“Rationalizing Christian”?

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“Stephen” commented on my introductory post, Finally–A Blog For You!,

Maybe this website should be renamed “the rationalizing Christian”. That’s not the same as the “thinking” Christian, but the name seems to fit based my first impression. When we talk about “thinking” we generally consider that our thinking falls out on a spectrum between good and bad thinking. Certain values come into play to make that evaluation. One important one (my evaluation) is that we don’t rationalize. I’m using rationalizing to mean defend our beliefs. In science and philosophy, this is not “good” thinking. Unless our beliefs are honestly on the chopping block, we can only achieve rationalizing – confirmation bias – we are not really thinking or really learning. This is a tremendous challenge to religion, or the religious that think there can be something beyond faith, something called “thinking”. Why did the word “faith” emerge if it wasn’t to make noble, stuff that goes on in our head that does not qualify as “thinking” or “reason” or warranted assertion?

I’ve relocated his comment here with his permission.

Global Skepticism?

I didn’t get a chance to inquire how he acquired his first impression. His analysis of thinking is fine, except that I’m not at all sure that defense of beliefs is equivalent to rationalization. Scientists and philosophers defend their beliefs all the time, and do so legitimately, based on solid evidences and reasoning.

To place all of our beliefs on the chopping block is to practice global skepticism. Have I been alive more than five minutes? I think so; I don’t think I was created moments ago with the illusion of a past. But if I have to have all my beliefs on the chopping block, then I think that means all.

Some beliefs just don’t belong under the guillotine. We don’t need to doubt our existence, our humanness, our basic history as persons, certain moral facts, the value of knowledge, and much more. Consider whether this belief should ever be placed on the chopping block: no belief is immune from the chopping block.

I don’t think we need to be overly tentative as to whether the sun is an astronomical object that provides energy to the earth. We needn’t doubt that light travels faster than sound. We don’t need to wonder whether Napoleon or Washington lived in the early modern era.

Faith Is Belief Built Upon Knowledge

There are some, though, who place religious belief in a separate category, compartmentalized away from actual knowledge. There are some who consider faith to be what’s left over after knowledge comes to an end, or even that it’s “believing in something you know isn’t true.” If that were so, then Christianity could never really be thinking but only rationalizing, as Stephen seems to suggest is going on here.

But this is false. Faith is belief built upon knowledge, and credibly so. My preferred illustration is the faith I had in my wife when we married. I knew her, but not as a wife. My knowledge of her as a friend was real, but it was faith in her that led me to commit to her as her husband.

So it is with God: we have lots of information about him, from Scripture and from the world around us, and that’s what we build our faith upon. So of course thinking applies both to the generally available information and to the wisdom of going beyond it in faith. As it turns out, there’s little need to Jesus lived. The facts line up very, very strongly behind that.

And while there actually is room to question whether he performed acts his contemporaries regarded as miracles, that he was killed on a Roman cross, and that after his death his followers had experiences they took to be resurrection appearances, conservative and skeptical scholars alike tell us there is every good reason to think those things actually happened. Christians can think about these things without rationalizing.

The Confirmation Bias Problem

Stephen correctly points out that confirmation bias is a tremendous challenge to religion. He seems to imply, however, that it’s unique to religion, or perhaps that religion is at least somewhat more susceptible to it than science or philosophy.

It’s wiser, though, to think of it this way: whatever beliefs or opinions we hold to be at the core of our person, on those beliefs or opinion we are most subject to confirmation bias. Secular persons, skeptics, and atheists hold core beliefs (or opinions, if you prefer) just as much as Christians do. Rationalizing is just as possible in science as in religion.

So why did the word “faith” emerge? Because it fits the epistemic attitude of one who believes there is a God, that God is good, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, that God will do good for persons in the future, especially in eternity.

Why does Stephen think this is opposed to thinking? Why can’t I think about such things? Why can’t rationality be applied to them? (Why are so many atheists so <a href=”http://book.truereason.org/excerpt”>maladroit at reasoning</a>?)

I wonder whether Stephen is guilty of his own confirmation bias. I wonder whether he’s willing to place his beliefs about “faith” on the chopping block. I wonder if he’s rationalizing, if when he sees actual instances of Christian thinking he sets it aside as something else. I wonder whether certain values of his come into play to make that evaluation.

I wonder if he’s open to really thinking and learning on this topic.

What say you, Stephen?

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247 Responses to “ “Rationalizing Christian”? ”

  1. “Faith is belief built upon knowledge, and credibly so.”

    I know that Tom has some anti-intellectual tendencies, as displayed in our past debate where he argued against views (e.g., the nature of religious faith) that are widely accepted by contemporary philosophers / epistemologists. Anyway, let’s say that the standard view of knowledge is correct: belief in propositions that are both true and are justified. Let’s further assume that justification amounts to having evidence. This view is also widely accepted by epistemologists today, and Tom himself seems to accept it. (The only alternative that any academic takes seriously is reliabilism, but this is replete with problems.)

    So, Tom is saying that faith is a kind of belief that’s based on another kind of belief, namely belief that is both true and evidentially supported. Okay. First of all, this is definitely not the sense of faith that enters into scholarly conversations about the reasonableness of religion. It’s just not the relevant sense. Anyone who doubts me is more than welcome to crack open a book on the philosophy of religion and take a look. Heck, find a philosopher of religion who’s a theist, in case you’re worried about tendentiousness. Nobody thinks that religious faith is based on evidence — indeed, it’s taken by scholars as more or less an essential feature of faith that it is evidence-less. (See below!)

    Second, I would like to know what evidence there is for, say:

    The virgin birth.
    The ascension of Jesus.
    God being three completely distinct persons who are also completely identical in “substance.”
    The miracle of turning water to wine.
    Jesus walking on water.
    Jesus casting demons into a herd of pigs.
    Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel.
    And so on.

    Similar questions for sincere, honest, confident believers in other religions would be as follows. Give me evidence for:

    Muhammad ascending to heaven on a winged horse.
    Muhammad being visited by the angel Gabriel just like Mary supposedly was.
    Joseph Smith actually translating some “reformed Egyptian” in a hat with seer stones.
    The claim that Jesus traveled to North America after his resurrection.
    Our souls traveling to Venus when we die.
    And so on.

    One could pose the same challenge to scientists about the scientific beliefs they hold. As I’ve written before — and this is true — there isn’t a *single* widely held scientific belief that isn’t supported by *loads* of third-person, checkable evidence. Thus, the proposition that particles can literally tunnel through solid walls, or that space and time are continuous rather than discrete, or that species evolved over 3.5 billion years here on Earth, or that matter is 99.9% space, or that mass and energy are equivalent, or that the cosmos began about 17 billion years ago with a big bang, are all corroborated by massive heaps of objective evidence — that is, evidence that *anyone* (with enough education, and maybe the requisite instrumentation) can observe, check, confirm. This contrasts strongly with the claim that “2,000 years ago, a virgin gave birth to Jesus” — unless, of course, Tom knows something that’s eluded philosophers and theologians for millennia.

    Yes, faith is epistemologically foolish. If you go to a university, you’ll have a heck of a time finding *any* epistemologists who think that faith — of the sort exemplified by religion — is in any way respectable. If you don’t believe me, check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It’s a great resource that I think people on this blog, including (or especially) Tom, could get a whole lot out of.

  2. Phil, who on earth are you to determine what the “relevant sense” of faith has to be???

    Don’t you know that the “scholarly” discussion you refer to is tendentiously in disagreement with the community of Christians who actually practice faith???

    What if in fact, because they are in opposition, they don’t have the one authoritative version of what it is?

    What makes you think that faith is something that you learn most about by reading scholars who think it’s a crock? That’s question-begging!

    I’ll pit my so-called “anti-intellectual tendencies” against your irrational use of fallacy any day!

  3. “So it is with God: we have lots of information about him, from Scripture and from the world around us, and that’s what we build our faith upon.”

    Yes, but the problem here is that *other religions* also have Scripture. Ask a Muslim why one should believe in God and he will say: “Obviously, the world attests to Allah’s greatness. Plus we have this holy text which was literally spoken to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. The Koran is evidence!”

    Obviously, this is foolish nonsense. So it goes with the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the holy texts of Hinduism and Buddhism, and so on.

    (PS. Search YouTube for videos about how the world shows *unequivocally* that Allah is real and you’ll find some amazing specimens. People are so convinced that waterfalls and sunsets and forests prove that Allah is real. It’s quite amusing.)

  4. Phil, thank you for that revelation. Before now, I thought that in order for Christianity to have any epistemic value, it had to be the case that no one anywhere disagreed with it.

    Thank you for reminding us that poor evidence for A shows that the evidence for B is poor; regardless of the similarities or differences between A and B.

    Before now, since I have these “anti-intellectual tendencies,” I never knew those things.

  5. Not sure what you’re talking about, but I can tell you that it’s a fact that faith in the context of the epistemology of religion — that is, the academic discipline, in which both theists and atheists work — is not what you think it is. Again, I highly recommend you delve into the literature.

    I suppose one of my biggest frustrations here is that you insist that people read the Bible “literately,” and you claim to be a “thinking” Christian, yet you seem to have no knowledge of epistemology, the philosophy of religion, or even the relevant (that is, philosophical) branches of theology.

  6. Phil, you’re a crank. You ask,

    Second, I would like to know what evidence there is for, say:

    The virgin birth.
    The ascension of Jesus.
    God being three completely distinct persons who are also completely identical in “substance.”
    The miracle of turning water to wine.
    Jesus walking on water.
    Jesus casting demons into a herd of pigs.
    Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel.
    And so on.

    Here’s why you’re a crank. One, the evidence you ask for exists: it’s called “historical record,” or “the documents.” Two, even though there is little additional evidence to support these details in the documents, there is lots to support the documents in general. Three, you’ve picked out trivia from the documents, as far as apologetics go. Sure, those things are important for understanding the character of Christ, our relationship with him, and so on; but if they don’t add to our evidential reasons to accept the documents’ reliability, so what? Four, there is considerable evidentiary discussion of the Resurrection, and you darn well know it. And therefore Five, you remind me of the man who, when offered the opportunity to discuss a man rising from the dead, said, “I don’t care about a man rising from the dead. I want to know how the donkey talked.” To which I replied, “please go find someone with an equally intense interest in donkeys.”

  7. Phil, this is, after all a rather silly discussion you’ve brought up. You’re saying, “Tom knows nothing, because he doesn’t know … umm, he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know!”

    Why not tell us what it is that I supposedly don’t know? Why all this mysterious talk of some other kind of “faith” of which I have no clue, and which apparently I haven’t practiced for the 37 years I’ve been a Christian, and which no one anywhere (including the many philosophy of religion books and articles I’ve read) has been able to show is the real and/or relevant form of faith? Why not tell us what this true “faith” is?

  8. Tom:

    You’ve red-shirted people for less than this bigotry: “I know that Tom has some anti-intellectual tendencies, as displayed in our past debate where he argued against views (e.g., the nature of religious faith) that are widely accepted by contemporary philosophers / epistemologists.” Translation: you should not be an independent, critical thinker, Tom–get with the program: numbers count, not truth.

    It seems there’s some desperation in Phil’s silly, unsupported comments that likely are buoyed by the following: his own blog – started on 20 March 2012 – has had a total of three (3) comments over those ~ten months… at least one of which is a comment from Tom. I don’t know what the page hits/views are, but one can surmise it’s equally paltry.

    Memo to Phil: what does that evidence suggest to you, Phil? Hint: people rarely listen to the kind of silliness (read: atheism) you spout.

  9. Tom, I’d like to clarify your use of the term “faith” here and make sure I can understand you properly and relate it to other sources.

    First, I share Phil’s surprise that this seems not to be the way I’m used to finding the term employed in Christian literature. For example in Paul’s letters he does not seem to me to use “faith” as an epistemic category but more as a spiritual activity or state of being. I contrast Romans 1:8-17, where faith is discussed, with the following passage Romans 1:18-21, where Paul calls on the evidence of the world around us and uses the word knowledge instead. Are we to take this kind of knowledge as meaning the same as faith, or are these two distinct ideas?

    Second, the way you’ve explained things in the post, the faith you refer to seems to be built up by human effort – we experience the world, read the scriptures and build faith upon that. Am I correct in that understanding? Could you say how you see the relationship between faith and grace? Is faith a response to grace or does the faith come first? This might be useful to understand your position more fully.

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  10. Frank, thanks for the question.

    One of Phil’s errors is in thinking that there is one right definition for “faith.” You are correct to say that by one of those definitions, it’s a state of being or a way of relating to reality. But think of it: if that were thedefinition of faith, could it be irrational? Could it be wrong?

    Well, yes, it could, if it rested upon some irrational, wrong, or inadequate body of evidence and reason. There are four alternatives here as I see it (and I’m still using “faith” in the sense described above):

    (1) Faith is epistemically justified: the way of being or the way of relating to the world embodied in faith is warranted by what we know.
    (2) Faith is epistemically ruled out: what we know about the world indicates that faith is a misguided or mistaken way of being and of relating to reality.
    (3) Faith could be either epistemically justified or ruled out, but we don’t know enough at this point to say which.
    (4) Faith is a free-floating attitude toward reality that has nothing to do with knowledge, justification, or warrant.

    If any of (1) through (3) are correct, then faith is the kind of thing that could conceivably be irrational, although in the case of (1) it would be rational instead. If (4), then faith could be divorced from rationality and irrationality: it would be a feeling, an attitude, a hope, but not one that is tied to any belief or knowledge. That may be some religions’ sense of “faith,” but it has nothing to do with Christianity.

    What I’m trying to say is that if the only definition of faith were “a spiritual activity or state of being,” it would still have epistemic implications.

    But that’s not the only definition of faith. It’s often used interchangeably with trust or belief, both in the Bible and in Christian practice; and not in any free-floating sense of belief, but rather “belief that ….” See for example Matt. 9:28, Mark 11:24, Mark 16:11, Luke 24:25, John 3:12, John 5:46f, John 8:24, John 10:25f, John 10:37f, John 11:42, John 13:19, John 16:30f, John 17:20f, John 19:35 (!), John 20:31 (!), Romans 3:22 (!), Romans 6:8, 2 Cor. 4:13, Gal. 3:22, Heb. 11:6 (!).

    In fact it’s entirely in keeping with Christian thinking to say that faith is an attitude or disposition of belief that God is who he says he is, has done what Scripture says he has done, continues to do what Scripture says he will continue to do, and will do in the future what Scripture says he promises to do.

    The first several aspects of that are integrally tied up together with knowledge: we can know (at least potentially) whether Scripture’s accounts of God’s actions describe real events in history. If they did, then we can come to a rationally-based judgment concerning whether said events were likely from God.

    Then there is also the Reformed and I think also Thomistic position that faith itself is a form of knowledge: that God can and does reveal himself to persons directly apart from “evidences.” There’s nothing rationally defective in a person concluding that God has done that, if God has indeed done that with that person. If you suppose that’s an impossible position to take up, then you beg the question, for you assume either that there is no God, or if there is a God, then he is a God who cannot communicate himself to a person nearly as well as you or I can.

    My assessment of the different definitions of faith discussed here is that they’re all possibly true in different persons’ lives; they co-exist; they are not mutually exclusive. The one whose faith is that of God’s direct sensus divinitatis might also find out there is historical warrant for the Resurrection.

    As to the relationship of faith and grace, my experience has been that no one can accept the things of God without the grace of God—even if they are absolutely rational, even if they are completely warranted evidentially. I think this accords with Eph. 2:8f and the closing portions of 1 Cor. 2.

  11. “One of Phil’s errors is in thinking that there is one right definition for “faith.””

    This is precisely where philosophy can help — a lot. I never made any prescriptivist claims. The widely accepted position among philosophers is that propositional faith is, as an empirical / descriptive claim about the sort of belief that religious individuals actually have, the sense relevant to discussions of the epistemology of religion (i.e., is religion justified?). Part of the reason our debate ended before was because we were speaking different languages. As I made explicit before, I adopt the general orientation of the scholarly literature (I only bring up the SEP over and over again because it’s an excellent snap-shot of the state of current thought on various issues had by academics — whether theist or atheist.) And, of course, the vast majority of academics in this area are non-religious precisely because a careful examination of propositions like “Jesus ascended into heaven” and “Jesus was born parthenogenetically” reveals that there is no good evidence that can be verified by third parties even close to the degree that would be required to convince a jury in a court. Thus, as everyone (except Tom) agrees, faith is required to accept such propositions. This has nothing to do with trust. Faith in the trust sense is a relation between individuals and individuals. The *epistemologically* relevant sense of faith concerns the cognitive acceptance of certain propositions. Faith in this sense involves a relation between individuals and claims about reality (as in, “I believe that Allah exists,” where “Allah exists” is a proposition, not an individual). And virtually everyone agrees that faith in this sense fails the epistemological test of reasonableness. As for the sensus divinitatis, the large majority of philosophers today take this to be ad hoc nonsense. Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology is, even according to theist philosophers, not in good shape. And Plantinga himself has stated in interviews that Christianity is not something he can provide an argument for — it’s something he’s just felt, since he was a child, was true. (I’ll dig up the video on YouTube and post it later. He’s very honest — reminds me of Walter Kaufmann’s claim that many theologians proclaim the veracity of the Bible in public, but when you talk to them in private, they say: “Yes, of course Jesus didn’t literally ascend into heaven. Of course Jesus’ story was a product of oral traditions that were shaped by historical circumstances. Of course the virgin birth is a metaphor!” This has certainly been my experience with theologians…)

    Again, I highly recommend that if anyone is going to talk about the nature of religious faith and the justifiability of a religion Christianity, he or she ought to peruse the vast, highly sophisticated literature on these issues. One just can’t speak intelligently — or, to use Tom’s preferred term, “literately” — about whether or not religious belief is reasonable without a solid understanding of what it means to be reasonable in the first place. And that’s precisely what happens on this blog all the time — and it’s what really gets my goat.

  12. Phil, you say,

    And, of course, the vast majority of academics in this area are non-religious precisely because a careful examination of propositions like “Jesus ascended into heaven” and “Jesus was born parthenogenetically” reveals that there is no good evidence that can be verified by third parties even close to the degree that would be required to convince a jury in a court. Thus, as everyone (except Tom) agrees, faith is required to accept such propositions. This has nothing to do with trust.

    Wrong. I do agree that faith is required to accept such propositions. I have faith (trust–it really does have to do with that!) in the documents that tell me those things happened. That faith is built on knowledge: I have good reason to believe the documents are trustworthy in those things because they have been shown trustworthy in others, including the Resurrection.

    If that’s not faith, then I am not a person of faith, and I cannot imagine why you think it worth your time debating faith with me.

    And virtually everyone agrees that faith in this sense fails the epistemological test of reasonableness.

    Your count is off. Way, way, way off.

    Going on:

    And Plantinga himself has stated in interviews that Christianity is not something he can provide an argument for — it’s something he’s just felt, since he was a child, was true.

    The heck you say?

    (It does help to read some philosophy of religion, my friend.)

    I notice you end by speaking of goats instead of donkeys, as I indicated recently you reminded me of. What’s bothering you is not that about what I’ve read but whether I’m willing to agree with you.

  13. Phil,

    …reveals that there is no good evidence that can be verified by third parties even close to the degree that would be required to convince a jury in a court.

    No good evidence available to third parties? Then you don’t understand what good evidence is, and the power that circumstantial evidence has to convince and convict. The third party people who deal with evidence for a living would conclude that you are deeply confused.

  14. “Wrong. I do agree that faith is required to accept such propositions. I have faith (trust–it really does have to do with that!) in the documents that tell me those things happened. That faith is built on knowledge: I have good reason to believe the documents are trustworthy in those things because they have been shown trustworthy in others, including the Resurrection.”

    So, you have faith that the documents are veridical. That, Tom, is faith in the propositional sense. It is a belief *that* a *proposition* is an accurate representation of reality. What’s the evidence? Citing the Resurrection as evidence that the holy text of Christianity is trushworthy is patent silliness. No one with half a brain would take it seriously! It would be like the Muslim saying: “I believe that the Koran is capital-‘t’ Truth. Why? Well, consider the fact that it was revealed to Muhammad by Gabriel!” Citing an outrageous claim made in an ancient text (rife with contradictions that even the blind can see, beginning with the first two chapters of Genesis!) as evidence of that other outrageous claims in that same text are true is, well, no good.

    My count is off? First of all, one quarter or one third is a tiny percent compared to the mostly uneducated masses. As numerous studies show, there is a statistically significant correlation between education level and secularism, as well as intelligence and secularism. Those are facts. And second, where is Smith’s data? What study is he basing that on? And third, if you actually read the philosophy of religion literature — just like if you actually read recent literature in theology — you’ll find that many philosophers who consider themselves “theists” are nothing like those of the religious flock more generally. Paul Tillich talked about God as the “ground of Being.” Albert Schweitzer claimed that Jesus was an apocalypticist who thought the “Son of God” would return in his own lifetime. Even the SEP article I cited a while ago was written by a “theist” — but he admits that religious faith is a highly problematic epistemological attitude. It’s amazing to me how different the academic view of God is — e.g., as discussed in academic books on the issue — compared to the less educated view — e.g., as discussed in popular books on Christianity, Islam, and other false systems of belief, and even (pardon me for saying so) on this blog.

    “I notice you end by speaking of goats instead of donkeys.”

    I really don’t get this. Yes, the Bible does claim that a donkey spoke. Many people throughout history have believed this. Good for you for taking it metaphorically! It’s a step in the right direction.

  15. Phil, I’m sorry you think I’m silly:

    Citing the Resurrection as evidence that the holy text of Christianity is trushworthy is patent silliness.

    If the Resurrection happened, my friend, it’s silly not to take that fact as evidence for the trustworthiness of Christianity! What else could the fact of the Resurrection possibly mean?????

    Did you think I meant that there was no evidence for the Resurrection outside the “holy text”? I didn’t. I don’t have any idea where you got that from, as you seem to have done, based on the Islam analogy you provided. I’m not silly that way.

    Your count is off. Good grief. What is this about the uneducated masses? When you said, “virtually everyone agrees this fails the epistemic test of reasonableness,” were you referring to the uneducated masses’ assessment of epistemic reasonableness? Or were you talking perhaps about people who know what “epistemic” means and are able to judge said reasonableness with some level of academic insight? If so, then “virtually everyone” among philosophers means “two-thirds to three-quarters.” Which is a lot like saying virtually everyone at a university is a staff member or student, and drawing the conclusion that therefore there are no faculty. Silly you.

    Where is Smith’s data? Why don’t you ask him? He’s as atheistic as you are, so he ought not be considered a hostile witness for your side.

    Rife with contradictions that the blind can see? The sighted, my friend, see them as complementary perspectives, accounts written in different ways because they were written for different purposes, neither of which was to provide a systematic theology.

    Did I say the donkey incident was metaphorical? Can you even read?

  16. @SteveK

    I would love some good circumstantial evidence that Jesus was born of a virgin. Two points:

    First, think for a moment about how many people in other religious traditions would assert (quite strongly) that they too have evidence for their various false beliefs. “You don’t know what evidence is if you think there’s no evidence for the claim that Muhammad spoke to the angel Gabriel for 23 freakin’ years!”

    Second, are you aware of how many virgin birth stories there are? Jesus was not the only human born of a woman who’d never copulated! For example, Kabir, several Egyptian gods, Alexander the Great, the Caesars, the Ptolemies, Dughdova (Zoraster’s mother), and so on, were all thought to be parthenogenetically born. Indeed, the history of miraculous births is extensive. How fun it would have been to debate the ancient Egyptians on whether or not Horus really was born of a virgin!

    Nor is Jesus (considered crazy in his own time!) the only one to have claimed to be the messiah. A *very long* list is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_messiah_claimants Take a look.

    The point: there is considerable reason for holding that early Christianity picked up on traditions that were already well-established. The virgin birth story was around before Jesus; and given everything we know about biology today, it seems about as plausible as the claim that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse (which a Muslim in a recent debate with Dawkins claim to literally believe; obviously, it’s idiotic).

    Anyway, please point me to some good evidence that Jesus was born of a virgin — or, while you’re at it, that Jesus ascended into heaven, that he rose Lazarus from the dead, and that God is three completely distinct persons who are also completely identical in substance. Thanks.

  17. By the way, are you still trying to convince me that faith has a propositionally associated definition? Relax: you can check that one off as accomplished. I’ve believed it for years. It’s not the only side there is to faith, but it’s definitely one of them.

  18. “If the Resurrection happened, my friend, it’s silly not to take that fact as evidence for the trustworthiness of Christianity! What else could the fact of the Resurrection possibly mean?????”

    If Muhammad really did communicate with the angel Gabriel, then it’s silly not to take that fact as evidence for the trustworthiness of Islam! Obviously, Tom, the issue is whether or not that is a fact. Given the evidence, there’s no reason to think that either is a fact — the Resurrection or Muhammad’s 23 communication with Gabriel.

    “When you said, “virtually everyone agrees this fails the epistemic test of reasonableness,” were you referring to the uneducated masses’ assessment of epistemic reasonableness?”

    No. What I meant is that if you crack open virtually any philosophical text on epistemology, you will find that virtually *no one* — including many avowed theists — think that faith is a reasonable epistemic attitude. The reason is that cognitive assent to propositions like “Jesus ascended into heaven” and “Balaam’s donkey spoke to him,” just like with the propositions “Muhammad flew to heaven on a horse” and “Joseph Smith translated a holy book in a hat with see stones,” is not based on any good evidence, and evidence is almost universally (Plantinga and his sensus divinitatis aside!) accepted as the justificatory link between propositions about reality and reality itself.

    Don’t get so flustered. But please do take a look at the literature! (Especially if you’re going to be making what appear to be philosophical claims about the reasonableness of religious belief.)

  19. Phil, there is no pre-Christian virgin birth story that shares the necessary features with the Christ account to explain it. None.

    But you do raise a good question: of all the claimed Messiahs, why has one’s influence lasted this long? Why only one? Why this one?

    And you raise another good question: “given everything we know about biology today,” do we really have a firmer understanding than the ancients did that a virgin birth would be a miracle? I mean, are you implying that the unwashed ancients thought virgin births were just a matter of infrequency? Do you really think they thought that?!

    As to the good evidence you’ve asked Steve to point to, I’ve already addressed that, and you ignored my answer. Why ask a question when you don’t care what someone says in response?

  20. Phil, this is a self-contained contradiction:

    Obviously, Tom, the issue is whether or not that is a fact. Given the evidence, neither is.

    Do you see how?

    Further, you say,

    The reason is that cognitive assent to propositions like “Jesus ascended into heaven” and “Balaam’s donkey spoke to him,” just like with the propositions “Muhammad flew to heaven on a horse” and “Joseph Smith translated a holy book in a hat with see stones,” is not based on any good evidence

    You have most selectively and tendentiously chosen propositions for which independent evidence is hard to find, aside from the documents themselves. You’re also appealing to authority—the authority of yourself—when you say there’s no good evidence for the Resurrection. Lots of scholars disagree.

    This is getting boring, though. Could you try to avoid repeating yourself so much, please? And could you please notice that there are people even in academia who don’t agree with you? I mean, if you try to pull that rhetorical trick one more time I’m going to fall asleep at my keyboard.

  21. Oops, I misread: I thought you said, “Obviously, Tom, the issue is not whether that is a fact. Given the evidence, neither is.” What you actually wrote was, “Obviously, Tom, the issue is whether or not that is a fact. Given the evidence, neither is.”

    I retract what I said last time about a self-contained contradiction, with apologies.

  22. @21 – Could you please mp3-embedded the sound effect of your snoring in the comments section? Thanks. I’m feeling some vibration in the floor here, but not sure whether that’s an effect from you snoring or merely the local traffic.

    😉

  23. “Phil, there is no pre-Christian virgin birth story that shares the necessary features with the Christ account to explain it. None.”

    Every religious tradition puts its own twist on prior themes. There are aspects of Islam that are quite original too. So what?

    “But you do raise a good question: of all the claimed Messiahs, why has one’s influence lasted this long? Why only one? Why this one?”

    What does this have to do with truth? Nothing. Notice that Islam is not far behind Christianity in terms of popularity. But the fact that whole societies have been built around Muslim beliefs and that one billion people actually believe that Muhammad is the last great prophet in no way suggests that Islam is true. Influence is simply not an epistemically relevant issue. Again, philosophy!

    “And you raise another good question: “given everything we know about biology today,” do we really have a firmer understanding than the ancients did that a virgin birth would be a miracle? I mean, are you implying that the unwashed ancients thought virgin births were just a matter of infrequency? Do you really think they thought that?!”

    Not sure what you’re talking about. My point is that the idea that, as science has pushed back that “envelope of ignorance,” it’s become increasingly implausible to believe that any of those hundreds of people throughout history were actually born of a virgin. Similarly, there might have been a time when flying horses wouldn’t have been outrageous to believe in. But this is 2013, and no one with any good sense would take such beings seriously.

    “Here’s why you’re a crank. One, the evidence you ask for exists: it’s called “historical record,” or “the documents.””

    Islam has a “historical record” and “documents” too. But you don’t believe these are sufficient for justifying the claim that Muhammad and Gabriel actually spoke for 23 years, do you? Of course not.

    “Two, even though there is little additional evidence to support these details in the documents, there is lots to support the documents in general.”

    Um, you’ve given me nothing here but a promise. Please explicate.

    “Three, you’ve picked out trivia from the documents, as far as apologetics go. Sure, those things are important for understanding the character of Christ, our relationship with him, and so on; but if they don’t add to our evidential reasons to accept the documents’ reliability, so what?”

    Not sure I get this one. Christianity makes numerous claims, such as that Jesus was born of a virgin, that God is three completely distinct persons who are also completely identical in substance, and so on. As a truth-seeker, I would like to know if these are true.

    “Four, there is considerable evidentiary discussion of the Resurrection, and you darn well know it.”

    Um, discussion is not evidence. There is plenty of discussion of Muhammad and Gabriel, but, well, that doesn’t mean it happened.

    “And therefore Five, you remind me of the man who, when offered the opportunity to discuss a man rising from the dead, said, “I don’t care about a man rising from the dead. I want to know how the donkey talked.” To which I replied, “please go find someone with an equally intense interest in donkeys.””

    That’s your problem, not mine. I want to know if what the Bible says is true actually is true. The way to do this — to link propositions about reality with reality itself — is evidence. And so far I’ve gotten no evidence in support of any of even the central claims of Christianity. Please give me some reason I should think that your beliefs are evidentially better supported than those of the Hindu, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Scientologist, the Mormon, and so on. Can you do that?

  24. Phil,

    I would love some good circumstantial evidence that Jesus was born of a virgin.

    Okay. Follow the circumstantial evidence that shows that Jesus was a real person that lived according to the Gospels.

    Next, follow the circumstantial evidence that shows the resurrection account is accurate according to the Gospels.

    Next, follow the circumstantial evidence that Isaiah 53 supports that same resurrection account in detail even though Isaiah precedes Jesus.

    Next, follow the circumstantial evidence that Isaiah 9 and 7 talks about that same person being born with details that match the Gospels.

    Next, follow the circumstantial evidence in Micah 5 that talks about the same person being born with details that match the Gospels.

    Next, follow the circumstantial evidence that Islam also believes this. I only added this in because you like to use Islam beliefs to show Christianity is false. Well, it doesn’t do that here.

    There’s more, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Your job is to argue that the Christian (and Muslim) conclusion is unreasonable.

  25. Thanks Tom for the full explanation of your view on faith @11.

    .. faith is an attitude or disposition of belief that God is who he says he is, has done what Scripture says he has done, continues to do what Scripture says he will continue to do, and will do in the future what Scripture says he promises to do.

    I see your point about how aspects including faith-trust-belief have a relationship with knowledge, but at this point you’ve stopped short of making faith an actual source of knowledge – although that is not to say it may not be a foundation for action and life in somewhat the same way as evidentially-based knowledge. I accept that.

    I think the problems arise for me when you introduce the next type of faith as a form of knowledge:

    Then there is also the Reformed and I think also Thomistic position that faith itself is a form of knowledge: that God can and does reveal himself to persons directly apart from “evidences.”

    It may be there is nothing “rationally defective” in a person concluding that God has done that. You go on to say “.. if God has indeed done that with that person”. But that is the point isn’t it? A vision of God is compatible with all sorts of scenarios:

    (i) a godless universe where people have brains that are liable to give them convincing visions

    (ii) a monotheistic universe where God communicates reliably and significantly by means of visions

    (iii) a dualist universe where Ahriman and Ohrmazd are both capable of sending visions, one truthfully and the other deceitfully

    (iv) a universe where God sends only true visions, but people with their brains are also liable to convince themselves incorrectly they have received a vision

    (v) the world of Homer where multiple gods and spirits are able to give visions or deceive us in various ways

    I could go on.

    If you take revelation as a source of knowledge, your epistemological problems have only just begun. Forget donkeys and goats – this is a can of worms!

    Oh, and we will have to come back to the question of grace some time, which you have responded on more briefly, perhaps on a future thread?

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  26. Phil, you say,

    Every religious tradition puts its own twist on prior themes. There are aspects of Islam that are quite original too. So what?

    Zzzz…

    oh, oh, where was I? Oh, yes: could you explain how this “twist” arose from within Judaism, based on those prior themes? Or do you want to merely wave your hands at the discussion and proclaim yourself the authority in the process.

    What does one Messiah’s lasting effect have to do with truth? Nothing? Really?

    Wake me up when you say something that makes sense, please.

    And I see you’re clinging to your belief in what you now call “an envelope of ignorance.” Apparently you do believe that the ancients thought Jesus’ virgin birth could have been a mere matter of infrequency.

    Which envelope of ignorance is more relevant now? How about your attitude toward the ancients? How about your contemporary scientism? Take your pick: you have at least two to choose from.

    Islam has a “historical record” and “documents” too. But you don’t believe these are sufficient for justifying the claim that Muhammad and Gabriel actually spoke for 23 years, do you? Of course not.

    Oh. Pardon me, I forgot: you explained earlier that everything that’s evidentially true about Islam is necessarily also true about Christianity. If I’d remembered that I would have actually felt the freedom to sleep through all this. I could have let your pronouncements carry the day. Never mind that there’s no good reason to believe them: you have pronounced, so I can sleep.

    Um, you’ve given me nothing here but a promise. Please explicate.

    How long an answer do you want?

    “Three, you’ve picked out trivia from the documents, as far as apologetics go. Sure, those things are important for understanding the character of Christ, our relationship with him, and so on; but if they don’t add to our evidential reasons to accept the documents’ reliability, so what?”

    Not sure I get this one. Christianity makes numerous claims, such as that Jesus was born of a virgin, that God is three completely distinct persons who are also completely identical in substance, and so on. As a truth-seeker, I would like to know if these are true.

    Fine. Start somewhere where there is more independent support for the claims, and see where that leads you. It’s not that complicated.

    “Four, there is considerable evidentiary discussion of the Resurrection, and you darn well know it.”

    Um, discussion is not evidence. There is plenty of discussion of Muhammad and Gabriel, but, well, that doesn’t mean it happened.

    But you’ve swept it aside as if there were no discussion at all.

    And so far I’ve gotten no evidence in support of any of even the central claims of Christianity. Please give me some reason I should think that your beliefs are evidentially better supported than those of the Hindu, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Scientologist, the Mormon, and so on. Can you do that?

    Yes. (How long an answer did you want again? Do you mind if I continue my nap while you read?)

  27. Good comments, Frank, thank you.

    The sensus divinitatis could be consistent with all those things, provided either that God does not exist or that God cannot communicate effectively.

    In other words, if there is a God who communicates effectively, then those other experiences could be mistaken for the sensus divinitatis, but not vice versa.

    But this is a matter of private experience with God, and no one supposes it has any public apologetic value. That’s why we bring other reasons and arguments to bear on the question.

  28. I found your last reply confusing – don’t your first two paragraphs say opposite things?

    If there is indeed a God who communicates effectively — then I would still expect other experiences to be confusable with genuine divine revelation

    And that still leaves the polytheistic possibility too.

    Also – although it is helpful for you to suggest you don’t regard the experiences as having public apologetic value (although no doubt they have personal and communal importance for believers) I claim it to be false that “no-one” supposes this.

  29. If God exists and communicates effectively, then a person who experiences the sensus divinitatis will know truly that that is what he or she is experiencing.

    That does not preclude some other experience in some other person from mimicking it well enough to confuse a person.

    So if you think it’s the case that a person’s self-report of experiencing God is not reliable, I agree. Even though I think God can make his presence known reliably, that does not mean that every report of his presence came from God as a source.

    I don’t know of anyone who supposes there is public apologetic value in this. Maybe those persons exist, but I haven’t run across any.

  30. @25 SteveK, interesting chain of references to evidence the virgin birth.

    I’d like to address it fully but with pressure of time cannot resist just some quick comments on Isaiah.

    In Isaiah 7, King Ahaz of Judah is facing an invasion by two neighbouring kings, and Isaiah goes to him and announces Yahweh’s sign that his kingdom will stand. He tells him that a young woman will have a son called Immanuel and that while the boy is still young the land of the two enemy kings will be laid waste.

    In chapter 8 Isaiah makes love to the prophetess, who has a son, and on Yahweh’s command they name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Yahweh repeats the threats against the enemy kings, saying they will be devastated by Assyria. Which of course is what happens.

    So this looks like a prophecy in its own time. With fulfillment in its own time. Where’s the Jesus connection? Apart from the fact that because he was linked with this prophecy, he gets referred to sometimes as Immanuel (God with us).

    In Isaiah 9 we have this:

    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
    And the government will be on his shoulders.
    And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

    Of course, Jesus is sometimes referred to by exactly these titles, but only as a result of this piece of poetry already being there.

    Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

    When this part comes about, please let me know.

    As far as pre-figuring the virgin birth goes, it seems pretty thin. Do you see why one might want firmer evidence than this? I know it’s only one link in your chain, but it is a significant one and I do hope to respond on the others at some point.

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  31. Tom, you say of personal divine experiences / communications:

    I don’t know of anyone who supposes there is public apologetic value in this. Maybe those persons exist, but I haven’t run across any.

    But surely .. Muhammad, Baha’ullah, Joseph Smith, any number of contemporary fringe religious figures (David Koresh?), the list of people claiming authority or teaching doctrine based on their own supposed revelation is extensive.

    Then there are the biblical examples, Ezekiel, Isaiah, all the other prophets, Stephen, Peter, Paul .. I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of the examples that could be produced.

  32. “I would love some good circumstantial evidence that Jesus was born of a virgin.”

    Phil, if I may. The problem with this question is that it’s cherry picking. An understanding of the veracity of Christianity does not begin with this question. This and many other details of Christianity are dependent of the truth of the answers to prior questions just like in any academic subject. A more reasonable starting point might be “I would love some good circumstantial evidence that Jesus was a historical person”. There are many fundamental questions with good answers like this that would precede the virgin birth question.

  33. Okay–I don’t know of any Christians claiming it today. I did speak in the present tense, after all.

    Your other examples are weak to non-existent anyway, I’m afraid. Paul, with his direct experience of God, checked in with the apostles to make sure he was teaching in accord with their knowledge (see Galatians 1 and 2). Peter referred to his experiences, and Stephen didn’t claim to be doing apologetics.

  34. That’s an interesting point, BillT, would it be reasonable to take “Was Jesus human or divine?” as the next one. I know that the answer to this one makes a big difference to me. It is a question which from the beginning has been debated among followers of Jesus themselves, and continues to be so today.

  35. Frank,

    That is certainly a fundamental question. Its answer though might be found in looking at his teaching, his miracles, his claims about himself, the reaction to those around him, the eyewitness accounts. In other words there are details and nuances within your question that would lead to an answer rather than just a direct answer. It’s not “Christ was divine because of X”. There are many apologetic books that build the case for his divinity though that kind of examination.

  36. Sorry, didn’t see the “human or” in Frank’s question. Tom answers that correctly. Frank, is “was Jesus divine” what you wanted to know? (Sorry, that’s what I was addressing) The human part of the question isn’t really as interesting as the “was Jesus as a historical person” answers that in great part. The “human or divine” is a heavily theological question. It would have a different methodology in its explanation than the question I addressed. It would also not be as fundemental a question as the one I proposed in #33.

  37. Frank,

    So this looks like a prophecy in its own time.

    This caught my eye. Due to those time constraints that you mentioned, I won’t argue over what Isaiah 7 points to.

    I will accept your statement here and ask if you think prophecy is circumstantial evidence that supports one of the Christian beliefs, that God communicated to Isaiah in a prophetic way?

    If yes, then we can use that as circumstantial evidence for other Christian beliefs – perhaps the virgin birth and others – but only as long as there are justified reasons for doing that.

    If no, then your job (and Phil’s) is to provide reasons why there is no rational justification for Christian’s to believe in God given the reality of prophecy. For starters, you can explain the reality of prophecy in naturalistic terms and how the prophecy in Isaiah (any of them in the Bible, really) is circumstantial evidence for naturalism / atheism being true?

  38. I think it is pretty clear that we should re-frame the entire argument about “evidence”; in fact, this was a major point of the original post.

    Every person has a working philosophy about morality, spirituality, and meaning in life. However, the speed with which I’ve seen evidence for the Christian view waved away only makes sense if there is clearly stronger evidence for some secular view.

    That being the case, what is that view, and what is the evidence in support of it?

  39. @SteveK my apologies, I’m caught out there by my rushed approach to my previous post.

    Because we were concentrating on the use of Isaiah to explain a virgin birth I used a shorthand for my description of what he was saying. I am not accepting the reality of prophecy, or anyway not in the sense of divinely granted knowledge of the future.

    I meant that the statement “functions within the narrative as a prophecy in its own time”, in other words that I believe the author intended it to be read as such.

    I’m sorry if I gave the wrong impression. Anyway, that means I will not be taking up either of the two alternatives you propose. Instead I guess I have to account for how things which look like prediction come to be written, which does not seem as difficult.

    Firstly I think I’m right in saying that the concept of prophecy in Old Testament times had many aspects, such as symbolic explanations of current events, moral exhortation, speaking truth to power, and not simply making visionary predictions of what was to happen at future dates. Prophecy in this broader sense, and not excluding an aspect of it which is about the course of events into the future, obviously plays an important part in some religious traditions.

    However, in the sense the word is more often used now, and the sense you have asked me to explain my perspective on, it implies a supernatural prediction of the future that requires explaining by recourse to a higher power. For that we would need to have at the very least a dated document which made a specific prediction that goes beyond what a well-informed observer could have predicted and which also can be shown not to have been selected as a “lucky winner” after the event. Have you got an example of that?

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  40. Well, Phil, I yield. I went to the Stanford encyclopedia as you recommended, and I learned how no one in academia believes in miracles. No one there gives any credence to arguments for theism. There aren’t any Christian epistemologists. The philosophy of religion field is bereft of believers. Metaphysics is strictly for skeptics. There’s no discussion to be had about Christian theology in light of philosophy.

    At least it seems safe to conclude that the SEP speaks with one voice on all matters, that it’s the one authority to be trusted,and since no one there articulated the definition of faith in precisely the way I did, therefore I’m an idiot.

    So I yield to your superior wisdom. You win.

    Dang.

  41. @Debilis, you ask for a secular view of “morality, spirituality, and meaning in life”, and I want to be able to help with that. However, I hope you will appreciate that it cannot be done quickly and easily in a single comment.

    First though, a couple of preliminaries. Why restrict our thinking to just one Christian and one secular view? There are many theistic views, of which Christianity is one. There are religious views such as Buddhism that are not theistic in the same sense as the Abrahamic religions. There are differences among the non-religious too. And within every religion including Christianity there are hundreds of sects and factions with different viewpoints.

    I introduce these not as a red herring but as a piece of evidence in its own right. The very diversity of views is a caution against accepting the absolutist claims of any one.

    The second preliminary is to say that “evidence” for the nature of ultimate reality and arguments between beliefs about it is fairly futile. I know I have been indulging in it, its a kind of habit and is also interesting. But personally this kind of debate has come to seem ever more unproductive to me. What is important within religious traditions and within the godless movement is how we live, and how we treat each other. Which includes of course working out how we can function togther, side by side in society, with such radically different interpretations of the world.

    As a humanist myself, I use a lot of the same evidence to support my beliefs as Christians do, but I reach a different conclusion. I experience the universe to be an impersonal reality in its fundamental nature, and believe that to be the way things are. I see the world around me explained to a great degree by scientific investigation. I live as a human being among others who have throughout history created cultural meaning, by the light of which we live our lives to the best of our ability.

    I’m trying to be concise, I hope that does not result in my explanation being glib. Of course it is not complete, but you raise a big question. Perhaps there are more narrowly-focussed questions that could help me work out what needs explaining most.

    One last point – if you ask a different atheist you may well get a different answer. As individuals we generally acknowledge no absolute spiritual leader or authority.

    Does that help?

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  42. The very diversity of views is a caution against accepting the absolutist claims of any one.

    Why? If I ask a hundred people what 2 + 2 =, and I get a hundred different answers, that itself doesn’t seem like a good reason for me to reject ‘4’.

    What is important within religious traditions and within the godless movement is how we live, and how we treat each other. Which includes of course working out how we can function togther, side by side in society, with such radically different interpretations of the world.

    Why should we try to function ‘side by side’ with each other? Why not walled off from each other? Why not try to eliminate one side, which the Cult of Gnu rather expressly has as its goal?

    As individuals we generally acknowledge no absolute spiritual leader or authority.

    Aside from the Catholics, who does? And even for Catholics, that leader only does so much leading. On the flipside, atheists – past and present – seem every bit as capable of, and prone to, adherence to authority or (a)spiritual leaders. Again, pretty prominent with the gnus, though they’re starting to – of all things – go schismastic.

  43. I’d just like to say that I appreciate the respectfulness with which Frank Pennycook and bigbird comment here.

  44. Frank,

    For that we would need to have at the very least a dated document which made a specific prediction that goes beyond what a well-informed observer could have predicted and which also can be shown not to have been selected as a “lucky winner” after the event. Have you got an example of that?

    Before we go there, why rule out the dated Biblical documents that predict the coming Messiah? I’m still trying to understand why you automatically disqualify these.

    You may argue that it was a lucky guess, but you’ll need to define “lucky” for me. Is that a statistical term? If the statistics go against “luck” then does that mean prophecy was involved or is there a third choice?

    You may also argue that the prophecies are vague, general references to the Jesus, but you’ll need to define vague and explain why your definition erases my justified belief that they are not so vague. As a circumstantial case, it’s not vague at all who these verses point to. Individually, you are right to say they are vague – some more than others – but not when all these references are looked at collectively.

    Or perhaps you will argue that these are ad-hoc explanations or coincidences. Here again you will need to provide reasons for thinking this is the case.

  45. Crude:

    Did you ask a hundred people and get differing answers for 2+2? I would be surprised at that.

    Why try to live side by side? I guess I am expressing a preference for a world where we treat each other as human. Why not wall ourselves off? Well, if you insist.

    Ordinaryseeker: thank you

    SteveK:

    why rule out the dated Biblical documents that predict the coming Messiah?

    Oh, I didn’t mean to rule things out, on the contrary, I want you to let me know what prediction to discuss. I don’t remember disqualifying anything, I was just stating what I thought would be the general requirements to hypothesise that a supernatural prediction had been made. Have you got an example?

    I understand the considerations you refer to in your later paragraphs but in the absence of a specific instance it’s going to be a bit theoretical. Certainly if you are talking about a statistical analysis and asking us to take on collectively all references in the OT which are said to point to Jesus, well that sounds more like a thesis topic than a blog comment. I’ll consider it but I feel it’s thrown the scope of the discussion quite a lot wider. Is it essential to approach it like that? It may not be the most fruitful way to go.

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  46. Did you ask a hundred people and get differing answers for 2+2? I would be surprised at that.

    If I did, would it matter? Should I suddenly start questioning whether 2 + 2 = 4 in that case?

    Why try to live side by side? I guess I am expressing a preference for a world where we treat each other as human. Why not wall ourselves off? Well, if you insist.

    That really does seem to be the end of it, doesn’t it? Do whatever the preference is.

    Want to live side by side? Okay, try that.

    Do you not want to? Sure, that works too.

    Should we respect each other? Yeah, if you like.

    Should we try to eradicate the other side? Well, if you want.

    It’s all about expressing a preference. That’s the beginning and end of it, sans practical concerns.

  47. Hi Tom,

    Earlier in the thread, you touched on something that I’ve always considered problematic for the theist:

    If God exists and communicates effectively, then a person who experiences the sensus divinitatis will know truly that that is what he or she is experiencing.

    That does not preclude some other experience in some other person from mimicking it well enough to confuse a person.

    If one admits that it is at least possible for someone to be mistaken about experiencing God, then surely it is possible for everyone to be mistaken about it, isn’t it? I’ve yet to hear a good argument that explains how someone can distinguish between:

    a) Experiencing God directly
    b) Being mistaken about experiencing God directly

    Or to put it another way, how can one me more certain than certain?

    I’m sure you must have spoken about this in a previous post or something, so if it’s easier to point me in the right direction, please feel free to do so.

  48. @Frank Pennycook
    First and foremost, thank you for the kind and thoughtful response.
    I understand the difficulty (impossibility) in quickly communicating a vision of ethics and meaning in life. I’ll do my best to be patient.

    I also agree that there are many views, both theistic and non-theistic. This should give us pause, to be sure, but, at the end of the day, is neither a point in favor of any one system nor a way out of making a choice.

    Getting to the actual evidence, I have yet another point of agreement: that we all need rules in order to live together. I don’t, however, agree that there is any reason to think that this is all that morality is. Certainly, taking this view consistently seems to lead to odd moral positions.

    I’m aware that you’ve not said this, but that would lead into my key point. As far as I can tell, this doesn’t yet speak to a view of morality, human value, or meaning in life. Again, I understand that this is a tall order, but I don’t (yet) see a case being made for the idea that humans are valuable (or not valuable), etc.

    I honestly don’t know what standard of evidence is being used when evidence is requested for Christianity. I suppose the main thing I am after is to see an example of evidence for a position on meaning that (at least some) atheists would accept.

  49. Debilis, good questions. Good to find some agreement too because it helps to have some firm foundations to develop a conversation.

    You’re right to say that the existence of many views is not a point in favour of any one system. One reason I bring it up is to make us think about what these “systems” are anyway. Often a discussion like this focusses on belief, and not on what Wittgenstein called the “forms of life”.

    A religious tradition can be seen as a form of life, a way of living, a set of people with shared values and perhaps a communal history that produce meanings, actions and beliefs which function effectively to meet ends sought by its members. These ends typically include living peacefully, raising children and providing ways to express and deal with fundamental human experiences such as joy, grief and the need for justice.

    I’m taking a roundabout route to the answer because I needed to lay bare what lies behind the idea of providing evidence for a factical position that differs from some other factical position. What I am saying is that, although we may have that kind of cosmological discussion and compare evidence, that is not where the action is, for me anyway, in defining our spiritual life.

    I do not start with evidence for a position on meaning. I start in a state of Being a human, this is a state I just find myself in — Heidegger terms it thrownness — and in this particular personal state I find that the world is full of meaning for me. I don’t have a choice about that, because this is where I found myself at the beginning of my awareness. It is necessarily my starting point, although of course that may not tell us everything about what I end up thinking.

    There is a state of affairs which I am in the middle of. And this life I find myself in is also characterised by relationships with other beings who show every sign of Being in the same kind of state of being as myself.

    And there is a form of life, call it humanism, which consists of people like myself who live our lives, raise our children, with a naturalistic viewpoint in which meaning is determined relationally, between humans, and not assumed to be an absolute external matter apart from humans.

  50. Frank @53

    … with a naturalistic viewpoint in which meaning is determined relationally, between humans, and not assumed to be an absolute external matter apart from humans.

    From where did you receive (or do you merely assume) that naturalism (I’m assuming by that you mean philosophical naturalism) has as a formal part of it’s definition that “meaning is determined relationally between humans”?

    (1) I’d be very interested in a referenced source that indicates, at the very least, that most naturalists accept that.

    (2) What does “meaning” actually mean, i.e., what is the definition of “meaning”?

    (3) If you assert “meaning is determined relationally,” what do you mean by “determined”? I.e., do you mean causally determined or merely described? In either case, doesn’t this presuppose that which you decry as “assumed to be an absolute external [thing] apart from humans? And if so, what part of naturalism captures that externality?

    (4) On what basis do you believe an absolute external something is merely “assumed” apart from humans? Who said “assumed” (or something akin to it)? Here’s a counter example. The First Vatican Council dogmatically asserts (can. ii, De revelat.) “that God, the first cause (principium) and last end of all things, can, from created things, be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason (Denz., 1785-old no. 1634). In the corresponding canon (can. i, De revelat.) the Council doubled down—anathematizing anyone who would claim “that the one true God our Creator and Lord, cannot, through the things that are made, be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason.” (Denz., 1806-old no. 1653). In other words, the Catholic Church does not reference any “absolute external” in order to reason to the “absolute external”. There’s no appeal to Scripture. There’s no presupposition of God’s existence.

    Yet you claim, with no support and quite ignorantly, otherwise… and, of course, incorrectly as well. The only things presupposed in the Vatican I teaching are (a) the efficacy of human reason, and (b) the efficacy of the five external senses in normally healthy human beings to observe the external sensory-accessible world. You may argue, if you’d like, against the efficacy of human reason to achieve an understanding of things beyond the physical senses… but then you’ll have huge problems on your hands, like explaining what concepts are (like “meaning”)—things utterly inaccessible to the five senses.

    I find your personal opinions presumptuous, your assumptions unsupported, your position not well thought out, and your noted assertion flat-out wrong.

  51. Hello holopupenko, I hope you are feeling well.

    (I’m assuming by that you mean philosophical naturalism)

    Yes that is what I am referring to

    From where did you receive (or do you merely assume) that naturalism has as a formal part of it’s definition that “meaning is determined relationally between humans”?

    Not received or assumed, rather perceived. I mean that this naturalist (i.e. myself) holds such a position in conjunction with my naturalist viewpoint.

    (1) I’d be very interested in a referenced source that indicates, at the very least, that most naturalists accept that.

    I’ve no idea whether most naturalists believe it. I was explaining (as requested) my own personal viewpoint. I see that I may have made an assumption that some other naturalists also hold this view, and I could do more to check this out explicitly with those whom I know, but I feel fairly confident based on past conversations that I have not been too outrageous in my assumption.

    (2) What does “meaning” actually mean, i.e., what is the definition of “meaning”?

    In this case we are looking for the ways in which I would arrive at the kind of meaning that underlies moral values.

    (3) If you assert “meaning is determined relationally,” what do you mean by “determined”? I.e., do you mean causally determined or merely described? In either case, doesn’t this presuppose that which you decry as “assumed to be an absolute external [thing] apart from humans? And if so, what part of naturalism captures that externality?

    Ah yes, perhaps a poor choice of word. I did not mean to invoke determinism here, a better phrasing might be that “meaning arises relationally”.

    (4) On what basis do you believe an absolute external something is merely “assumed” apart from humans? Who said “assumed” (or something akin to it)?

    Who said assumed? I did. I said I did _not_ assume an absolute meaning apart from humans. If I say I do not assume something, that does not imply that I am implying that any other person does assume it. I am stating my view that I do not assume it.

    Should I conclude from your example that I might have been anathematized by the First Vatican Council? I regret not being in a mood to return that favour but I certainly disagree with their assertion on this point.

  52. “Well, Phil, I yield. I went to the Stanford encyclopedia as you recommended, and I learned how no one in academia believes in miracles. No one there gives any credence to arguments for theism. There aren’t any Christian epistemologists…”

    My goodness, Tom. First of all, have you actually read those articles? Second, I’m starting to think that you have a special talent for misreading what people write. I never said that “no one” in academia is a theist, or that “no one” thinks theology has something to say in conversation with philosophy. Quite the opposite: I have explicitly mentioned theist philosophers, and I have even taken pains to send you links to articles *written by* theists. The one I sent a while back on faith was authored by a theist; but it explicitly talked about faith as a kind of epistemic failure (at worst, and at best a kind of epistemic conundrum). You do have a magical way of, it seems, getting upset and then seeing what you want to see in what others write.

    If you actually read what those authors say, you’ll find that the overwhelmingly accepted answer to “what makes a belief justified” is this: evidence (especially evidence that can be checked by multiple people, to obviate the problems of deception, hallucination and error). There are as a matter of fact only two theories on the marketplace of ideas today: evidentialism and reliabililsm. You’ll also find that faith in the religious sense — that is, the sort of faith that it takes to accept propositions like “God is three completely distinct persons who are also completely identical” and “Jesus healed a blind man with mud made from spit,” not to mention “Muhammad spoke to Gabriel for 23 years” and “Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni” — is seen as highly problematic, and therefore in need of philosophical vindication.

    Indeed, one of the *major projects* in contemporary philosophy of religion / theology is trying to provide an epistemologicallly convincing case for how religious belief could possibly be justified. Plantinga’s solution is to say: “Oh, you know, we just have this special cognitive module that gives us knowledge that isn’t based on any facts about the world. We just know it.” Otherwise, there are theist philosophers of religion who try to give an account of how faith being compatible with evidence is enough, and so on. None of these are very popular — and they’ve not caught on because they’re not cogent.

    And again, academic theists are on the whole a special breed of theist. As mentioned before, Tillich thought of God as something nebulous and abstract (the “ground of being”), Schweitzer thought that Jesus basically committed suicide when he realized that the “Son of God” (as Jesus kept saying in the third person!) wasn’t going to return, and so on. (The list is very long.) So, I highly encourage you to keep reading. I honestly don’t know what your point was with that last comment: (a) it falsely attributed certain claims to me, and (b) the articles themselves don’t present any points of view — i.e., they are encyclopedia entries, and as such are more or less free of POV stuff. But they very much problematize religious belief.

    Also recommended to read: the entries on epistemology, evidentialism and faith. This will help everyone here have a more sophisticated and scholarly discussion about the nature of faith and the justifiability of beliefs like:
    “Vishnu created the universe,”
    “the Koran was revealed to Muhammad,”
    “Paul had a revelation of Jesus Christ,”
    “Jesus visited North America after his resurrection,”
    “Buddha attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree,”
    “our souls travel to Venus when we die,”
    “Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse,”
    and so on.

    How does anyone know if any of these claims is true?

    PS. The most POV article in the SEP that I’ve ever read is the one authored by Plantinga. I even wrote Plantinga about some generalization he made about neuroscience (being at the time a neuroscience student), and he wrote back that he really didn’t know anything about the field. I couldn’t believe it.

  53. Phil, you say,

    Quite the opposite: I have explicitly mentioned theist philosophers, and I have even taken pains to send you links to articles *written by* theists. The one I sent a while back on faith was authored by a theist; but it explicitly talked about faith as a kind of epistemic failure (at worst, and at best a kind of epistemic conundrum). You do have a magical way of, it seems, getting upset and then seeing what you want to see in what others write.

    What you have said in effect is that no one with any credibility thinks of faith as anything but an epistemic failure or conundrum. You have recommended the SEP as your evidence of that belief. Timothy McGrew was watching this discussion unbeknownst to me. Last Wednesday at 5:07 pm (I’m not sure which time zone that would be) he sent me this message on Facebook:

    I got a chuckle out of Phil Torres’s comment on your blog:

    Yes, faith is epistemologically foolish. If you go to a university, you’ll have a heck of a time finding *any* epistemologists who think that faith — of the sort exemplified by religion — is in any way respectable. If you don’t believe me, check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    Feel free to direct him here:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/miracles/
    You can also point out that I’ve been publishing in epistemology for about twenty years now and teaching it at the graduate level for the past 17 years.
    Or if you think that would be counterproductive, don’t bother.

    (I edited the quote format for easier readability here).

    I didn’t bother passing all that along at first. It seems more worthwhile now.

  54. “What you have said in effect is that no one with any credibility thinks of faith as anything but an epistemic failure or conundrum. You have recommended the SEP as your evidence of that belief. Timothy McGrew was watching this discussion, unbeknownst to me, and sent me a message on Facebook:”

    Again, you are twisting words. What you explicitly mentioned above is miracles, etc. Yes, I *have* said that the vast majority of epistemologists see faith as highly problematic, since propositional faith (the sort relevant to epistemological discussions of religion) is widely held to be without evidence. I encourage Dr. McGrew to read over the SEP entry on Faith (as well as Epistemology, Evidentialism, and so on). As for miracles — which is different than the question of the epistemic status of faith in propositions like “Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse” and “Jesus was both fully human *and* fully divine at the same time” — I never once said anything about what philosophers believe. There are arguments for and arguments against; my suspicion is that the larger majority of rational, educated people think it’s silly to believe that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse, or that Joseph Smith translated some tablets with reformed Egyptian on them with seers stones in a hat, or that Jesus healed a blind man with mud made from spittle. There was once a time in human history when it wasn’t unreasonable to accept such things — but today, in an age when scientists are literally recreating the first billionth of a second after the Big Bang in particle accelerators, believing any such things is obviously quite epistemically silly.

    Why doesn’t Dr. McGrew join the conversation?

  55. Fleegman, yes, it could be possible for everyone to be mistaken about the sensus divinitatis. To assume that it must be so would be to beg the question against God, as I have already said, so we can’t start there. The question is whether there is a way to discern between the two possibilities: (a) some are mistaken, or (b) all or mistaken. If (a), then question (a2) follows: who is mistaken?

    The answer goes like this. Suppose I have a strong impression that I am encountering God. That impression has more content to it than just a numinous feeling; or if not, then there is nothing to be done with it. It’s a feeling that leads to no conclusions, no action, nothing.

    So in this discussion we can only be dealing with impressions that contain some content. That content can be checked for rationality: is there any strong reason to doubt that it is what it seems to be?

    The Mormon “revelation” is historically disconfirmed. The Islamic “revelation” came about a-historically, so it is at best untestable. I don’t mean we can’t test whether Mohammed lived, but we can’t test much of the content of the “revelation” that was delivered to him. There are however some historical assertions in Islam that are clearly false, such as their explanation of the crucifixion of Christ.

    I am not aware of any other religion or faith, besides Christianity, that is both testable in objective terms and also stands up to such tests.

    Christianity, on the other hand, has never been disconfirmed historically; and it is the sort of revelation that can be tested that way. It stands up philosophically: there are satisfactory answers to all the hard questions raised against it. (I do not mean these answers are such that they compel agreement by all, but rather that they permit agreement without violating any epistemic duties of rationality.) So if I have had this impression of an encounter with God, and if the content of that impression is such that it associates that God-impression with the God of the Bible, I have no reason to doubt the veridicality of that impression.

    Note that I am quite intentionally addressing this in a certain order: impression first, testing later. I’m not saying that it happens that way for most Christians or for many or for any other proportion. I’m saying that this is the answer to your question: how would one know that some impressions, but not all, can be trusted?

    It leaves the door open to just one error: a strong impression of God, yet a false one, that happens not to be disconfirmed by history, archaeology, or philosophy. That’s theoretically possible. And yet there is much in history, archaeology, and philosophy that makes a positive case for Christianity, so I think that’s unlikely.

  56. And I’m not cherry-picking. The Bible makes certain claims, and I want to know if they’re true. For example, did Balaam’s donkey really speak? There’s certainly nothing in the story itself that suggests this is fiction — a metaphor of some sort. Similarly, the Bible says that Jesus was born of a virgin (actually, does it? Some scholars say this is an egregious mistranslation!). Is this true? How am I cherry-picking? Paul says that unmarried people should stay unmarried, and so on.

    I want to know if these propositions line up with reality. I want to know how the two creation stories in Genesis, which are clearly contradictory (as theologians themselves recognize), came to be.

    I want to know more about why Matthew and Luke stumble over Mark’s bald “all things are possible to you” statement, a traditional ascription of omnipotence. Matthew, faced with the enormity of God’s killing his own son, seems to raise the question of whether there is not some higher necessity controlling the action. Luke seems more concerned with the question of the unity or constancy of the divine will: how can the Son of God pray to God in order to change his mind? John omits the whole episode of Jesus’ prayer in the garden, replacing it with a comparable scene of anguish immediately before the Last Supper.

    I want to know if Jesus was crucified before or after Passover — the Bible gives two contradictory accounts. I want to know if Jesus was born before or after the Common Era began — the Bible gives two accounts.

    In no way am I cherry-picking. I could give thousands of examples of significant problems — historical and textual in nature — with the Bible. This is why I argue in my book, A Crisis of Faith, that *if* any religion is true, it almost certainly isn’t Christianity. In other words, there are much more convincing, coherent, cogent religious systems of belief (yes, like Islam) than the Christian one. And statistically, of course, any religious system must always be less probable than theism itself. (Discussion in A Crisis o Faith.)

  57. “The Mormon “revelation” is historically disconfirmed. The Islamic “revelation” came about a-historically, so it is at best untestable. I don’t mean we can’t test whether Mohammed lived, but we can’t test much of the content of the “revelation” that was delivered to him. There are however some historical assertions in Islam that are clearly false, such as their explanation of the crucifixion of Christ.”

    You know, there is a Tom Gilson out there who happened to be raised Muslim, and who believes everything the Koran says, who would read the above and shake his head: “What a fool. This man obviously doesn’t know how to read the Koran literately. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”

    There are all these atheist-religionist debates out there. I would love to see one between, say, a Christian and a Muslim! Since both are faith-based systems of belief in truths revealed to individuals long ago by supernatural agents, the argument would have to go something like this:

    “I have this ancient book that says X.”

    “So, I have this ancient book that says Y.”

    “Yeah, but my ancient book was revealed by God.”

    “Actually, mine was revealed by God, not yours.”

    “But I have historical evidence to prove it!”

    “So, I have historical evidence too!”

    “Yeah, but I’m telling you: I can literally *feel* the presence of my God working in the world. I see evidence for him everything.”

    “But I *feel* the presence of my God too! His works are all around.”

    The debate would obviously go nowhere, with each side simply insisting that *their* ancient text *really was* revealed by the divine and the other’s wasn’t. Muslims feel the presence of God just like Christians; Mormons are certain that the Book of Mormons contains truth just like Christians are certain of the New Testament; Hindus base their lives around faith-based ideologies just like Buddhists; and so on. This is why religion is so replete with epistemological problems.

  58. Suddenly you are not cherry-picking. Instead you are resorting to argumentum ad fragenblitzen. Instead of picking out the most unlikely events to have independent attestation and asking about them, you are asking about virtually everything.

    I’ll pick just one of your questions for an answer: “all things are possible” and its implications of omnipotence. The simple answer to that is that no one listening to Jesus at the time would have concluded that was what he was saying; it takes a tendentious 21st century skeptic to come up with such a silly thought!

    He said all things are possible to the one who believes. Believes what? That God is God, for one thing, and that “all things” must be circumscribed by that reality and ordered by that relationship. Believes in what manner? Jesus was trying to increase his listeners’ faith, not to tell them they were already capable of just anything.

    If that, my friend, is what you consider a Bible difficulty, then you are inventing difficulties, not discovering them.

  59. “I encourage Dr. McGrew to read over the SEP entry on Faith …”

    Thanks, Phil. I have, and since it has nothing to say about the central New Testament conception of faith as well-grounded trust in that which one cannot see, I don’t see any relevance to your suggestion.

    “… (as well as Epistemology, …”

    Matthias Steup’s piece looks like a nice introductory survey article. Since I have been publishing in the field and teaching epistemology at the graduate level for nearly twenty years now, I find this suggestion more than a little amusing. I don’t recall having the pleasure of reading anything you’ve written on the subject, however.

    “… Evidentialism, and so on).”

    There is — alas! — no SEP article yet on Evidentialism. If the subject interests you, then you might want to read the 2007 book Internalism and Epistemology, which is a defense of a particularly robust form of evidentialism. You might also be interested in the article “Evidence” in The Routledge Companion to Epistemology.

  60. “I’ll pick just one of your questions for an answer: “all things are possible” and its implications of omnipotence. The simple answer to that is that no one listening to Jesus at the time would have concluded that was what he was saying; it takes a tendentious 21st century skeptic to come up with such a silly thought!”

    LOL. Tom, this is wonderful. That whole section was — I kid you not — quoted ad verbim from Dr. John Riches, professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow. I was just curious how you would react to something that a truly “literate” reader would write. Now I know.

    This is truly an important moment in our conversation. I’ve read so much in theology, the philosophy of religion and textual criticism. But when I mention the issues discussed by scholars, you habitually dismiss them as me being inept (or something like that). You did, of course, dismiss my book as more “internet atheism.” The actual problem, as far as I can tell, is that you really don’t know what you’re talking about. (Keep perusing the SEP!)

  61. The funny thing about your response in #67, Phil, is that it doesn’t address what I said. You only laugh at me for not knowing that some academic somewhere wrote it.

    Dr. John Riches was wrong on this, for the reasons I have already cited. Simple as that. It was not a dismissal. It was a refutation.

  62. Phil, your objections here amount to this:

    “Whatever you say about history, Tom, I can say something else. Whatever archaeologists and historians say, someone somewhere can say something else. Therefore whatever anyone says, since someone can say something else, therefore whatever anyone says must perforce be unreliable or false.

    “And besides: there are claims in the Bible that can’t be tested, like Balaam’s donkey. I want to know whether all of them can be demonstrated to be historical before I’ll accept any of them as historical.

    “And you must accept the SEP’s definition of faith, even though it never addresses the central NT conception of faith as well-grounded trust in that which one cannot see [thank you for that, Dr. McGrew]. The biblical conception of faith is irrelevant and out of bounds in our discussion on biblically-conceived faith, because the biblical conception of faith isn’t mentioned in the SEP.

    “And because you haven’t read some professor X, your objections are laughable. Never mind the content of those objections. Never mind whether they are rationally presented and argued. Never mind that: I have authority on my side.”

    Your method is to revert to authority at every turn, as long as said authority agrees with you. I need not tell you (need I?) that that approach is fallacious.

    It’s also boring. I’m done with this conversation, unless someone else shows up with something to make it interesting.

  63. “Thanks, Phil. I have, and since it has nothing to say about the central New Testament conception of faith as well-grounded trust in that which one cannot see, I don’t see any relevance to your suggestion.”

    There’s a whole section on propositional faith — i.e., the cognitive acceptance of propositions like “Muhammad was the last great prophet of Allah” and “Jesus literally walked on water.” As you well know, evidentialism figures very prominently in contemporary philosophy of religion debates. The central question is: What evidence — preferably a bit of evidence that can be checked by third parties — can be adduced to support claims like “Jesus healed a man with spittle,” “Joseph Smith spoke with Moroni,” “Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse” — not to mention propositions that are apparently logically inconsistent, such as “Jesus was both fully human and fully divine,” “God is three completely distinct persons who are also completely identical,” and so on.

    If there isn’t any good evidence for these propositions, then the species of belief required to accept them into one’s web of belief is best labeled “faith.” But without evidence, belief isn’t justified, and therefore faith is unreasonable.

  64. “Dr. John Riches was wrong on this, for the reasons I have already cited. Simple as that.”

    Simple as that? This is precisely the sort of attitude that makes talking to religious individuals — not just Christian, but Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, and so on — difficult.

    Again, it’s worth noting that religion is marked by *significant* divergence of thought. Christians everywhere have profoundly different, and sometimes mutually incompatible, interpretations of the Bible. Meanwhile, each of these different groups is just *so sure* that their own particular interpretations are correct. From the outside, it looks a bit insane.

  65. Cherry-picking again.

    (I’m making one last contribution to a failed conversation.)

    You might as well quit with the Islam references: we don’t believe there’s any good support for them either.

    As for Jesus healing a man with spittle, you’re just picking questions that are convenient to your case. You avoid the hard ones.

    You’re not being intellectually honest. As long as you can’t see that in yourself, there’s no point in carrying on the pretense of a discussion with you.

  66. Point of clarification: I did not dismiss Dr. Riches as you say. I refuted him. The difference that makes is most consequential. Your failure to notice it is most telling.

  67. Tom, do you know what Rogerian argumentation is? It involves recapitulating an opponents argument before moving on, to ensure that one understands the position competently. You have failed at this pretty miserably.

    Let’s start with one proposition. What is your evidence for the claim that God is three completely distinct persons who are also completely identical in essence? Let’s just start with this central trinitarian claim, and move from there. Cool?

  68. “As for Jesus healing a man with spittle, you’re just picking questions that are convenient to your case. You avoid the hard ones.”

    I’m confused. I was told that this is true as a child. I grew up around people who believed it. I read it in the Bible. I’ve been told that the Bible is capital-‘t’ Truth. How am I cherry-picking? As a truth-seeker, I want to know if this is true. Can you tell me?

    First, let’s start with the question above — unless you’d rather start with this miracle. Any evidence for it? Pretend that I’m a jury. Convince me!

  69. Not cool.

    You have displayed your intellectual dishonesty clearly enough. Your yourself have failed to pay the slightest attention to a biblical faith, insisting upon an SEP one instead. Rogerian? You? Hah!

    I’m climbing out of the mud bath you’ve made this, and taking a proverbial shower.

  70. Tom, I am asking you simple, honest, straightforward questions about the veracity of Christianity. I am completely open to evidence for them. Your reaction, though, has been to evade them by calling me names (“bigot,” “crank,” “dishonest”).

    I apologize if simply asking for evidence for, say, trinitarianism or the divinity or Christ or for any of his miracles has upset you. But my offer is still open.

  71. Phil, I expect you and I probably agree on many points of fact. I am an atheist and like you I disbelieve the supernatural truth-claims of Christianity, Islam and other religions.

    However, I am concerned by the weakness of your methodology. Tom likes the term fragenblitzen and I see what he means. I don’t think you do yourself or atheism any favours because this style of argument gets us nowhere.

    Is it really about competing belief systems or is it some kind of competition of erudition?

    I’ve read so much in theology, the philosophy of religion and textual criticism.

    Let me address a practical difficulty with following your arguments. You refer to “the vast majority of epistemologists”. Well I can tell you, I have certainly not read enough philosophy to make any statement about the vast majority of epistemologists.

    The philosophers I have read, however, have tended to use arguments of the form “A has said X, while to the contrary B has said Y, now taking an example which neither of them handled, I can demonstrate Z.” Real philosophy discussion addresses actual, specified references and makes arguments based on those to present an actual, specific, interesting and perhaps novel claim.

    I note that Tim McGrew has responded with exemplary good humour and referred us to his own book (nice touch!). Consider this — I buy and read the odd book from time to time. Based on this discussion I am more likely to browse his than yours, to see if it will be worth reading. Please reflect on that.

    Now – I am really interested in some, indeed many of the questions you raise. But could we really not take them one at a time and try to have an illuminating discussion about them?

  72. @Tom #62 (and Fleegman: Hey you 🙂 how are you? I hope 2013 is a good year for you)

    So if I have had this impression of an encounter with God, and if the content of that impression is such that it associates that God-impression with the God of the Bible, I have no reason to doubt the veridicality of that impression.

    Just to expand on this, from the opposite side – if an experience of the supernatural contradicts core Christian truths, then we (as Spirit-filled Christians) would have good reason to doubt that the experience was not an encounter with the eternal,self-existent true God who revealed Himself in His Word and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We know His voice and He is no stranger to us (John 10:1-15) and we are explicitly told that any spiritual experience that contradicts the truth about Jesus is not of God ( 1 John 2:18-27 and 1 John 4:1-6). This may sound like circular reasoning, but we base this faith, this confidence, this trust on the historical event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which as we have repeated over and over again in this blog, we have good reasons to think that this is the inference to the best explanation. It all comes down to this fundamental truth claim of Christianity; if the resurrection did in fact happen then Jesus is Who He says He is and Who the NT writers say He is, and that trumps all other competing claims.

  73. @Frank Pennycook:

    “However, I am concerned by the weakness of your methodology. Tom likes the term fragenblitzen and I see what he means. I don’t think you do yourself or atheism any favours because this style of argument gets us nowhere.”

    Good point. This conversation has a history, though. I’ve asked Tom specific questions many times, without much luck. I guess part of my issue is that I feel like there are *so many* significant issues, from high-level theological ones like “How can God be three in one?” to low-level ones like “Did Jesus *really* cast demons into a herd of pigs?” to textual ones like “Apparently the Johannine Comma was added by later scribes. What else should we not trust in the Bible?” to “One Gospel says Jesus was born before Herod died; the other says that Jesus was born after the Census of Quirinius. How could this possibly be, given what we know of history?” I don’t mean to overwhelm, but I do feel like the relevant questions — questions that need to be answered in order for Christianity to epistemically reasonable — are overwhelming. I suggested to Tom above that we start with evidence for God being truine. Does that seem fair to you?

    “I note that Tim McGrew has responded with exemplary good humour and referred us to his own book (nice touch!). Consider this — I buy and read the odd book from time to time. Based on this discussion I am more likely to browse his than yours, to see if it will be worth reading. Please reflect on that.”

    Well, my concern is not primarily selling books. Good for McGrew for his surreptitious self-promotion. (Although it does seem a bit inappropriate to me — but that’s just my opinion.)

  74. @Victoria:

    ” It all comes down to this fundamental truth claim of Christianity; if the resurrection did in fact happen then Jesus is Who He says He is and Who the NT writers say He is, and that trumps all other competing claims.”

    Yes, but the question is whether or not it is indeed a fact. By analogy:

    It all comes down to this fundamental truth claim of Islam; if Muhammad did in fact receive the Koran from Gabriel for 23 years, then this trumps all competing claims.

    Obviously, not good reasoning.

  75. “There’s a whole section on propositional faith — ”

    Section 5, which begins with two paragraphs that mention Swinburne’s view, rapidly veers into questions of evidential ambiguity, psychological firmness, and “a model of faith that exhibits its cognitive content as playing some other role than that of a high-level scientific explanatory hypothesis.” There is no significant engagement with Swinburne’s position.

    Trust in a person is, of course, something more than mere belief in propositions. But the evidence for the propositions is what makes the trust reasonable.

    “As you well know, evidentialism figures very prominently in contemporary philosophy of religion debates.”

    Indeed. I have contributed in a modest way to those discussions.

    “The central question is: What evidence — preferably a bit of evidence that can be checked by third parties — can be adduced to support claims like “Jesus healed a man with spittle,” “Joseph Smith spoke with Moroni,” “Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse” — not to mention propositions that are apparently logically inconsistent, such as “Jesus was both fully human and fully divine,” “God is three completely distinct persons who are also completely identical,” and so on.”

    The answer is pretty straightforward: on the basis of public evidence, there is a strong case that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. If that is true, then there is no reasonable presumption that God does not exist or was not acting in and through Jesus’ life and ministry. Therefore, there is no significant presumption to offset the value of contemporary testimony regarding events such as the healing of a blind man. In the absence of such a presumption, the reasonable course is to accept the testimony. This ground is all covered in Campbell’s refutation of Hume.

    Naturally enough, you will contest the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. But since it is central to the epistemic case, you might as well stop pettifogging about things that derive a significant part of their support from the resurrection and face up squarely to the main question.

    As for a crisis of faith, I’ve been there, done that. Like you, I’ve done a considerable amount of reading in biblical criticism and reached my own conclusions. I see you’ve written a book on the subject; I haven’t, but I did contribute a rather lengthy article to the discussion of the resurrection, which you may find here.

    If I thought you sincerely wanted to know the truth, I would try to make some time to have a discussion with you. Unfortunately, you’ve also shown yourself to be a very disagreeable interlocutor in this thread with Tom. Your behavior has provided ample evidence that you are much more interested in posturing (next time you haughtily recommend an introductory SEP article, do check first to find out to whom you’re recommending it) and browbeating your intellectual opponents than you are in knowing the truth if it should happen to involve changing your mind.

    Life is short; we all have other things to do. Adieu.

  76. @Phil
    Christianity is rooted in historical events that are there for all to see.
    There are good reasons to trust this history, that’s why I trust it and the Person it points to, and the implications of what it means.

    You, as an apostate ex-Christian (by your own admission) can’t see that – you do not have what the Bible calls faith, and that is unfortunate for you. I wish I could help you.

  77. Tim:

    “The answer is pretty straightforward: on the basis of public evidence, there is a strong case that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead.”

    And what is this public evidence?

    I’m sorry you’ve gotten the impression that you’ve gotten. Maybe you entered the conversation at the wrong point. I’m very open to opposing views, and have tried to give others — not just Christians, but Muslims, Buddhists, and so on — ample opportunity to refute my (tentatively held) positions. My book discusses this quite a bit. If you don’t want a conversation, I respect that. Otherwise, I would be very happy to know more about this public record — and why I haven’t heard much about it in my perusal of the relevant literature!

    Thanks and take care.

  78. Something interesting going on here, Phil, which is what I said might draw me back into the discussion. Frank sees you better than you see yourself.

    Again from you:

    Talk about intellectual dishonesty! I am asking you simple, honest, straightforward questions about the veracity of Christianity. I am completely open to evidence for them. Your reaction, though, has been to evade them by calling me names (“bigot,” “crank,” “dishonest”).

    My reaction has been to sprinkle such epithets among (a) some direct answers and (b) some explanations as to what makes your questions less than simple, honest, and straightforward.

    Your characterization of my response in this manner is further evidence of your intellectual dishonesty. You keep shooting yourself in the foot.

  79. @Victoria:

    “Christianity is rooted in historical events that are there for all to see.
    There are good reasons to trust this history, that’s why I trust it and the Person it points to, and the implications of what it means.”

    But, historically we know that Herod died before the Census of Quirinius. Yet the Bible says that Joseph and Mary when to Bethlehem for this Census. It also says that Herod tried to kill Jesus. Based on a pretty solid historical knowledge, the New Testament presents patently conflicting accounts of Jesus’ birth. So, yes, the historical record *us* there for all to see. And it looks like it refutes at least one central story in the Bible.

  80. Tom:

    Not sure I follow your reasoning here. Could we just start with the claim that God is three completely distinct persons who are completely identical in substance? Honestly, I would be very happy to get a better hold of how this could be. (Can I get any more intellectually honest than that?)

  81. arghh – another typo in my #79

    Just to expand on this, from the opposite side – if an experience of the supernatural contradicts core Christian truths, then we (as Spirit-filled Christians) would have good reason to doubt that the experience was not an encounter with the eternal,self-existent true God who revealed Himself in His Word and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Should read something like “we would have good reasons to think that the experience was not….”
    Maybe Tom can edit my #79 and fix it 🙂

  82. Tim:

    Thanks for this!

    BTW, have you looked at historical arguments for Muhammad having spoken with the angel Gabriel for a period of 23 years? From what I’ve read — limited though it is — Islam seems to have a stronger case than most of faith-based belief systems. Just curious what your thoughts are…

  83. @Victoria:

    I don’t know much about Smith’s Bible Dictionary. What I do know is that the literature written by theologians and textual critics about the Census of Quirinius / Herod does generally acknowledged an historical problem (Tim, can you confirm?)

    Not only that but — at the risk of committing the fallacy of being overly curious (j/k) — there are *so many* other instances in the Bible of historical or chronological contradiction. For example, Jesus is said to be crucified before and after Passover; the text is quite clear about this. But it’s obviously impossible.

    Indeed: the Gospels disagree about whether Jesus carried the cross upon which he was crucified or whether he got help from Simon of Cyrene (John 19:17 vs. Mark 15:21; Matthew 27:32; Luke 23:26); whether Jesus received wine mixed with myrrh or wine vinegar (Mark 15:23 vs. Matthew 27:48; Luke 23:36; John 19:29); whether Jesus drank what he was given or not (John 19:30 vs. Matthew 27:34); and whether the inscription of Jesus’ cross said ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’ (John 19:19) or ‘This is the King of the Jews’ (Luke 23:38) or ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’ (Matthew 27:37). The Gospels also disagree about whether Jesus was strung out between two bandits: Matthew, Mark and Luke mention these criminals, but John says nothing about them. They also disagree about the exchange Jesus had with the criminals: in Matthew, both men insult Jesus (Matthew 27:44), while in Luke only one throws insults at Jesus. In fact, Luke describes the other bandit as actually rebuking the first for his verbally abusive behavior. The other then admits that ‘we are punished justly’, after which Jesus says to him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:32-43). And finally, the Gospels disagree about what Jesus’ final utterance was: Matthew and Mark both record it as, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34) – a cry of desperation! – whereas in Luke it’s, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46) and in John it’s simply, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30) – both of which are more like expressions of equanimity than desperation.”

    I’m really not aiming for inundation here. Just pointing out that the historical / internal / textual issues with the Bible appear to be quite significant (much more, as far as I can tell, than with other holy books like the Koran).

  84. @Victoria:

    Oh! “Smith’s Bible Dictionary, originally named A Dictionary of the Bible, was a 19th century Bible dictionary containing upwards of four thousand entries that became named after its editor, William Smith. Its popularity was such that condensed dictionaries appropriated the title, “Smith’s Bible Dictionary”.” (From Wikipedia.)

    If this is accurate, I wouldn’t trust what the dictionary says about the Census of Quirinius. A lot of scholarship has been done since the 19th century!!

  85. @Phil
    What, Jesus could not have started out bearing His cross, and along the way, so weakened by the scourging, could not go on, so the Romans grabbed some bystander to take over, because they didn’t have all day, ya’know?

    I suggest you read “Cold Case Christianity” http://www.amazon.com/Cold-Case-Christianity-Homicide-Detective-Investigates/dp/1434704696/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1358529134&sr=1-1&keywords=cold+case+christianity) and
    this book http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Eyewitnesses-Gospels-Eyewitness-Testimony/dp/0802831621/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1358529167&sr=1-1&keywords=the+gospels+as+eyewitness+testimony for starters.

    Really, Phil, that’s the best you can do? Point out differences and cry discrepancies and contradictions? Have you not read of the analysis of the timing of Jesus’ crucifixion and the Passover that shows that the differences between the accounts is due the use of both the Jewish and Roman ways of reckoning time by different gospel authors?

    The gospels form a mosaic picture of Jesus and the events of His life, death and resurrection. Each author presents parts of the whole picture that God wanted us to see of His Son. Each author was writing from a different perspective – there is no contradiction here in what Jesus said in His last hours on the cross, if He said all of those things.
    It seems that for all of your reading, you missed a whole library of insightful, thoughtful and scholarly analysis of the Gospels. Why is that, Phil? Do you have an axe to grind?

    As to the reference I gave you originally, I’m not at home, so I don’t have access to my library or reference lists, so I couldn’t give you better, more up-to-date ones. I think http://www.bible.org has better material discussing this issue (the timing of Jesus’ birth) but I don’t have the time to go hunting for it 🙂 Surely if you are actually interested in learning you can do some heavy lifting for yourself.

    Actually, I found one
    http://bible.org/article/problem-luke-22-ithis-was-first-census-taken-when-quirinius-was-governor-syriai

    you could also try
    http://christianbookshelf.org/ramsay/was_christ_born_in_bethlehem/index.html

  86. “BTW, have you looked at historical arguments for Muhammad having spoken with the angel Gabriel for a period of 23 years?”

    Yes.

    “From what I’ve read — limited though it is — Islam seems to have a stronger case than most of faith-based belief systems. Just curious what your thoughts are…”

    Not even close. No public evidence (check the second of Leslie’s four rules), no other eyewitnesses. It’s worth about as much as Joseph Smith’s signed affidavits (remember Martin Harris’s comment about a “spiritual eye”?), and it’s contrived to further much the same all-too-recognizable human ends.

    “[T]he Gospels disagree about whether Jesus carried the cross upon which he was crucified or whether he got help from Simon of Cyrene”

    Misreading.

    “[W]hether Jesus received wine mixed with myrrh or wine vinegar”

    Trivial.

    “[W]hether Jesus drank what he was given or not”

    Misreading.

    “[W]hether the inscription of Jesus’ cross said ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’ (John 19:19) or ‘This is the King of the Jews’ (Luke 23:38) or ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’ (Matthew 27:37)”

    Trivial — and exhibits failure to read John 19:20

    ” The Gospels also disagree about whether Jesus was strung out between two bandits: Matthew, Mark and Luke mention these criminals, but John says nothing about them.

    Then by your own admission they don’t disagree, as John says nothing about them — a worthless argument from silence

    “They also disagree about the exchange Jesus had with the criminals: in Matthew, both men insult Jesus (Matthew 27:44), while in Luke only one throws insults at Jesus.”

    Another argument from silence

    And finally, the Gospels disagree about what Jesus’ final utterance was

    Misreading. Matthew 27:50 says that Jesus cried out again but does not say whether he did so in words; ditto Mark 15:37. The incomplete accounts of both Luke and John (particularly John, vide classicist E. M. Blaiklock’s remarks about John 19:27 and the ensuing order of events in John) present no particular difficulty; if one wants to reconcile them, it can be done thus

    Not that, from an historian’s point of view, any of this matters. We have far more extensive discrepancies in the extant accounts of the murder of Julius Caesar, or Cicero, or the emperor Caracalla, than we have here, and no one thinks that makes the sources generally untrustworthy regarding the main outlines of the events.

    All of these objections have been made and addressed ages ago, long before the first publication of Smith’s Bible Dictionary (which remains a useful reference work, though naturally dated in some respects). None of them represents a modern discovery. None of them carries any significant weight in the evaluation of the Gospels as historical documents.

  87. “What I do know is that the literature written by theologians and textual critics about the Census of Quirinius / Herod does generally acknowledged an historical problem”

    Many critics do think so. I believe this objection is overrated; you can see my discussion of it here — start at about 7:50.

  88. @Tim:

    You’ll have a heck of a time arguing those responses with textual critics! Surely you’ll admit that you’re in a minority thinking that all those apparent conflicts in the text are either “trivial” (a response I love — one that I’ve gotten from Muslims, concerning problems with the Koran, as well as ardent Christians) or based on misreadings. Again, since I’m not expert in textual criticism, I get my views largely from textual critics, and there are *many* who see all those above apparent contradictions as such.

    And don’t try to tell a Muslim philosopher or historian that there’s way less evidence for Muhammad’s 23 year communion with the divine. I’ve heard, in fact, Muslim scholars make *exactly* that claim, but about Christianity. Obviously, there isn’t good evidence for the basic claims of Islam.

    Incidentally, I’ve watched a lot of atheists debate Christians. And I’ve never heard anyone suggest that there’s a good historical case for Jesus literally rising from the dead after three days of biological decomposition. Have people just not heard your arguments? (Incidentally, I’ve not had a chance to explore them yet — but I will.)

  89. Phil @80

    I don’t mean to overwhelm, but I do feel like the relevant questions — questions that need to be answered in order for Christianity to epistemically reasonable — are overwhelming.

    Well yes I do see that, it is tricky.

    I suggested to Tom above that we start with evidence for God being triune. Does that seem fair to you?

    Actually I was going to suggest the resurrection myself, and I see the discussion has moved on since I last contributed.

    It does still seem as if we’re trying to address lots of things at once, which might get confusing — the Quirinian census, the crucifixion accounts, the Trinity. If anything is to be the really central issue I do thing it ought to be the resurrection. What do you think?

    I fully accept by the way that your primary concern is not selling books, and I wasn’t trying to imply that. I was being a bit cheeky there, to make my point. I’ll try and behave myself. 🙂

  90. @Frank:

    “It does still seem as if we’re trying to address lots of things at once, which might get confusing — the Quirinian census, the crucifixion accounts, the Trinity. If anything is to be the really central issue I do thing it ought to be the resurrection. What do you think?”

    Sure. I think the resurrection is an important issue. But, it seems to me, the resurrection means little if Jesus isn’t God. (I.e., the situation is God having to sacrifice part of *himself* in order to save humanity from a situation that he ultimately created, since he is God.) So it seems to me that the divinity of Jesus — said to be both fully human and fully divine at the same time, a philosophical conundrum of great perplexity! — is very much related to the resurrection. But looking at the historical basis for believing that Jesus literally rose from the dead (but not all those other individuals throughout history who’ve been said to have risen from the dead) is a great place to start. Let’s have a look at Tim’s arguments and see why they’re not more widely accepted (i.e., see if they really should be more widely accepted!).

  91. Conundrum eh?
    Sounds very much like the issue Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16.

    The NT authors tell us that Jesus’ resurrection is the proof that He is Who He claimed to be, the promised Messiah and the Son of God. Both Paul and John make this very clear. Peter make this clear in his public sermons, recorded in Acts.

    The problem is your worldview – you guys are metaphysical naturalists, rejecting the supernatural, as are your beloved textual critics.

  92. Victoria,

    The problem is your worldview – you guys are metaphysical naturalists, rejecting the supernatural, as are your beloved textual critics.

    I’m happy to own up to a naturalistic worldview — how is that a problem?

  93. I.e., the situation is God having to sacrifice part of *himself* in order to save humanity from a situation that he ultimately created, since he is God.

    Oh, I see. It’s like the situation of a good child turned criminal thug. Parents ultimately created the situation, since they were the parents. They didn’t have to have children, but they did and it kicked off the entire mess. It’s all making sense now.

  94. @Victoria:

    I’m also happy to be a non-naturalist. I have no ideological investment in either. If we start observing, for example, physical effects without physical causes in the brain, then I’d be happy to consider substance dualism. (You should know, incidentally, that virtually all cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind don’t believe in immortal souls. Tim: it’s even true that many believing theologians in the 20th century abandoned dualism for a materialist metaphysics. Citations are provided in my book.)

    So no, I don’t have a “religious-like” attachment to naturalism. I’m only a naturalist because I’ve looked at the religions of the world, and I’ve studied science, and there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for believing in supernatural phenomena.

  95. If we start observing, for example, physical effects without physical causes in the brain, then I’d be happy to consider substance dualism.

    Curious how you’d go about observing a non-physical cause in the brain? Not sure how science would perform that trick.

    Do you believe that thoughts/ideas/belief are exactly the same thing as brain states, much like meaning would be the same thing as the state of ink on the paper?

  96. @SteveK

    “Curious how you’d go about observing a non-physical cause in the brain? Not sure how science would perform that trick.”

    Exactly. You wouldn’t observe the non-physical cause. What you’d see is an effect in the world without a cause in the world. If years of research consistently found no physical cause, then hypothesizing a non-physical cause would become plausible. Unfortunately for those already committed to dualism, there has never ever been a physical effect that could not be traced back to a physical effect. (Thus, the “causal closure” of the physical.)

    “Do you believe that thoughts are exactly the same thing as brain states, much like meaning would be the same thing as the state of ink on the paper?”

    Steve, virtually no one thinks this anymore, especially materialists. It’s called the identity theory (where the identity in question concerns *types* of mental states and *types* of neural states), and it had its day many decades ago. What the overwhelming majority of people today think is that *token* mental states are identical with *token* physical states. And the reason people think this is because the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the mind is ontologically dependent upon the brain. See the SEP for more. But this really is Intro. to Phil. of Mind stuff.

  97. (I should add that the theory which has been adopted by *many* philosophers and cognitive scientists today is called “functionalism.” The version of functionalism that’s been particularly influential is called “computationalism.” There definitely are some notable critics of this theory, but virtually no one — Swinburne aside! — thinks that traditional mind-body dualism is at all in alignment with reality. Evidence against it is discussed in my book. [Sorry, taking a cue from Dr. Tim.])

  98. @Phil and Frank (hi Frank, BTW and welcome :))

    If you guys are naturalists and proud of it, that’s your choice. I’m not here to change your minds and hearts – only God can do that.

    As Tom said in this thread

    Christianity, on the other hand, has never been disconfirmed historically; and it is the sort of revelation that can be tested that way. It stands up philosophically: there are satisfactory answers to all the hard questions raised against it. (I do not mean these answers are such that they compel agreement by all, but rather that they permit agreement without violating any epistemic duties of rationality.)

    The evidence is such that it draws people whose hearts and minds are open to it and repels those whose hearts and minds are not. People who are willing to look at the evidence enough to say “OK God. I’m ready to listen if You will speak” will find what they are looking for.

    @Phil
    I am a PhD physicist, BTW, so your playing the science card does not impress me much. The fact that virtually all secular philosophers and cognitive scientists don’t believe in immortal souls does nothing for me either – so what? That just falls right into line with what Paul said in 1 Corinthians.

  99. @Victoria:

    “If you guys are naturalists and proud of it, that’s your choice. I’m not here to change your minds and hearts – only God can do that.”

    Did you read what I wrote? Doesn’t seem like it.

    “Christianity, on the other hand, has never been disconfirmed historically; and it is the sort of revelation that can be tested that way. It stands up philosophically: there are satisfactory answers to all the hard questions raised against it. (I do not mean these answers are such that they compel agreement by all, but rather that they permit agreement without violating any epistemic duties of rationality.)”

    This is just incredible silliness. Much of historical criticism shows that there are multiple, very serious problems with the Bible. The Census of Quirinius is but one example. The chronology of Jesus’ “Passion” is another. And so on. (Any book on historical criticism will do here — even Dr. Tim says in the opening of one of his “lectures” — sounds more like preaching to me — that the scholarly consensus is against him.)

    “I am a PhD physicist, BTW, so your playing the science card does not impress me much.”

    Not sure I follow. It would be like me saying “I’m a pastor. So your citing the Bible doesn’t impress me.” As a physicist and Christian, you are part of a quickly dwindling demographic. More and more scientists are, given all that we know about the universe today, abandoning ancient worldviews for much more enlightened, scientifically-informed ones. As mentioned before, there are statistical relations between education and atheism, not to mention IQ and irreligious beliefs. So, you’re mentioning that your a physicist doesn’t impress *me* much — given that you also believe, in 2013, in virgin births.

  100. I’ve had a chance to look through the paper Tim McGrew offered us on the resurrection (#82).

    Interestingly it echoes a suggestion made earlier by SteveK in this very thread (#48) to conduct a statistical analysis of the likelihood of OT prophecies predicting the birth of Jesus, which seemed a daunting prospect if it was to be done thoroughly. Tim’s paper considers miracle instead of prophecy and helpfully avoids the complexity of examining the conjunction of multiple events by focussing entirely on the single pivotal event of the resurrection.

    The aim of the paper is to estimate how likely the resurrection explanation (R) is compared to its opposite, the disjunction of all non-resurrection possibilities (¬R), given the available evidence. He uses a Bayesian approach, which for those not familiar with the maths is a method for quantifying conditional probabilities in the face of incomplete or imperfect data.

    The maths aside, he also gives a detailed summary of the elements in the NT accounts of the resurrection, and discusses general questions related to the argument from miracles and Hume’s attack on it.

    The heart of the paper is the probabilistic argument. I have at this point given it a good first reading, and can see the overview of how his case is put together, but the paper is substantial (70 pages) and fairly involved so it would need quite a bit more study to do it justice.

    The three principle lines of evidence factored in are firstly the women at the tomb, then the Jerusalem disciples, and finally Paul.

    One major assumption that is acknowledged is the “general reliability” of the accounts, less strong than a claim of inspiration or inerrancy, but sharply distinguished from the conclusions of form criticism (Bultmann, the Q theory, Crossan, etc) which are argued against.

    Another key plank of the argument is the independence of the witnesses. Although Tim does address this point, discursively and to some extent quantitatively, I have a hunch that this is a point which needs attention and may prove a vulnerability of the statistical case.

    One omission in my view is any consideration of this resurrection event as compared to (i) others recorded in the Bible (ii) claims of resurrection in historical or contemporary settings. Perhaps anyone here would care to comment on these?

    So, a very interesting paper. If you’re not keen on the maths bits I must say Tim does a good job explaining them and relating Bayesian analysis to commonsense understanding of inference.

  101. What the overwhelming majority of people today think is that *token* mental states are identical with *token* physical states.

    I’m not educated on this subject enough.

    I do think that when someone says two things are identical, that they are identical and that the identity law holds true. What I hear you saying is that some aspect (not sure what a *token* is) of a mental idea/belief is identical to a physical state.

    I take that to mean that some aspect of the idea/belief can be found in some aspect of the physical state because they are identical (the same thing). When you identify this token physical state, you’ll be able to “see” the idea/belief.

    I guess I have more to learn about the various theories.

  102. As a physicist and Christian, you are part of a quickly dwindling demographic.

    I’ve got 4 children and I’m encouraging them all to get degrees in science.

  103. “You just keep telling yourself those things I don’t care.”

    This is what faith is good for: I don’t care.

    In contrast, I have data to back up those claims. The most educated scientists are atheists, and multiple studies have shown an IQ-atheism (as well as liberalism) connection. The only reason I keep telling myself they are true is because they are. If the evidence were different — if, say, thinking analytically led to religious belief — then I would be happy to discuss it.

  104. This is what faith is good for: I don’t care.

    In contrast, I have data to back up those claims.

    Where’s the data for your above claim, Phil?

    Maybe it’s just me, but wisdom seems to be a better indicator than education.

  105. @SteveK:

    Wisdom is a particularly difficult thing to even characterize. I’ve read some of the psychology literature on it — but there’s a reason not much has been said on the issue (comparatively speaking) for two millennia! Obviously, there are Muslims who consider each other extremely wise; same in every religious tradition. But are such people really wise? It’s hard to say — in my opinion, no, not really. Someone like, say, Steven Pinker (an atheist) is much wiser than them.

    Here is an article published in Nature on science education and areligiosity: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html

    Here are some others on IQ and disbelief: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100224132655.htm [notice, by the way, that Kanazawa has nothing to do with the data itself; he’s only trying to explain it — and I think he more or less fails] and http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289608000238 and an interesting discussion of it: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201005/the-real-reason-atheists-have-higher-iqs

    Here is a study showing that atheists tend to know more about religion than religious people: http://theweek.com/article/index/207591/religious-iq-why-do-atheists-outscore-christians

    Here is a study showing that analytical thinking leads to religious disbelief: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6080/493

    There is so much more. I have a whole chapter in A Crisis of Faith dedicated to critically reviewing such studies.

  106. I should add that even Dr. Tim mentions in the beginning of one of his lectures (linked above) that more and more students are entering university with religious beliefs, but leaving without them. Rick Santorum made the same remark, and seemed to suggest that he was opposed to higher education. (Remember Obama being an “elitist snob”?) As I mention in the book, there are *many* cases of people learning more and then, as a result, abandoning their religious beliefs. But it’s hard to find *any* cases of, say, someone learning a whole lot about evolution and *because of this* losing his or her belief in evolution. In virtually all cases, knowing more about evolution makes one more confident in its truth, whereas in many cases knowing more about the origins of religion, the plurality of religious beliefs, the diversity of revelations and the epistemic nature of faith, makes it less likely that one will remain religious. This is a very interesting asymmetry between science and religion.

  107. “There definitely are some notable critics of this theory, but virtually no one — Swinburne aside! — thinks that traditional mind-body dualism is at all in alignment with reality.”

    Actually, there are quite a few of us dualists around — die Stille im Lande, perhaps — so Swinburne is not so lonely as all that. You should have attended some of the rambunctious meetings of the Midwest Metaphysics Society at Notre Dame in the late 90s when Dean Zimmerman was still there.

    “You’ll have a heck of a time arguing those responses with textual critics!”

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Textual critics study textual variants and manuscripts. You mean “biblical critics,” perhaps. My response would be that there are some really serious methodological problems endemic to much contemporary biblical studies, two of which I discuss briefly in a paper on “Inference, Method, and History” in Southeastern Theological Review 3 (2012).

  108. I would rather have the approval of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Son of God, than the dubious approval of atheists and their so-called worldly wisdom. “As for me and my house, we shall serve the LORD”. When I see Him face to face, I want to be able to bow down before Him as my King, and receive a “well done, good and faithful servant”.

  109. “I’ve had a chance to look through the paper Tim McGrew offered us on the resurrection …”

    Thanks, Frank — can’t ask for fairer than that.

    “The aim of the paper is to estimate how likely the resurrection explanation (R) is compared to its opposite, the disjunction of all non-resurrection possibilities (¬R), given the available evidence.”

    Not quite; it’s to establish a case for a large likelihood ratio in favor of R over ¬R. We explicitly decline to enter into the much longer project of trying to evaluate relative priors. But a large likelihood ratio does significant work in shifting a burden of proof. That’s all we’re after in that paper.

  110. @Victoria:

    Right, but the issue is whether or not it’s reasonable to believe any of those things. There are Muslims and Mormons and Hindus with similarly strong, sincere and fundamental beliefs. But — you would agree — they are all wrong. The question of this whole discussion is whether or not there’s any epistemically good reason for accepting the tenets of Christianity (such as those concerning Jesus’ divinity, the resurrection, the truinity of God, etc. mentioned above).

  111. @Phil

    The question of this whole discussion is whether or not there’s any epistemically good reason for accepting the tenets of Christianity (such as those concerning Jesus’ divinity, the resurrection, the truinity of God, etc. mentioned above).

    Well at least we agree on what the fundamental issues are, if not the disposition of said issues 🙂

    Tim McGrew would say yes (read his paper if you haven’t yet). Many other thoughtful, intelligent, scholarly Christians would say yes. Those of us who love God and have experienced Him through our faith in Jesus Christ have followed said good epistemic reasons to get to that point. We have listened to God when He spoke to us. As much as reason and clear thinking is an important component of the Christian faith, it is also very much a heart attitude that determines how a person responds to God’s grace. An angry, rebellious attitude gets a person nowhere in the search for God.

  112. And Tim, have you any comment on the “general reliability” or otherwise of other resurrection accounts – like this contemporary one as a random example, http://www.midnightministries.org.uk/raised_1.htm and there do seem at a quick glance to be very many like it. If that has been true throughout history, it does change how we view yet another attested case.

    Furthermore, isn’t there a circular reasoning problem that if you start by assuming the accounts are generally reliable, and if those accounts tell the story of a resurrection, then it doesn’t much matter what numbers you feed into your formula, you’re pretty much bound to calculate a nice ratio consistent with the starting assumption, don’t you think?

    Anyway I’ll read the paper in more detail, I am interested in the approach you take.

  113. “Furthermore, isn’t there a circular reasoning problem that if you start by assuming the accounts are generally reliable, and if those accounts tell the story of a resurrection, then it doesn’t much matter what numbers you feed into your formula, you’re pretty much bound to calculate a nice ratio consistent with the starting assumption, don’t you think?”

    No; we explicitly addressed that here:

    “… and that the narratives, at least where not explicitly asserting the occurrence of a miracle, deserve as much credence as similarly attested documents would be accorded if they reported strictly secular matters.”

    So we’re taking their general reliability as a starting point, not their reliability in reporting miracles as such; and we’re giving them a good measure of credence, but we’re not assuming that even in those places they’re infallible.

  114. Phil,

    You keep trying to disprove Christianity by showing that other religions’ credibility is low. Don’t you realize that’s predicted by Christianity?

  115. “And Tim, have you any comment on the “general reliability” or otherwise of other resurrection accounts …”

    I am aware of some, but I have not attempted to make anything like an exhaustive study of such accounts. There may be better material in Craig Keener’s recent study.

    I would be interested if you know of any that were publicly predicted before they occurred; that would be an interesting kind of parallel. I am aware of one such case, but that didn’t go so well.

  116. Here’s what it appears you are doing. You’re treating Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc. as instances of one thing, i.e. “faith.” You are mounting a sustained attack against this “faith.” You’ve done this by way of your definition of the term, and you’re still doing it by undermining “faith,” as if all faith is one thing, so that if faith is wrong in one religion then it must perforce be wrong in all.

    But faith is not this that you have made it to be; at least, not Christian faith, at any rate. Christian faith is belief that a, b, c, d, … z, where a, b, c … m, are testable through historical inquiry, philosophy, and so on. The contents of the series a, b, c, d … are largely different from those of other religions (though there is some overlap, such as shared belief in monotheism with Judaism and Islam, shared belief with many religions that there is more to reality than the physical, and so on).

    Christian beliefs n, o, p, … z may not be testable through direct historical analysis or philosophical inquiry. That part of the Christian belief set includes many of the matters you have been insistent upon: the healing of a man through spittle, for example. Whether we can show them to be true independent of a through m is irrelevant. Much of history is like that, after all. In fact much knowledge in general is like that.

    The question then is whether a through m pass normal epistemic tests. This is not a question of faith. It is a matter of history and other disciplines of knowledge. So your constant reference to other religions is a mere distraction. The question is not whether faith taken as some universally univocal phenomenon, considering it the same thing in every expression, is a reasonable epistemic position to hold. The question is what we can learn through normal means about a through m, and then also whether belief that n, o, p, … z is justified by what we can discover about a through m.

    I suggest therefore you drop the references to other religions, unless of course you want to use their epistemic failures as evidences that Christianity’s predictions are upheld.

  117. I’d like to point out one further logical error of which you have been guilty, Phil. It’s a form of question-begging.

    You are quite insistent that modern science proves the virgin birth (for example) is impossible. But what science proves is actually that a virgin birth is impossible if nothing participates in such an event except for that which science knows. With a bit of philosophical leap-frogging (for which I hope I can be forgiven in this instance, though I must point out that Phil seems unaware of the steps he’s skipping), one might even conclude that science proves a virgin birth is impossible by any natural means whatsoever.

    To which I say, congratulations, Phil! You have just demonstrated that if the world is entirely natural then there is no God. It would have been quicker, though, just to have said so: “If the world is entirely natural there is no God.” There’s no need to mention all the miracles that are precluded in that case. Just get straight to the point, you know.

    What Christianity asks you to consider, in contrast, is the possibility that the world is not entirely natural; and if you are unwilling to admit that possibility into consideration, then you are telling yourself nothing more informative than the unhelpful, virtually tautological, “if the world is entirely natural there is no God.” And you are telling the rest of us nothing whatsoever when you say things like that.

  118. “To which I say, congratulations, Phil!: You have just demonstrated that if the world is entirely natural then there is no God. It would have been quicker, though, just to have said so: “If the world is entirely natural there is no God.””

    Tom, I am bewildered more than usual by this response. Not sure what you’re talking about. Never did I say that I’m closed to the possibility of non-natural phenomena. See my explicit comments above. Islam too asks people to be open to the possibility that there’s more to reality than the physical. Fine. If I come across evidence for it, then I’ll accept it. (The example used above is physical effects without any identifiable physical causes.)

    “You are quite insistent that modern science proves the virgin birth (for example) is impossible. But what science proves is actually that a virgin birth is impossible if nothing participates in such an event except for that which science knows. With a bit of philosophical leap-frogging (for which I hope I can be forgiven in this instance, though I must point out that Phil seems unaware of the steps he’s skipping), one might even conclude that science proves a virgin birth is impossible by any natural means whatsoever.”

    First of all, science doesn’t “prove” anything. This is covered in the first few chapters of my book. What science does is fallibilistically put forth evidence for propositions, where evidence and truth have a probabilistic relation. (Probability contrasts with proof.) I know that’s just more “internet atheism” stuff to you, but to others it’s philosophy.

    Second, science shows that virgin births are a real phenomenon. Komodo dragons sometimes do it, as do other species. There are no known cases in Homo sapiens. Obviously, anything at all is possible with divine intervention. I completely grant that. The question then is “What reason do we have for thinking that any of the many things people have claimed in the past — things that would contravene all we know, through extremely careful observation of the world, about the regularities of nature — actually happened?” Is there historical evidence for Jesus’ virgin birth? Again, back in Jesus’ time it wasn’t that uncommon for there to be “messiahs,” nor were stories of virgin births unheard of. The point: given what we know about biology, given the dearth of historical evidence, and given common sense, the probability that there *really was* a virgin birth two millennia ago (when people were much more likely to be mistaken about such things, given their relative ignorance of the world) seems to be quite low.

    Does that make sense?

  119. “[T]here has never ever been a physical effect that could not be traced back to a physical effect.”

    You’re on. Describe the physical causes of Brandenburg Concerto 3. Be specific; make sure that your underlying physical description of the causes accounts for just those notes, in just that order, from just those instruments, and no others. To reduce the magnitude of the task, we’ll accept an account of movement 1 (allegro moderato) as a legitimate down-payment.

    So let’s have it.

    (We’re sorry, but management has determined that no IOUs or out-of-state checks will be accepted.)

  120. Okay, I’ll concede I erred in saying you claimed biology disproved the virgin birth. You only said science made it was clear that it was “obviously … idiotic.”

    The virgin birth story was around before Jesus; and given everything we know about biology today, it seems about as plausible as the claim that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse (which a Muslim in a recent debate with Dawkins claim to literally believe; obviously, it’s idiotic).

    Note the equivalencies: the virgin birth, you say, seems as plausible in light of modern biology as that “obviously … idiotic” claim about Muhammaed.

    The distinction between this and “scientific disproof” is exceedingly fine, but I’ll grant that it does exist.

  121. “The point: given what we know about biology, given the dearth of historical evidence, and given common sense, the probability that there *really was* a virgin birth two millennia ago (when people were much more likely to be mistaken about such things, given their relative ignorance of the world) seems to be quite low.”

    Do you really think that people twenty centuries ago didn’t know where babies come from?

    And the (prior) probability is low only if it is highly unlikely that there was a deity willing and able to bring the event to pass. Was there? Well, one way to investigate the question is to see whether the event actually took place. If so, that does (or should) change one’s view of the attendant circumstances.

  122. Here’s another way of saying what Tim has already said, but which I think highlights your error, Phil. You said,

    The point: given what we know about biology, given the dearth of historical evidence, and given common sense, the probability that there *really was* a virgin birth two millennia ago (when people were much more likely to be mistaken about such things, given their relative ignorance of the world) seems to be quite low.

    But you left something out. What you really meant—what you had to have meant or else your proposition is untenable–was,

    The point: given what we know about biology, given the dearth of historical evidence,given what we know about the prior unlikelihood that God exists and would bring about a virgin birth, and given common sense, the probability that there *really was* a virgin birth two millennia ago (when people were much more likely to be mistaken about such things, given their relative ignorance of the world) seems to be quite low.

    But how do you know that God’s existence etc. is unlikely? And if you don’t know it, how can you enter it into the equation above? But if you don’t enter it into that equation, how can you conclude that the virgin birth is unlikely? You can’t.

    You assign the virgin birth a low probability just because you have decided in advance there is (very probably) no God as Christians understand God. Then you use that low probability to argue against the Christian conception of God. Do you see the circularity?

  123. “given what we know about the prior unlikelihood that God exists and would bring about a virgin birth…”

    As it happens, I do think the likelihood of the Christian God is quite low. Why? Because the Christian God is said to be omnibenevolent, yet the world is awash with gratuitous suffering (much of which is a result of “natural evil”); because the Christian God is said to be composed of three completely separate persons who also, paradoxically, share the exact same essence; because Jesus is said to be both fully human and fully divine (so, he pooped and got erections — as a Liberty University professor recent, gasp, pointed out — but was also omnipotent, given the “identity of indiscernables”*); and so on. There are alternative conceptions of God (which literally billions of humans accept) that are much more logically coherent; some avoid the very significant philosophical problem of why there’s unnecessary suffering everywhere in the world. (I certainly would’ve designed the world differently if I were God — and I’m far from morally perfect!) For example, the Muslim God avoids the logical conundrum of being three yet one; and an malevolent God avoids the problem of evil.

    Second, it’s not all that clear to me why I need to assume the prior unlikelihood of God’s existence. I might think that Hinduism is almost certainly true — that Vishnu really did create the Universe, as ancient sacred texts claim and as large swaths of humans sincerely and passionately believe. Yet I might still deny that there’s any good reason whatsoever for otherwise rational human beings in the 21st century — when scientists are literally recreating the first billionth of a second after the big bang in particle accelerators; when we have an extraordinarily sophisticated theory accepted universally by scientists about the origin of species; and so on — to believe that two millennia ago, when people were much more likely to be fooled by superstitious silliness (due to their relative lack of understanding of the world), a virgin birth actually took place. Thus, I needn’t assume that God’s existence is unlikely.

    By analogy, surely you would agree, Tom and Tim, that it’s *insane* to believe in the 21st century that Muhammad literally took a horse to heaven. Here’s a clip of Dawkins debating a clearly intelligent and educated (in some sense) Muslim who insists that Muhammad *really did* fly to heaven on a horse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=U0Xn60Zw03A. I can find exactly similar clips of Christians talking about virgin births and Mormons talking about Joseph Smith and golden tablets. Of course, in response to my skepticism about the horse story, the Muslim might say something like: “But how do you know that Allah’s existence etc. is unlikely? And if you don’t know it, how can you enter it into the equation above [concerning Muhammad and winged horses]? But if you don’t enter it into that equation, how can you conclude that Muhammad flying to heaven on a winged horse is unlikely? You can’t.” I don’t mean this facetiously: a Muslim interlocutor, confronted by my claim that believing in such things (without solid, third-person checkable evidence) is epistemic foolishness, might really say that. But, of course, no one (aside from other Muslims with the same religious commitments) would be impressed or compelled by such a rejoinder.

    Maybe we could get back to the trinity? It’s a central Christian belief, but I don’t see how it could be justified. Any thoughts?

    * Yes, I know about kenosis. But all this does is push the problem back of how Jesus was actually “fully divine.”

  124. It’s very interesting how all your objections here interconnect, Phil. (Thank you for moving on to more interesting points of discussion, by the way.) Take the problem of evil, for example, in conjunction with the virgin birth, or rather with the Incarnation, which of course also gets us involved with Christ’s dual nature, for in the Incarnation God became man, and also with the Trinity, for while Christ was on earth the Father was still in heaven (omnipresent, actually).

    They are a package. Now if you start as you did here with the problem of evil, and if you want to assess it in terms of the likelihood of God, then you must speak of it in terms of the problem of evil in a universe that God has himself entered in the person of Christ, where he showed what love looks like in its deepest and fullest expression, where he took the brunt of evil upon himself, where he provided a just solution to our evil, where he nevertheless allowed humans to continue to choose evil for a time, and where we have his assurance that a final and complete solution is coming.

    In such a universe the term “gratuitous evil” cannot be glibly spoken. How do we know that all suffering is gratuitous? Is it not the case, for example, that natural law is good for humans; for imagine a world in which chaos reigned instead of order. Natural law does lead to tragedy sometimes; but is it not on the whole better than God stepping in to stop bad things by bending the rules every time disaster looms?

    Free will is good. Free will is of course impossible on metaphysical naturalism, but not on Christian theism. But free will can lead to pain. What’s the balance there? How do you know it’s worse for humans this way than without free will?

    God promises justice for all in eternity, including the restoration of loss, the healing of grief, the ending of sickness for persons who are willing to accept his work in their lives. Eternity is a long time. Paul spoke of how the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared to the coming glory, and that our sufferings are producing for us a weight of glory beyond compare. If that’s the case—and on Christian theism it is!—then evil is not gratuitous. (I’ll come back to that topic in a bit.)

    The Trinity and the Incarnation are very difficult, I grant that. They are not self-contradictory, mind you; just difficult.We can’t wrap our minds around them. Let me re-word that: We can’t wrap our minds around God. And why should that be any surprise? If we could understand God, then (perish the thought!) he would have reason to worship us, and not vice versa. Do you propose that we refuse to accept God as God unless and until such time as we show that we are God instead?

    What I’m trying to do here is not to prove it’s all true. I’m trying to show that if you insert your reasoning in here at any point whatsoever, you have to treat it as a package. You’re not doing that, so your reasoning continues to hide assumptions that make it circular:

    1. There is gratuitous evil in the world.
    2. If there were a benevolent and all-powerful God, there would be no gratuitous evil in the world.
    3. Therefore there is no benevolent all-powerful God.

    But that’s only true if:
    4. The benevolent all-powerful God in question is a God who has not, cannot, and will not deal justly with evil, restore what is lost, and use pain and suffering in the long run to produce an abundance of good outweighing all pain and suffering.

    But if not-4, then the assumption of gratuitous evil is severely undercut; and the God whom Christians worship is a God of whom not-4 is true. Which is to say, 1 through 3 disprove the existence of a God that none of us believes in to start with; it is an exercise in irrelevance.

    Do you doubt the possibility of not-4? Many do: they cannot see how it could be plausible or credible. But it seems to me that this doubt rests in

    5. If there is a God who can deal justly with evil, then we must be able in our time and on our terms understand how he could do so.

    Which brings us back to where we were not long ago: shall we reject God as God until such time as we show that we are God instead?

    The POE as I’ve dealt with it here is but one example of the way we must treat all these qualities and questions concerning God as a package. Evil is an insuperable problem for the theist as long as the theist is expected to answer in non-theist terms, i.e. in terms that include God being fully understandable to the human mind. But if theism is allowed to be theism while theism is under analysis, then theism can answer the POE; or, to return at last to the question we started from, the POE does not severely reduce the prior likelihood of Christian theism, while Christian theism is allowed to be Christian theism.

    I’ve gone on long enough. Thoughts?

  125. Tom,

    The Trinity and the Incarnation are very difficult, I grant that. They are not self-contradictory, mind you; just difficult. We can’t wrap our minds around them.

    I’m honestly not trying to be glib, here, but I don’t see how what you’ve written is substantially different from saying:

    “The Trinity and the Incarnation are very difficult, I grant that. They are not self-contradictory, mind you. I can’t tell you why they are not self-contradictory, but this is to be expected.”

    Isn’t that just another way of saying “God works in mysterious ways?” And if that’s what you’re saying, doesn’t that just end the discussion right there?

    You also stress the importance of free will and how this naturally leads to sin, but God is clearly capable of creating the conditions of free will without sin – as in Heaven – so I don’t see how sin is necessarily implied by free will. If the answer to that is The Fall, then I will ask why he bothered with the tree of knowledge, or why Adam and Eve weren’t created without the desire to sin in the first place (although it can be strongly argued that they didn’t know the difference between right and wrong, but that’s tangential).

    But the further back the questions go (surely he knew what was going to happen, and so on), the faster the conversation stampedes back to the “God works in mysterious ways” answer. So doesn’t that mean that ultimately the foundation of Christian belief is faith in something you don’t – and in fact by your own admission can’t – understand?

  126. Fleegman, I’m sorry, but this isn’t true:

    “The Trinity and the Incarnation are very difficult, I grant that. They are not self-contradictory, mind you. I can’t tell you why they are not self-contradictory, but this is to be expected.”

    First of all it’s not true because you changed the words, and what you wrote simply doesn’t mean the same thing I wrote. The other reason it’s not true is because I really could explain why they’re not self-contradictory if you cared to hear. These things were worked out by people who knew about contradictions and paradoxes and antinomies and so on. You could look up the Chalcedonian Creed concerning the Incarnation. Concerning the Trinity, there are three Persons but one Essence or Nature; and so this not a case of one times three equals one, for we are not saying three Persons but one Person; Person is not the same as Nature. No contradiction there; but of course not something we can grasp.

    Isn’t that just another way of saying “God works in mysterious ways?” And if that’s what you’re saying, doesn’t that just end the discussion right there?

    No. I didn’t say that, and the discussion hasn’t ended. Did you not notice? But since you brought it up, do you think we should be trying to find rational support for a God whose ways are never a mystery to us. I don’t. And we aren’t.

    You also stress the importance of free will and how this naturally leads to sin, but God is clearly capable of creating the conditions of free will without sin – as in Heaven

    Heaven is a place where people go, who have chosen a preference of life without sin, where they can actually experience the result of their choice. It is an expression of choice, not the prevention of choice.

    So doesn’t that mean that ultimately the foundation of Christian belief is faith in something you don’t – and in fact by your own admission can’t – understand?

    Well of course! That is to say, I can’t comprehend it exhaustively. But that’s not to say I can’t understand any of it. We can know quite a bit even though we can’t know everything. Isn’t that the way it is with absolutely everything anyway?

  127. @Fleegman

    So doesn’t that mean that ultimately the foundation of Christian belief is faith in something you don’t – and in fact by your own admission can’t – understand?

    No, not exactly.

    It would be better to say that we don’t fully understand some of the core Christian doctrines. The Trinity, for example, is inferred or abduced (as the inference to the best explanation) from the threads describing God and His nature, Jesus Christ and His nature, and the Holy Spirit and His nature, threads that are interwoven throughout the entire Bible. In the OT, God is (self)described as eternal, self-existent, Creator – the only one, in contrast to the polytheism of the ANE.
    In the NT, we are presented with a fuller revelation of God – we are told of God the Father, Jesus as God the Son, and the Holy Spirit is described in much more detail (if you want to peruse the Bibical details and the reasoning behind the doctrine, this link provides a pretty good summary. I’d also recommend http://www.bible.org – Topics – The Trinity as a good place to go.
    It took time for the early Church to grasp the implications of this thread of revelation, and the doctrine of the Trinity is a statement of that understanding (that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all of the same Nature or Essence, as Tom said). Because we affirm as a core Christian truth that the Bible is God’s own revelation of Himself in human history, in and through human language ( 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:16-21, as well as all of the ‘thus saith the LORD’ passages in the OT), Christians affirm that both the OT revelation of God and the NT revelation are true, hence some of these core doctrines that are clearly implied, but mysterious.
    We don’t fully understand God’s mode of existence – we accept that it is so.
    Not understanding the full depths of the doctrine does not prevent us from articulating it.

    Those who have been redeemed by God’s grace will have the opportunity in our future eternal home with Him to learn.

  128. @Fleegman
    You keep harping on what God could have done, but that is irrelevant. The Biblical, Christian position is that ‘this is what God has in fact, done’. He created a particular type of reality – this reality, for His own purposes and intentions. Arguing about counter-factuals is just, well counter-productive

  129. @Frank Pennycook
    I wrote a response, but it seems not to have posted correctly. Here it goes for attempt number two:

    I completely agree that actions are important. I would only qualify that with the idea that actions are based on beliefs, and that (even if for no other reason) is a reason why they are important.

    But, I doubt you’d disagree with that. So, moving on…

    I suppose you could say that Christians, too, start with “the state of being human” as their evidence for belief in morality. C.S. Lewis made almost this exact argument in favor of morality.

    The difference, then, is not whether or not one needs evidence to believe in morality, but what morality is evidence of. Or, to put it differently, how we explain the existence of morality.

    Theists, unsurprisingly, tend to offer God as an explanation. We should be open to other explanations, of course, and see which of these is best supported.

    To that end, I don’t know much about your particular version of Humanism. All I can say is that Humanism is traditionally a Christian idea (in that it was the first worldview to popularize the idea that all humans had rights).

    Obviously, secular forms of Humanism have been developed since. The general question is whether they can retain these beliefs about humans without the original rational justification for those beliefs (the Christian God).

    This is not to say that there isn’t, but simply that I’ve yet to see one. Certainly, I’ve not seen one that holds up to the standards of support demanded for God from most of the atheists I’ve encountered.

    As such, I’m very interested in both what support there is for Secular Humanism, and how that would compare to Christian Humanism.

  130. @Fleegman:

    You also stress the importance of free will and how this naturally leads to sin, but God is clearly capable of creating the conditions of free will without sin – as in Heaven – so I don’t see how sin is necessarily implied by free will.

    This is not correct; Fallen angels are the obvious counter-example. There is an extra step you are missing.

  131. @Rodrigues:

    “This is not correct; Fallen angels are the obvious counter-example. There is an extra step you are missing.”

    The point is that, by most accounts, human beings will have free will in heaven. That is, we won’t be mere automata genuflecting before God for eternity. Yet, at the same time, heaven will be a place absent of suffering, pain, anguish, and evil. Thus, according to Christianity’s own view, free will does not inevitably lead to evil.

    The moral question, then, is “Why wouldn’t God create a world similarly free of evil — or at least “natural evils” like little children dying of brain cancer, cases of HSV-1 encephalitis (which I’ve had close encounters with, as a relative once had this), floods, random lightening strikes, ebola, and so on?” How is the fact of gratuitous evil in the world — including the unnecessary suffering of animals — in any way compatible with the claim that God is omnibenevolent? It seems quite intellectually compelling that it’s not at all compatible. Therefore an omnibenevolent God doesn’t exist. (Note that the argument from evil doesn’t in any way prove that a malevolent God doesn’t exist. As far as I can tell, there’s evidence that positively favors the existence of such a deity.)

  132. @Phil Torres:

    I am sorry to be blunt, but I have absolutely no interest in pursuing these questions with you. Your brand of polemics may (may, I stress) have some track with some brands of Christianity. Against a classical theist like me, it does not even pass the laugh test. So if you want to have a serious discussion, instead of a one-sided lesson, a thing for which I am not in the mood for giving, go do some reading.

  133. @Rodrigues:

    First of all, recall that patience is a fruit of the spirit. Try to be patient. Second, I feel like part of my problem is that I have read a lot of theology and philosophy of religion. Tom mentions, for example, that the Trinity is not contradictory (although we still can’t understand it! I would suggest that we can’t understand it precisely because it does engender a contradiction: entities which are distinct, i.e., do not share all the same properties, are still somehow identical, i.e., do share all the same properties. That is a contradiction if I’ve every seen one. Anyway…). The fact is that the Trinity is still an issue that theologians and philosophers of religion very much struggle with. Many think that it is indeed incoherent. In contrast — I only mention this because I find it very interesting — the Muslim or unitarian conception of God does not have any such problems.

    I’ll get to some of the other points above, such as Tim’s (odd) question about non-physical effects and some of Tom’s objections (which I really appreciated — they are good!).

  134. I would suggest that unbelievers don’t understand Christian doctrine precisely because they are unbelievers. These things can only be appreciated by those who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (for those of us who do, the fact of the Trinity is not merely something that we read about somewhere, but something we know experientially).
    There are things about Christianity that can only be understood through the eyes of faith and obedience, because they go beyond what unaided human reason can fathom.

    Phil, you have a lot of head knowledge, but no spiritual wisdom, and certainly no spiritual insight as given by God’s own Holy Spirit, Who is the seal of our inheritance in God’s family, proof of citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, and our teacher (Ephesians 1:3-23)

    Paul said it well in Romans 1:18-3:1, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, and also in Ephesians 2:1-3, and Ephesians 6:10-18, especially those two references to the fact that there is a spiritual battle going on behind the scenes, that unbelievers are deceived by the god of this world (aka Satan).

  135. Phil,

    The point is that, by most accounts, human beings will have free will in heaven. That is, we won’t be mere automata genuflecting before God for eternity. Yet, at the same time, heaven will be a place absent of suffering, pain, anguish, and evil. Thus, according to Christianity’s own view, free will does not inevitably lead to evil.

    Although there is both free will and no suffering in heaven it does not follow that God could have created the new creation from the beginning in fact it is an obvious impossibility.
    Heaven (in the sense you are using it) follows the old creation and is not separate.

  136. Victoria,

    Phil, you have a lot of head knowledge

    Actually I think he’s read just enough to debunk his high school level understanding of Christianity and stopped there. Why would I think that? His questions relating to the bible and his references to biblical criticism as if it undermines Christianity. I don’t get any sense that he has actually gone into this literature himself from what he has written, it seems to me that everything he knows of this field he obtained through skeptics writings. Maybe I’m wrong but if so why ask the questions he asks?

  137. @Phil Torres:

    First of all, recall that patience is a fruit of the spirit.

    There is one thing for which I have even less patience for than ignorance; it is for skeptic atheists quoting the bible against me and trying to pin me to a conduct that they themselves revile. Do not do that; or by God I will quote Jesus Christ instructing his disciples not to lay their pearls before swine lest they, turning around, trample them; and then order you to oink back to the pig sty you emerged from.

    Second, I feel like part of my problem is that I have read a lot of theology and philosophy of religion.

    Really? From your first post:

    Nobody thinks that religious faith is based on evidence — indeed, it’s taken by scholars as more or less an essential feature of faith that it is evidence-less.

    Do you realize that the Catholic Church holds as a de fide teaching that the existence of God can be known purely by the light of natural reason?

    Taking a leapfrog to #106:

    If we start observing, for example, physical effects without physical causes in the brain, then I’d be happy to consider substance dualism.

    So what you want is a gap argument? Amazing. Oh and for the record I am not a substance dualist, so I am not interested in defending it.

    These are just two entries in the thread. I will repeat what I said: every *single* point you make is largely irrelevant for a classical theist like me. They do not scathe, scratch, plink or even touch it for a moment. And even if I were not a classical theist, most of your objections still do not pass the laugh test.

  138. G. Rodrigues,

    Do you realize that the Catholic Church holds as a de fide teaching that the existence of God can be known purely by the light of natural reason?

    Yeah, that point has to be hammered home repeatedly. It’s not just the Catholics either – the claim of ‘it’s taken by scholars as a more or less essential feature that faith is evidenceless’ is absurd. You’d either have to cash out ‘scholars’ as something akin to ‘Cult of Gnu style atheists’, or absolutely butcher ‘evidence’ in controversial ways to get very far with it.

  139. @Melissa
    Yes, I agree with your assessment. I was referring to Phil’s own statement in #154 and elsewhere. My guess is that he has read the skeptical scholars of the anti-supernatural bias, but very little of the works by the more ‘conservative (those who affirm the Bible)’ scholars. Knowledge, so-called, just puffs up, doesn’t it?

    I’m not disparaging the study and analysis of the Biblical documents as historical documents, just the unbalanced methodological and metaphysical presuppositions (specifically metaphysical naturalism) that permeates so much of modern scholarship. I’d like Phil and other skeptics here to read the works of Darrell Bock, Daniel Wallace, Mike Licona, Craig Blomberg, Richard Bauckham Gary Habermas and N. T. Wright, just to name a few, and then come back and talk. Without the regenerating work of the Spirit of God in their lives, however, they will remain unconvinced, I’m sure.

  140. “I would suggest that unbelievers don’t understand Christian doctrine precisely because they are unbelievers.”

    I’ve heard this before, not just from Christians but from Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims — who believe, incidentally, with as much passion, sincerity and fervor as you (in your “false” God, according to them) that you are heading straight to hell. According to the Muslim, “these things can only be appreciated by those who have the indwelling of Allah. There are things about Islam that can only be understood through the eyes of faith and obedience, because they go beyond what unaided human reason can fathom.” Obviously, though, the Muslim is a silly goose for saying such things.

    “Phil, you have a lot of head knowledge, but no spiritual wisdom, and certainly no spiritual insight as given by God’s own Holy Spirit, Who is the seal of our inheritance in God’s family, proof of citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven, and our teacher (Ephesians 1:3-23)”

    Yes, but it’s my “head knowledge” that leads me to ask: “What evidence — i.e., epistemic reason — is there for cognitively assenting to the proposition that “God’s own Holy Spirit, Who is the seal of our inheritance in God’s family”? What reason is there for thinking that the Bible is any sort of authority on Truth and Knowledge worth quoting?” As far as I can tell, believing in the Bible at the present moment in human history, in the 21st century, given all we know (thanks a lot to scientists and philosophers, etc.!!) about the human condition and about this strange universe in which we find ourselves, is no more or less silly than believing in that the Koran *really was* revealed to Muhammad over 23 years by the angel Gabriel. And we can both agree that believing this is very silly indeed.

    “Paul said it well in Romans 1:18-3:1, 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16, and also in Ephesians 2:1-3, and Ephesians 6:10-18, especially those two references to the fact that there is a spiritual battle going on behind the scenes, that unbelievers are deceived by the god of this world (aka Satan).”

    Well, as mentioned earlier, statistically speaking, it is individuals with higher IQs who are more likely to be atheists. But think about that. Smarter people are, on the whole, more likely to be “deceived” by Satan? Alternatively, maybe it’s that people who think critically and carefully and analytically (see the study linked above) about issues like “God is three completely distinct but completely identical beings” and “There was a man 2,000 years ago, when humans were much easier to deceive about such things, who was actually born of a virgin(!),” are more likely to reject systems of faith-based belief — like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and so on. If I’m deceived, then I’m in some tremendously venerable company — including that of Dr. Einstein. (Think about him being “deceived by Satan.” Kinda funny, at least to me.)

    “Although there is both free will and no suffering in heaven it does not follow that God could have created the new creation from the beginning in fact it is an obvious impossibility.
    Heaven (in the sense you are using it) follows the old creation and is not separate.”

    I don’t see how anyone would find this intellectually satisfying. Surely God has control over old and new creation, right? All things come from him, after all. Old and new creation didn’t just happen, outside of God’s control. He could have made things differently, since he’s omnipotent. Yet he didn’t, which suggests that he’s not omnibenevolent.

    “Actually I think he’s read just enough to debunk his high school level understanding of Christianity and stopped there. Why would I think that? His questions relating to the bible and his references to biblical criticism as if it undermines Christianity. I don’t get any sense that he has actually gone into this literature himself from what he has written, it seems to me that everything he knows of this field he obtained through skeptics writings. Maybe I’m wrong but if so why ask the questions he asks?”

    Read my book for plenty of citations.

    “There is one thing for which I have even less patience for than ignorance; it is for skeptic atheists quoting the bible against me and trying to pin me to a conduct that they themselves revile. Do not do that; or by God I will quote Jesus Christ instructing his disciples not to lay their pearls before swine lest they, turning around, trample them; and then order you to oink back to the pig sty you emerged from.”

    First of all, you are insulting me (calling me a pig?). Doesn’t the Bible say “blessed are the meek”? Surely Jesus wouldn’t have published a comment like that. Second, am I wrong that patience is a fruit of the spirit? I don’t think so. Don’t shoot the messenger. Third, aren’t you supposed to turn the other cheek? (Tom, this is your cue to claim that I’m seriously misunderstanding the Bible.) And fourth, why do you keep staring at the speck of the sawdust in my eye while paying no attention to the plank in your own? As the Bible says, don’t judge me, or you too will be judged.

    “Do you realize that the Catholic Church holds as a de fide teaching that the existence of God can be known purely by the light of natural reason?”

    Yes, but the Catholic Church also believes that it is the “only true” Church out there. This was re-confirmed by the Pope several years ago and widely reported in the news. On this view — and please feel free to check me, if you’d like; I’m not making this up — everyone but Catholics are going to hell. That’s what the Pope said, and the Pope is infallible. There ain’t no arguing with him.

    “So what you want is a gap argument? Amazing. Oh and for the record I am not a substance dualist, so I am not interested in defending it.”

    What is a “gap argument”? My point was that most non-academic Christians *are* substance dualists. Yet there are profoundly cogent reasons for thinking that substance dualism is, while very intuitive indeed, not true. One reason for thinking this is that we never see any evidence of mind-body interaction, where minds are non-physical substances and bodies are physical ones. If we did — and there’s no a priori reason we couldn’t — then I would very likely be a substance dualism. If you are not a dualist, then you are part of a growing number of Christian academics who reject the antiquated notion that minds (also called souls in this context) can float free of the brain. Good for you.

    “And even if I were not a classical theist, most of your objections still do not pass the laugh test.”

    What do you mean? Do they pass the laugh test when they make one laugh? If so, then my arguments, the checkable evidence I present, the citations of academic studies that I provide, are *not* making one laugh?

    “Yeah, that point has to be hammered home repeatedly. It’s not just the Catholics either – the claim of ‘it’s taken by scholars as a more or less essential feature that faith is evidenceless’ is absurd. You’d either have to cash out ‘scholars’ as something akin to ‘Cult of Gnu style atheists’, or absolutely butcher ‘evidence’ in controversial ways to get very far with it.”

    Okay, then what evidence is there for a truine God? What evidence is there for Jesus’ ascension into heaven, or for his virgin birth? What evidence is there for Jesus literally raising Lazarus from the dead? Or healing a blind man with mud made from spittle? For that matter — if I were talking to people *just like* you guys but, for whatever accidental reasons, happened to subscribe to a different system of faith-based beliefs — what evidence is there for Joseph Smith talking to the angel Moroni, or for our souls traveling to Venus when we die? All of these are beliefs are held by actual sincere, passionate, good-intentioned people; most of them are *quite sure* that their respective views are capital-‘t’ True. But upon closer inspection, none of those mentioned above have any good, reliable, checkable evidence behind them. *This is the one and only reason I reject them. It is the one and only reason I’m not a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist or a Christian.* Someday the situation may change: if Jesus appears in the sky while wars are being fought by Mahdi, then I will convert to Islam. Please feel free to quote me on this.

    “My guess is that he has read the skeptical scholars of the anti-supernatural bias, but very little of the works by the more ‘conservative (those who affirm the Bible)’ scholars.”

    Reckless guessing!

  141. @Phil
    If you did read conservative Biblical scholars, then it only proves what I’ve been saying – you have no heart for God, probably never did, which explains why you are an apostate ‘Christian’ turned angry atheist.

    Mock and laugh all you want. God will settle your account when He decides it is time. I pray for your sake that you will have found your way back to Him by then.

  142. @Victoria:

    “If you did read conservative Biblical scholars, then it only proves what I’ve been saying – you have no heart for God, probably never did, which explains why you are an apostate ‘Christian’ turned angry atheist.”

    I thought what you were saying before is that I have no intellect for God. Truth isn’t a matter of heart, it’s a matter of being smart about which beliefs you accept and reject.

  143. @Phil
    No, I didn’t say you were not an intelligent and educated guy, just one who fits those quotes of Paul I referred to so perfectly, as I once did, 35+ years ago, when I was an atheist and had no use for God. I’ve been where you are, until God changed my heart and mind about Himself.

    You do not seem to grasp that Christianity is more than just a set of propositions and data to be studied and analysed. It has that rational, reasoned component, as doctrines like the Trinity show (it had to be inferred and thought about), but it also very much a relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, made possible by the life, death and resurrection of the Incarnate Son in the historical person of Jesus Christ, and sustained by the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit in those whom He has redeemed.

    Christianity’s focal point is the historical person of Jesus Christ – His life, death and resurrection – His being raised from the dead is the fundamental truth upon which it is based, and you don’t need to assume an inspired New Testament for it, just one that is historically reliable enough to take the events of His life seriously enough. Once a person becomes convinced that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:8-17). Biblically speaking, faith is always based on reasonable evidence (the mind), and it always involves trust, commitment and obedience (the will), and it always involves humility, repentance and a willingness to listen to the voice of God the Holy Spirit (the heart).

    You have only dead intellect, Phil. You never had the rest. You surely do not have it now, or else you would not have denied Jesus as Lord.

  144. I thought what you were saying before is that I have no intellect for God. Truth isn’t a matter of heart, it’s a matter of being smart about which beliefs you accept and reject.

    Not really. Parsing what “matter of the heart” means is a lot of trouble in and of itself, bu no, truth is not simply a “matter of being smart” about which beliefs you accept and reject, pure and simple. It’s going to involve everything from intuitions (which may well be ‘heart’) to fundamental assumptions to more.

    Your latest has so much wrong with it, it’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s go with this one:

    I’ve heard this before, not just from Christians but from Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims — who believe, incidentally, with as much passion, sincerity and fervor as you (in your “false” God, according to them) that you are heading straight to hell.

    You state this as if it’s supposed to mean something in and of itself. It’s a little like being told, ‘The evolutionary biologists say I just don’t understand evolution and that’s why I disagree with them. But I hear that same line from the timecube guy, the holistic medicine people…’

  145. @Phil Torres:

    I’m not making this up — everyone but Catholics are going to hell.

    Yes, you are making stuff up. There are some clauses in there that you conveniently forget but I will not bother to enlighten you. And what has *that* got to do with the point I made? Nothing, absolutely nothing. But that sums up pretty much what you have to say: absolutely nothing.

    That’s what the Pope said, and the Pope is infallible.

    The pope’s infallibility is only on certain very restricted matters. Once again what has *that* got to do with the point I made? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

    What is a “gap argument”? My point was that most non-academic Christians *are* substance dualists.

    Can you read? First, the response was to an argument *you* implicitly made, which is at bottom a gap argument. And second, I will repeat, I am not a substance dualist and neither am I interested in defending it: your gnutoid talking points are largely irrelevant to what I defend.

    I saved the first bit for last:

    First of all, you are insulting me (calling me a pig?).

    I warned you to not pull that stunt on me; you deliberately did so and knowing full well that you were doing so. You are not my Father (spiritual or biological), advisor or bishop so you do *not* have the authority to tell me how to behave. Go inflict your self-righteous, hypocritical discipline on someone else. So discussion’s over. And, no you are not a pig. Pigs, not being rational beings, cannot be said to be either ignorants or idiots which is what you are.

  146. Phil,

    “Actually I think he’s read just enough to debunk his high school level understanding of Christianity and stopped there. Why would I think that? His questions relating to the bible and his references to biblical criticism as if it undermines Christianity. I don’t get any sense that he has actually gone into this literature himself from what he has written, it seems to me that everything he knows of this field he obtained through skeptics writings. Maybe I’m wrong but if so why ask the questions he asks?”

    Read my book for plenty of citations.

    Citations are easy, a demonstration that you understand what is written is something else. I understand that you might not have the time to delve into the biblical studies literature for yourself but if you’ve never done that please don’t set yourself up as some kind of expert. The questions you raise do not undermine Christianity, they might call into question certain ideas about what it means to be inspired, that is all.

    “Although there is both free will and no suffering in heaven it does not follow that God could have created the new creation from the beginning in fact it is an obvious impossibility.
    Heaven (in the sense you are using it) follows the old creation and is not separate.”

    I don’t see how anyone would find this intellectually satisfying. Surely God has control over old and new creation, right? All things come from him, after all. Old and new creation didn’t just happen, outside of God’s control. He could have made things differently, since he’s omnipotent. Yet he didn’t, which suggests that he’s not omnibenevolent.

    If I read you correctly your point initially was that since in heaven humans will have free will and there will be no evil,l that God could have (should have?) created the world like that in the beginning therefore the free will defence fails. My point is just that God could not do that – it is literally impossible. Do you get it now? Nothing to do with whether God is sovereign, just the (quite basic point) that a heaven that was not preceded by this world would obviously not be the same heaven. You’ll have to explain to me why you would think this is an intellectually unsatisfying rebuttal of your point.

    And your response to G. Rodigues above is just more of the same missing the point, (substance dualism does not exhaust the possibilities of dualism as you are well aware) but I’ll let him deal with that … if he has the patience.

  147. @Rodrigues:

    “Pigs, not being rational beings, cannot be said to be either ignorants or idiots which is what you are.”

    You are not a very nice person. I thought Christians were supposed to love their enemies, no?

  148. “Christ ‘established here on earth’ only one church,” the document said. The other communities “cannot be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense” because they do not have apostolic succession — the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ’s original apostles.”

    From this article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19692094/ns/world_news-europe/t/pope-other-denominations-not-true-churches/#.UPychyc8CSp. If you don’t like MSNBC (which I don’t), feel free to google it yourself, or find the original document. Non-Catholics aren’t true Christians.

    The point is that you find people all over the place who claim to have knowledge that they clearly don’t know. You talk to Muslims who claim — with tremendous epistemic certitude — that they know Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse. You talk to Hindus who are just *so sure* that Vishnu created the universe. And you talk to Protestants who are just *so sure* that God is a single entity who is also, somehow, three distinct entities. But none of these claims have any good evidence in their favor. (Obviously, the Muslim would vociferously object here, claiming that there’s *significant* evidence for the claim that Muhammad literally spoke with Gabriel. But upon closer examination, there’s nothing but dubious testimony and unverifiable historical records.) Will answer more later.

  149. Phil,

    Non-Catholics aren’t true Christians.

    And does it also state that people who aren’t true Christians go to hell. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t support your original claim. You’ll need to provide a statement to that effect as well.

  150. @Phil Torres:

    Non-Catholics aren’t true Christians.

    Your first claim was “everyone but Catholics are going to hell”. Now we are down to “Non-Catholics aren’t true Christians”. Even this needs some heavy qualification. The link you posted and your first quote is about the Catholic criterion for the *True Church* — spot the difference? And this itself needs qualification, because if you knew the first bit of what you were talking about, or even if you were just interested in that thing called Truth as opposed to spouting your ignorant gnutoid propaganda, you would know that, to give just one example, the Eastern Orthodox church has the same valid holy orders and apostolic succession, the same sacraments, and the same theology minus a couple of points like the controversy over the filioque (a more substantive disagreement is about the role of the ecumenical councils and the Pope’s authority).

    Have you no shame? No decorum? No intellectual honesty?

  151. Phil,

    Earlier in the conversation you agreed that it would be best to assess the case for the resurrection rather on dwelling on beliefs that Christians generally believe in because they believe in the resurrection. Since you agreed to that you have not mentioned the resurrection once. Either show that the evidence for the resurrection is no different to the evidence for the claims of other religions or stop with comments like the one above. I think you’re full of hot air but I’m open to being proven wrong.

  152. “Love isn’t the same thing as being nice.”

    Best line I’ve ever heard. I’m writing this one down.

    “Your first claim was “everyone but Catholics are going to hell”. Now we are down to “Non-Catholics aren’t true Christians”.”

    Do you think non-true Christians get into heaven?

    “Have you no shame? No decorum? No intellectual honesty?”

    No decorum? So far in this conversation you’ve said that I am less than a pig, that I’m an “ignorant” and an idiot. I’d bet if you were an atheist on this thread, Tom would kick you off immediately for being extremely rude.

    If you want to know more about intellectual honesty, I recommend reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is more or less free of POV (point-of-view), but it shows why scientists and philosophers on the whole favor evolution over creation (by a long shot!), functionalism over dualism (also by a long shot — again, I only mention dualism because most Christians accept it, for the obvious reasons), evidence over faith, a naturalistic account of the origin of religion rather than a supernatural one, and so on. Again, Rodrigues, there are actual empirical studies showing that analytical thinking leads to religious disbelief. This is the opposite of intellectual dishonesty: it’s taking a careful look at the best evidence and trying to make sense of the world based on that.

  153. @Crude:

    “Yeah, that point has to be hammered home repeatedly. It’s not just the Catholics either – the claim of ‘it’s taken by scholars as a more or less essential feature that faith is evidenceless’ is absurd.”

    This is from the SEP article on Faith, written by a theist (as far as I know): “Faith seems to involve some kind of venture, even if talk of a ‘leap of faith’ may not be wholly apt. It is thus widely held that faith goes beyond what is ordinarily reasonable, in the sense that it involves accepting what cannot be established as true through the proper exercise of our naturally endowed human cognitive faculties—and this may be held to be an essential feature of faith. … On models of faith that take a cognitive component as central, and construe faith’s object as propositional, reasonable faith arguably needs to conform to evidentialism—the requirement, generally thought essential to rationality, to hold propositions to be true only to the extent justified on one’s available evidence. Faith’s venturesomeness is thus in tension with its reasonableness, and models of faith differ in the way they negotiate this tension by taking a particular stance on ‘faith and reason’.”

    Read that carefully. The claims being made there are about what philosophers (including theists) in general take to be the case. As I’ve mentioned before, one of the primary tasks in the philosophy of religion is trying to show how religious faith might possibly *not* be irrational. This is no easy project, though, and in my best judgment all attempts fail. You are welcome to read the rest of the SEP entry.

  154. Phil, you insist that there should be no difference in epistemic standards for believers and non-believers. How about standards of courtesy?

    As far as I can tell, believing in the Bible at the present moment in human history, in the 21st century, given all we know (thanks a lot to scientists and philosophers, etc.!!) about the human condition and about this strange universe in which we find ourselves, is no more or less silly than believing in that the Koran *really was* revealed to Muhammad over 23 years by the angel Gabriel. And we can both agree that believing this is very silly indeed.

    “Believing in the Bible is … very silly indeed.” (I left out some statements of equivalence. The result is logically equivalent.

    See also #144 where, applying the same equivalence relationships, you effectively call us “*insane*.” (Asterisks are yours.)

    You continue to ignore what you have been repeatedly reminded of: your chronological snobbery. Modern science does not make a virgin birth less probable than the knowledge that was common in the first century.

    You continue to assert that Christianity’s epistemic value is harmed by competing truth claims by other religions. I dealt with that briefly in #128, and in considerable depth in #130.

    You are conducting argumentum ad ignorum, i.e. (it is of course my own made-up term) arguing by means of selectively ignoring counter-arguments, and continuing to repeat your own claims as if they had not been rebutted.

    And the argumentum ad ignorum is every bit as rude as calling someone silly or calling them a pig. How many times (for example) has it been said to you here that you were committing chronological snobbery? Comments #20, 27, 136, 137, 138, and 140, at least. You nodded at the issue in #24, but really what you’ve done is you’ve stood on your soapbox holding forth on what you want to talk about while not giving a damn about what others may say in rebuttal.

    How many times have you brought up other faiths without even responding to what I wrote in #128 and #130?

    Did you respond to Tim’s challenge in #133?

    Did you acknowledge my counter-argument in #134?

    You said nothing in response to my lengthy counter-argument in #145 concerning the prior likelihood of God.

    In #161 you brought up again your tired requests for historical evidence of the virgin birth and the ascension into heaven, when it has already been pointed out to you (#7, #20—in which I pointed out to you that you were already ignoring points being brought forth in response to you—#21, #33 especially; and #59 where it was also pointed out to you that were ignoring it) just what kind of requests those were, and that to call for “historical evidence” in the sense you have been doing is rather illegitimate.

    In your comments #161, you repeated these items out of your stock set of arguments as if they had already been brought under discussion. There was nothing new in them reflecting any awareness that we had said anything in response to them earlier:

    * Other religions
    * Modern science makes faith seem silly
    * Catholicism declares other Christians to be bound for hell
    * Your cherry-picking of requests for historical evidence

    Later (#176) you did something quite similar with “faith” and your holy writ from heaven, the article on it in the SEP.

    Item #9 in my discussion policies reads,

    There have been a few persistently unproductive discussions on this blog. I may decide to close off comments by one or more persons on those threads, just on the basis of their being unproductive. This applies also to “discussions” in which a commenter’s transparent purpose is just to stand and shoot at other people’s opinions, rather than to engage in productive dialogue. I reserve the right to determine when that is the case.

    This is clearly what’s going on here. If you were actually engaging in dialogue you would at least acknowledge counter-arguments. If you wanted to say, “there are so many of you and only one of me, I can’t respond to all of this,” you could say it, and then you could say, “let’s just deal with one or two of these points at a time, please.” But if you were to say that, intellectual honesty would also require you to quit putting forth confident assertions concerning points that had been rebutted, and to cease (for at least such time as it took for you to deal with the rebuttals) expounding them as if they were (ahem) God’s unassailable truth even after they had in fact been assailed.

    Perhaps you think our counter-arguments need no counter-rebuttal: that we are just wrong; that your position is simply true; and that’s that. Maybe that explains why you didn’t bother to respond: you thought it unnecessary. But then if so, then we need no conversation whatsoever. You can go ahead and declare yourself the one who is right, and we’ll all take that for exactly what it’s worth.

    In other words, Phil, this is no dialogue. This is you putting forth your opinions. This is you putting forth your next opinions on one or two things we say in response, and ignoring the rest while continuing to put forth your opinions.

    Is there anyone here in this sham of a dialogue with Phil who thinks it’s worth continuing?

  155. Lest it be lost in the length of my previous comment, I am asking whether anyone here thinks there’s any good reason to continue in this sham of a dialogue with Phil. I provided objective reasons there supporting that word “sham,” and I put that question at the end.

  156. Phil,

    Read that carefully.

    I’ve probably read more entries on the SEP than you have – and that entry backs up my position, not yours.

    Here’s your earlier quote:

    indeed, it’s taken by scholars as more or less an essential feature of faith that it is evidence-less.

    But what you quoted flatly contradicts that. You’ve gone from talking about faith as having ‘the essential feature that it is evidence-less’ to quoting from an SEP entry that, in addition to giving a non-exhaustive list of 11 views on faith, does not treat faith as ‘being essentially evidence-less’.

    Even on the views where faith involves trust beyond the current evidence – and that’s not a ‘fundamental’ view of faith even by the SEP entry standards – that very definition is not one that is ‘evidenceless’. Indeed, the whole point is that there IS evidence.

    You keep quoting these SEP entries. But the evidence that you’ve actually read and understood them is pretty low.

  157. @Melissa
    Oh, Phil has brought up the historicity of the Gospels and the accounts of the last days of Jesus’ life, alright. He only brings up the differences in the 4 Gospels, but never acknowledges the points of agreement, nor the fact that each author is providing us with his own perspective, thereby providing us with a mosaic of the events, enabling us to plausibly reconstruct the events. He does not acknowledge at all that the differences might have plausible explanations.

    For example, Phil brought up the issue of whether or not Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover or not (John against the Synoptics), but completely ignores the plain fact that they all agree on the following sequence: (I’ll use modern day names)
    Thursday evening:
    1. Last Supper (John additionally provides more details of Jesus’ last words to His disciples)
    2. They go to the Mount of Olives, to the garden there.
    3. Jesus is arrested and taken away late in the evening, from the garden.
    Friday morning (predawn):
    1. trial before the Sanhedrin in the pre-dawn hours.
    2. Peter denies Jesus; the rooster crows – at dawn.
    Friday Morning( dawn to about 9am)
    Jesus before Pilate and Herod
    Friday morning (post 9am to noon)
    Jesus scourged, led away to be crucified, crucified.
    Friday noon to about 3pm
    darkness, Jesus last three hours on the cross, His last seven words, dies.
    Friday 3pm to evening
    Jewish leaders insist that the victims be left on the cross on the Sabbath, so Pilate orders them to be dispatched. Jesus already dead. Roman soldiers confirm this. Joseph of Arimethea takes His body and hastily buries it in his own tomb (with Nicodemus’ help).
    Friday evening – all day Saturday – Sabbath.
    Sunday morning, just before dawn
    The women go to the tomb to give Jesus a proper burial. He’s not there!

    Phil and the skeptics are so enamoured of the discrepancies that they seem to have missed (or more likely deliberately ignored) the overall harmony in the sequence. They simply dismiss any attempts, no matter how plausible, to account for the differences in detail.
    The biggest one is the issue of the timing of Passover between John and the Synoptics.

    I think you’re (Phil) full of hot air but I’m open to being proven wrong.

    Your restraint is admirable 🙂

  158. My apologies to G. Rodrigues, Tim, Victoria, Melissa, Crude, and SteveK if I failed to bring forth examples where he also missed acknowledging what you have said here (see #177). It’s hard to keep up with what’s not being said.

  159. @Tom
    Dealing with Phil is an exercise in futility and frustration, as far as I’m concerned. Why do we bother? Well, as I have said before, only for the sake of other people reading the blog who are truly seeking to know God.

  160. “If you were actually engaging in dialogue you would at least acknowledge counter-arguments.”

    Virtually every one of my comments has begun with a quote from someone else. (a) That is precisely what a dialogue consists of, and (b) I absolutely have no ignored counter-arguments! Most of what I’ve quoted has consisted of counter-arguments. Obviously, I’ve not considered them all — but only due to time.

    This thread will stand for itself. I’ve been called a “crank,” a “bigot,” an “ignorant,” an “idiot,” and someone who’s less than a pig (because pigs can’t be ignorants or idiots). I’ve not called anyone any names; I’ve quoted Divinity School professors; I’ve quoted the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; I’ve provided links to scientific studies that support my case; I’ve provided links to articles that support my claims; I’ve taken pains to repeat my positions when distorted or misunderstood (as far as I could tell); I’ve even watched several of Tim’s lectures, and am planning on finishing them. As for calling you silly, all I’ve done is claimed — explicitly — that certain *other* religions’ theological views are silly and, in some cases, a bit idiotic. But in every such case you, Tom, and probably everyone else on this website would entirely agree with me. So I’ve not thrown out any “insults” that wouldn’t get the approval of Thinking Christians (i.e., surely you *do* think that people who believe Muhammad flew to heaven on a horse are insane. Right? Surely we can all agree on that.)

    More and more young people are leaving religion. And I think this thread shows why. I hope some young people who aren’t sure about religion take a read — and then I hope they enroll in college, take courses in comparative religion, biology, cosmology, neuroscience, philosophy, and so on, and come to their own informed decisions about which set of beliefs — Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, atheism — best maps onto reality.

  161. My #181 – point under Friday from 3pm to evening – should read that the Jewish leaders insist that the bodies NOT be left on their crosses…argh
    Typing too fast, not proofing enough 🙂

  162. Let’s recall the context, Phil. I never said you ignored every counter-argument. I enumerated several instances, however, where you had, and then I said this about it, including the sentence you just yanked out of context:

    This is clearly what’s going on here. If you were actually engaging in dialogue you would at least acknowledge counter-arguments. If you wanted to say, “there are so many of you and only one of me, I can’t respond to all of this,” you could say it, and then you could say, “let’s just deal with one or two of these points at a time, please.” But if you were to say that, intellectual honesty would also require you to quit putting forth confident assertions concerning points that had been rebutted, and to cease (for at least such time as it took for you to deal with the rebuttals) expounding them as if they were (ahem) God’s unassailable truth even after they had in fact been assailed.

  163. “But what you quoted flatly contradicts that. You’ve gone from talking about faith as having ‘the essential feature that it is evidence-less’ to quoting from an SEP entry that, in addition to giving a non-exhaustive list of 11 views on faith, does not treat faith as ‘being essentially evidence-less’.”

    Yes, but read it carefully. The sense of faith that is relevant to the epistemology of religion is the propositional sense, not any of the other (many different) senses. The section itself is titled “Faith and reason: the epistemology of faith.” Come on, Crude!

    “Even on the views where faith involves trust beyond the current evidence … that very definition is not one that is ‘evidenceless’. Indeed, the whole point is that there IS evidence.”

    This is wonderful reasoning. Even though faith goes beyond the evidence, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any evidence. Again, I’ll let this stand as it is.

  164. Oh, and this is an incredibly twisted statement:

    As for calling you silly, all I’ve done is claimed — explicitly — that certain *other* religions’ theological views are silly and, in some cases, a bit idiotic

    When you say that our beliefs are equally silly as some other “insane,” “idiotic” or “very silly” beliefs, then you are not just calling those other views silly.

  165. @Tom:

    “If you were actually engaging in dialogue you would at least acknowledge counter-arguments. If you wanted to say, “there are so many of you and only one of me, I can’t respond to all of this,” you could say it, and then you could say, “let’s just deal with one or two of these points at a time, please.””

    Multiple times I have attempted to narrow the subject. I repeatedly asked you to provide justification for trinitarianism. And I’ve also, on several occasions, mentioned that I’d get to some of the other arguments (explicitly referred to, by the way) later on. Maybe the problem isn’t me being a terrible interlocutor, it’s others not reading what I’ve written. Just a thought.

  166. @Phil

    As for calling you silly, all I’ve done is claimed — explicitly — that certain *other* religions’ theological views are silly and, in some cases, a bit idiotic. But in every such case you, Tom, and probably everyone else on this website would entirely agree with me. So I’ve not thrown out any “insults” that wouldn’t get the approval of Thinking Christians (i.e., surely you *do* think that people who believe Muhammad flew to heaven on a horse are insane. Right? Surely we can all agree on that.)

    But, you said this

    As far as I can tell, believing in the Bible at the present moment in human history, in the 21st century, given all we know (thanks a lot to scientists and philosophers, etc.!!) about the human condition and about this strange universe in which we find ourselves, is no more or less silly than believing in that the Koran *really was* revealed to Muhammad over 23 years by the angel Gabriel. And we can both agree that believing this is very silly indeed.

    and this (directed specifically at me)

    Not sure I follow. It would be like me saying “I’m a pastor. So your citing the Bible doesn’t impress me.” As a physicist and Christian, you are part of a quickly dwindling demographic. More and more scientists are, given all that we know about the universe today, abandoning ancient worldviews for much more enlightened, scientifically-informed ones. As mentioned before, there are statistical relations between education and atheism, not to mention IQ and irreligious beliefs. So, you’re mentioning that your a physicist doesn’t impress *me* much — given that you also believe, in 2013, in virgin births.

    Melissa was too charitable in her assessment of you.

  167. Again, Phil, (speaking of not reading!) the problem was not with your narrowing or not narrowing the topic matter. Since it seems to be necessary, I shall repeat this one more time:

    If you wanted to say, “there are so many of you and only one of me, I can’t respond to all of this,” you could say it, and then you could say, “let’s just deal with one or two of these points at a time, please.” But if you were to say that, intellectual honesty would also require you to quit putting forth confident assertions concerning points that had been rebutted, and to cease (for at least such time as it took for you to deal with the rebuttals) expounding them as if they were (ahem) God’s unassailable truth even after they had in fact been assailed.

  168. Okay, let’s just end this. I’ve been called pig, idiot, ignorant, bigot and crank. (Notice that these insults weren’t aimed at *ideas* or *points of view* or *beliefs* or *opinions* but an *individual*, namely me.) You’re right that this isn’t a dialogue and it isn’t constructive (although I appreciate the links from Tim), and it’s clear that there are a lot of emotions involved — thus the name-calling and mean-spiritedness of some of the posts. When Jesus riled the people around him by arguing against traditional views, by being an iconoclastic thinker, by challenging dearly held beliefs, he got killed. A battle of ideas isn’t worth anyone feeling threatened. So let’s all take a deep breath and move on.

  169. The conversation with Phil is over, on the basis of emotions and the risk of people feeling threatened, apparently, or so he says at any rate. It’s not at all clear to me that the conversation might be ending for any of the reasons I have just set forth.

    Oh, well.

    The conversation among others may continue.

  170. Phil, you are welcome to join in any other discussion on this blog unless and until you do the same thing there that I have identified you doing here. I won’t ask for a vote if I see it happen again. I thought you should know that.

  171. The conversation with Phil is over, on the basis of emotions and the risk of people feeling threatened, apparently, or so he says at any rate.

    Er, is it against rules here to point out that Phil was not being threatened, nor was this a particularly ’emotional’ exchange by any reasonable internet standards? The comparisons of himself to Christ that Phil made were ridiculous, and he really should get off the cross – it doesn’t suit him.

    If ‘this conversation is over’ means ‘Crude, you shouldn’t be saying this’, please delete this comment. But I have trouble letting a remark like Phil’s pass. Every person who gets exposed and disregarded as intellectually dishonest or a crank tries to play the ‘you’re oppressing me because I’m so wise!’ card.

  172. Just a final note
    Phil said

    More and more young people are leaving religion. And I think this thread shows why. I hope some young people who aren’t sure about religion take a read — and then I hope they enroll in college, take courses in comparative religion, biology, cosmology, neuroscience, philosophy, and so on, and come to their own informed decisions about which set of beliefs — Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Catholicism, atheism — best maps onto reality.

    If anything, this means that we are not doing enough to educate our children and young adults in real critical thinking skills about the faith and its basis.
    I for one am going to make sure that this is a priority in my church.

  173. Victoria,

    I’ll also note that while irreligion has grown, atheism in particular and naturalism in general have nearly been flat in their advancement, certainly in America. And I think Phil accidentally shows why.

    Because really, the New Atheists generally – and guys like Phil – tend to mirror the extremists of religion. The same shoddy reasoning, the same over confidence, the same drama with another view. Which is why modern atheism more and more doesn’t seem like an alternative to religion, but just another version of one.

  174. Phil,

    If you are still reading you might want to keep in mind a little advice. You said to Tom:

    Virtually every one of my comments has begun with a quote from someone else. (a) That is precisely what a dialogue consists of, and (b) I absolutely have no ignored counter-arguments! Most of what I’ve quoted has consisted of counter-arguments

    Quoting someone else does not make a dialogue when you follow it up with ridicule , where you fail completely to justify that ridicule, then follow the ridicule with statements that are irrelevant to the points quoted. I hope that you will not take this as some emotionally charged outburst. I post in the hope that you may take a second look at how you interact with others ideas and consider that there may be some measure of fault on your side of the conversation too.

  175. @Crude:

    The comparisons of himself to Christ that Phil made were ridiculous, and he really should get off the cross – it doesn’t suit him.

    And we need the wood.

  176. Crude says:
    “Because really, the New Atheists generally – and guys like Phil – tend to mirror the extremists of religion.”

    I don’t know Phil personally, but I think there is some truth to this with regard to the New Atheists. It wasn’t too many years ago when this group was presenting itself as the hope for humanity, “saving” them from religion.

    It hasn’t been too surprising that most people have been unimpressed. Personally, I think that there are reasons for hope that the trend will start to reverse soon, not the least is the fact that–as the New Atheists have spread–it’s become obvious that it doesn’t take any particular intelligence to claim that God doesn’t exist.

  177. @Tom Gilson:

    Feel free to delete this comment, but I feel obligated to clarify one point.

    @Phil Torres:

    I’ve been called a “crank,” a “bigot,” an “ignorant,” an “idiot,” and someone who’s less than a pig (because pigs can’t be ignorants or idiots).

    I called you an ignorant, which you are and demonstrably so. As for the pig, why exactly are you complaining? To quote from Churchill:

    Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.

    More to the point, on #158, after you scolded me as if I were a little boy by mine-quoting the bible I said and I quote:

    There is one thing for which I have even less patience for than ignorance; it is for skeptic atheists quoting the bible against me and trying to pin me to a conduct that they themselves revile. Do not do that; or by God I will quote Jesus Christ instructing his disciples not to lay their pearls before swine lest they, turning around, trample them; and then order you to oink back to the pig sty you emerged from.

    You persisted in your behavior. Deliberately and knowing full well what you were doing. And now you have the gall to whine about being insulted? You asked for it. For why would an atheist skeptic be quoting the bible, a book he disowns, to pin me down to a conduct that he reviles? If the rebuke were made by Tom, Victoria, SteveK, Holopupenko (although finding myself the target of his barbs is not a cheerful prospect) or any of the other regulars here, I would take notice of it because it would be given in the spirit of Christian love and truth. Heck, I would even take notice of it if a skeptic or an atheist made a cogent point. But you? It is nothing more than a sleazy and dishonest rhetorical ploy to either shut me down or to have an excuse to call me a hypocrite or “not a nice person” or a meanie and obtain the moral high ground. Well, count yourself happy as I just humored you. Be that as it may, I do no suffer idiocy and intellectual dishonesty gladly. None of your points is even remotely relevant to what I believe — you simply have nothing on me and you do not even know how to handle a classical theist like me. Your trumped up charges against the Catholic Church are everything you have, but on the intellectual plane you are a fake, a fraud and a phony. I stand by everything I said.

    And as far as Christian polemics go, I would advise you to read D. Felix Sarda Y Salvany’s Liberalism is a sin, especially chapters 20 and 21. Here are three choice quotes from the beginning of chapter 20:

    Liberalism never gives battle on solid ground; it knows too well that in a discussion of principles it must meet with irretrievable defeat. It prefers tactics of recrimination and, under the sting of a just flagellation, whiningly accuses Catholics of lack of charity in their polemics.

    Run over the list of ecclesiastical writers—you will then see how the Apostles treated the first heretics, how the Fathers and modern controversialists and the Church herself in her official language has pursued them. There is then no sin against charity in calling evil; its authors abettors and its disciples bad; all its acts, words, and writings iniquitous, wicked, malicious. In short, the wolf has always been called the wolf; and in so calling it, no one ever has believed that wrong was done to the flock and the shepherd.

    If the propagation of good and the necessity of combating evil require the employment of terms somewhat harsh against error and its supporters, this usage is certainly not against charity. This is a corollary or consequence of the principle we have just demonstrated. We must render evil odious and detestable. We cannot attain this result without pointing out the dangers of evil, without showing how and why it is odious, detestable and contemptible. Christian oratory of all ages has ever employed against impiety the most vigorous and emphatic rhetoric in the arsenal of human speech. In the writings of the great athletes of Christianity, the usage of irony, imprecation, execration and of the most crushing epithets is continual. Hence the only law is the opportunity and the truth.

    Maybe you think that we Christians should all bend backwards while you mock and ridicule us, and at the same time hurl abysmally bad arguments at us. Well, think again.

  178. “For example, Jesus is said to be crucified before and after Passover; the text is quite clear about this.”

    I believe that this claim can be shown, decisively, to be mistaken: John and the Synoptics agree that Jesus was crucified on the Friday afternoon following the beginning of Passover at sundown the previous day. I cover the issue in some detail here. Start at about 16:35.

  179. @Tim 🙂
    I also worked through that and posted in my #181.
    One can work backwards from the morning of the first day of the week to see that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried all on the Friday before the start of the Sabbath. It also seems that when you compare the 4 Gospels here, Joseph and Nicodemus managed to put Jesus into the tomb just in time to make the Sabbath.

    I think things fall into place when one remembers that the Sabbath begins on Friday after sunset, and continues to Saturday sunset. Is it possible that the Gospel writers are making some sort of distinction between a ‘ceremonial day – sunset to sunset’ and a ‘work day – sunrise to sunrise’?

    Does that resolve the statements about the Passover observance? Or is it as simple as postulating that Jesus made that last meal on Thursday evening their Passover meal? Just thinking aloud 🙂

    Added: just listening to your presentation now 🙂

  180. @Tim
    The details about the distinction between the seder meal and the afternoon meal was the missing piece I was looking for 🙂

    When hearing your analysis of the Gospel data, coupled with the historical and cultural background (and Greek grammar as well), it makes me wonder why the skeptical NT scholars don’t dig deep enough to see it. The pieces are all there, so why do they miss it?
    Furthermore, why do they make such arrogant and overconfident assertions in the public square? To shipwreck the faith of others, especially those who won’t bother to think deeply about it themselves? Definitely axes to grind, especially the apostates, if you ask me.

    All the more reason to make sure our churches are teaching this sort of critical reasoning as you have done.
    Thank you for using the gifts that God has given you to edify His people, Tim.

  181. @ 201, how about this:

    New Atheist
       The ass looked up to heaven; stars were there.
       They sparkled, bright along the cloudy pass
       And never diamond, ruby, sapphire was more fair
       Than half the light one single star on high could share.
       He brayed dismissal, turning back to lowly grass:
       An ass who sees the heavens sees them as an ass.

  182. @Holopupenko
    Maybe, but that seems more like returning the same evil that Phil was guilty of toward us, rather than trying to be winsome. It’s one thing to be blunt in the midst of an argument when it is warranted, another to rub someone’s nose in it afterwards 🙂

  183. Victoria and Tom:

    Brandon, the author of that poem (link provided) was not name-calling: he was metaphorically describing what atheists do to themselves. A person commenting on the poem thought it would have been better (rhyming notwithstanding) to use the term “mule” rather than “ass” to drive home the sterility of the beast, i.e., it’s past is really a “non-history” (because it doesn’t have a mule as a parent), and it has no future (it will leave no progeny behind).

    Sin–first and foremost–dehumanizes the sinner. It’s pretty much what Orwell pointed out at the end of Animal Farm. So… it almost seems like you’re both suggesting it’s okay to cast pearls before swine, and that strongly protesting (say, via what G. Rodriguez provided and Brandon’s poem) the damage to the pearls is “inappropriate.” It really is a sign of love for a parent to strongly rebuke a child who intentionally does what harms them (and others).

  184. @Holopupenko
    I don’t think that is what Peter is saying at all. I think Peter is giving us the very definition of what it should mean to be a winsome Christian. I will confess I have a hard time being winsome, especially in the face of the kind of comments posted by skeptics (please be patient, God is not finished with me yet), but I do hope I don’t come across as intentionally insulting

  185. Holopupenko,

    First, there is the matter of teaching that says not every moment is the most teachable.

    Second, your logic is uncharacteristically weak: my comment on context was not a global declaration that it’s okay to “cast pearls before swine.” I’m surprised you even suggested that.

    Third, if sin dehumanizes the sinner (as is true) self-righteousness among believers cements them in that attitude more often than releasing them from it. Thus, though you may intend this as love, it seems to me not to be accomplishing that at all.

  186. Victoria,

    Thanks so much for your kind words. Like you, I find it frustrating (and telling) that the critics don’t dig deeply into the material. Superficial comparisons (“Hey, Muslims say you’re misreading the Qur’an, too!”) don’t begin to engage with the actual evidence, and when they are repeated enough times, they start to sound like an excuse not to do so.

    Holopupenko, whether it was the right time in the thread for you to post it or not, that poem is, in fact, hilarious. 😉

  187. I come away from these discussions even more confident that the Bible is a reliable historical document, based on such detailed analysis of the text.

    One thing that we should take note of is that the discrepancies that skeptics point to are, for the most part, on the surface, whereas the harmonies are deep-rooted. It takes diligent work and study to see how it all fits together. I can’t help but think that this is intentional on God the Holy Spirit’s part, to draw people who really want to know God; the atheist s and skeptical scholars are just looking at the surface layers, and only for things that they can use against Christianity, and that is where they stop, because they are not interested in anything beyond that. Christians, on the other hand, know that there is more to the Bible than what is on the surface, and that the real answers are to be found only by digging deeper.

    Despite the assertions of skeptical scholars to the contrary, Christians are justified in accepting the Bible as a source of reliable history – from that history we infer that Jesus’ supernatural resurrection is the best explanation (even if it means having to accept the supernatural), and we therefore trust the NT authors when they tell us what it all means. This is faith as the Bible intends faith to be.
    Once you can trust that, then everything else starts to fall into place.

  188. Victoria,

    only for things that they can use against Christianity

    That’s the impression I get too from the comments I see here and the lack of any real engagement with other perspectives.

  189. Victoria,

    I’m reminded of a quotation from George Horne, writing in the late 18th century:

    [I]s any man surprised that difficulties should occur in the books of Scripture, those more particularly of the Old Testament? Let him reflect upon the variety of matter on which they treat; the distance of the times to which they refer; the wide difference of ancient manners and customs, from those of the age in which we live; the very imperfect knowledge we have of these, as well as of the language in which they are described; the conciseness of the narratives, sufficient for the purpose intended, but not for gratifying a restless curiosity; above all, the errors and defects of translations.

    Many and painful are the researches sometimes necessary to be made, for settling points of that kind. Pertness and ignorance may ask a question in three lines, which it will cost learning and ingenuity thirty pages to answer. When this is done, the same question shall be triumphantly asked again the next year, as if nothing had ever been written upon the subject. And as people in general, for one reason or another, like short objections better than long answers, in this mode of disputation (if it can be styled such) the odds must ever be against us; and we must be content with those for our friends who have honesty and erudition, candor and patience, to study both sides of the question.—Be it so.

  190. Victoria,

    Also, this, from Hengstenberg’s work on the Pentateuch, vol. 1 (1847), p. 47:

    In an appendix to Voltaire’s Life, by Condorcet, Berlin 1791, p. 430, the following story is told:—A Swedish traveller, in looking through Voltaire’s library, found Calmet’s Commentary, with slips of paper inserted, on which the difficulties noticed by Calmet were set down, without a word about the solutions which were given by Calmet. This, adds the Swede—who was otherwise a great admirer of Voltaire—was not honourable.

  191. I read in Jonathan Morrow’s book (just reviewed on this website) that the famous difficulty of wearing clothes of mixed fabric (Lev. 19:19) is explained in terms of contemporary fertility cult beliefs: that combining two fabrics was supposed by those other religions to enhance fertility in some magical way, and the Lord did not want Israel falling for that error.

    I had not heard that previously. I thought of looking it up to see if it were indeed true. I have not yet done so.

    Instead I thought of John Lamb’s analogy of the long-future archaeologist finding a church bulletin warning against reading a sports magazine in March. Why, this scientist might wonder, would that be so bad? It would make sense only if he knew that Sports Illustrated published a swimsuit issue every March (or February? I’m not sure–and I don’t feel a bit embarrassed at not knowing).

    The point is that Lamb’s analogy is credible. And if it is credible, then it is also credible that the stricture against mixed fabrics comes from some source as unknown to us today, and yet as reasonable in its time, as the SI situation might be to some future archaeologist. What might that be? The answer proposed in Morrow’s book makes a lot of sense. It is entirely plausible. It’s plausible in part because of what we know about the ancient world; it’s plausible in part because of what we don’t know (unless we look it up and find that it’s accurate or otherwise).

    And suppose we did look it up and find it was false, if such a thing could be shown. The very fact that we had to look it up is telling. We don’t know. We don’t know enough about the culture of the day to say what could or could not have been sensible then.

    It was, as you have just said, a long time ago, and it was far away in so many ways.

  192. @Tim
    That excerpt from George Horne looks very familiar. I haven’t read him myself, but I’m certain that I’ve seen passage quoted by other Christian apologists I’ve read.
    It certainly applies to the skeptics that I’ve crossed swords with here.

    @Tom
    I just read that same example in another book – Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, chapter 9: The Law: Covenant Stipulations for Israel. They suggest that this is a general principle for understanding the Law of Moses. Leviticus 18:24-25, referring back to the previous section seems to be applicable. Of course, without knowing the culture of the ANE, we would not necessarily know that Leviticus 19:19 and similar ‘peculiar laws’ might be a Canaanite fertility or magic practice.
    I’d like to track that down myself 🙂

  193. I do not want to misqoute my professor inaccuratley – but was informed that this verse is continuing the theme of “holiness” that is central to Leviticus. That is to say, the ordinary people of God are forbidden to wear blended fabrics for it is a provision allowed only for God’s servants at the tabernacle i.e. priests. Am I right about that?

  194. @Steve
    I’ve been doing some more digging, trying to find references to Canaanite sympathetic magic practices and the specific prohibitions in Leviticus 19:19.
    So far I have not come across any specific descriptions of ‘mixtures’ in the literature (but getting to the original texts is hard).
    In my Logos searches, I did find references to both the curtains of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:1) and the priestly garments in Exodus 28 as being made of woven linen and other materials.
    That could be a reason for the prohibitions against wearing of woven blends for the common people (reserved for priestly use in worship), but what of the commands to not mix breeds of animals and planting of mixed crops?

    I’m not saying Fee and Stuart are mistaken – they probably have access to library materials that I don’t (or at least know where to look) – I just haven’t been able to find anything yet.

  195. It’s me again: Stephen. To clarify the original post that started this thread: I am using the word ‘rationalizing’ in the sense we tend you use it when we feel a person is over-reaching, or stretching it, in their use of reason when they justify their belief or actions: as in “you’re rationalizing”. In this sense it carries a negative connotation: it essentially expresses a lack of acceptance of the reasons given. The charge “rationalizing” in this sense is given when we see confirmation bias or something less than as-honest-as-we-expect in our justifications. Yes, we do find cases of this in science and philosophy but when we do find an opportunity to levy this charge there, we see these beliefs modified – at the level of the community, not necessarily every participant – science has it’s true believers too – likely because religion has hammered this modus-operandi into our culture. Consider how central Newtonian physics was in science prior to Einstein. This view of the universe was about as central (thought to be gospel) as is possible in science. Yet beliefs gave way to Einstein’s model. (I understand that Einstein’s model did not complete nullify Newton’s but it required a remaking of a web of beliefs). There is no parallel in Christian dogma and it is dishonest to try to level this all out as the same across the board. It is this attempt to find equivalence through language abstraction that characterizes your arguments. (it is also the strategy used to befuddle astrologers). For another example of this, I point to your attempt to make your faith in your wife “the same as” religious faith. This is clear equivocation. The difference between the means you have to “build [faith] on knowledge” regarding your wife and the “information” you have about God IS the difference between using reason and rationalizing. You are begging the question to say you have “information about God”. And whatever you could bring to the table would still not create the sameness you suggest in your analogy. What are the chances that your defense of this will convince your readers that belief in your flesh and blood, walking and talking wife is the same sort of faith you have in Jesus? So we have here, begging the question, equivocation, and false analogy, to say the least.

  196. So Tom, I’ll present the same challenge to you that you presented to me: Are you “open to really thinking and learning on this topic”. You can show how your arguments are not begging the question, equivocation, and false analogy, or you can concede something, show some grappling with your epistemology. I did not see signs of you doing so in response to Phil’s good arguments – that your attempt to make faith a form of knowledge or perhaps a form of epistemology is “silly”. I think, given your above responses, that the key to breaking down your confidence lies in breaking the belief that biblical stories constitute history or knowledge: that you can think that you gain “information” about “God” through the bible. This sort of claim just falls too short of serious dialog and makes it far less fun to participate on this blog.

  197. Tom, note that Phil never called you “silly”. You translated his calling certain beliefs “silliness” into his CALLING you “silly”. I don’t see any sign of Phil labeling you, yet, as Phil points out, he was called a crank, a bigot and other derogatory terms either by yourself or someone else opposing his views. And yet you put the story out there that he is the one violating standards of congenial discussion. Shameful, and worthy of an apology to Phil. To be capable of this blindness to personal bias, the sort that can completely reverse the facts of a situation, explains the mindset necessary to be capable of the sort of “rationalizing” I was talking about in my posts.

  198. Tom said, in response to my claim that “rationalizing” means “defend your belief”. “Scientists and philosophers defend their beliefs all the time, and do so legitimately, based on solid evidences and reasoning.”

    This belief is telling. “Good” scientist and philosophers do NOT “defend” their beliefs. Defending beliefs is the modus-operandi of confirmation bias. What scientist and philosophers do instead is “justify” and “give warrants” for holding beliefs. To defend a belief requires holding to those beliefs with a certitude that is uncommon in those fields. The sort of certitude I mean is what characterizes the difference between ideologically held beliefs and rationally held beliefs, the latter being characterized by a healthy portion of DOUBT. But Christians are not famous for doing what scientist and philosophers do. The evidence for this claim is that we secularist keep seeing the same beliefs issue forth century after century. You probably deny that you have been brought to such a point. You think instead that the arguments and demands for evidence HAVE been met. And that just brings use back to the cognitive disposition issues – that mix of credulity and credulousness that seems to divide us.

  199. Stephen,

    You are correct to say that if the Bible’s accounts are shown to be unhistorical in general, it would remove my confidence in God. I do not think that is the case, however, for reasons I won’t go into here since it’s late.

    You are incorrect on the idea of “defending.” To defend a view or a belief is a philosophical term of art, and philosophers use it all the time. Some examples:

    http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Atheism-Defense-Skeptics-Bookshelf/dp/0879752890/

    http://www.amazon.com/Defense-Abortion-Cambridge-Studies-Philosophy/dp/0521520355/

    http://www.amazon.com/Philosophical-Analysis-Defense-Example-Studies/dp/9027726744/

    http://www.amazon.com/Philosophical-Defence-Psychiatry-Issues-Science/dp/0415035937/

    http://www.amazon.com/From-Metaphysics-Ethics-Conceptual-Analysis/dp/0198250614/

    Those were just a few that were easy to find; there are many others.

  200. I wouldn’t say the Bible is unhistorical. Its just not representative of the Christian religion until the New Testament. The Old Testament is taken from Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, and other more ancient religions. The Old Testament is a horrible representative of Christian religion, historically speaking, because it is direct plagarism from other religions. The New Testament, is a farce at best. Let me explain. The NT, when all the documents were gathered, were like merky water. There is so much that is left out of the NT because it didn’t ‘fit’ with how some powerful people believed in it. So they put this merky water through purification to have it declare only what they want it to. Is it a first hand account of Jesus? Not even close. The NT was written in 150 A.D. That is over 100 years after Jesus was crucified. Was Josephus a first hand account? No. He was born around 37 A.D. which is after Jesus was Crucified as well. At best the NT is a 3rd or 4th hand account of the life of Jesus. That doesn’t prove that Jesus rose from the dead any more than a blog about Elvis proves that Elvis never died. It just means that it is plausable that Jesus might have existed around the 1st century. Well so did Arthrongs, Appolonius of Tyana, and many more messiahs so other Jewish sects.

  201. If that was a genuine answer to someones question, Gary, I think you should rethink your blog idea — unless it’s supposed to be a parody site.

  202. Really, I am an ancient historian. I know what I’m talking about. The Biblical stories (ask a really good theologian) in the OT are taken directly from ancient Mesopotamian religions. Where do you think the concept of hell came from? It certainly wasn’t unique to Judeo/Christians. It comes from Tartarus (the Greek Hell). You really think that Jesus was the only person in the 1st century claiming to be the messiah? He was not. The OT is merely representative of Mesopotamian religions and ancient ethics/social structure. The NT is where the Christian religion starts because of they had their Christ (btw Christ comes from the Greek word Christós). So no it isn’t a farce.

  203. Oh, and I am, by no means, trying to say that the Bible is an accurate history. I know it isn’t because they have people living over 900 years, which is impossible, as we know. I was simply throwing in my 2 cents, if you don’t like it, say so and give me reasons as to why you don’t like it.

  204. You first, Gary. Give us reasons as to why anyone should think your assertions are true. Here are some that you made.

    Gary asserted that the following is true:

    1) There is so much that is left out of the NT because it didn’t ‘fit’ with how some powerful people believed in it. So they put this merky water through purification to have it declare only what they want it to.

    2) Is it a first hand account of Jesus? Not even close.

    3) At best the NT is a 3rd or 4th hand account of the life of Jesus.

    4) The Biblical stories (ask a really good theologian) in the OT are taken directly from ancient Mesopotamian religions.

    5) Really, I am an ancient historian. I know what I’m talking about.

  205. 1. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HxdB6LUJZ08
    2. The NT was written OVER 100 YEARS AFTER JESUS DIED. Take a history class and you will soon learn what a first hand account is.
    3. ^
    4. Ask a theologian. Google the epic of Gilgamesh. Also google the name “ziusudra” Let me give you some back ground. All the flood stories occur around a river called the euphrates, which floods every spring. around 2900 BCE there was a 6 day storm which made the river flood even more and it killed a lot of people. Our king, ziusudra, comandeered a local barge, filled it with valuables and rode the river downstream to the Persian Gulf. He laded on a hilltop and gave thanks to God because he was still alive. There is Noah’s Ark for you. There are also many other flood stories along side these two. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Gilgamesh
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ziusudra

    Google the Tower of Babel, that also isn’t originally Judeo Christian. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Babel

    Gensis: http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=O4MhThxAF7I&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DO4MhThxAF7I

    5. I have spent the last 5 years studying ancient history, archeology, anthropology (human evolutionary process).

  206. Consider my request for you to support your assertions a ‘question’ that you can answer on your blog, Gary. I’m guessing Tom doesn’t want to do that here.

  207. Gary,

    The NT was written OVER 100 YEARS AFTER JESUS DIED

    Parts of the NT were written 100 years after Jesus died much of it was written much earlier.

    Really, I am an ancient historian. I know what I’m talking about. The Biblical stories (ask a really good theologian) in the OT are taken directly from ancient Mesopotamian religions.

    That’s not quite right, and I presume that since you have set yourself up as some kind of expert, that it is a deliberate attempt to mislead. How about you try again and this time try for some accuracy when you are appealing to what good theologians have to say about the OT.

  208. In general, outside of a very few exceptions, the NT was written within 60 years of Christ’s death. The books written by Paul within 35. The dating of the NT texts within this time frame isn’t even disputed by skeptics (except Gary, of course). The idea that the NT was written over 100 years after Christ is nonsense. The Gospels are eyewitness testimony to the life of Christ. The historicity of the NT makes it the most reliable ancient text by orders of magnitude over any other. That Gary references Wiki and YouTube as sources is….

  209. For the interested reader who want to see a compilation of NT scholars’ general consensus on the dates of the NT books (ie, when the books were originally written), see
    here. There are numerous references and links to follow so that readers can see the scholarly arguments for themselves.

    To summarize this reference, it basically says that the individual books that make up the canonical New Testament collection were authored in the mid-1st century, so, 50-70AD, with John’s Gospel, letters and Revelation later(80-100AD). For readers who want a more scholarly treatment, I suggest you read F. F. Bruce, here. Dr. Bruce was one of the 20th century’s foremost NT historians. He says

    The New Testament was complete, or substantially complete, about AD 100, the majority of the writings being in existence twenty to forty years before this. In this country a majority of modern scholars fix the dates of the four Gospels as follows: Matthew, c. 85-90; Mark, c. 65; Luke, c. 80-85; John, c. 90-100.4 I should be inclined to date the first three Gospels rather earlier: Mark shortly after AD 60, Luke between 60 and 70, and Matthew shortly after 70. One criterion which has special weight with me is the relation which these writings appear to bear to the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. My view of the matter is that Mark and Luke were written before this event, and Matthew not long afterwards.

    But even with the later dates, the situation’ encouraging from the historian’s point of view, for the first three Gospels were written at a time when man, were alive who could remember the things that Jesus said and did, and some at least would still be alive when the fourth Gospel was written. If it could be determined that the writers of the Gospels used sources of information belonging to an earlier date, then the situation would be still more encouraging. But a more detailed examination of the Gospels will come in a later chapter.

    The date of the writing of Acts will depend on the date we affix to the third Gospel, for both are parts of one historical work, and the second part appears to have been written soon after the first. There are strong arguments for dating the twofold work not long after Paul’s two years’ detention in Rome (AD 60-62)Some scholars, however, consider that the ‘former treatise’ to which Acts originally formed the sequel was not our present Gospel of Luke but an earlier draft, sometimes called ‘ProtoLuke’; this enables them to date Acts in the sixties, while holding that the Gospel of Luke in its final form was rather later.

    The dates of the thirteen Pauline Epistles can be fixed partly by internal and partly by external evidence. The day has gone by when the authenticity of these letters could be denied wholesale. There are some writers today who would reject Ephesians; fewer would reject 2 Thessalonians; more would deny that the Pastoral Epistles (I and ~ Timothy and Titus) came in their present form from the hand of Paul.’ I accept them all as Pauline, but the remaining eight letters would by themselves be sufficient for our purpose, and it is from these that the main arguments are drawn in our later chapter on ‘The Importance of Paul’s Evidence’.

    Ten of the letters which bear Paul’s name belong to the period before the end of his Roman imprisonment.

    These ten, in order of writing, may be dated as follows: Galatians, 48; I and 2 Thessalonians, 50; Philippians, 54; I and 2 Corinthians, 54-56; Romans, 57; Colossians, Philemon, and Ephesians, c. 60. The Pastoral Epistles, in their diction and historical atmosphere, contain signs of later date than the other Pauline Epistles, but this presents less difficulty to those who believe in a second imprisonment of Paul at Rome about the year 64, which was ended by his execution.’ The Pastoral Epistle can then be dated c. 63-64, and the changed state of affairs in the Pauline churches to which they bear witness will have been due in part to the opportunity which Paul’s earlier Roman imprisonment afforded to his opponents m these churches.

    At any rate, the time elapsing between the evangelic events and the writing of most of the New Testament books was, from the standpoint of historical research, satisfactorily short. For in assessing the trustworthiness of ancient historical writings, one of the most important questions is: How soon after the events took place were they recorded ?

    (This is from this section of the link, above.

  210. How many experts in ancient history would say, “really, I am an ancient historian”?

    Gary, I think you’re lying about that.

    I’ve been on the road all day or I would have jumped in sooner.

    Gary, some of your assertions are wrong, some of them are irrelevant, such as “Christos” coming from the Greek. That, my friend, falls under the category of Dass kennt jeder Esel. (If you know as much theology as you claim, then undoubtedly you know the German as well. The quote supposedly came originally from Brahms, when someone pointed out a theme in one of his pieces had been previously used by Beethoven.)

    The NT borrows language from other religions; dass auch kennt jeder Esel. The NT depiction of hell has really nothing in common with Tartarus, however.

    The fact that other traditions mention a flood does little to discredit the biblical account; most would say that it supports it.

    The OT most definitely was not plagiarized from other ANE myths or religions.

    First-hand accounts? Take a history class, my friend, and you’ll find out how historians actually assess documentary claims.

    Gary, you’re revealing yourself as ignorant and fraudulent. I suggest you correct yourself or give up trying. You won’t get away with nonsense like that here where people actually know what they’re talking about.

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