The Faith-Knowledge Connection, Part One

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There is a strong connection between faith and knowledge. Peter Boghossian is wrong: faith isn’t pretending to know what you don’t know.

I’ve been promising to write more on what faith really is instead, and in fact I have done so previously, more than once. Here’s an annotated summary of some of those articles. In all of this I am writing specifically about Christian faith, the only faith that I can represent responsibly, and the only form I care to defend.

The Faith-Knowledge Connection

I contrast two views of faith when I compare information from multiple sources in the New Testament. In one setting it looks like a disciple follows Christ as an impetuous decision, free of all relevant information. With more complete information from other contexts, however, we see that this disciple knew a lot about Jesus at the time. He had knowledge. He knew what he was doing.

A critic suggests my blog should be called “rationalizing Christian,” to which I respond, faith is belief is built on knowledge.

Debates over the definition of faith are not now for me, nor are they for other Christians. I defend a view of evidence-oriented faith in a debate with Alonze Fyfe, “the atheist ethicist,” and also with atheist Phil Torres.

Self-Serving Propaganda

There’s a common thread here: the atheists I’m responding to in all these posts think they can redefine faith for the rest of the world. For them it’s always belief without evidence, or belief opposed to knowledge, or some other form of essentially stupid belief. Face it: that’s what they think of it.

Which exposes the first problem with this atheist trope: it’s self-serving. It’s obviously self-serving. I can’t imagine why anyone would think it was anything but propaganda.

If Their Definition Were True…

Just think of what it would mean if it were true. Think of what it would mean for all the great Christian thinkers and artists and social activists down the centuries: they would be revealed as essentially stupid. Wilberforce led the fight against the slave trade for stupid reasons. Bach’s music was motivated by stupid thinking. Aquinas’s Summas were stupid from start to finish. Dostoyevski’s novels had were built on stupid themes.

Think of what it would mean for Jesus Christ: he would be revealed as history’s great enemy of faith. He kept providing evidence. If faith is belief divorced from evidence, then Jesus messed it royally, again and again, by giving people reasons to believe.

Think of what it would mean for the whole New Testament, where words related to knowledge, study, teaching, and so on occur an average of twice every chapter. Why would the Christian scriptures stand so much for learning if it undermines faith?

Think of what it would mean for the whole Christian educational enterprise, from publishing houses to grade schools to universities. Recall that all the first universities were founded by Christians. Why would we go to such pains to take away all the ignorance that faith requires?

Think of how completely opposed to faith every Christian apologist must be: with every success in providing reasons to believe, we take away people’s faith.

Trying to Make Faith Mean What It Has Never Meant

This is not difficult. Anyone can see that when atheists define faith their way, they’re ripping the word out of all historical, scriptural, theological, and experiential context. They’re trying to make it mean what it has never meant before. There’s no reason for it except for rhetoric: propaganda, actually.

Or I suppose it could be ignorance. Maybe they just don’t know about Christian thinkers and artists and educators down through history, or about Jesus Christ, or about apologists. The thing is, they act as if they know about these things. Are they pretending to know what they don’t know? Probably not; I think they’re more likely to be engaging in propaganda instead.

If they were, though, I wouldn’t call it faith, regardless of how well it fit their definition.

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Yet to come in Part Two: now that I have established that there is a faith-knowledge connection, the question must be answered, how do faith and knowledge connect? Update Now Posted

Also Related: Okay, You’re Right: There’s No Evidence for Faith…

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Related: The Peter Boghossian series

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113 Responses to “ The Faith-Knowledge Connection, Part One ”

  1. I concur, real faith is not a leap in the dark or baseless but is based upon the authenticity of the message, the knowledge and experience gained by the believer plus the revelation by the Spirit of God within the heart of man.

  2. “I’ve been promising to write more on what faith really is”

    Well that’s a bad start. You are assuming that there is some essential true meaning of the word ‘faith’.

    But that is just idiotic. The word has many meanings in various contexts.

  3. ” now that I have established that there is a faith-knowledge connection, the question must be answered, how do faith and knowledge connect?”

    I fail to see where you’ve made a connection. You’ve made several question begging statements.
    “Think of what it would mean for Jesus Christ: he would be revealed as history’s great enemy of faith. He kept providing evidence. If faith is belief divorced from evidence, then Jesus messed it royally, again and again, by giving people reasons to believe.”
    You’re assuming the events in the Bible occurred as described. Can you provide any evidence of this? Furthermore the contents amount to nothing more than heresay because none of the authors ever met Jesus. Lastly, we do not have the original manuscripts of any book in the Bible. Verifying its contents at this point is impossible.

    “Think of what it would mean for the whole New Testament, where words related to knowledge, study, teaching, and so on occur an average of twice every chapter. Why would the Christian scriptures stand so much for learning if it undermines faith?”
    The New Testament does NOT stand for learning, it was always intended to establish Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah. The authors’ intent is obvious, and any dissenting writings were omitted during the various councils that cemented what books were included. This is not a reliable method of discerning what is true.

  4. Thank you for visiting, Brian.

    Of course I could provide evidence that what’s described in the Bible actually happened. The portions that are relevant to this discussion are uncontroversial among NT scholars, including skeptics.

    I don’t see how establishing Jesus as the Messiah stands in a contradictory relationship with being in favor of learning.

    Since you asked me for evidence, I think it behooves you to provide evidence for your claim about dissenting councils. Do you have any idea what criteria were used to determine what belonged in the NT? Do you know that this has been a subject of much discussion recently right here on this blog?

  5. BeingItself, I’m going to ask you to use a different nom de blog when you post again. The name you have chosen is filled with intentional hubris and intent to provoke.

    Meanwhile, of course the word has many meanings in various contexts. Didn’t I say that I was speaking only of one form of faith? What was idiotic about my acknowledging that?

    My beef, in case it wasn’t clear enough, is with people who deny that there is a connection between faith and knowledge.

  6. Just think of what it would mean if it were true. Think of what it would mean for all the great Christian thinkers and artists and social activists down the centuries: they would be revealed as essentially stupid. Wilberforce led the fight against the slave trade for stupid reasons. Bach’s music was motivated by stupid thinking. Aquinas’s Summas were stupid from start to finish. Dostoyevski’s novels had were built on stupid themes.

    I don’t think Wilberforce, Bach, Aquinas or Dostoyevski were stupid. During the lifetimes of most of them “God” seemed to be a reasonable explanation for reality.

    Now that we have discovered so much more about physics and biology, it turns out that “God” is no longer the most reasonable explanation for reality. While a deity is impossible to disprove, the existence of Yahweh is incongruous with observed reality — unless, of course, your faith precludes the ability either to observe or to accept the reality around you.

    I think that is the crux of these lengthy (admittedly too lengthy for me to read in their entirety) comment streams on the topic of faith and Peter Boghossian on this site.

    Regardless of your definition of the word faith, Boghossian’s point seems to be that you are not willing to allow evidence to determine what you accept as truth, and your perception of reality.

    And you see no problem with that. To the contrary, it seems that you consider it to be a virtue to start with a divine Jesus, and work your way backwards until you reach something that could pass for reality, or a close enough facsimile to allow for everyday life to be manageable.

    Best then not to think too hard about the implications of the technology that we use to find rapists guilty — how DNA works. Best not to Google “chromosome 2 (human)” and learn how telomeres ended up in the middle of our second chromosome. (Clue: Not Intelligent Design) Best not to consider that the physics used to by lasers and computer chips imply a universe that does not need Yahweh, or Brahma, or Ahura Mazda or Odin.

    Because while faith does not mean stupid, it does mean not thinking so hard that you end up discarding the stuff your mom and dad used to read to you at bed time.

    Believe like a child, and everything will be OK. When it all goes pear-shaped, any moment now really, Jesus will appear out of the clouds, resurrect all the dead Christians, and make the world perfect. I promise. And the evidence I have to back up this promise is … uh … this book and those witnesses, but not really the kind of evidence that would allow you to build lasers, or computer chips. No it doesn’t work like that.

    Of course not.

  7. Luckily, we don’t have to constantly re-invent definitions of words, we can just look them up in this thing called the dictionary: Merriam-Webster.com, has this definition of faith (among others): b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

    Bottom line: either A.) Religious beliefs are based on EVIDENCE or B.) Religious beliefs are NOT based on evidence. IF you hold that they ARE based on evidence, then please provide the evidence which proves god’s existence. IF they are NOT based on evidence, then it appears FAITH, as defined above, fits remarkable well for those religious beliefs.

  8. Tom,
    Thanks for your earlier statement “Of course I could provide evidence that what’s described in the Bible actually happened.” You can’t imagine how long I’ve been searching for the one elusive person with this type of evidence! I have so many questions, but I’ll keep this brief.
    First off: where is your evidence in support of Jonah and the Whale? What type of creature was the whale/fish that a grown man could live inside it for three days without being digested? Or suffocated? What was the exact zoological classification?
    Looking forward to your exacting response. Thanks much!
    More questions to follow!
    -Abraham

  9. No, I’m sorry, kaapstorm, but physics does not obviate the need for God. It obviates the need for certain false gods, like gods that have to do everything in the world including making lasers and computer chips work apart, doing the work directly without intermediate means. It obviates the need for gods that no one believes in anyway. It doesn’t say a thing about the God of theism.

    Same with DNA and telomeres. There’s nothing there that says “no God need apply.”

    I think maybe you have a certain distorted version of argument for God mixed up with the true First Cause argument. The true First Cause argument says that there must be an uncaused Cause behind and involved in the chain, not that God constitutes every link in the chain except the final one.

    So “now that we have discovered so much more about physics and biology,” we still haven’t touched anything there that would constitute any reason to doubt what we know from philosophy and history about the workings of God in the world. We haven’t found anything that makes Yahweh’s existence incongruous in the world, and I challenge you to back up that claim with some kind of argument if you’re going to try to hold forth on it here.

    We have, of course found much that makes God*’s existence hard to swallow, so if you answer here by making some argument against God*, I’ll be only too happy to agree. If you’re planning to argue against God, however, be prepared to show that you have some passing familiarity with what you’re talking about.

  10. @kaapstorm

    Best not to consider that the physics used to by lasers and computer chips imply a universe that does not need Yahweh, or Brahma, or Ahura Mazda or Odin.

    How does that work, exactly?

  11. Abraham, I don’t have direct evidence for the Jonah story other than what’s in the Bible. I do have evidence for the resurrection, and as in one earlier encounter, I’m willing to let other points of discussion go if you’d be willing to major on the one that really counts.

  12. Thank you for your question, Akop, although I remind you that in commenting here you have agreed to read and abide by the discussion guidelines.

    My point in this post was not to say there is no other possible definition for faith. Please see my answer to “BeingItself” above.

    Please feel free to peruse some of the evidences you have requested.

  13. Tom,
    So you do NOT have evidence of any kind concerning Jonah and his fish/whale? I’m kind of confused and disappointed now. What did you mean when you said “Of course I could provide evidence that what’s described in the Bible actually happened.” (Responding to Brian at 6:07pm) Was that a bald faced lie?
    What ‘other points of discussion’ are you willing to let go? I imagine you are willing to let go of Jonah and his Whale, because you had nothing to say about it. Why are you giving me a link to your review of Dr. Krauss’ book? Do you have evidence showing how a donkey can talk? Is this a ham-handed attempt to change the topic?
    There’s another question that’s been nagging at me for years. How exactly did Lot’s wife turn into a pillar of salt? What was the exact chemical reaction? What was the catalyst? Were there no impurities in the salt?
    Looking forward to your meticulous chemical analysis.
    Thanks!
    -Abraham

  14. Because if you want to talk about what matters, I’m certainly open to it. If however you want to trivialize yourself the way my interlocutor at the Reason Rally did (in the link provided earlier), I don’t see any advantage to me in helping you accomplish that.

    BTW, if your intent is to press upon me that I committed a lie earlier, I’m not going there with you. I wasn’t speaking in the context of the Old Testament, I didn’t say my statement applied to every event in the Bible, and your effort to drag a red herring across our path here is plain to smell.

  15. Tom,
    I’m interested in all of it. If you have evidence for any of it, please share!
    If not, what are we to make of what’s written in our bibles?
    Thanks!
    -Abraham

  16. @Abraham
    well, why don’t we start with events and descriptions that we can examine first? Let’s look at the places where Biblical people, places and events intersect with the knownhistory of the Ancient Near East and the Roman Empire. This is somewhat tangential to the OP, but if Tom is willing to go along with a side discussion…

  17. Let me add this as well, however. Read what I wrote here about the definition of faith, as it has come down to us through literature and history. Feel free to regard it as nothing more than literature for these purposes; in fact, feel free (I’m sure the invitation is unnecessary) to regard the Bible as nothing but fiction. Nevertheless you will agree, I’m sure, that it constitutes the basis for centuries of thinking about faith.

    So in that light, consider whether Boghossian’s claimed definition for faith would square with the definition that has prevailed for all these centuries.

    Intellectual honesty should lead you (and Boghossian) to say nothing more than this: “faith” means a certain relationship between knowledge and trust, but that “knowledge” is false and that trust is misplaced. That would leave the debate in a position where we could assess that knowledge connection and that trust. Instead Boghossian is trying to undercut the debate, to prevent it even from beginning, by his fiat pronouncement that faith just is pretense at knowledge. This is authoritarian, among other things; it is also illegitimate according to standard protocols for intellectual argumentation. It’s rhetorical manipulation, not argument.

    And it is also (I will argue in Part Two) completely wrong-headed. But let’s not worry yet about whether there’s a legitimate knowledge connection attached to faith. Let’s stick with what the word “faith” means and has meant down through the centuries, and let’s agree to the obvious, which is that rhetorical manipulation ought not be confused with legitimate intellectual engagement.

  18. Tom,
    Why shouldn’t I be interested in all of it? If you have any evidence at all concerning talking donkeys, living inside another creature for three days, turning a person into salt in an instant or rising from the dead, etc., I would be very interested in it! My ears are wide open for the evidence you said you had (old or new testament).
    Otherwise, what should we make of the stories in our bibles? If everything written in my bible is nonsense, why should I take any of it seriously? If some of it is reliable (there was a Roman Empire) and some not, which is which?
    When I simply ask for evidence you turn gruff and accuse me of pretending and trivializing. Trust me, if you or anyone else had evidence supporting myths found in the bible I would not trivialize it!
    Patiently Yours,
    -Abraham

  19. Abraham, please read the discussion policies above the combox.

    If everything written in the Bible were nonsense, then I wouldn’t take any of it seriously, either. What’s reliable in it far exceeds “there was a Roman Empire.”

    But since you are as patient as you say you are, let’s hold off on that until the next post in this series, and stick with the topic at hand, okay?

  20. Faith is believing what you’ve been told in books which you’ve been told are holy. Faith is feeling guilty and sinful when questions arise in your mind about contradictions between your holy book and itself and between your holy book and what you know in your heart is good and moral behavior. Faith is being able to believe that you have rules for how and when you should beat your slaves, stone your rebellious children and wives to death, and murder neighboring tribes’ babies and at the same time knowing that all these things are morally repugnant. Faith, in short is the antithesis of knowledge. Faith truly is believing what you know ain’t so.

    A Thinking Christian is a future ex-Christian who just hasn’t thought it through thoroughly enough yet. I don’t blame you for not having thought it through yet. You have doubtless been filled with guilt and fear since you were just beginning to develop the ability to understand your birth language and it takes different people different amounts of time to break out of that brainwashing. I encourage you to read your “holy” book with a critical mind. Find the contradictions and do your best to reconcile them with each other and with what you know about the real world. That’s what famous formerly devout Christians like Dan Barker, Jerry deWitt, and Seth Andrews did. They managed to break free and are now fighting the good fight for truth and enlightenment. You can do it too. Keep at it!

  21. Tom,

    Sure, no problem! Change of subject. What’s a little longer when I’ve been waiting years and years for those answers …

    In light your earlier comments, could you please explain how ‘faith isn’t pretending to know what you don’t know’, when you explicitly pretended to know (have evidence) that what’s described in the Bible actually happened?

    Looking forward to your thoughtful and polite response!

    -Abraham

  22. @Tom
    I’m good with that, especially considering that we’ve discussed and described Biblical historicity so many times in the blog. I’d rather stick with the OP, too 🙂

    @Abraham
    Spend some time reading the discussions that Tom pointed you to. If you have specific questions about things in those threads, you can always ask them there.

  23. Tom,
    The guy asking about the donkey, Ullrich and I are all doing this for your own good.
    Atheists don’t ‘redefine faith’ or do anything else for self-serving reasons. They do it because they were once theists, they know how lousy it was and they want to help you and other cult members get out.
    Atheists are sophisticated enough to distinguish between morality and mythology.
    Of course, if you have any actual evidence concerning the resurrection myth, Lazarus, walking on water, loaves and fishes, etc., I’d still love to study it.
    Thanks!
    -Abraham

  24. Abraham,

    My discussion policies state that persistently unproductive discussions are not accepted on this blog. One thing that causes unproductive discussions is red herrings. Another is putting words in one’s interlocutor’s mouth, which places them in the position of having to explain what they didn’t say.

    I’ve already explained how you’ve been dragging a red herring across our trail. I’ve already intimated at how your first point here was something like putting words in my mouth, since I had not actually claimed that I had evidence for an OT event like Jonah and the whale. Now you say that I have explicitly pretended to know that what’s described in the Bible actually happened, when in fact that’s not what I said. (It’s a long explanation, and I really doubt your patience would stand for it, so I didn’t go into it–that, besides the fact that it’s off topic.)

    Another standard I hold up for discussions is that we treat one another with mutual respect–what I call the Starbucks Standard. “Years and years and years” and “for your own good” both represent the supercilious tone you’ve taken in every comment in this thread, hardly in keeping with respectful, civil dialogue.

    Ullrich’s one comment is even more egregious in that respect.

    But this is more for you Abraham: I don’t think you would expect any normal human being to enjoy sitting across the table at coffee with someone acting like you are. This blog is for thinking together, not for wasting time on red herrings or off-topic discussions, and not for smirking behind your sleeve as you most patently are doing.

    Your participation here is dependent on your treating others with respect.

    It is not, I assure you, dependent on your agreeing with me. I welcome disagreement and debate, and if you believe in evidence as you say you do, you will find loads and loads and loads of evidence for that on this blog. You’ll find it in the links I placed in the OP. So please don’t assume I need your agreement here. I just don’t need to waste time on unproductive discussions, and I don’t invite veiled sarcastic hostility of the type you’ve been showing, either.

  25. I do appreciate your eagerness to study the evidences, however. Did you miss comment #13? I’ll provide the relevant link once again for your convenience.

    You need not wait years and years and years when what you’ve asked for has already been given.

  26. You need to first define terms. Please define knowledge and Faith. Show us an argument supporting your definitions. Only when this is done can you progress to show a connection…whether historically, analytically or by whatever means you so desire. The key part is defining terms such that for the sake of your argument we can all disagree or agree within the premises you provide. If, definitions are not given we will all read your article and arrive at conclusions based upon our definitions…No conversation regarding your claim will be possible within the context of your argument without definitions.

  27. Tom,
    I have a very low tolerance for nonsense, or for categorizing my written tone. If you don’t like my tone, answer my questions. Don’t claim that I was wildly off topic or smirking behind my sleeve. Why is it difficult to believe I’m trying to help you, but easy to believe the earth is six thousand years old?
    You said Boghossian’s definition of faith was wrong, but then demonstrated you do believe in things you have no evidence to support. Faith is the belief in something without any evidence to support it. That strikes me and every other thinking person as nonsensical. Yet you continue to defend it.
    You have three options as I see it. First, you can admit nothing written in the bible is reliable, admit you have no evidence concerning talking donkeys or transubstantiation or anything else, and start a guilt-free life based on intelligent, secular morality.
    Second, admit some things are nonsense but some things are true in the bible, but you can’t tell which is which. You would then abandon the unreliable nonsense for a sensible life.
    Third, double down on theism as a defense mechanism because you’ve spent too much of your life supporting it and don’t want to waste those years. Pretend that nonsense myths either make sense or aren’t all that important in the big picture. Ignore established, observable facts. Make moral judgements based on middle eastern iron age oral tradition. Continue making the god of the gaps argument.
    I’m not writing this because I get some satisfaction or smile behind my sleeve. I’m not being sarcastically hostile. I’m writing this because you (and everyone else) are better than the nonsense written three thousand years ago half a world away. There’s no need to be defensive.
    All the best!
    -Abraham

  28. Abraham, you were off topic, you were putting words in my mouth, and your tone was smirking; and if you don’t like my categorizing your tone that way, then you always have the option to change it.

    I have more than those three options. We can discuss that if you’d like to do so in good faith and with a civil demeanor.

    Have you read the evidences you were waiting for all those “years and years and years”?

  29. Why is it difficult to believe I’m trying to help you, but easy to believe the earth is six thousand years old?

    Oh, brother. I think the appropriate response is, LOL!

  30. Tom,
    I’m not sure which link you consider ‘evidence.’ I was looking for evidence in support of the christian god, yahweh.
    All you sent me was a list of middle east places, an attempt to define atheism, a book shopping list for christmas, a dead end link, an advertisement for a facebook page, an article speculating the coptics thought Jesus was married, an article about an atheist reading True Reason, an article about google searching and an opinion piece about atheism and rationality.
    You did read above that I have a low tolerance for nonsense? You have the burden of proving yahweh exists. And then you’ll have the burden of disproving allah, and ganesh, and zeus, etc., exist. Stating ‘the universe exists, therefore yahweh is the one, true god and arbiter of all justice and morality’ is just nonsense. I am not a child, and neither are the other readers.
    Please try again!
    Thanks!
    -Abraham

  31. Faith is believing what you’ve been told in books which you’ve been told are holy.

    For more information on this, please refer to the blog post section labeled: “Self-Serving Propaganda”

  32. And then you’ll have the burden of disproving allah, and ganesh, and zeus, etc., exist.

    Umm….no. You might want to rethink who is claiming what.

  33. Steve @34: Do you suppose he believes I find it easy to believe the earth is six thousand years old?

    If so–and I think he’s implying it–then that qualifies as belief without evidence, or pretending to believe what one doesn’t know.

  34. Good points, Josh.

    I forget that some people are dropping into a conversation that’s been going on for some time. You could find the definitions you’re looking for if you went through the links in the OP, but I really ought to repeat them rather than expect anyone to do that. I’ll do that in my next post in this series.

  35. (Abraham, maybe you missed comments 30, 34, and 39. There’s no rule requiring you to take part in the kind of discussion that I host, and no rule requiring that I host the kind of discussion you want to make this.)

  36. Second, admit some things are nonsense but some things are true in the bible, but you can’t tell which is which.

    When I hear statements like this I immediately wonder how people like Abraham manage to figure out which is which – which parts of the Bible are truth and which are nonsense.

    I mean, when Abraham asked, “How exactly did Lot’s wife turn into a pillar of salt?” the charitable thing to do is to assume that Abraham is asking a serious question in good faith.

    If Abraham thought there was no evidence that Lot existed as an historical person, then it would be disingenuous to even ask the question of anyone. It would be akin to asking “How exactly did the unicorn fly?” Was Abraham being disingenuous? Let’s hope not. But then I’m left to wonder how Abraham managed to figure out that Lot was an historical person.

    Did Jesus exist, Abraham? If so, did you use the Bible as one of your source documents? If so, how did you figure out what you claim Tom cannot.

  37. I guess I wasn’t clear enough.

    When I said goodbye to Abraham, what I meant was that he was being disinvited from further participation here, based on the clear standards in my discussion policies and my prior notice in comments 30 and 34. (See also 43.)

    I apologize for letting that remain ambiguous that way.

  38. Hi, Tom,

    Thanks for your response.

    You said, “The true First Cause argument says that there must be an uncaused Cause behind and involved in the chain, not that God constitutes every link in the chain except the final one.”

    Absolutely. But what leads you to believe that the uncaused Cause is Yahweh, and not, say, the (not yet discovered in their entirety but usefully approximated by quantum mechanics) laws of nature?

    I say “Jahweh” specifically, because when you refer to God I am assuming you don’t mean any of the other creator gods, including but of course not limited to Brahma (who has about a billion believers), Ahura Mazda (whose believers are dwindling but still number in the hundreds of thousands to the millions), or Odin (not so many believers, but why should your existence be determined by the size of your fan club?)

    I would argue that the laws of nature, as we understand them so far, are a more accurate and likely explanation of reality than “what we know from philosophy and history about the workings of God”.

    I’m not arguing that Yahweh did not invoke mysterious and supernatural powers to break the laws of nature in order to restore the body of His divine Son.

    All I’m saying is that it seems far, far less likely than that “the workings of God” are actually the sum of millennia of mistaken witness accounts, misinterpreted literature and oral tradition (I believe the story of Jonah is meant as an allegory, where Jonah is a metaphor for Israel), confirmation bias, magical thinking, a tragically poor understanding of nature, and, occasionally, deception and fabrication. All of which we know happen frequently and are very likely.

    So while we can believe that the supernatural is a necessary aspect of reality, we can also explain reality without introducing the supernatural. And the latter explanation is vastly (I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to narrow that figure down any further than that) more likely.

    Could faith then be the deliberate choosing of an unlikely world view in order to remain loyal to the tradition of a culture?

  39. Tom, I’m a tad shocked that you left my initial comment up. I can see from your subsequent responses to Abraham’s comments that you are working yourself up to excusing yourself for shutting down the discussion. Most (maybe all, I haven’t posted on all of them yet and probably won’t live long enough to do so) Christian bloggers eventually decide that my disbelief in their nonsense (and especially my characterization of nonsense as such) is insulting and decide to block me from posting in their comment sections.

    Unlike Christian apologists, who almost uniformly condemn the works of atheists and discourage their followers from reading them, Atheists generally encourage apologists to continue to read their Bibles in greater depth and maybe even while taking notes so they can see the contradictions, incoherent stories, and advocacy of blatantly and horrendously immoral acts more clearly.

    Many former Christian apologists, who actually did read the works of Atheist intellectuals such as Dawkins, Harris, Stenger, and Dennett and the works of former devout Christian pastors and communicators such as Dan Barker, Jerry deWitt, Seth Andrews and Matt Dillahanty with the aim of coming up with better arguments to defend their faith eventually came around to the conclusion that their faith was just plain wrong and absurd.

    I respectfully urge you to follow in the path of those intellectually honest folks. It will improve your life. You will lose the fear of eternal punishment and you will gain the self-respect which comes when you refuse to accept anything just because someone in authority over you says so.

    The Bible has so many internal contradictions (starting with Genesis and carrying on in hundreds and maybe thousands of other verses from there) and also describes so many “historical events” which other reputable contemporary historical writers failed to report, that belief in its accuracy requires a truly breathtaking leap of faith. Even on something so fundamental to Christian dogma as the afterlife, the Bible speaks in several places about an immortal soul and in others, espouses the Atheist view that when you’re dead you cease to exist.

    The Christian/Judaic/Islamic God is demonstrably impossible because of logical contradictions in many of the dozens of definitions of His nature within the Old Testament which is the basis of much of all three religions.

    The ill-defined creator but not meddler god of the Deist cannot be logically disproved, but it can be and has been disproved beyond a reasonable doubt by a careful study of the nature of the universe.

    I’m truly sorry if you find the above facts offensive, but they are, nevertheless facts. Facts which have been known for over a hundred years and for which additional evidence is accumulating on an almost daily basis.

  40. Hi Tom,

    I’m afraid I missed this earlier: “Faith is belief or trust, based on knowledge, that a certain person, entity, or system of thought can be trusted.” (which I found by following a link in your OP.)

    OK. The knowledge that you are referring to, what is that in the context of this discussion?

  41. If biting sarcasm and superciliousness are grounds for being kicked out, there are many Christian commenters who should also be kicked out! Tom, I’d urge you to reinstate Abraham and to give him the benefit of the doubt about his intentions, whilst urging him to be more respectful in his tone.

    As it stands, I think it would be easy for him (and other readers) to come away with the false impression that his “difficult questions” were what caused him to be given the boot.

    I also think he has a valid point; there are parts of the Bible for which we don’t have explicit evidence. What he fails to grasp is the significance of the resurrection. The evidence behind Christ’s resurrection is overwhelming and if it’s true, the other claims in the Bible really don’t seem quite so incredible any more, do they?

  42. Actually, Bryan, while I didn’t enjoy his tone, and I said so, the principal reason I removed him was his argumentative mode of introducing red herrings, and putting words in my mouth. I’m on my way to an early breakfast; when I return I’ll explain why that’s a big deal.

  43. ullrich,

    Many former Christian apologists, who actually did read the works of Atheist intellectuals such as Dawkins, Harris, Stenger, and Dennett and the works of former devout Christian pastors and communicators such as Dan Barker, Jerry deWitt, Seth Andrews and Matt Dillahanty with the aim of coming up with better arguments to defend their faith eventually came around to the conclusion that their faith was just plain wrong and absurd.

    Their faith may have been absurd and they have ditched it to embrace the even more absurd atheistic materialism. What they should have done was ditched their absurd faith for a more intellectually sensible one. The God they reject and their understanding of the Christian faith (from what I can understand of it from their supposed rebuttals) is not the God I worship. Partly I think the problem is that they have unconsciously accepted the assumptions of the modernist project, that are largely unsubstantiated and in general lead to absurdity. As someone who has and is studying the bible at post-graduate level, I can testify that there is nothing to fear from studying the bible in depth if you are able to free yourself from one-dimensional thinking that attempts to squeeze the bible into an anachronistic framework.

    I’m not aware that the different perspectives on God offered by the witnesses to his actions in the Old Testament are logically contradictory, nor has a the study of nature in the last few centuries done anything to disprove God.

  44. kaapstorm,

    I would argue that the laws of nature, as we understand them so far, are a more accurate and likely explanation of reality than “what we know from philosophy and history about the workings of God”.

    What are the laws of nature. In what way can they be said to exist? Can they really be a cause of anything?

  45. Welcome back, Ullrich,

    Disagreement is not insulting — never has been. I prefer to be given the respect of honest, direct engagement, whether it’s in agreement or disagreement.

    I am in strong agreement with you on the importance of reading people one disagrees with. We do not have any difference of opinion on that point. In fact I would say that Richard Dawkins is one of our more effective advocates for Christianity, provided that one knows something about logical reasoning. Peter Boghossian is too. Their effectiveness is, as I said of Boghossian in the OP, rhetorical rather than rational.

    And so yes, I’ve read Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, Coyne, Loftus, Grayling, Mackie, Rosenberg, Barker, Bugliosi, Ruse, Joyce, Forrest, and Pennock; I’m currently reading Ehrman; I’ve studied a whole host of evolutionary scientists including Midgley (philosopher of evolution, really) Mayr, Gould, the NAS (led by Ayala), Ayala in his own book, and Miller (some of them theists but all of them opposed to ID); not to mention Sagan, Krauss, Hawking, and Mlodinow in cosmology.

    What I find in the scientists on that list is either no argument at all, but rather a hodge-podge of rhetoric unsupported by reason, or else an argument against God*, which is fine with me. Among the former theists I find misunderstandings of the sort that you apparently also hold to, such as that the Bible is filled with unresolvable contradictions and affirmations of immoral behavior.

    You need not apologize to me for presenting “facts” you think I might find offensive. I am perfectly at home with discussing these topics. I maintain a standard wherein I try to keep the conversation on more or less one topic at a time, so I won’t tackle everything you’ve brought up all at once. But otherwise I have no difficulty at all with someone like you putting a challenge before us here. Frankly I really appreciate the tone in which you presented your last comment (better than your first one, I’ll admit). You have your position; you’re presenting it strongly but not dismissively; you’re inviting dialogue. I hope you hang around here for a good while.

  46. Further on what Melissa said in 52, how can the laws of nature be a superior explanation when they themselves stand in need of explanation?

    Let’s take it one step deeper: can the laws of nature explain explanation? Think about that…

  47. I’m truly sorry if you find the above facts offensive, but they are, nevertheless facts.

    It seems there’s no end to atheists who seem to think their discourse is something Christians have never seen or considered before.

    It might surprise you to know that many of us are intimately familiar with the works of Dawkins, Hitchins et al, we have them on our bookshelves, and we are far from impressed by their arguments.

    You’ve let loose with a plethora of claims, each of which could generate detailed responses. Why don’t you choose the “fact” of yours that you think is the most persuasive or damning, present some *evidence* for your “fact”, and then see what we come up with? I’m not really interested in engaging your claims until you present some good reasons why you consider them “facts”.

  48. Further on #50, Bryan, I have had several encounters on this blog with people who would introduce multiple red herrings and/or misrepresentations of what others have said. The effect is that we end up having to cover old ground again and again, correcting these misrepresentations, or else we would keep wandering off into unrelated topics. I don’t want these discussions to be like that.

    Look at what Abraham said in #36, which I didn’t respond to until now:

    All you sent me was a list of middle east places, an attempt to define atheism, a book shopping list for christmas, a dead end link, an advertisement for a facebook page, an article speculating the coptics thought Jesus was married, an article about an atheist reading True Reason, an article about google searching and an opinion piece about atheism and rationality.

    What he could have said more accurately was that I had directed him to a link which today has, on the first page alone,

    • A link to a “massive list of resources on NT historicity” — precisely the kind of thing he was agitating for
    • A discussion on atheism with respect to evidences — not quite so on-topic, but the link I gave him was to a running aggregation of pages on evidences, so what does one expect?
    • A review of a book called Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, which he dismissed as “a book shopping list for christmas [sic]”
    • A link to a friend’s response to an atheist’s challenge to his article on NT historicity
    • An article about “No evidence for Christianity” which he mangled into “an article about Google searching”
    • A rational critique (which he called “an opinion piece”) of atheism with respect to rationality

    The first link alone would have supplied him with what he had requested, had he honestly wanted it. His response here reveals something about what he really wanted instead.

    Because you see I could have replied to him at the time and told him how he had distorted things there. The thing is, I am quite sure he already knew that, and he was baiting us.

    It’s just the kind of thing that derails discussion of the actual issues, and I do not go for that here. It happens to be hard to separate his tone from all of this, for this kind of baiting also happens often to be dismissive and/or sarcastic.

    As for Christians’ tone here, I am doing more with that than meets the eye. I’ve deleted comments recently, I have communicated with the commenters behind the scenes. Holopupenko has at times withdrawn from conversation because he recognizes he has trouble with his tone. I keep reminding him; he keeps responding positively; then he reverts. I don’t like it when he does; I communicate it to him privately and sometimes publicly; and I think he would not mind my saying so publicly here now.

    G. Rodrigues sometimes expresses dismayed astonishment at what people do not understand about reason and logic. For my part, I think that when people represent themselves ignorantly and/or falsely as the superior reasoners, that consternation is not so inappropriate.

    What neither Holopupenko nor G. Rodrigues do is derail the topics of discussion. And they also do not ignore my requests when I ask them to tone it down. In Holo’s case it comes back, and we go in cycles with him. I’ve had this conversation with him before, you can be assured of that.

    Does that help?

  49. Kaapstorm @ 46:

    “But what leads you to believe that the uncaused Cause is Yahweh, and not, say, the (not yet discovered in their entirety but usefully approximated by quantum mechanics) laws of nature? “

    The laws of nature aren’t an actual thing, just a description of how actual things behave. Besides, the current scientific consensus as I understand it is that the laws of nature wouldn’t apply to the situation immediately after the big bang, in which case they cannot be the first cause of the universe, because there was a time when the universe existed but they did not.

  50. I’m sorry BeingItself, but I can’t understand your words. They have different meaning in different contexts.

  51. Thanks. I agree that Abraham’s dismissive attitude to the links you provided speaks volumes about his intentions. Thanks also for explaining what you’re doing behind the scenes. I really appreciate the time and effort you have put (and are continuing to put) into this site.

    I would still like to urge you to use your moderating power carefully – especially towards atheists. I know this may be counter-intuitive, but I’m sure you can see the benefits.

    The way you’ve given Holopupenko continued chances to improve his interactions, without resorting to banning him, is the right model, in my view.

  52. Even though BigBird’s suggestion in #55 takes us off the OP itself, I applaud the suggestion. I was going to suggest the same thing myself, but BB got in first 🙂

    BB is right – none of your bare assertions (and they are bare until you substantiate them with concrete examples and reasoned valid arguments) come as a surprise to Thinking Christians. A vague, context-free reference to Ecclesiastes:

    Even on something so fundamental to Christian dogma as the afterlife, the Bible speaks in several places about an immortal soul and in others, espouses the Atheist view that when you’re dead you cease to exist.

    reveals more about your own misunderstandings about how the message of Ecclesiastes fits into the framework of Biblical thinking, especially in the light of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and about your methodology of misreading than it does about how Christians think and reason about the Bible and its message.

    Secondly, you have gone on about contradictions, both internal and external, but have ignored both the deep-rooted harmony that runs through the Bible, and cross-correlation with external information (history and archaeology) that shows just how well the Bible fits into its time-periods, and how it gets so many of its details correct.

    Are there outstanding issues, yet to be solved? Certainly, and there is a lot of ongoing scholarly work (have you never visited http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/ for starters? – there is a very interesting series of articles on Hezekiah’s water tunnel, for instance. One needs a subscription to be able to read all of the articles in detail, but I think even non-members can review the introductory material).

  53. Think of what it would mean for all the great Christian thinkers and artists and social activists down the centuries: they would be revealed as essentially stupid.

    A la kaapstorm – why “stupid”? Why not ‘mistaken’? The geocentric astronomers and the phlogiston chemists were very clever, and made a lot of genuine useful discoveries… there were just mistaken about some fundamental aspects of their work. Why can’t the same be true of Wilberforce, Bach, Aquinas, Dostoevsky, and so forth?

  54. Read the context, Ray.

    For them it’s always belief without evidence, or belief opposed to knowledge, or some other form of essentially stupid belief.

    Imagine Wilberforce arguing for the immorality of slavery without any evidence to support his argument, or in opposition to knowledge about the moral aspect of slavery. That isn’t what happened.

  55. This is the interesting bit about Hezekiah’s Tunnel (sorry, Tom, I can’t help it 🙂 )

    http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/regarding-recent-suggestions-redating-the-siloam-tunnel/

    Just in case you can’t see the article because of membership issues, I’ll quote a small excerpt

    In a surprising departure from prevailing thought, the authors assert that the water tunnel could not have been constructed during the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah, in the late eighth century B.C.E., and particularly not in preparation for the Assyrian attack on Judah in 701 B.C.E. According to their understanding, there was not enough time to quarry out the impressive water system during Hezekiah’s preparations for the Assyrian onslaught. Accordingly, they suggest that the Siloam Tunnel was constructed later, in the seventh century B.C.E., by Hezekiah’s son Manasseh. 2

    In marshaling evidence to support their model, however, the authors entirely ignore the only contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous textual sources that shed light on Jerusalem in the Iron Age II (and that specifically mention aspects of the city’s water system)—namely the narrative passages in Isaiah 7–8 and the historical allusions in Isaiah 36 and 2 Kings 18. The only reference to Biblical material in the article is the authors’ after-the-fact quotation of the single verse in 2 Chronicles 32:30, which recalls that Hezekiah stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon and brought it down to the west side of the City of David. This, the authors insist, refers not to the Siloam Tunnel (as it is usually interpreted), but to the watercourse generally referred to as the Siloam Channel.

    We see a number of problems with this model but will only comment on two. The first is the failure of the authors to acknowledge or deal with textual evidence that suggests that the Siloam Channel actually existed prior to Hezekiah’s reign. Specifically, the contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous allusions in Isaiah 7:3 (to “the conduit of the upper pool”) and 8:6 (to “the waters of Shiloah,” a.k.a. Siloam) strongly suggest that the Siloam Channel was already in existence prior to 732 B.C.E., early in the reign of king Ahaz, and well before the reign of Hezekiah. In fact, most scholars date it to much earlier than Ahaz. If so, how could Hezekiah have been the builder of the Siloam Channel?

    The second problem we see is that the authors have skipped over a major piece of historical evidence that relates directly to the timing they propose. Based on the Assyrian historical records, there were four years between the beginning of the revolt against Assyria (both in the east and in the west) in 705 B.C.E. and the attack on Judah in 701 B.C.E. This is the same amount of time—four years—that Sneh, Shalev and Weinberger say was necessary to have quarried out and constructed the Siloam Tunnel! Yet they do not even mention this obvious chronological similarity.

    Why would it be necessary, based on the authors’ own model, to propose a later date for the Siloam Tunnel’s construction when the window of time during Hezekiah’s revolt (705–701 B.C.E.) is the exact amount of time they propose was necessary? The failure to address this issue, or even acknowledge the four-year duration of the revolt, is a major shortcoming in the study.

    That the revolt of Hezekiah began in 705 B.C.E., directly after the death in battle of Sargon II, king of Assyria, is an accepted historical fact. Similar revolts by other Assyrian vassals in other parts of the empire occurred at the same time. Sargon’s successor, Sennacherib, was occupied quelling the revolts in the east during the first three years after Sargon’s death. It was only four years after Sennacherib’s coronation in 701 B.C.E. that he was able to turn west and conduct his ferocious campaign against Judah.

    Who knows what history has yet to be discovered that will shed light on the Biblical accounts? How much of human history has been recorded, how much has actually survived for us to recover, and how much has actually been recovered so far? How do you know that extra-biblical historians “got it right”?

    Time and again, when this (real historical scholarship and discovery) has happened, historians have had to say, “the Bible got it right after all”, or “the Bible does fit into its historical context – the authors knew what they were talking about”.

  56. Hello Tom, Melissa and Mr. X,

    I’ll need to start off with some clarifications. When I referred to the “the (not yet discovered in their entirety but usefully approximated by quantum mechanics) laws of nature,” those laws of nature, as Mr. X pointed out, are not an actual thing. They are the behaviour of actual things. To be more precise, a law is a generalisation of the behaviour of specific things. E.g. the law of gravity is a generalisation of the behaviour of objects with mass. The law of gravity would exist regardless of whether there were any explanations of that behaviour. (e.g. Planets were orbiting stars before there were people to observe them, or come up with ideas of why they behaved like that.)

    And quantum mechanics is a theory. I emphasise the word “theory” because I use it in the scientific sense of the word, not the notorious Ronald Reagan sense of the word. What Ronald Reagan meant by “theory” is actually called a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an idea. A theory is a hypothesis that has been established by extensive empirical evidence, like the theory of general relativity, which explains the law of gravity in terms of the curvature of time-space.

    The theory of quantum mechanics is an explanation of the behaviour of very small things. (I use the term “things” loosely — quantum mechanics deals with the probabilities of things.) When the universe was very young it was made up exclusively of small things.

    Now we are ready to reply to Mr. X’s comment:

    Besides, the current scientific consensus as I understand it is that the laws of nature wouldn’t apply to the situation immediately after the big bang, in which case they cannot be the first cause of the universe, because there was a time when the universe existed but they did not.

    The laws of nature are the behaviour of all (natural) things, anywhere, at any time. So the laws of nature do apply to the situation immediately after the big bang, and possibly before the big bang. But we haven’t (yet) observed the behaviour of things in those circumstances. And the theory of quantum mechanics does not (yet) cover the first (extremely small) moment at the start of the universe. But projects like the Large Hadron Collider have gone a long way to push back those limits by allowing us to observe relevant behaviour, come up with hypotheses, and test those hypotheses with empirical evidence in order to extend the theory of quantum mechanics.

    Melissa asks,

    What are the laws of nature. In what way can they be said to exist? Can they really be a cause of anything?

    We have not observed all the laws of nature. But we have observed a lot of them, and we have some pretty good theories to explain them. If you are genuinely interested, perhaps start with Bill Bryson’s “A Short History Of Nearly Everything” and if anything grabs your interest move to Khan Academy and then something like Coursera.

    They can be said to exist in the same sense that any behaviour exists (regardless of whether it has been observed or not). Can they be a cause of anything? Certainly. In fact it seems quite likely that they might be the cause of everything.

    Tom, you asked, “How can the laws of nature be a superior explanation when they themselves stand in need of explanation?” What makes you think that the laws of nature need an explanation? Are implying that that need is a god-shaped gap?

    You also asked, “Can the laws of nature explain explanation?” Well, “explanation” is a human behaviour, and humans are a natural phenomenon, so the laws of nature would include “explanation” along with all other human behaviour. But of course laws are just generalisations of behaviours, they are not explanations of those behaviours. Theories are explanations. I don’t know much about neuropsychology, but I can imagine that it either has an explanation for “explanation”, or one day might.

    I worry that we might be digressing from the original topic. We were taking about faith, defined by Tom as “Faith is belief or trust, based on knowledge, that a certain person, entity, or system of thought can be trusted.” And I asked, what is the knowledge that you are referring to in the context of this discussion?

  57. kaapstorm,

    Your explanation of explanation is that it’s a human behavior. So is sneezing. So is getting out of bed in the morning. We all know there’s something qualitatively different between the three, and that calls for some further (ahem) explanation.

    Sneezing is involuntary; explanation is not: or is it? Suppose I see a very bright spot of light on the carpet beside me. I explain that in my mind by reference to the sun being up and not clouded over. I’m not at all sure how voluntary that “behavior” is.

    But suppose explanation were purely voluntary. Still it differs in some way from standing up out of bed, and that difference calls for exploration. Probably the most salient difference is that explanations have the capacity to be true or false. Sneezing can’t be. Getting up from bed can’t be.

    And I think that for most of us when we think of behavior we think of something that’s observable, something that’s complete in itself in some way (or could at least be analyzed in discrete chunks that are complete in themselves). But explanation isn’t like that. Suppose I were to tell you, “the sun is out and it’s not clouded over.” My speaking that is certainly a behavior; but it’s not an explanation unless it’s about something in such a way that it could potentially be true or false about that something.

    Neurophysiology is no help, because all it tells us is what’s going on electrochemically in the brain, all of which is just physical, none of which is true or false. Chemical reactions aren’t true or false in blades of grass; they’re not true or false in crickets’ or rats’ brains, and they’re not true or false in human brains. Same with voltages and currents. They aren’t true, they aren’t false, they just are.

    I could take this into another level of analysis having to do with the aboutness relationship, but I don’t think I need to go into that at this time. I think I’ve already shown that explanation cannot be accounted for simply in terms of a behavior, that there’s something more to it than that.

  58. And whether they’re the cause of anything at all is open to dispute: there are many who think they amount to abstractions rather than being the real thing.

    But set that aside: the problem I raised in #70 ought to be enough for you to think about for now.

  59. @Victoria, that’s great. If I didn’t explain the differences between a law, a hypothesis and a theory very clearly, maybe you can give me a hand. If Ronald Reagan’s “just a theory” comment is anything to go by, it is a common misunderstanding, and I’m not sure I did justice.

    @Melissa, I am sorry to come across as what must seem extremely patronising. I apologise. Given your question though, I’m sure you can understand why I answered the way I did. I’m sure you are well aware of the answers to your questions, and you have a firmer grasp than me of a lot of explanations for the observed behaviour of nature. And if anything I said about laws, hypotheses and theories was confusing or incorrect, please correct me.

  60. No, before I go on I’ll provide a simple example of what I meant in #71. When the moving 6-ball hits the stationary 9-ball, Newton’s laws can be used by humans to compute and predict where both of them will go. Does that mean the laws cause the 9-ball to start moving? No, actually the 6-ball causes it to start moving.

    That’s a simple case of what I was getting at there.

  61. kaapstorm,

    Given your definition of the laws of nature your position is that the general description of the behaviour of particular things explains the existance of particular things. I think you should be able to see the problems with that position.

    I would suggest that it is actual things that are causes not a generalized description of their behaviour. Wouldn’t you agree?

  62. Ah, apologies. It would be interesting if there were some philosophers of science knocking around. That certainly seems to be the direction that kaapstorm is heading.

  63. Kaapstorm @ 64:

    “To be more precise, a law is a generalisation of the behaviour of specific things.”

    Given that you can’t generalise about things’ behaviour unless these things already exist, it follows that these laws can’t be the first cause, since your specific things must exist before (logically before) the laws themselves do. Moreover, generalisations aren’t the sort of things which have causal power, so the laws of nature as you define them could nether have come first nor have caused anything.

    “The laws of nature are the behaviour of all (natural) things, anywhere, at any time. So the laws of nature do apply to the situation immediately after the big bang, and possibly before the big bang.”

    I suppose it depends on what exactly you mean by “laws”. It’s true that things immediately after the big bang must have behaved in certain ways, so there were laws of nature at that time; however, given that most scientists think that things behaved differently immediately after the BB, the *current* laws of nature were not yet in existence.

    Also, given that the first cause must be pure act (as the scholastics would say), it cannot change (since if it could it would have a potency for change, and hence would not be pure act). Given that the laws of nature were different immediately after the big bang, these laws (even if they existed) could not be pure act, and hence could not be the first cause.

  64. We have not observed all the laws of nature.

    We don’t observe the “laws of nature” at all. We make (theory-laden) observations, and construct hypotheses that attempt to explain our observations and predict future ones.

  65. Well, guys, I never expected that it would be this site that motivated me to eventually buy Lawrence Krauss’ “A Universe From Nothing” (which, before even reading it, I have heard would be more accurately titled “A Universe From Vacuum”).

    Tom, you said, “Your question at the end of #64 is the one I have said I would cover in the next post in this series.” Sorry, I didn’t realise, but I guess it might be obvious, that the “evidence” you referred to in your conversation with Abraham, is the “knowledge” you refer to in your faith definition, and that “how do faith and knowledge connect?” will necessarily involve a statement of what that knowledge specifically is.

    I agree with you in #68, that neuroscience will not tell us whether a thought is true or false. The best it might do is tell us whether we think it is true or false.

    Can any theory ever tell us whether another theory is true or false? A fascinating question. I suspect you are now in the deep end of computability theory, which (Wikipedia says) originates from the work of Gödel, Church, Turing, Kleene and Post. It is ringing bells in my mind from undergrad Computer Science, a long time ago. I don’t know enough to discuss it, but I suspect the answer is, “no, there cannot exist a function that calculates whether or not another function produces a correct answer.”

    In #74 Melissa makes an important point, “I would suggest that it is actual things that are causes not a generalized description of their behaviour. Wouldn’t you agree?”. I do agree. In #77 Mr. X picked up the same point, “generalisations aren’t the sort of things which have causal power”. And in #71 and #73, Tom, you talk about laws, theories and behaviour, and give the following helpful example, “When the moving 6-ball hits the stationary 9-ball, Newton’s laws can be used by humans to compute and predict where both of them will go. Does that mean the laws cause the 9-ball to start moving? No, actually the 6-ball causes it to start moving.” You are absolutely right. So let’s not get distracted by Newton’s observations, or generalised descriptions. Let us only consider the behaviour of the metaphorical balls, regardless of what the specifics of that behaviour might be.

    You asked, “How can the laws of nature be a superior explanation when they themselves stand in need of explanation?” And I’ll rephrase my response by removing the word “law”: What makes you think that the behaviour of nature needs an explanation?

    It looks like you are assuming that “nature” did not exist prior to the universe, and that it was, somehow, started. I don’t think that is a necessary assumption. (Maybe it will help if we refer to “nature” as “the physical plane”.) …

    … Why can the physical plane not be eternal?

    Mr. X, you make another interesting statement, “Given that the laws of nature were different immediately after the big bang, these laws (even if they existed) could not be pure act, and hence could not be the first cause.” I’m going to swap out some terms that I hope will clarify your position (please correct me if I’m mistaken), and lead into my response: “Given that the behaviour of things was different immediately after the big bang, this behaviour could not be pure act, and hence could not be the first cause.” Well, I would say that different things existed immediately after the big bang, but the behaviour of things remain constant. I would further suggest that prior to the big bang, vacuum may have existed, and it is the behaviour of that vacuum, “pure act”, that could be the first cause.

    Why does something potentially simple and elegant, like the behaviour of a vacuum, require a further First Cause, but something as infinitely complex as a god does not?

    Was the universe created by Brahma, or created by Ahura Mazda, or created by Yahweh, or created by Odin, or created by a different god? Or is universe-beginning a natural phenomenon? Or, is something else true that we haven’t thought of?

    I don’t know with 100% certainty, but I sure do know what seems to me to be (by far) the most likely! And it does not involve additional agents.

    In support, I’ll quote a Christian theologian and philosopher, John Duns Scotus, “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate,” which means “Additional things should not be posited without necessity,” (a principle made famous by William of Ockham.)

  66. I attended this very discussion between Craig and Krauss – it was in Brisbane, Australia. Unfortunately it was rather spoiled by Krauss being continually rude and off-topic – I believe the subsequent talks in Sydney and Melbourne were a little more productive.

    I did get Krauss to sign my copy of “A Universe from Nothing” 🙂

  67. kaapstorm,

    I would further suggest that prior to the big bang, vacuum may have existed, and it is the behaviour of that vacuum, “pure act”, that could be the first cause

    As far as I am aware the vacuum is material and as such is a combination of act and potency.

    Why does something potentially simple and elegant, like the behaviour of a vacuum, require a further First Cause, but something as infinitely complex as a god does not?

    The vacuum may be in some ways described as simple and elegant but it seems to me to have parts. If we are talking about God (not god) then he is truly simple, without parts.

    In support, I’ll quote a Christian theologian and philosopher, John Duns Scotus, “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate,” which means “Additional things should not be posited without necessity,” (a principle made famous by William of Ockham.)

    The key is whether God is posited without necessity. We would argue that God is necessary, the alternative is to posit brute facts.

  68. Hi Melissa,

    The vacuum may be in some ways described as simple and elegant but it seems to me to have parts. If we are talking about God (not god) then he is truly simple, without parts.

    (I only used “god” with a lowercase in the context of “a god”, not out of disrespect to Christians, nor grammarians, but because several creator deities have been proposed, including but not limited to Yahweh, although He is obviously the preferred creator deity on this site.)

    How can Yahweh, with no parts, plan a universe of many parts, if He Himself is not more complex that the universe He has designed?

    If your answer includes words like “unknowable” or “mystery”, that’s OK. We can discard this subtopic, and focus rather on what I think is a far more important question, “Why can the physical plane not be eternal?”

  69. @kaapstorm:

    Can any theory ever tell us whether another theory is true or false? A fascinating question. I suspect you are now in the deep end of computability theory, which (Wikipedia says) originates from the work of Gödel, Church, Turing, Kleene and Post.

    You suspect wrong.

    I would further suggest that prior to the big bang, vacuum may have existed, and it is the behaviour of that vacuum, “pure act”, that could be the first cause.

    Pure Act and First Cause are technical terms of art and the vacuum ain’t it.

    Was the universe created by Brahma, or created by Ahura Mazda, or created by Yahweh, or created by Odin, or created by a different god? Or is universe-beginning a natural phenomenon? Or, is something else true that we haven’t thought of?

    Even if the universe happened to have been created by Brahma, Ahura Mazda or Odin, it would be *irrelevant* to the classical conception of God. It is a false claim, for quite obvious reasons, but my point is that even if it were true it would matter little as far as the existence of God goes. When we say that God created the world, or is the ultimate explanation for its existence, we are not saying what you think we are saying. In fact, it is quite obvious that you have little clue about what we (Melissa, in particular) are saying.

    We can discard this subtopic, and focus rather on what I think is a far more important question, “Why can the physical plane not be eternal?”

    There are two different questions here. First, you have not explained what “physical plane” or what “natural laws” are. You just throw some vague phrases in the off-chance that something will stick. The second question is about a putative beginning of the physical universe (and if cosmologists are correct, actual) and whether if that can be established we can reason to God’s existence. I would say yes and no — we can only reason to god not to God. The more important point is that, whether the physical universe had a beginning or not, it is quite irrelevant to the question of God’s existence, for the putative eternality of the universe does not obviate such questions as why it exists in the first place. Whether the same applies to your “physical plane” depends on what you mean by “physical plane”.

  70. As Aquinas said, “God moves everything according to its nature”. Scientific discoveries and so-called natural laws are not obviating God; they are revealing His majesty.

    God is the bedrock of existence. He is the Actus Purus that is (logically) required to avoid an impossible concrete infinite regress.

  71. kaapstorm,

    (I only used “god” with a lowercase in the context of “a god”, not out of disrespect to Christians, nor grammarians, but because several creator deities have been proposed, including but not limited to Yahweh, although He is obviously the preferred creator deity on this site.)

    I was specifying God as opposed to god because what I am talking about is the God of classical theism not god(s) who would themselves just be beings among beings requiring an explanation in terms of a cause of their existence.

    How can Yahweh, with no parts, plan a universe of many parts, if He Himself is not more complex that the universe He has designed?

    I think rather that you should explain why a designer must be composed of more parts than that which he designs.

    My suggestion is that you rigorously define what you mean by “the physical plane” so that we may assess whether it can do what you say it can.

  72. kaapstorm, I appreciate that you do not automatically dismiss that “unknowable” and “mystery” may be offered as a type of answer. While I admit that these words are potentially open to abuse, especially if they are used to end a conversation, I don’t think that they are inherently weasel words. I’m also aware that there can be a double standard when some sceptics criticise “mystery”. For them it is not permissible to say “Well, I dunno. God and his intentions are only knowable should he choose to make them known and in this particular case he hasn’t done so”. Yet at the same time saying “I don’t know” when discussing the limits of our knowledge is fine and dandy.

    Anyway, I’ve appreciated the cordial exchange in the latter half of this comment section. Long may it last

  73. Well, G. Rodrigues,

    Can any theory ever tell us whether another theory is true or false? A fascinating question. I suspect you are now in the deep end of computability theory, which (Wikipedia says) originates from the work of Gödel, Church, Turing, Kleene and Post.

    You suspect wrong.

    Please don’t just leave it there. I am your humble student. Please enlighten me. Or, at least, point us all to some online resource where we may enlighten ourselves.

    Pure Act and First Cause are technical terms of art and the vacuum ain’t it.

    There I was thinking “First Cause” was a philosophical term. The only technical terms of art I am familiar with are “stretched canvas”, “unstretched canvas” and “gouache”. 🙂 What are these “technical terms of art” you speak of? Where can I learn more?

    Even if the universe happened to have been created by Brahma, Ahura Mazda or Odin, it would be *irrelevant* to the classical conception of God.

    What is “the classical conception of God”? Again, if this is not the place to expound, please just provide links. I’m curious, though, up front, is Yahweh an instance of “the classical conception of God”; in other words, does “the classical conception of God” not only create universes, but also beget divine humans?

    It is a false claim, for quite obvious reasons

    What is a false claim? The three sentences you quoted were all questions, not claims.

    When we say that God created the world, or is the ultimate explanation for its existence, we are not saying what you think we are saying. In fact, it is quite obvious that you have little clue about what we (Melissa, in particular) are saying.

    Oh. OK. It is not obvious to me. So, please help me out then. What is it that you think I think you all are saying, and what is it that you all are actually saying?

    you have not explained what “physical plane” or what “natural laws” are. You just throw some vague phrases in the off-chance that something will stick.

    You mean vague phrases like, for example, “God”? 😉

    I thought I had explained what I mean by “natural laws”. Melissa? Victoria? Can you help me out here? I’ll try again, but if you think I fall short, please chip in. I used as an example the law of gravity. And I mean the observed behaviour of things. Is the term “things” too broad? I do use it loosely, because quantum mechanics came up, and it deals not so much with “things” as with the possibilities of “things”.

    Then I realised that “observed” is dangerously misleading, and irrelevant, because that behaviour would exist regardless of whether it was observed. So I rephrased myself, and replaced “the laws of nature” with “the behaviour of things”.

    Then I realised that the term “nature” may also be confusing; what would it mean in a pre-big-bang context? And so I thought that “the physical plane” would be a term that would be clearer, more easily understood. I guess not. By “physical plane” I mean “the domain of physical phenomena” or, would it be better to say “the domain of natural, as opposed to supernatural, phenomena”.

    Where I am obviously going with this, is that I imagine we have two scenarios:

    1. A “physical plane” / “domain of non-supernatural phenomena” that is eternal, and allows for a big-bang phenomenon. Maybe even big bang phenomena.

    2. No such “domain of non-supernatural phenomena”; therefore only one possible explanation: God!

    So, my question, restated, hopefully unambiguous this time, why not option 1?

  74. @kaapstorm:

    Please don’t just leave it there. I am your humble student.

    You are not my student, and I have every reason to believe you are neither humble nor a student (meaning, willing to learn). As for the request proper, there are plenty books available if you want to learn. And if you want references, you have to be more specific about what you want to learn.

    There I was thinking “First Cause” was a philosophical term. The only technical terms of art I am familiar with are “stretched canvas”

    “Technical term of art” means technical terminology, as used in a specific science, not a technical term as used in the specific field of Art.

    I do use it loosely, because quantum mechanics came up, and it deals not so much with “things” as with the possibilities of “things”.

    QM deals as much with “things” as any other empirical science.

    What is it that you think I think you all are saying, and what is it that you all are actually saying?

    You do not know what we are saying? In your first comment on this thread (September 2, 2013 at 6:25 pm) we can read:

    Now that we have discovered so much more about physics and biology, it turns out that “God” is no longer the most reasonable explanation for reality. While a deity is impossible to disprove, the existence of Yahweh is incongruous with observed reality — unless, of course, your faith precludes the ability either to observe or to accept the reality around you.

    In order for you to claim that God is not “the most reasonable explanation for reality”, you have to know just what God is supposed to explain. If you do not even know what we are saying, then you could not possibly know that “the existence of Yahweh is incongruous with observed reality”. Since you claim the latter is true, why are you asking me to explain what we are saying?

    I’ll try again, but if you think I fall short, please chip in.

    Here is an example of a natural law: Einstein’s equations for GR are (in geometric units) G = 8 pi T where G is the Ricci-Einstein tensor and T the stress-energy tensor. For the current purposes, assume it obtains exactly in our universe — nothing essential for the current discussion hinges on whether it does or not. So tells us what it means for such a natural law to exist to make it do the explanatory work you need it to.

    Later edit: I forgot this:

    So, my question, restated, hopefully unambiguous this time, why not option 1?

    First, it is a false dichotomy. I certainly do not hold anything even remotely close to 2. and while I cannot speak for everyone else, I will wager that no Christian here does. Second, when you explain exactly what you mean then we can explain it to you why it does not work.

  75. Kaapstorm @ 80:

    “It looks like you are assuming that “nature” did not exist prior to the universe, and that it was, somehow, started. I don’t think that is a necessary assumption. (Maybe it will help if we refer to “nature” as “the physical plane”.) …”

    Well, the universe is just the collection of physical things. Obviously physical things (is that what you mean by “nature”/”the physical plane”?) cannot therefore precede the universe, since if you have physical things, then by definition you have a universe.

    “… Why can the physical plane not be eternal?”

    In traditional theology, “eternal” is usually defined as “outside of time”, rather than simply “not having an end”. Since the universe clearly exists in time, it cannot be eternal in the traditional sense.

    If OTOH you want to take the looser sense of eternal as “existing in time, but for an infinite amount of time”, then there have actually been theists who thought this was the case. Aristotle, for example, thought that the universe always existed and always would, and Aquinas was willing to concede this for the sake of argument. Nevertheless they thought that the universe required a first cause, even if it were not “first” in a temporal sense. Consider, for example, the case of a ball being moved by a hockey stick being moved by a hand being moved by nerve signals being moved by… etc. All these movements are happening simultaneously, but nevertheless must go back to a first mover. So it follows that the first mover must be moving things here and now (from our perspective; being eternal in the traditional sense, the FM is not actually in time), and this holds whether or not the universe had a beginning.

    “Well, I would say that different things existed immediately after the big bang, but the behaviour of things remain constant.”

    The comment you’re replying to was more about the mechanistic conception of “laws of nature” as external things making matter behave in certain ways. I was just making the point that, *even if* you want to claim that the Ls of N are more than just a description of how things behave, they still wouldn’t be viable candidates for the first cause. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    “Why does something potentially simple and elegant, like the behaviour of a vacuum, require a further First Cause, but something as infinitely complex as a god does not?”

    Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine and the like would actually say that God is simple, in the sense that He has no parts. So God is in a sense actually more simple than a vacuum.

    “Was the universe created by Brahma, or created by Ahura Mazda, or created by Yahweh, or created by Odin, or created by a different god?”

    I don’t know enough about Brahma or Ahura Mazda to comment on them, but the Norse gods are really just extra-powerful natural beings: they didn’t create the universe, had a beginning, and will have an end, none of which applies to the First Cause. They also undergo change (with their passions and emotions and what have you), which the FC doesn’t; and there are lots of them, whereas there can only be one First Cause.

    “In support, I’ll quote a Christian theologian and philosopher, John Duns Scotus, “Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate,” which means “Additional things should not be posited without necessity,” (a principle made famous by William of Ockham.)”

    Oh, I’m sure everybody here agrees with that. The problem is no-one can agree on what counts as “sine necessitate”. 😉

    Incidentally, if you do want to read up on the subject some more, I’d recommend “The Last Superstition” or “Aquinas” by Edward Feser. The first is IMHO more enjoyable, although it’s also rather polemical, which might not be to your taste too much. The second is more scholarly and measured in tone, and goes into a bit more detail with some of the arguments.

  76. Tom Gilson –

    Is there a difference between being mistaken and practicing pretense?

    There is, indeed.

    I was in too much of a hurry, and should have addressed the context better. I didn’t take the time to read, say, #5 or #13. I made a mistake.

    What I was attempting to point out is that atheists can have other conceptions of religious faith than Boghossian’s. (For example, ‘belief without sufficient evidence’ is different from “belief without evidence”.) But since you’ve conceded that point and clarified your intent, that’s moot.

  77. How can Yahweh, with no parts, plan a universe of many parts, if He Himself is not more complex that the universe He has designed?

    Is it coherent to talk about “parts” when you are describing something that is immaterial? Similarly, “complex” is surely a description we only use for material things.

  78. Material reality cannot be pure act because it is act mixed with potency, meaning that it can move, change, be acted upon, etc. That applies to the whole as well as to the parts, for if the whole were not susceptible to change, then the universe would not have come into being.

    But suppose the universe did not come into being but has always been. That presents at least two problems. The first is that it cannot yet be pure act, for it still demonstrates susceptibility to change. The second is that if it has always been — if it is infinitely old — then it is infinitely old. Don’t let the simplicity fool you. An infinitely old universe presenting the order that we observe in this universe is a miracle beyond any the Bible claims to have happened.

    The doctrine of a simple God has to do with the idea of composition: that God is not composed of parts in any conceivable sense of the term. It does not mean that God is simple of mind or limited in power. So the question you asked earlier, which bigbird has also addressed in #94, seems to rest on questionable premises. If not, then maybe you could clarify what you meant by it.

  79. I’m also having trouble figuring out what you’re getting at when you ask, “What makes you think the behaviour of nature needs an explanation?” Could you clarify what you’re trying to say there?

    I had asked in 54 what explains explanation, which started a dialogue that led to that question from you. It’s a question that could be taken many different ways in the context of the conversation, and I would prefer to make sure I’m on the right path before I start addressing it.

  80. First off, thank you collectively for your considered, and helpful responses.

    Mr. X, I will certainly go and get a copy of Edward Feser’s “The Last Superstition”. I don’t have a problem with “polemical”, and I think it will make an interesting counter to Hitchens. Also, the more readable the book, the better. I have a bad habit of abandoning books because I just don’t read fast enough, get distracted by Twitter and online conversations like this one, and run out of time before the next must-read book appears. I have a shelf on my bookshelf full of books with bookmarks in them embarrassingly close to their beginning. 🙂

    Thank you too, those of you who pointed out my obvious “pure act” mistake. The first sentence of the Wikipedia page, “Actus purus is a term employed in scholastic philosophy to express the absolute perfection of God,” cleared that one up. So, yes, G. Rodrigues, clearly vacuum is not divine perfection. I can also see why “First Mover” status requires absolute simplicity.

    Please excuse me. If it wasn’t glaringly obvious before, I am neither a philosopher nor an apologist. I do have first-year philosophy behind me, but that was in 1993! I recall First Mover and First Cause, but I confess I dismissed First Mover as a variation of First Cause and didn’t pay it much attention at the time.

    Tom, what I am really enjoying about your site is that it engages with non-philosophers and non-apologists like me. What could be useful, in order for everyone to have a mutual understanding of terms like “God (i.t.o. classical theism)”, is a glossary, or a brief primer on philosophy and apologetics, even if it just points readers to relevant Wikipedia articles. (Do you already have such a thing and I just missed it?) If it wasn’t for your collective explanations, G. Rodrigues would be right, we’d be talking completely past each other. (And if I continue to do it, please just point me to the relevant Wikipedia article to clarify things.) I’m sure that after a while, repeatedly explaining things might get a little tedious, if not annoying.

    You’ve given me a lot to chew on, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to deal with all of it at once, so I might skip over stuff.

    But, from the top:

    #85: Thanks, Tom, I will go and check it out.

    #86: G. Rodrigues, I am genuinely curious,

    Can any theory ever tell us whether another theory is true or false? A fascinating question. I suspect you are now in the deep end of computability theory, which (Wikipedia says) originates from the work of Gödel, Church, Turing, Kleene and Post.

    You suspect wrong.

    Am I wrong that the question has anything to do with computability theory? Or am I wrong that a theory cannot tell us whether another theory is true or false? Or have I misunderstood Tom’s original question?

    This is a digression, I know, so, if you like, feel free to mail me: kaapstorm at gmail dot com.

    The more important point is that, whether the physical universe had a beginning or not, it is quite irrelevant to the question of God’s existence, for the putative eternality of the universe does not obviate such questions as why it exists in the first place.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say “irrelevant”, but I agree that it does not address the question of why the universe exists. That is a separate question though, and something I’d be happy to pick up on later.

    #88: Melissa,

    I was specifying God as opposed to god because what I am talking about is the God of classical theism

    Again, sorry about the misunderstanding. This helped (although it raises other questions for another time).

    #89: Billy Squibs, I, for one, am a big fan of “I don’t know”. I would go so far as to say that “I don’t know” is a cornerstone of both scepticism and the scientific process (along with “please, change my mind”).

    #90, #91: G. Rodrigues and myself,

    What is “the classical conception of God”? … I’m curious, though, up front, is Yahweh an instance of “the classical conception of God”; in other words, does “the classical conception of God” not only create universes, but also beget divine humans?

    To answer my own question by quoting Wikipedia,

    Since classical theistic ideas are influenced by Greek philosophy and focus on God in the abstract and metaphysical sense, they can be difficult to reconcile with the “near, caring, and compassionate” view of God presented in the religious texts of the main monotheistic religions, particularly the Bible. [Louis Pojman; Michael Rea (2011). Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. Cengage Learning.]

    On “things”:

    I do use it loosely, because quantum mechanics came up, and it deals not so much with “things” as with the possibilities of “things”.

    QM deals as much with “things” as any other empirical science.

    Yes. In fact, this afternoon, I heard an elegant explanation of the relationship between particles, fields and wave functions. So, you are right, every “possibility of a thing” has a corresponding “thing”, and while some people emphasise the wave function, other people emphasise the particle.

    Here is an example of a natural law: Einstein’s equations for GR are …

    Ah, I’ve been referring to General Relativity as a theory, not a law. I would call it a theory because it is an explanation, but a law does not. Good old Wikipedia reckons, “Laws differ from scientific theories in that they do not posit a mechanism or explanation of phenomena: they are merely distillations of the results of repeated observation.”

    I said, and you quoted, “the existence of Yahweh is incongruous with observed reality.” OK, we are moving briefly from our “classical God” to a specific god, an interventionist god, One Who dictates commandments, answers prayer (“even if that answer is ‘No'”) and has a divine, human Son, “eternally begotten of the Father”, etc.

    You pointed out that Quantum Mechanics is about things, and I think that’s an important point, because while wave functions can be said to be real, in a sense, it is particles that we interact with.

    In the same way, a classical God may have initiated the universe, but after that it seems that He switch to “wave function” mode, with no particles. I am sure there will be much disagreement among you. But I would say that all interaction with God can also be explained by other, common, phenomena — so common, in fact, that the non-divine explanation is by far the more likely explanation.

    Prayer is a nice example. It would be extremely difficult to tell whether a sick individual was healed faster, or at all, as a result of prayer. But unfortunately we have a massive aggregation of sick individuals, and so we can look at prayer statistically across populations. I know, Tom, you must be screaming right now, “God* would close his eyes and turn himself into a blind mechanical vendor of prayer answers in a double-blind ‘scientific’ prayer study.” But if we look at a large aggregation of praying people, someone, and rather you than me, should tell all those poor, ignorant, God*-believing Christian parents who are praying feverishly for their sick children, that on average, prayer does not seem to make any discernible difference across populations of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and those not being prayed for at all. But! Your sick kid might be a statistical outlier, and, if they’re lucky, a positive outlier. Christians do have them. So do Muslims and Hindus, and even atheists.

    So, my point is that it seems to me that our universe is probably not governed by an interventionist god. It is possible. It just seems to me to be extremely unlikely.

    I imagine we have two scenarios … (2) No such “domain of non-supernatural phenomena”; therefore only one possible explanation: God!

    I certainly do not hold anything even remotely close to 2. and while I cannot speak for everyone else, I will wager that no Christian here does.

    Dear All Christians Here,

    This is a heart-felt plea. We may disagree on some big important things. But we do actually agree on other big important things. I come from a Christian heritage myself. And while we may disagree on which parts of the Bible are fictional, I have tremendous respect for fiction, narrative, and the value of myth. I respect aspects of the Christian tradition (although not all). And I believe that the character of Jesus (whether entirely factual or not, and preferably if we cherry-pick the nice parts) ought to be emulated!

    But Christianity is hemorrhaging believers. Mostly because they were raised to believe in God*, and as soon as they discover the Internet, they realise that God* is preposterous.

    If you want to save your tradition and a modicum of your faith, you need to tell those God*-believing Christians that God* is as real as the tooth fairy.

    I’ll try to help you, but you know as well as I do that they are not going to trust me.

    What you understand needs to be preached in churches. Christians need to be treated like adults. And Christians need to stop teaching their children fiction as if it is fact. Because those children will discover the truth, and if they don’t hear it from their parents, pastors or priests first, they will resent them for lying to them, or, more likely, pity them their willful ignorance.

    If you don’t, your children will think of Christianity exactly the same way that you think of Hinduism: remote, complex superstition.

    #92: Mr. X, you are spot on!

    If OTOH you want to take the looser sense of eternal as “existing in time, but for an infinite amount of time”, then there have actually been theists who thought this was the case. Aristotle, for example, thought that the universe always existed and always would, and Aquinas was willing to concede this for the sake of argument. Nevertheless they thought that the universe required a first cause, even if it were not “first” in a temporal sense.

    Yes, that is exactly the sense I am wanting to convey. While time could be bounded, I don’t know why it must be bounded.

    I was avoiding the word “universe” because it would introduce an ambiguity, hence my use of the poorly-chosen, controversial, “physical plane” / “domain of non-supernatural phenomena”. In the first sense, “universe” means the 13.8 billion-year-old, 46-billion-light-year-radius sum of all observable energy and matter. In the second sense, “universe” means infinitely expansive, temporally boundless, home to the observable, bounded universe, and possibly other bounded universes too.

    So, let us choose the second, boundless, definition of “universe”, and for the sake of argument, assume it to be true. (If there is an accepted technical term for this, I would love to know it. For now, instead of “physical plane” or “domain of natural phenomena”, does anyone mind if I switch to “boundless universe”?)

    In such a case, I supect it is possible that natural phenomena alone can account for the existence of the bounded universe in which we live.

    Further more, I see a temporally boundless universe no less likely than a temporally boundless God of perfect simplicity.

    But reading “A Universe from Nothing”, and the as-yet-unpurchased “The Last Superstition” may reveal more.

    #94, #95: bigbird, Tom, I started writing this before you posted your comments, and I’m afraid it’s way past bed time. I will have to sleep on that. I suspect bigbird has a point, but something perfect in its simplicity designing and planning something as complex as the universe does make my head hurt. I appreciate that I cannot fathom something immaterial. But the idea smells bad, if you know what I mean. It seems as if God has to be perfectly simple, otherwise the pieces don’t fit. Instinctively I think, “well, of course the pieces don’t fit.”

    Just … one more thing … Tom, you say, “An infinitely old universe presenting the order that we observe in this universe is a miracle”. Is it? What if the “bounded universe” we live in presents the order we observe because it wiped its slate clean with a bang 13.8 billion years ago, but beyond what we can observe, is a vacuum? Just an idea. Maybe Victoria can tell me if I’m barking up an misconceived and impossible tree.

    It is 01:22 and I have work in the morning. Good night.

  81. kaapstorm,

    There are hundreds and hundreds of sources and churches that “Treat Christians as adults.” Maybe you haven’t found them yet. Perhaps this site might be a good starting point for you. Tom just posted an enormous list of sources that do just what you ask. If you’d like to find a church doing similar things go to Redeemer.com. Find the sermon store and download a sermon series by Dr. Tim Keller on a verse or topic you find interesting. I think in either case you will find there are lots of people treating Christians as adults.

  82. (Two series caught my eye, The Reason For God and The Trouble With Christianity, both of which seem to deal with the kinds of questions Christians will encounter, and need sensible answers for. There are other questions; I found 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian to be respectful and accessible, and should probably be required reading for every Christian before they start reading “too much” armed only with a belief in God*. It even includes a question (#21) related to our conversation here, “Is faith a good thing?”.)

  83. kaapstorm, your “heartfelt plea” is very powerful. I agree 1000 percent, starting with the second paragraph at least (some of the first paragraph I agree with just as heartily, too). I’d like to use it in some talks, in a facebook group I’m in, and in other presentations, with your permission.

    (For the benefit of those who don’t know about God*, God* is a distorted version of God I wrote about a few weeks ago: It’s Easy to Disprove the Existence of God*.)

  84. I’m intrigued by your glossary idea, too. I just checked, and there are WordPress plugins that will do the back-end work needed for it. Give me a while and I’ll see if it’s really feasible, okay? Thanks.

  85. Tom, you are more than welcome to use it, with or without attribution. If you would like to attribute it to me, and “kaapstorm” feels inappropriate for the context, my “real life” name is Norman Hooper.

  86. Kaapstorm,

    So glad you found something at Redeemer.com that was interesting to you. (Full disclosure: it’s where I attend church and where I came to faith.). BTW, Dr. Keller has a number of books as well. I would recommend “The Prodgal God”. Very good stuff fit into a very short space.

  87. @kaapstorm:

    Am I wrong that the question has anything to do with computability theory? Or am I wrong that a theory cannot tell us whether another theory is true or false?

    Computability theory is a field of mathematics and as such, it deals with mathematical objects. But the original context was not about mathematics, so it is just a category error. If you do restrict yourself to mathematics, then theories, in the formal mathematical sense, are neither true nor false, they are (relatively) consistent or not, and in that sense a theory T1 may or may not be able to prove another theory T2 consistent, and the reasons may or may not have something to do with computability theory. Usually not, but it depends.

    So, you are right, every “possibility of a thing” has a corresponding “thing”, and while some people emphasise the wave function, other people emphasise the particle.

    The first sentence makes no sense to me, and the second is wrong: people do not “emphasise [sic] the wave function” or “the particle”, whatever that means, rather the *state* of a particle *is* a *wave function*. I suspect what you have in mind is the principle of complementarity, but given the good deal of confusion that the principle seems to evoke and that it is subsumed by other principles — e.g. the linear structure of quantum state spaces — I suggest you put it out of your mind.

    Ah, I’ve been referring to General Relativity as a theory, not a law.

    I was specific in not mentioning GR but the Einstein equations. Could have used Newton’s law of gravity (in geometric units) F = m1 * m2 / r^2 or any other natural law expressed as a mathematical equation. Explain, if you will.

    I cannot make heads or tails of the rest of your comment — well, actually I can to some extent, but since I have nothing nice to say I will keep my mouth shut.

  88. Hi G. Rodrigues,

    Thanks for clearing up my computability theory category error. In second-year computer science (back in 1994) we were shown how computability theory demonstrates that a program cannot determine the success or failure of another program. I can’t remember what “success” or “failure” means in this context, and I’ve never used computability theory in my career since. But I thought that perhaps, when Tom asked, “Can the laws of nature explain explanation?” if computation theory can be applied to computer programs, and if “explanation” can be represented mathematically or programmatically, that it could shed some light on the question.

    But I am happy to take your word for it; it can’t.

    people do not “emphasise [sic] the wave function” or “the particle”, whatever that means, rather the *state* of a particle *is* a *wave function*. I suspect what you have in mind is the principle of complementarity

    I live in South Africa, and over here we still follow English spelling and grammar conventions, hence “emphasise”, “sceptic” and “behind”, as opposed to the American “emphasize”, “skeptic” and “in back of”.

    What I was trying to say is that, in my layman’s understanding of quantum mechanics, every particle has a corresponding wave function. A wave function describes, statistically, particles’ existence.

    If you ask physicist Sean Carrol, “What does reality consist of at its most basic?” he will answer “Reality is a quantum wave function evolving through time.”

    If you ask Victor Stenger the same question, he will answer in terms of particles, because, in his words, “what you observe are particles.”

    In other words, Victor Stenger emphasises particles, and Sean Carroll emphasises wave functions.

    I cannot make heads or tails of the rest of your comment — well, actually I can to some extent, but since I have nothing nice to say I will keep my mouth shut.

    I appreciate that. Perhaps we should just leave it there then.

  89. Kaapstorm @ 97:

    “In the second sense, “universe” means infinitely expansive, temporally boundless, home to the observable, bounded universe, and possibly other bounded universes too.

    So, let us choose the second, boundless, definition of “universe”, and for the sake of argument, assume it to be true. (If there is an accepted technical term for this, I would love to know it. For now, instead of “physical plane” or “domain of natural phenomena”, does anyone mind if I switch to “boundless universe”?)

    In such a case, I supect it is possible that natural phenomena alone can account for the existence of the bounded universe in which we live.”

    Your “boundless universe” sounds like it might be a multiverse, at least if it’s imagined as having several “bounded universes” within it. If not, it will just be an infinite universe which we can’t entirely see/observe.

    In any case, though, positing a boundless universe doesn’t really defeat the first cause argument. If an instance of change in the universe requires a first cause which is outside of time, immaterial, and so forth, then positing that the change happens in an infinite universe or a collection of universes doesn’t really affect this logic. At most, it just adds a few extra layers of physical causes between the change you’re studying and the first cause.

    “Further more, I see a temporally boundless universe no less likely than a temporally boundless God of perfect simplicity.”

    Slight correction: God isn’t “temporally boundless” in the sense that the universe is (i.e., existing in time, but without either a beginning or an end), but rather He is outside of time altogether. Indeed, the first cause must be outside of time: given that it is necessarily changeless, and that to change is to be in time (since change without time — without a “before” and “after” state — is impossible, and time without change is meaningless), it follows that the first cause cannot exist in time. Since the universe clearly does, even a universe without a beginning wouldn’t fit the bill.

  90. Mr. X, yes, let’s go with “multiverse”, and I agree, where a multiverse extends infinitely in both temporal directions, God would be outside of time, and if His nature were to be in any way perceptible, it would be constant.

    G. Rodrigues knows a lot more about the connection between the mathematical and the physical than I do, so I’ll try to explain an idea I’m grasping at, and if I explain it sufficiently for him to decipher, maybe he’ll be able to expound or clarify:

    The integers extend infinitely in both the positive and the negative direction. For every integer there is another that precedes it.

    Similarly, for every cause, could there be a cause that precedes it? If “causing” were the behaviour of the multiverse, would a First Cause still be required?

    And if so, is there anything we can tell about the First Cause? Like, for example, what makes it exempt from requiring a cause itself? Is it necessarily unique? And is it necessarily intelligent? (Laurence Krauss gets rather emphatic when he states that the universe is not fine-tuned.) Considering it is necessarily immaterial, can we tell anything about how it could bring about a material universe? Or can we show that to be impossible. (I think Kant tried. Did he succeed?)

  91. Kaapstorm @ 108:

    “The integers extend infinitely in both the positive and the negative direction. For every integer there is another that precedes it.

    Similarly, for every cause, could there be a cause that precedes it? If “causing” were the behaviour of the multiverse, would a First Cause still be required?”

    Well, that’s where the difference between per se and per accidens sequences come in. A per accidens sequence is one where each member could cause the next one even if the previous member ceased to exist or to do anything — like, for example, a man can beget children even if his own father is dead. Such a sequence can theoretically go on for ever (at least Aristotle thought so). A per se sequence, on the other hand, is one where each member depends on the continuing action of the previous one to cause anything, as in the case of a ball being pushed by a stick being pushed by an arm being moved by nerves being moved by brain activity, and so on. If one of these things ceases its action, the later members of the sequence will also cease. In other words, members of a per se sequence do not possess their own causal power. But since they don’t possess their own causal power, there must be something which does in order to impart its own power on the sequence, much as a train carriage can’t just be pulled by an infinite number of other train carriages; there must be something else able to set it in motion.

    “And if so, is there anything we can tell about the First Cause? Like, for example, what makes it exempt from requiring a cause itself?”

    The first cause must be a being of pure act (BPA), since if it had any potency, then whatever actualised that potency would be prior in the causal chain, and hence the “first cause” would be no such thing. And the idea that the first member of a sequence cannot have the same origin as other members isn’t that controversial, really; for example, all animals we see evolved from another animal, but the first animal cannot have done, as otherwise it wouldn’t be the first animal at all.

    “Is it necessarily unique?”

    Yes, because the only way two BPAs could be distinguished would be for one of them to have some potency that the other lacked, in which case it wouldn’t be a BPA at all.

    “And is it necessarily intelligent?”

    Yes, with the caveat that most philosophers who made the first cause argument held that God could only be said to have things such as intelligence “analogically” — that is, God doesn’t have intelligence in the same way as we do, but nevertheless he has something which is more like intelligence than it is like anything else. Now, a thing which lacks intellect cannot do anything unless acted on by another thing — you don’t see a rock spontaneously deciding to fall down a hill, for example, it has to be pulled by the force of gravity. But the first cause must have been able to create the universe without being prompted by anything else; thus it must have been able to make choices, and hence to have something analogical to intellect.

    (There are other arguments as well, most of which have probably been put better than I have just now, but that’s the only one I can remember in any sort of detail right now.)

    “Considering it is necessarily immaterial, can we tell anything about how it could bring about a material universe? Or can we show that to be impossible. (I think Kant tried. Did he succeed?)”

    I think Kant tried to disprove the cosmological argument by claiming that the concept of a necessary being is incoherent, although he might have also argued that an immaterial being couldn’t bring about a material universe. The BPA’s creation must have been volitional (see above), but as to the means used, I couldn’t really say.

  92. “the posts of yours”?

    Nice try.

    Interested readers who follow your link will also find the following:

    When it comes to any type of writing, proof reading [sic] is considered as [sic] the last step in the editing process….

    The first part of proof reading involves editing the whole flow of the article, the second phase will usually involve deeper analysis where errors such as; [sic] word usage, spelling, grammar, punctuation are checked into [sic] detail….

    This is usually the first step [sic] factor taken into account when proofreading….

    Using a [sic] spell -check [sic] software is not enough when checking for spelling mistakes, one should additionally use a dictionary to double check his or her [sic — should be “one’s”] spelling….

    Other words to look out for when correcting spellings [sic] errors include words such as;”your” [no space between ; and next word] “you’re”,” its” “it’s”,”their”, [same error] “there”, “they’re”….

    Other spelling mistakes to check out include; [sic] incorrect capitalization and punctuation….

    One tip that proofreaders use to ensure that the correct spelling or [sic] all errors are [sic] weeded out is to read a given document backwards from the last word to the first….

    Grammatical error [sic] or mistakes can be corrected if you re-read a given document slowly….

    For instance you can look out for “run- on” [sic] sentences then ideally break them into two or add commas where necessary….

    You should also try to use conjunctions words [sic] like and [sic] “but”, “or”, “and” so as to make the sentences more readable and devoid of errors….

    A document written with the correct grammar will consist of sentences with proper nouns and pronoun which are in agreement, will have the correct punctuation, will have parallel structure in “series” [speaking of which… ?] etc….

    Homonyms are basically words that usually share the same pronunciations or spelling but posses [sic] different meanings….

    And finally, in the service of this last recommendation on your linked page:

    After proofreading yourself its [sic] recommended that you let your friends proofread it again as they may be able to spot mistakes you could not see.

    While we have no prior relationship as friends, I’m glad to have been able to oblige anyway.