “comfortable” preconceived notions. How can Christ be both God and man, i.e., how can He have two natures? How can God be One and yet three Persons? Well, if one doesn’t, e.g., know what a nature is, which means one hasn’t done the requisite intellectual heavy lifting from the real world (where God’s effects are evident) to higher verities (where we reflect upon causes writ large), one will be lost and easily fall into error. Example (and, NO, this is NOT to start an interdenominational cat fight): if one doesn’t have a good grasp of “substance” and “accident” and “change,” then one will not correctly understand “transubstantiation.” Note the latter is NOT a request to accept, but to understand… then make a decision.

    Anyway, I think that’s plenty for an off-topic splash from me.

    Tom:

    While not to take away from @107, I’m still going to give Sault the benefit of the doubt @100. You’re largely correct and I’m with you… but let’s see what he says.

  111. Sault says:

    @ Holo

    Oh, brother! What ever happened to faith AND reason? What ever happened to “Love the Lord you God… with ALL YOUR MIND…”?

    You know what would be awesome? If critical thinking was taught in schools. I don’t mean the “doubt-everything-religion-is-bad” kind, I mean at least basic philosophy/logic. It wasn’t until college that I had even a logic class, and it’s a damn shame, because knowing how to think better would have come in handy once or twice since then.

    Before I came on this blog I held philosophy to be something of a waste of time. It’s been an educational experience to find otherwise.

    Would I hold the beliefs that I do today if I had learned to think more critically and rigorously at an earlier age? I have to wonder. I’m not sure how I can say why I believe some of the things that I believe anymore… I’m trying to figure it out, and my participation on this blog has been instrumental in that.

    I can’t cry over spilt milk, but I can at least say that this is the first time in my life that I can remember being intellectually challenged by a Christian in a non-trivial sense. It’s one thing to laugh at Ray Comfort and debunk his “atheists’ worst nightmare”, it’s a whole ‘nother issue to determine a rational basis for subjective morality. It’s a strange mixture of excitement, anger, joy, and depression (I am a man given to many emotions).

    @ Tom

    I was chuckling over one specific belief. Just one. Only one – the idea that I’m somehow rebellious against a God that I don’t even believe in. It’s like saying that you hate Thor – I mean, obviously, right? That’s all. I’ve tried to go out of my way since then to specify that it was solely that. (and a chuckle is hardly unconstrained laughter, either!)

    I apologize for my comment about the boasting and back-slapping. It was the impression that I got from posts 97 through 100-ish. If I may, I would ask to recant it – upon-rereading it, it wasn’t a fair statement to make.

    I do expect you to continue to challenge weak statements and disprove them. That is what you should do, what you have done, and what I expect you to continue to do. Nothing wrong with that.

    Again, my apologies for having misconstrued your statements.

    I look at my response and I see a very large emotional reaction. It’s one thing to be called “dumb as a bag of hammers” (an insult that I still treasure), it’s another to say that I said that Christians are idiots. People are often idiots, but not the people here on this blog.

    Your protestations amount to this: “You Christian idiots think there’s something I don’t know, and it’s important to my destiny. Well, I’m here to tell you I understand everything I need to know about it, and I can’t be wrong!”

    I don’t know everything, I don’t know everything about Christianity, I don’t know everything about God, I don’t know everything about what you believe about God, I don’t know all of the nuances in the arguments for God, I certainly don’t understand AT… What I don’t know could fill several large books, and it is conceivably possible that what I learn could change my understanding about myself and the universe around me.

    What I do know is that I’m not being rebellious against God. You can’t be rebellious against something that you don’t believe in.

    What if you are wrong? Who suffers more than you?

    If I’m wrong I go to hell. (A logical extension of) Pascal’s Wager. Instead of assuming that everyone’s on the same page as me, is there actually anyone who still considers it to be a reasonable argument against atheism?

    Finally… if every one of my logical arguments is proven false? That’s an incredibly tough question to truly answer. I would hope that I would have the intellectual integrity to admit it.

    What is frustrating is that I’m unable to properly vocalize what I believe at this point in time. If I can vocalize it properly and analyze it, that would give me the ability to truly evaluate myself and what I believe, and hopefully lead to affirmation or rejection of those beliefs.

    Man, this became a really long response. My apologies. To roughly paraphrase Mark Twain, I’d write you a shorter letter if I only had the time…

  112. Doug says:

    @Sault,

    You can’t be rebellious against something that you don’t believe in.

    As a previous reply pointed out, there is a legitimate sense of the word rebellion that describes teenagers’ attitudes to their parents. In fact, one of the facets of this form of rebellion is the attempt to live as if said parents did not exist (until funds are necessary, of course 😉 ) — so I’m inclined to think that “not believing in God” is quite commensurate with rebellion, rather than precluding it!

  113. Holopupenko says:

    Sault:

    Always pursue the truth. ALWAYS. Make no compromise. Spare no effort. Never fear it. Be honest with yourself. You will stumble, but no matter: ALWAYS seek truth. Have no regrets about what didn’t happen. Just keep going. ALWAYS seek truth. ALWAYS.

  114. Holopupenko says:

    Hey Tom:

    At the risk of appearing foolish and giddy, it looks like your blog may be channeling Grace! We might… just might… have to join the angels in an upcoming celebration. If a shepherd has 100 sheep and one is lost, that’s one too many… while the 99 who remain is one too few. We’re not talking statistics here, folks.

  115. Tom Gilson says:

    Sault, I appreciate what you wrote, and I’ll be back with a reply before too long, later this morning. Thanks.

  116. Tom Gilson says:

    Good morning, Sault,

    Thanks again for your recent comment. I think we probably misread each other. Clearly I misread you, for which I apologize. I am heartened to hear that these discussions have caught your attention in a good way.

    I do want to work with this a bit more:

    I was chuckling over one specific belief. Just one. Only one – the idea that I’m somehow rebellious against a God that I don’t even believe in. It’s like saying that you hate Thor – I mean, obviously, right? That’s all. I’ve tried to go out of my way since then to specify that it was solely that. (and a chuckle is hardly unconstrained laughter, either!)

    I used the word “unconstrained” because you had said you couldn’t keep from laughing. It was probably the wrong adjective for that. I had thought of writing “uncontrollable” and I knew that wasn’t right, but I guess I got it wrong on the second try, too.

    Can you be rebellious toward God when you don’t believe in him? I’m afraid so. It’s the universal condition of human beings as we start out. We don’t believe in our Creator. The classic text on this is Romans 1 and 2, where Paul speaks of three types of people: the pagan, the religious person, and the non-religious person. Romans 1:18,19 introduces it with the general statement that God’s power and creativity (not all his character, but at least that much) can be known by all, but that we all suppress the truth of it in unrighteousness.

    Romans 1:20-32 speaks of those who fall into idolatry, which is clearly rebellion. Romans 2:1-11 speaks of judgmentalism in general. Romans 2:12-16 is about those who do not know God’s law, and it says they too are in rebellion, as evidenced by their inability to keep even their own standards of right conduct. Romans 2:17-39 is about the religious person who fails to live up to known standards.

    All these categories are in rebellion against their Creator. In the middle case it typically takes the form of passive indifference. Considering that God is our supremely loving Creator and King, it’s an affront to him to say, “I don’t believe it,” and/or “I don’t care.”

    The only exception is the person who is responding to Jesus Christ. If you’re genuinely seeking, you will find; and I would not call that a state of rebellion, or at least not at all in the same way as what I described above. Also, those who are in a relationship with Christ are rescued from rebellion, and have received God’s gift of a reconciled relationship with him.

    You said,

    If I’m wrong I go to hell. (A logical extension of) Pascal’s Wager. Instead of assuming that everyone’s on the same page as me, is there actually anyone who still considers it to be a reasonable argument against atheism?

    Pascal’s wager is a complex thing in context, so I’ll answer with respect to what I wrote here, urging atheists to consider the dangers of hell.

    (Maybe you caught what I was saying last time, and you really did want to talk about Pascal’s wager, which is not what my comment was about. If so, what I’m about to write might be off the mark or unnecessary for what you’re thinking about. If you do indeed want to ask about Pascal’s wager, my thought is that if you don’t consider it a strong argument just pass it by. There are other arguments we can work with.)

    Anyway, I don’t consider what I wrote earlier, about consequences of belief, to be a reasonable argument against atheism. I wasn’t trying to present it as one. I was presenting it as a motivating factor for atheists to look very, very carefully at their arguments, but still to choose based on what’s true, not based on what’s more or less frightening regardless of what’s true. I tried to clarify that in my comment prior to this one. I really hope I got it right this time.

    Again, thank you for your encouraging words and for being patient through this process.

  117. BillT says:

    Sault,

    A quick take on Pascal’s Wager. I think it’s a bad argument if what you take away is “You should choose Christianity because it’s a safer bet”.

    However, it can be seen in a different light. We are all wagering. We wager a life committed to Christ on the promise of eternity with Him. You wager a life on your own terms in light of your doubts there is that eternity. We are both wagering quite a lot. The consequences of being wrong are great. A life spent in service to nothing. The potential of eternity alone because you didn’t.

    The question is this. Given the price of being wrong is great can you really say you have honestly examined all the evidences, examined your own heart and its prejudices and stepped outside of your presuppositions? Getting this wrong is a big deal no matter which side you are on.

  118. Holopupenko says:

    Sault:

    Permit me to add a little–perhaps unstated–spice to BillT’s message. When you say “You should choose Christianity because it’s a safer bet” my response is ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Christianity, Christian faith “safe”?!? Let me assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. In this life we were NOT promised “safety” or “comfort” or “power” or “advantage.” We were promised our own crosses, and the only way to the other side is through His Cross. To mine C.S. Lewis: Aslan is a lion… but he’s not a tame lion.

  119. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Sault:

    Holopupenko beat me to it, but I would like to add something to his post #118. He earlier admonished you to always pursue the truth, no matter the cost. The problem is that the truth is a *REALLY* hard pill to swallow. I confess I am completely dumbstruck when Christians are accused of wishful thinking. What is there of wishful thinking in taking up Christ’s cross and follow Him to the Golgotha? In Luke 12:49 Jesus tells us that he has come to set the earth on fire; Christianity was founded by a pyromaniac. How is that wishful thinking? In 1 Corinthians 4:9, St. Paul speaks of the apostles as if in a procession towards death, a fool’s exhibition before all the angels and men. How is that wishful thinking?

    And if you are tired of Bible quotes, and they could be multiplied endlessly, here is Thomas Nagel, an important Philosopher and atheist to boot:

    In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

    Temperaments and sensibilities vary, but by God, Thomas Nagel hit the nail on the head. I am (slightly) misreading him intentionally for my rhetorical purposes, because the point I want to make is this: life would surely be easier if He did not exist.

  120. Victoria says:

    @G. Rodrigues

    …because the point I want to make is this: life would surely be easier if He did not exist.

    Perhaps, but I would not trade the last 30+ years of being a Christian, with all of the struggles, successes and failures for a life without Him. When I think of what my life was like BC, where it was going based on the choices I was making, it scares me to think of what kind of person I would have become without Him.
    I am so glad that my Christian friends had the nerve to tell me that I was spritually dead in trespasses and sin, blinded by Satan, and in rebellion against the sovereign King of Creation, Who wanted nothing more than for me to accept Him on His terms.
    That woman in Luke 7:36-50 is me (figuratively speaking 🙂 ).

    The Cross accomplished so much on our behalf.

  121. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Victoria:

    Perhaps, but I would not trade the last 30+ years of being a Christian, with all of the struggles, successes and failures for a life without Him.

    Oh me neither.

    But life without Him would be easier, less complicated, the choices less demanding. How one views this, depends I suppose, a lot on one’s personal experience and sensibility. I think of a martyr meeting his own slaughter with eyes wide open for the sake of a higher good, the Highest Good, and I cannot but help feeling a shiver running down my spine. It is not just the effect of very human fears (fear of failure, fear of commitment, etc.), but the precise understanding that one *must* take up one’s Cross, carry it all the way to our own Golgotha and in a harrowing sacrifice, commit our wills to His will, and that were it not for Him, the weight would be overbearing. As I said, this is probably just my personal sensibility talking, as my journey with Christ has, for the most part, felt like a arduous, terrible trek through the desert where, to quote one of my favorite poets, “the sun beats / And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief / And the dry stone no sound of water”.

    And by the way, you chose one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. I can never read that passage without getting a lump in my throat.

    note: off topic, but by the time the Gospels were written, it was unthinkable that the tears of a woman, and an adulteress at that (or of a humble fisher to give another example), were worthy material for a work of art. How completely and irremediably has the Bible shaped humanity!

  122. Tom Gilson says:

    When my children were young I traveled by air for business, alone, and sometimes the family flew places together. Traveling alone was a lot easier. I felt guilty thinking that until I realized it was just the truth. Traveling alone is easier. Traveling with the family was harder but richer, more relational, more loving. I think life would be easier if there were no God, but it would also be immeasurably emptier.

  123. Holopupenko says:

    I like the scene of Jesus mixing dust with his spittle and smearing on the eyes of the blind man. Whodda thunk? How scandalous! Eeyew! The allusion to breathing life into the dust of the ground is fantastic. I guess we have a new understanding of that ole toast “Here’s mud in your eye!”

    I also like the scene at the Transfiguration. Three blindingly white space aliens hover above the chowder head apostles… and what’s their response? It’s all so human: “Hey, guys! Let’s pitch them a tent…” Really.

    You can’t make this stuff up. It’s wonderful.

  124. Victoria says:

    @G. Rodrigues
    A woman’s tears really get to men, don’t they. 🙂

  125. Doug says:

    @Holo,
    Particularly powerful for me is the fact that he asked the mud-faced man to walk across town (past all manner of unsympathetic comments, no doubt) to wash in a public place. And. He. Did. It.
    Something in what Jesus said or how he said it made this man decide to carry through with a difficult road of obedience with no promise of healing. How often I need promises and proofs before I even get off my chair.

  126. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Victoria:

    A woman’s tears really get to men, don’t they.

    (Blush)

    The lump is not just an emotional response, but also an intellectual one. For what can we witness? Here is a woman that has sunk to the bottom, despised by all, weak, frail and foolish. And yet she has the grandeur to grovel at Jesus’ feet to kiss them and wash them in her tears of remorse. And she does it *to* Christ, *for* Christ, not in the name of some abstract idea or social utopia, but out of a very real, concrete, human love. And Christ? He lifts her up, that miserable, wretched, foolish human being, He lifts her up. With absolutely no trace of condescension or patronizing. He. Just. Lifts. Her. Up. Luke 7:47. “For she loved much”.

  127. Victoria says:

    Amen, G. Rodrigues, Amen.
    And are we ever glad that He does the same for us!

    Can you imagine the unbelievers’ remorse, when they stand before God at the throne of judgement, hearing Him say, “I offered you healing, but you chose to stay sick and die”.

  128. Sault says:

    I totally lost track of the discussion, so let me ask a question that’s been on my mind for a few days.

    If you have a personal relationship with God, then you know that He exists. You therefore no longer have faith (at least in one central definition), since faith is belief in things unproven.

    Am I correct, or do you retain faith in some way even after you have proof (subjective, I suppose) that God exists?

    To restate it a little differently, does the nature/type of faith (not quality or depth, but *type* as in dictionary definition) you posses change over your growth as a Christian?

  129. Melissa says:

    Sault,

    Biblical faith is not belief that God exists, it is trust in who he is. You trust that he is good, faithful, he will do what he has said he would. This trust is such that you order your life around God’s will because you know it is good. An example from the bible of no faith are the Israelites in the desert who knew God existed but did not have faith because they did not trust that God would do as he promised and lead them into the promised land.

  130. Tom Gilson says:

    Faith, Sault, is not incompatible with knowledge. The best analogy I can give you is with marriage. When I asked my wife to marry me, I knew a lot about her. I knew her name, job, looks, but most importantly her character. I knew a lot about her.

    What I didn’t know was what it would be like being married to her. That I had to take on faith, faith that was based on knowledge. Similarly with God, I know him, and I know a lot about him. What I have to trust him for is that he will continue to keep his promises, that following him will continue to be good in spite of what I sacrifice, or in other words that it’s worth it to give things up for him, since he gives back. I trust him for my eternal future.

    So there is much that is known, and that is not a matter of faith but of knowledge. Faith comes in for all the rest that is unknown.

    Good question, by the way.

  131. Victoria says:

    No, it is still faith, since by definition, Christian faith is warranted belief in things that go beyond where reason can go, coupled with trust (we take God at His word), coupled with obedience; it is still how we walk with God.

    For example, Christians have warranted belief, based on the available historical evidence, that Jesus was crucified, died, buried and alive again after the 3rd day (the tomb is empty).
    We trust the apostles’ eyewitness testimony as recorded in the Gospel accounts (we won’t go into all the solid reasons we have for trusting them as reliable primary historical source documents). That is warranted belief based on the available evidence, and is in that sense, objective. The only Christians who had hard evidence of the risen Christ were those who met Him in person, of course, namely the apostles, the women (like Mary Magdalene, Mary His mother) as well as Clopas and Mary (His uncle and aunt – they were probably the ones on the road to Emmaus), James (Jesus’ half-brother) and Paul (through an overwhelming and unique vision). It was necessary for them to have these experiences, since eyewitness testimony is necessary to establish the occurence of an event that occurs in history. This confirmed for them that Jesus is Who He claimed to be, and they were convinced that He is the Son of God.

    We trust God and take Him at His word that Jesus was raised supernaturally from the dead, in a physical body, yet more than merely physical. We trust God and take Him at His word when He says that Christ’s death and resurrection is the means by which He can impart new life to us and forgive our sins, and declare us righteous in His sight. We trust Him and take Him at His word that by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord(God) and Saviour, we are obeying God, and that He gives us the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We trust God and take Him at His word that the Holy Spirit will produce fruit in us, as we obey Him and learn to walk with Him and depend on Him for wisdom, spiritual resources and strength that we could never have on our own.

    This aspect of faith is objective as well, because it is the common experience of all genuine Christians. We know this because we can compare notes, so to speak, with our contemporaries, and see that they have the same types of experiences; we can read what Christians over the past 20 centuries have experienced, and see that it is the same today.

    Hebrews 11:1 NASB says that “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

    That word ‘assurance’ is Greek hupostasis, which we now know from 1st Century Greek papyrii was used in land purchase transactions to mean ‘title-deed’. Conviction is Greek elegchos, which is a ‘proof, or persuasion’.

    Romans 8:14-17 tells us
    For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” 8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 8:17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) – if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him

    How do I know that this is true? I just know. I can hear Him in my thoughts, especially when He needs to reprove me [wry grin]. When I study His word, and I puzzle over something, quite often a thought comes along that points me to another passage that provides more insight.

    The character of faith remains the same – its depth and breadth and fruit grows as we walk with God in trust and obedience.

  132. Holopupenko says:

    Sault:

    What Tom, Melissa, and Victoria said… with some emphasis on the first part of Victoria’s comments. If you want the technical distinction, go to the very beginning of the Summa Theologiae where you’ll find the distinction between:

    (1) the so-called “preambula fidei” (whose WEAKEST argument is on the authority) those things which we can know in the light of human reason alone, e.g., that there IS a First Unmoved Mover… with NO reference to faith and NO reference to Scripture because they are based on philosophical arguments which themselves are based upon EMPIRICAL evidence (e.g., 1st Way: from motion), and

    (2) revealed knowledge, whose STRONGEST argument is on the authority (from trust = faith) and to which we cannot obtain knowledge of in the light of human reason (e.g., the Trinity, the Incarnation, etc.)

    A note of caution: The Summa Theologiae is written with a “preaching to the choir” sentiment. Thomas presupposed faith was already had and that the audience knew the Doctors, the Scriptures, Aristotle, and all sort of others things COLD. In that work, the 1st Way (from motion) is done in a tantalizing one paragraph. In the Summa Contra Gentiles that same argument spans 31 full paragraphs because the audience is one to evangelize through reason on their own grounds and for which a lot is NOT presupposed.

  133. Victoria says:

    Looks like we’ve all been waiting for someone to post something new 🙂

  134. David says:

    For convenience, let’s give our atheist the name Richard.

    ;o)

  135. Charlie says:

    I have not followed this conversation but just stumbled in and read the last 40 or so.

    Very good stuff here. The last few on faith are very good and exactly what I was thinking of saying as I wondered if I should shoehorn my way in.

    SaulT.
    I am very impressed with your last set of comments and your attitude. I’ve watched people on this and other blogs argue for years and years, serving one argument up for defeat after another (not that I’m saying your arguments have been so-defeated, but just comparing them to what you said above), and they make not one admission to having learned a things, or ever questioned a thing about their beliefs.
    They present their case as rock-solid based upon evidence X. When they find they can’t support X they say, ‘no matter, Y, is just as good’. But when Y fails they move to Z.
    At what point, I always wondered, do they question the belief these pillars were meant to support?
    I don’t know, because before too long they are repeating X.
    And then they leave.
    But often they are just sitting on other blogs acting just as confident.

    Again, I have not been following comments here closely for a long time, so I am not actually remarking on your discussions, but am just saying I am heartened by the attitude you are showing in the comments you posted over the past couple of days.

    Hmm, it occurs to me that maybe had I been involved as I was in the other cases alluded to I would have made your attitude unlikely.
    A sobering kick, there.

  136. Charlie says:

    BTW,
    Thank you, Tom, for this excellent blog and for the great community you have set up here.

    And thank you to the commenters who have made it your home. Your defence of the faith is excellent and I hope you all remain.