Okay, You’re Right: There’s No Evidence For Faith …

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Part of the extended series Evidence for the Faith

I thought I was about to launch into a series on evidence for the Christian faith. Recent discussion here tells me there’s one more preliminary step to take first, however. I haven’t yet defined just what it is I’m about to provide evidence for.

You see, there’s one sense in which the New Atheists are right: there’s no evidence for faith. They’re right, however, only to the extent that they misunderstand what faith is, and how faith relates to evidence-based factual knowledge and rational inference. At the end of the day, there is evidence for faith after all. Confused? Read on.

The New Atheist Charge: No Evidence for Faith

The typical New Atheist position is that there is no evidence for faith, by definition, for if there was (sufficient) evidence it would produce knowledge, not faith. This is a standard line of argument among their camp.

I placed “sufficient” inside brackets there to catch a distinction they often miss. When they say there is no evidence for faith, often they mean literally no evidence at all. Sam Harris wrote in The End of Faith about believing things for which no evidence is even conceivable. It would be nice if they gave it at least the respect of saying there is insufficient evidence, rather than no evidence. But that’s impossible if one believes the premise if there was evidence, it would lead to knowledge, not faith.

I Agree: There’s No Evidence for Faith. (I’ll bet you weren’t expecting that!)

Christians do present evidence, despite opinions to the contrary. Just what is it, though, that we’re presenting evidence for? Is it really faith? I say no: we do not present evidence for faith.

And with that, I’ve given up the game, right? No.

Evidence for Facts and Inferences Instead

Stick with me a moment and I’ll explain why he’s wrong. First I want to explain what Christian apologists like myself typically seek to demonstrate through the use of evidence. This is but a small sampling, but it will serve a very important purpose.

  • We use philosophical arguments to show that there is a reasonably high probability that God exists. These are based on evidence such as:
    • The non-eternality of the physical universe
    • The unique nature of humans, including rationality, consciousness, moral responsibility, and so on.
    • The fine-tuning of the universe to permit chemical complexity, and thereby life itself
    • The existential conflict of humans: our awareness of falling short of something better
    • etc.
  • We use textual studies to show that we have trustworthy versions of the original biblical documents.
  • We use historical studies to show that there is considerable demonstrable truth in the Gospels.
  • We use biblical studies to demonstrate the remarkable consistency the Bible demonstrates from beginning to end, on both the thematic and the detail level.
  • We use historical studies, again, to show that there are facts for which the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best-fitting explanation, provided that it’s not examined from an anti-supernaturalist perspective.
  • We use the philosophical metaphysics and the philosophy of history to show that there is no good reason to assume an a priori anti-supernaturalist stance in examining the Resurrection narrative.
  • We use philosophical arguments to show that ontological naturalism (a prominent form of atheism) is unlikely to be true.

And so on.

Whether these sorts of evidence are sufficient is a question for another day. There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss all these topics. For now the question is, for what are they evidence?

Do any of them work as evidence for faith? Not exactly. See the list again. These types of evidence (coupled with arguments) count toward the existence of God, the trustworthiness of our contemporary Bible, the truth of the Gospel narratives, the likelihood that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead, and the unlikelihood that naturalism is true.

They lead to conclusions about the nature of reality, and about events in history. Look again, if you’re not sure of what I’m saying. They’re not evidences for faith—not directly, that is, although indirectly they certainly are.

Where then does faith come in? I have two answers to offer.

Evidence for The Faith, and Evidence for the Rational Inferences That Support Faith

First, there is the faith, that is, the body of beliefs that make up Christian doctrine. I’ve already described which body of beliefs I think we can support evidentially. The conclusions I’ve outlined above are part of the faith so understood.

Then there is personal faith, which is belief and/or trust in the implications of what we know to be true.

For example, given that there are good reasons to consider the Bible reliable as history, that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened, that God is revealed in multiple ways as a promise-making and promise-keeping God, I conclude that I can trust him with my eternal condition. Many Christians have taken that trust all the way to giving up their lives on earth in faithful expectation of a good outcome after death.

That’s a Christian expression of faith. It’s also, I would argue, an expression of sound reason. (We’re still bracketing, for now, the question of whether the evidence is sufficient for the facts behind the faith.) We can even treat these types of evidence hypothetically. Suppose the evidence for the existence of God, for the reliability of the Bible, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the promise-making and -keeping character of God were adequate to justify the belief that all of it is true. From there to the conclusion, “I can trust God with my eternity,” is hardly a leap. It’s a rational step.

Faith Follows the Inference

It is a step of faith, still, for we cannot see the future into which God is leading us. We live in a confusing and often contrary world, and we ourselves are confusing and contrary individuals. C. S. Lewis rightly said that faith is continuing to believe what we know is true even when our emotions tell us it isn’t. It’s a matter of holding on to the truth we’ve recognized in the light, even when the world turns dark on us. It’s remaining faith-full toward what we know, and faithful to the God we are coming to know.

We could contrast Christian faith with a very similar Muslim expression of faith; for many Islamists have thought they would gain a better eternity by sacrificing their lives in jihad. What makes our faith any different from theirs? Why would I be confident in my faith and not theirs? It’s because of the evidential basis for the facts on which my faith rests. When we say we have evidences for faith, that’s what we mean: we have evidences for the facts upon which we rest our faith.

Why the New Atheists Are Wrong About Faith Being a Way of Knowing

So now we can circle back around to Boghossian’s error, of setting up faith as a way of knowing and then knocking it down. We have seen that for Christians, faith is typically* an attitude toward what is known, not a way of knowing. Specifically, it’s an attitude of trust in the implications of what is known. Evidence and reasoning take us as far as the conclusion that (using the same example as before) we can trust God with our eternal lives. Faith is the actual placing of trust in what evidence and reasoning have shown us to be true.

Boghossian and others say faith is an unreliable way of knowing. Their biggest error is not in the word “unreliable.” It’s in considering faith to be primarily a way of knowing. It could hardly be an unreliable way of knowing unless it were a way of knowing in the first place.

Summary: How There Really Is Evidence for Faith After All

In spite of all this, I’m still going to speak of “evidences for faith.” Understand, though, I’m really speaking in shorthand. I’m talking about evidences for the facts that lead to the rational inference that we can place our trust in God, as God is revealed in the Bible.

The facts are not faith, so to be completely analytical and careful about it, they are not evidences for faith. (They are, however, evidences for the faith.)

The inference we draw from those facts — that we can trust God — is also not faith.

Faith is the emotional, volitional, and rational act of resting our trust in the facts and the rational inferences we draw from them. Beyond that, it’s all-important relational act of  trusting in God himself.

There is more to be said on God’s role in initiating faith. Much more, actually, for although faith is reasonable and consistent with rationality, it does not flow purely from reason apart from a sovereign work of God. This is familiar territory for believers but not easily explained among others. I’ll return to it as soon as I can. (Update: see Faith, Reason, and Regeneration below.)


Related Posts:
Series on Peter Boghossian
The Faith-Knowledge Connection, Part One
What Does Faith Have To Do With Knowledge?
Faith, Reason, and Regeneration


*If this were a more deeply technical discussion I would look at faith from additional perspectives, and find that there are actually ways in which Christian faith is a way of knowing. I would also consider the case of Christians who have believed without examining evidences; whose beliefs are true if evidences and reasoning support them, even if they themselves have not examined or reflected upon the evidences.

My complaint with Boghossian is not in his saying that faith is sometimes, in certain contexts, or in certain manifestations a way of knowing, because he doesn’t say that. He says it is always and only that—which is false.

Evidence for the Faith:
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75 Responses to “ Okay, You’re Right: There’s No Evidence For Faith … ”

  1. Faith is the emotional, volitional, and rational act of resting our trust in the facts and the rational inferences we draw from them. Beyond that, it’s all-important relational act of trusting in God himself.

    It took me a while to understand what you were saying, but I think I understand it now. The way you’ve written it here seems to align well with James 2:19 and 2:26 – and the surrounding context. It’s one thing to rationally infer God’s existence from various facts – atheists can do that, and I understand some do – but nothing really comes from that by itself.

    It’s another thing altogether to commit to what those facts *mean* with your entire being/essence – your heart, mind, body, soul (Luke 10:27). That kind of “all in” faith results in the spiritual restoration / transformation that scripture promises. That tangible fruit of the Spirit is further evidence that we’ve put our faith in the right place. Turning this around in the form of questions and answers, I would put it this way:

    Q: How do I know I’ve placed my faith in the right thing (God)?
    A: Because I see the good fruit of my faith.

    Q: How do I know when I’ve misplaced my faith (in something else)?
    A: Because the good fruit tends to wither away.

    The underlying truth that must be present in order for these answers to even make sense is that human existence must have an objective purpose. Without that, it could never be true that I am actually becoming “better” or “worse”.

  2. Faith is the emotional, volitional, and rational act of resting our trust in the facts and the rational inferences we draw from them. Beyond that, it’s all-important relational act of trusting in God himself.

    I think the above is an example of what Boghossian calls a ‘Deepity.’ SteveK’s trouble understanding it seems to confirm the statement is a Deepity.

    “the act of the intellect assenting to a Divine truth owing to the movement of the will, which is itself moved by the grace of God”

    Not a Deepity, but perhaps best summarized as “belief despite.”

  3. I have trouble understanding what a Deepity is, so you’ve clarified nothing by introducing the term.

  4. Deepity, (in this case) an involved, complex, rational, explanation of a difficult religious concept that an atheist has no interest in understanding and thus tries to ridicule as profound sounding but meaningless without having to give any real explanation.

  5. In case there is any confusion, the “all in” act of faith that I mentioned above isn’t what spiritually restores and transforms a person. God’s power and grace does the transforming. God works through the act of faith – which comes to exist in the life of a person only because God exists such that a person can come to have faith. That’s what I think scripture teaches.

  6. I’m intrigued by this deepity thing. That explanation of faith is one of the best I’ve read in a long time, and it uses only three adjectives (emotional, volitional, rational) to explain the kind of trust that is placed in facts and their inferences. It’s good plain English (which is a second language to me, but I digress).

    “Faith is nothing but a firm assent of the mind: which, if it be regulated, as is our duty, cannot be afforded to anything but upon good reason; and so cannot be opposite to it”.

    That’s a deepity from John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding 🙂 You should read the whole thing, it’s a hoot. 😛

  7. “Trust in facts, etc.” makes much better sense than the purplish way the idea was presented before. I retract the Deepity label, with an apology; I believe Deepities use both inflated prose and wind up not saying much of anything sensical. The sayings of Deepak Chopra, if I recall, are Deepities par excellence.

    I think I agree with Tom that the kind of faith he tries to define is not exactly what Boghossian targets in his book. Boghossian’s explanations and examples of faith, says Tom, rest on a misunderstanding of faith. Yet I don’t think Boghossian’s understanding of faith conflicts with the way most ordinary people use and apply ther idea to their everyday approach to belief.

    In any case, being a better trained epistemologist, street or otherwise, seems like good thing.

  8. Tom: “Faith is the emotional, volitional, and rational act of resting our trust in the facts and the rational inferences we draw from them.” What is the difference between this and regular or non-faith emotional, volitional, and rational acts of resting our trust in the facts and the rational inferences we draw from them? The special attributes of faith (if there are any) you allude to are not clear. Do not your inferences need to be tested the same way as any other inferences to determine if you are not pretending (or claiming) to know what you do not know? Should faith inferences be granted some concession? And is it not so that one special attribute, or distinction, of faith-based reasoning shared among the main religious faiths is that their chosen inference processes lead to conflicting conclusions, religions and doctrines that can not be reconciled?

  9. I would say that every instance of emotional, volitional, and resting of trust, whether in facts or in persons, is an instance of faith. There is religious faith and non-religious faith.

    You ask, “Do not your inferences need to be tested the same way as any other inferences to determine if you are not pretending (or claiming) to know what you do not know?”

    How do we test inferences? By the quality of evidences and premises and the validity of the logic that leads to them. We also test them by trying them. From dating my wife I gathered evidence that led me to infer that she would be a great woman to be married to. I tested that inference by marrying her, which in a moment of weakness she agreed to do. That was an act of faith in each other. We couldn’t test it in advance, of course.

    I don’t think faith inferences get any special pass; they should be tested like any other. Some things about them remain untestable in any ordinary sense, but we can still examine their premises, their evidences, and the associated reasoning. I’m fine with that.

    What, pray tell, is “faith-based reasoning?” If you mean reasoning that leads to a person to choose a certain faith, that’s not faith-based. The basis of a chain of reasoning should not be confused with its conclusions.

  10. Tom,

    Your analogy about your relationship with your wife as an example of faith is really very pertinent. We Christians acquire faith and grow in faith through a relationship with God. Faith is a relationship, not an epistemology. This is, IMO, why atheists don’t “get” what faith means to Christians. If a person doesn’t have a relationship with God, s/he is not going to have faith in God because there none of the many forms we have of interacting with God take place for them. And if a person doesn’t believe that God exists, s/he is not going to seek or engage in a relationship with God. Atheists are sitting at the bottom of the on-ramp to the faith superhighway. Is it really any surprise that atheists misunderstand faith in God and in Christianity so completely since they have none?

  11. Jenna,

    Many atheists do in fact get what faith means to Christians and other religious believers. Many atheists were formerly not only believers themselves but clergy and scholars. I do not know the stats, but I think that most atheists are not born atheists but rather people like me who were ardent and sincere believers and, upon long reflection, concluded that some/all of these beliefs were untenable.

    Perhaps you fail to appreciate that while atheists get what faith means to believers, we also get that something’s being meaningful — even very meaningful — doesn’t give it the status of fact, evidence, or knowledge.

  12. Larry,

    Perhaps you fail to appreciate that while atheists get what faith means to believers, we also get that something’s being meaningful — even very meaningful — doesn’t give it the status of fact, evidence, or knowledge.

    Any evidence behind that conjecture? Or are you just picking ideas out of thin air? Because I don’t recall mentioning a word about meaningfulness.

  13. Jenna did say something about what faith means, I realize now, Larry; but I don’t think it was strictly in the sense of meaningfulness, but also (at the same time) meaning; as in, how it is to be understood, not how it affects one’s feelings. But see my latest post for more on what I think she might have been saying, too.

  14. #12

    Hi Tom,

    “I tested that inference by marrying her, which in a moment of weakness she agreed to do.”

    Just wanted to say that this is an awesome, awesome line. 🙂

    Cheers
    Shane

  15. #14

    Hi Jenna,

    “If a person doesn’t have a relationship with God, s/he is not going to have faith in God because there none of the many forms we have of interacting with God take place for them.”

    I would like to hear some examples of the interaction you are referring to. Specifically I mean, from God’s side of your relationship as obviously there are plenty of things you can do to show how much He means to you. Faith as used to describe a developing human relationship is a two way street as both parties get to know each other, initially on what they say and later on their actions, which are always more telling of the truth of a persons character.

    Cheers
    Shane

  16. Shane @ 20,

    “I would like to hear some examples of the interaction you are referring to. Specifically I mean, from God’s side of your relationship…”

    Wouldn’t this be hearsay, which you have previously denied has any evidential value?

  17. Shane, as a former Christian turned atheist surely you can consider experiences of your Christian past? This isn’t a dodge on may part or an attempt to scupper the discussion. Rather, I’m puzzled as to what you expect to get out of it.

    I assume the conclusions you reach will be the same whether you consider your own supposedly false experiences or encounter the responses of Christians. You don’t believe these experiences are actual interactions with God and any claims to the contrary are unlikely to convince you.

    I’ve seen discussions like this before from less charitable types (you seem sincere and respectful to me) where the conversation quickly degenerates into “pop psychoanalysis” of the theist, followed by the diagnosis of hitherto hidden cognitive weaknesses. And in a sense I can understand why this happens. If the brain is the mind and there is no God then our experiences don’t describe God. It’s all .

  18. Shane, RE: #14,

    You are certainly correct in concluding that in order for anyone to have a relationship with God, there must be two-way interaction. When we Christians talk about our relationship with God, we are doing what is called “witnessing,” My personal policy is not to attempt to do witnessing on the internet since it is something very intimate and personal. Witnessing is best done with a person or people face to face in a context where both the witness and the person/people present are treated with respect and acceptance so s/he can tell his/her story (personal, spiritual experiences) without being intimidated or cross-examined in a hostile or antagonistic way. Witnessing is a great gift to both the witness and those who receive it and should not be taken lightly or used (abused) as a pretext for challenging someone’s faith.

    I highly recommend that, if you have not already, find a Christian who you believe is living out his/her Christian faith in a way that you admire and respect and ask him/her if s/he is willing to be a witness to his/her faith with/for you. Alternatively, there are a great many excellent books where people of faith, both living and deceased, tell their stories about their relationship with God. One of my personal favorites is Santa Teresa de Avila’s “Way of Perfection.”

  19. Larry, RE: #15

    You say this: “Perhaps you fail to appreciate that while atheists get what faith means to believers, we also get that something’s being meaningful — even very meaningful — doesn’t give it the status of fact, evidence, or knowledge.”

    I wonder what you mean by “the status of fact, evidence or knowledge. Are you referring to the general positive regard for faith in our society? Or the personal “status” and role of faith in someone’s life? Here is my response to those three “status” factors that you suggest:

    Fact-My faith is a fact about me. No one can credibly claim that it isn’t. This has nothing to do with “status.”

    Evidence-The evidence on which I base my faith comes from my own spiritual and religious experiences and my life experiences as a person of faith and the testimony of other people’s experiences of their relationship(s) with God, including the testimony and spiritual teachings that come to us through the Holy Bible.

    Knowledge-My knowledge of/about God is acquired and affirmed through my relationship with God. I do not claim that my faith is knowledge but I do know that my faith is based on knowledge and reason.

    I must admit, I find the idea of being an “ex-believer” to be rather difficult to understand. What does it mean to have “… concluded that some/all of these beliefs were untenable” and to abandon Christianity to become an atheist?

    I am a big fan of Professor James Fowler and his research into the stages of faith development. I would be very interested in hearing or reading about an atheist’s journey from “believer” to atheist and how this parallels Dr. Fowler’s description of the different stages of faith development along a continuum of growing and maturing faith leading toward “universalizing faith” (the highest stage or Stage 6.) I am curious to learn about the point or through what process atheist “converts” from Christianity turn away from faith and why?

    Fowler, J.W. (1981) Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. New York: HarperCollins.

  20. Interesting blog this. And if you want to see an interesting response to it, look at this “discussion” on the Guardian “Comment is Free” site. http://discussion.theguardian.com/discussion/p/3m9j9?orderby=oldest&per_page=50&commentpage=1
    The discussion is between myself, Dollishillbilly and SidArthur. I linked to your list of evidence and we then watch atheist commentators who espouse rationality and logic turn on the disdain, content free disparaging, and argument completely devoid of evidence. Interesting turn of events. I must link to this sort of thing more often. Thanks

  21. Thanks for the link, BarabbasFreed. I was especially intrigued by,

    “whether or not materialistic atheism can explain everything.”
    Just because you can put two words next to each other doesn’t mean that they are necessarily connected. As has been pointed out ad infinitum and ad nauseum, atheism is simply a lack of belief in the existence of gods. It does not entail materialism.
    Whereas materialism (and I am assuming that you mean metaphysical naturalism) is the claim that only the material exists. It does not entail atheism.

    First, the use of the two words together is a direct nod to the fact that atheism doesn’t entail materialism. That’s why one would specify materialistic atheism, when that is what one wanted to speak of.

    Second, I’m really scratching my head over the thought that philosophical materialism might not entail atheism. Is there some worldview out there with a material god?

  22. @Tom Gilson:

    Is there some worldview out there with a material god?

    Atheism. The god (with little g) is the self.

  23. #21

    Hi toddes,

    First, why do you think I can only want to hear stories that have evidential value?

    And actually none of the other points are necessary after that one.

    Cheers
    Shane

  24. #22

    Hi Billy,

    I don’t think my own experiences to be the be all and end all of what there is. I’m one of 7 Billion, so insignificant in the scheme of things and the largest % of a persons knowledge is absorbed from others. I think most people like to share and most people like to hear stories. I know I do.

    Though after reading your response I totally understand the wariness of people asking loaded questions. It was a mistake on my part to enquire, though it was a genuine question.

    Cheers
    Shane

  25. #23

    Hi Jenna,

    I do apologise for asking what is obviously an intimate question. No impropriety was intended. Thanks so much for the suggestion. I will try and track it down.

    Cheers
    Shane

  26. What does that mean, that the god of atheism is the self?

    Do you mean I worship myself? That I am more selfish than you or than theists? Or, are you saying that atheists value humanity too much, whereas if I worshipped a Yahwist-type or triune god, I would value the god more and so have a better perspective on human value?

    What is the deal?

  27. Ah. Seems a bit unfair and unwarranted to make that a label for atheism when plenty of theists — including deeply believing Christians – do the same thing all the time.

  28. Not a label, just a description of fact. And believe me, this is a frequent topic in church among Christians, too. We know we are very, very often guilty of it.

  29. I know. So we agree that it is not right to say “Atheism: the self is god.”

    Besides, I also know you don’t like it when ideas such as atheism or faith are not treated with proper nuance.

  30. Larry and Tom,

    IMO, distrust of atheists stems in part from an inability of believers to understand how they conduct their moral reasoning and ethical decision-making without reference to the moral principles that stem from a belief in God, not just the lack of a fear of punishment from God.

    For example, some atheists deny the concept and existence of “sin” based on their non-belief in God and their definition of the term “sin” to be a transgression against God (God’s laws). Some even declare themselves to be “free of sin” or “free from sin” based on their non-belief in God. This is both puzzling and distressing to Christians because we don’t know any atheists who we would consider free of sin, regardless of their lack of belief in God.

    The essential question here is this: On what set of moral principles, truths, concepts, constructs do atheists base their moral reasoning or determination of right vs. wrong, justice vs. injustice, etc. if not on a belief in some moral absolutes or moral principles such as those we believers derive from the moral/ethical teachings of our religion? What paradigm for moral reasoning that the candidate employs in his/her decision-making since atheism suggests or espouses no moral code or paradigm for moral reasoning?

    This question arises regardless of how we as Christians think God rewards or punishes our moral actions. This says nothing about the personal moral code or conduct of any atheist individually. However, whatever moral paradigm any atheist uses as a reference point for moral decision-making is not a moral code of atheism. There is no such thing. An atheist’s moral code does not become a moral code of atheism simply because it is espoused by a particular atheist.

  31. @36 Atheism: the self is god… @37with almost no possible objective, immanent feedback mechanism available for correction.

    A statement of fact. Is that nuanced enough? How about:

    The problem with self-made individuals is they tend to worship their creator.

    Worship, of course, understood analogously. Is that nuanced enough? I mean, isn’t a synonym for faith, trust? Isn’t the point in what it is that we ultimately deposit our trust? There is a world of difference between Protagoras’ formulation… and Christ’s.

  32. So we agree that it is not right to say “Atheism: the self is god.”

    I would start by saying it this way: something other than God is valued too much.

    When you think about *why* that particular something is valued too much, I think it’s accurate to say the reason can be traced back to individual desires. So, the root of the problem is the self.

    Is that *really* a problem though ? To answer that question you’ve got to get into the subjects of created purpose, morality, etc.

  33. @39 The root of the problem is putting ultimate value/trust in something that is only a proximate good–whether that be self, a philosophy, an object, whatever. To suggest, pseudo-philosophically, that there is no ultimate anything, is to rationalize poorly and to put one’s trust into that poor “understanding” as an ultimate norm/value/goal. There’s nothing wrong with true proximate goods–in fact, they point the way to the Ultimate. The problem is substituting proximate for ultimate… which is another way of saying one either makes oneself a god, or aligns oneself to a perceived, proximate god. Good luck with that.

  34. … which is another way of saying one either makes oneself a god, or aligns oneself to a perceived, proximate god. Good luck with that.

    Yes, good clarification. I expect someone like Ray will attempt to argue that they can align themselves with the ultimate good without needing God in the picture, and so we will be back to explaining why there can be no such *objective* reality without God.

    We talk about this a lot and I’m really mystified when people insist they can hold onto two contradicting views of reality.

  35. From an atheist point of view, when you value God preeminently you are in reality valuing your own individual desires. There’s a reason your God’s moral strictures and your own personal values align so well. Throughout the centuries, every ardent theist of every religion and denomination has found their own personal morality backed 100% by none other than God.

    I would expect an atheist to be more open minded to considering other people’s points of view rather than falling back on the supposed moral authority of God, that is, the theist’s own inherited and developed moral sense.

  36. From an atheist point of view, when you value God preeminently you are in reality valuing your own individual desires. There’s a reason your God’s moral strictures and your own personal values align so well. Throughout the centuries, every ardent theist of every religion and denomination has found their own personal morality backed 100% by none other than God.

    Wow.

    Evidence?

    Would you like me to present the reams of counter-evidence?

  37. Not worth much without breaking out statistics for people who accept a revelatory religion.

    Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber to validate and justify one’s own beliefs…. The volunteers also had to speculate about God’s take on these issues, as well as the stances of an “average American”

    Intuiting and speculating may not produce an independent guide?!?! How about, “has no chance of producing an independent guide”?

    Christianity is not about intuiting God’s beliefs but about reading what he says about his character and our moral responsibilities.

    As for my reams of evidence, it would take a while to gather it, but it’s basically every conversion story. People give up drugs, stealing, sexual immorality, drinking, you name it, when they enter a relationship with Christ.

    Epley notes that his volunteers were almost entirely American Christians, and it’s not clear whether the results can be generalised to people of other faiths.

    Epley might not be aware that “American Christians” comprise an extremely homogeneous group, and the proportion who take up a fully biblical worldview (operationally defined here) is only about 9%. So even among “American Christians,” there’s bound to be a lot more intuiting and speculating going on than there is genuine inquiring into the relevant source, the Bible.

    So while your reference here is interesting, what it’s shows best is the effect when people make themselves their own reference point: they consider it God.

    Meanwhile there’s nothing in that research that says a thing about what happens when Christians make God their God.

  38. What difference does a biblical worldview then make?

    The Difference a Biblical Worldview Makes

    One of the most striking insights from the research was the influence of such a way of thinking upon people’s behavior. Adults with a biblical worldview possessed radically different views on morality, held divergent religious beliefs, and demonstrated vastly different lifestyle choices.

    People’s views on morally acceptable behavior are deeply impacted by their worldview. Upon comparing the perspectives of those who have a biblical worldview with those who do not, the former group were 31 times less likely to accept cohabitation (2% versus 62%, respectively); 18 times less likely to endorse drunkenness (2% versus 36%); 15 times less likely to condone gay sex (2% versus 31%); 12 times less likely to accept profanity 3% versus 37%); and 11 times less likely to describe adultery as morally acceptable (4% versus 44%). In addition, less than one-half of one percent of those with a biblical worldview said voluntary exposure to pornography was morally acceptable (compared to 39% of other adults), and a similarly miniscule proportion endorsed abortion (compared to 46% of adults who lack a biblical worldview).

    Among the more intriguing lifestyle differences were the lesser propensity for those with a biblical worldview to gamble (they were eight times less likely to buy lottery tickets and 17 times less likely to place bets); to get drunk (three times less likely); and to view pornography (two times less common). They were also twice as likely to have discussed spiritual matters with other people in the past month and twice as likely to have fasted for religious reasons during the preceding month. While one out of every eight adults who lack a biblical worldview had sexual relations with someone other than their spouse during the prior month, less than one out of every 100 individuals who have such a worldview had done so..

  39. Hmm. I am interested to see you paring down the population of people who know the real truth – which of course includes you – to a mere 9% of American Christians.

    Since you post on them: From their own point of view, not your POV, do the Westboro Baptists hold a biblical worldview? If not, how do you know, and what will you do to show them that their worldview is incorrect? What will persuade them to see the light?

  40. Yes, very, very sinister of me to use published research to make a point.

    Your second paragraph is a rabbit trail. Obviously (for anyone who has a clue) the Westboro Baptists are not displaying the fruit of biblical beliefs. How do I know? I’ve read the Bible. How will I persuade them? I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity to try.

  41. Obviously? Obviously? I will not accuse you of dodging a serious matter, but please reconsider as the issue maybe worth a closer and more considered look.

  42. Faith-based beliefs use a methodology that doesn’t work to produce knowledge deserving of high confidence. It allows cherry-picking what appears to be supporting evidence to be sufficient to try to parry the criticism of having none. The main champion of faith-based methodology is religion (that claims faith to be a virtue rather than an intellectual vice) but it isn’t alone; the same methodology is used to empower unjustified confidence in everything from alternative medicine to tarot cards, from conspiracy theories to astrology, from anti-vaccination advocacy to climate denial. It’s ubiquitous. And this is what you’ve done in your comment exchange with Larry. To explain why requires a lengthy comment so I apologize ahead of time to those readers who feel they must skip such comments.

    Tom, it’s interesting how you use ‘published research’ to suggest a moral emphasis on what you consider positive social behaviour. So the question I have – like any good atheist and not enough theists – Is this claim true and how do you know? The claim in this case is that a faith-based belief on the basis of following biblical authority produces positive social behaviour. This is supposedly good evidence. Now, granted, you’ve selected this research (and there’s lots to choose from) that supports your claim. Does this do the job you’ve set out for yourself? Does it adequately explain why the claim itself is therefore justified?

    No.

    It’s cherry-picking.

    If the claim were true, then we should expect to see this effect you claim is caused by submitting to biblical authority across the board. We find the opposite in population studies. What may appear to be true in small numbers is revealed in larger numbers and, in this case, your selection misleads you. This is the danger of cherry-picking: we allow ourselves to be fooled.

    From the greater the role of christian religiosity in a society, we find a direct correlation to lower societal well-being (note; I’m not trying to suggest religion is causal). We find a greater inequality in the distribution of wealth. We find higher rates of infant mortality, teen pregnancy, and abortion. We find higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, higher rates of incarceration, higher rates of corruption, higher rates of illiteracy, higher rates of innumeracy, higher rates of disease, lower rates of access to healthcare, and so on. We find this remains correlated from municipal, state, and national populations. The less religious a population is, the greater the social well-being we find. How can this be if the indicators you use from your selected research is to be applied to the principle behind the claim you’re making for all people?

    Obviously, moral behaviour is exhibited by christian believers as it is non believers. So why are non believers significantly under-represented in prison populations, those ordered into drug and alcohol treatment centers, domestic abuse cases, and so on, if their moral compass has not been aligned by their acceptance of your biblical authority? What is the source of this consideration we call societal well-being if not morality in action in a population that doesn’t empower what you claim is the source of our morality?

    The answer seems to be well supported if we turn to biology and not theology. And you already know this!

    Consider: when you first read the bible or received religious instruction, were you an empty moral vessel? I wasn’t and I don;t think you were (because I don’t think it’s biologically possible). Did you take to heart all the prescriptions that constituted what the biblical god considered right behaviour? I didn’t and I suspect you didn’t either. What I do suspect is that you parsed your learning with what you felt was right and wrong… accepting this bit literally (probably because you agreed with it or it made a good argument you were willing to accept) and altering that bit to be in need of correct moral interpretation (probably because it just didn’t feel right)?

    No consider: how can you explain early infant behaviour that shows the same preference for pro-social behaviours if your claim is true? How can you explain the same moral behviours we see in humans duplicated by non human critters neither able to read or be taught religious lessons (specifically, behaviours around reciprocity)?

    It is my experience that when a believer tries to use moral considerations as evidence for the god hypothesis, they end up digging a hole that will bury them. We have much better explanations about what constitutes behaviours reflecting how and why moral considerations about societal well-being come about in biology and neuroscience than any found in theology.

  43. Tildeb, I need to question what you mean by your very first three words: “faith-based beliefs,” applied specifically to Christian faith. I don’t see you interacting with what I wrote here in the original post. I think you may be misunderstanding the relationship between belief and faith.

    I’m not very impressed by your larger-scale research. I’ve read those studies, and most of them are tainted by the ecological fallacy. Some of it is strongly contradicted by other research. I think you’re cherry-picking, and you’re doing it with studies of questionable quality.

    Please note that Christian, Christianity, Bible (in this context), and God (in this context) are proper nouns. Commenters here agree to abide by the discussion policy. Thanks.

  44. Sure, I can explain what faith-based beliefs are but first let me take a moment and tell you why I use small case letters: to denote that they are not proper nouns but merely nouns. The divine agency you believe in is most likely not the same one another person believes in. See if you can come to an agreement about what ‘it’ is you are believing in and you’ll see that yours is not the same as theirs. To avoid importing a specific interpretation of what this divine agency may be, I use smaller case letters. And the same is true for the tens of thousands of various denominations within the larger theological framework you endorse. By capitalizing these terms, we are selecting only one… a confusion that is caused unnecessarily by pretending certain nouns are proper when they are not… whereas I am talking about all. I will capitalize, say, Genesis because it is the first book named within the bible you use. But different people use different bibles and so I don’t capitalize ‘bible’ unless I am speaking of a particular one (I own three that are quite different… all of which start with Genesis, for example).

    Still, I will abide by your policy because this is your site and I am here as a guest being polite to the host.

    To answer the question, “How do you know that?” requires some level of justification. Justification can be produced in many ways but in this case we really are focusing on only two methods: arbitration by either reality or reasoned belief called faith.

    When we allow reality to arbitrate claims made about it, we can produce applications, therapies, and technologies that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time. We call this method ‘science’ and its explanations ‘knowledge’, meaning justified true beliefs. The justification is verified by reality, in that the explanations work independently of any beliefs about them. The examples are endless.

    If a religious person had compelling evidence similarly adduced from reality’s arbitration for claims made about it, they’d also be doing science and have similar explanations that produce similar applications, similar therapies, and similar technologies that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time. These examples that can be shown to work are absent. From faith healing to efficacy of prayer, we have a string of claims about reality that don’t work. They don’t produce explanations that work. They don’t produce knowledge. They produce unjustified beliefs that are shown to be unjustified time and again. This is why any knowledge conversation or dialogue between claims about reality from science and religion are unidirectional… with religious claims always in retreat.

    This is a clue about the value of knowledge claims about reality produced by religious belief… what in the vernacular we call ‘faith’: claims that are empowered by a justification solely dependent on the person doing this empowerment who then applies the belief outwards and imposes it on reality. Take away the belief, the claim collapses. The justification is therefore based on this imposed belief that we call faith.

    From a knowledge standpoint, faith-based claims produce none. They produce assertions, assumptions, wishful thinking, explanations of supernatural causal agencies intervening in the world, claims very often immune from reality’s arbitration of them, all of which produce zero applications that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time, zero therapies that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time, and zero technologies that seem to work for everyone everywhere all the time. This is an honest evaluation of the knowledge produced by faith. Zero.

    The conclusion from this overwhelming evidence is that a faith-based belief does not produce knowledge about reality; imposing the belief on reality means that reality does not arbitrate the claim. This is how and why so much evidence used to try to justify contrary and conflicting faith-based claims is only that which appears to support the faith-based claim without the believer feeling impelled to account for all the contrary evidence. That’s why the non believer lumps all faith-based claims – religious and otherwise – into the same methodological camp. There is no qualitative difference between how a believer in some particular version of Christianity come to this belief from evidence adduced from reality that a Jainist or a Muslim.

    The faith-based method of imposing a particular unjustified belief on reality – and then disallowing reality to arbitrate it – is held by the religious to be a virtue sanctioned by the divine. Again, how you believers from conflicting and contrary faiths know this?

    By religious authority and not by the reality these claims describe.

    This is what fuels religious faith-based belief: justification by some kind of sectarian authority. And we know this authority not only doesn’t produce knowledge but does produce claims contrary to and in conflict with explanations that do work for everyone everywhere all the time.

    I hope this helps clarify what fundamental difference there is between faith-based and evidence-adduced claims about the reality we share: methodology, and why only one produces knowledge deserving of our justified confidence and respect. And that’s why the epistemology believers use to empower belief is unjustified as well as ripe for criticism.

  45. I asked you to explain what you mean by faith-based beliefs, and you tell me, “From a knowledge standpoint, faith-based claims produce none,” and “The conclusion from this overwhelming evidence is that a faith-based belief does not produce knowledge about reality.

    You’re using the terminology without answering my request that you explain what it means.

    What, again, is a faith-based claim or faith-based belief? Please answer in light of the original post, where I correct a common misconception with relation to faith and knowledge—a misconception I suspect you are displaying here.

  46. Then we’re in agreement to this extent, at least: belief arrived at by using a method relying on an unjustified knowledge claim is unreliable belief.

    Now, for the third time, would you please read the original post here, and comment in context of what I wrote? Because obviously you have not done so up to this point. If you had, you wouldn’t have bothered to say something so obvious about unreliable beliefs.

    For that is what you’ve done: you’ve made a claim. You haven’t interacted with any Christian thinkers with it. You haven’t shown us any good reason to believe it. You haven’t shown that you’ve interacted with anything other than new-fangled Internet atheism.

    (About that research you refer to: it doesn’t count, I’m afraid, unless you bring something specific and substantive. I’ve already said this, but I’ll say it again: I’ve seen the usual suspects, and they’re based on shoddy methods.)

    If you want to spout your own independent and unsupported claims about faith, ignoring what you could have read in the OP about the same topic, you may consider your claims duly spouted.

    If on the other hand you disagree with what I wrote in the OP, and if you think you have some good reason to disagree, I’d be interested to hear it. It might give us something of substance from you for a change.

    If you want to pronounce your prejudices once again without interacting with the OP, though, there’s no need to bother: you’ve spouted already.

  47. Are any of them evidences for faith? Not exactly. They are evidences (coupled with arguments) for the existence of God, the trustworthiness of our contemporary Bible, the truth of the Gospel narratives, the likelihood that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead, and the unlikelihood that naturalism is true. These are evidences leading to conclusions about the nature of reality, and about events in history.

    Because faith is a broken epistemology that doesn’t work to produce knowledge (but privilege), then its use to support this evidence with confidence is deeply suspect and untrustworthy because it is unjustified.

    Methodological naturalism works. This is demonstrable. You trust your life to the likelihood of its explanations being true every day. Your assertion that naturalism is unlikely to be true is exactly the kind of conflicting and contrary claim about how reality works that is privileged only and solely and wholly by a faith-based and not evidence-adduced belief. In any fair comparison, your faith-based belief claim that naturalism is not just unlikely to be true is demonstrably unjustified. This is where your methodology leads: to making foolish claims about reality not justified by reality.

  48. tildeb,

    For the fourth time and final I’m telling you that your comments here are out of context. The OP refutes them. Maybe you think the refutation is unsuccessful, but you haven’t said so. You haven’t engaged with the ideas in the OP, but rather with some conception of faith you’ve acquired somewhere else.

    Your response to my questions is essentially to repeat what you said the first time. In effect you are conducting a monologue.

    Your comments are going into moderation now. If you have something substantive to say by way of interacting with prior discussion, it will be released from moderation.

  49. Okay. Let me be clearer…

    Are any of them evidences for faith? Not exactly. They are evidences (coupled with arguments) for the existence of God

    Faith does not possess independent existence and so we don’t use evidence from reality to suggest otherwise. It is a term we use to describe a kind of belief. This kind of belief is then used to apply cherry picked evidence to support the belief claim towards the existence of a thing… in this case God. You are incorrect to suggest these kinds of belief claims reveal evidence for the thing, for God. They don’t. They reveal the privileged premise used. This creates a false confidence, an unjustified confidence.

    for the trustworthiness of our contemporary Bible,

    Again, the method that privileges certain premises does not increase the trustworthiness of the Bible. There is a large body of compelling evidence adduced from reality that many claims in the Bible are not true. Off the top of my head, we know there is zero evidence from reality that should be there for any exodus to have any historical value whatsoever. Furthermore, the rabbinical community knows perfectly well that the Plutarch is not an historical document. The Old Testament is not an historical source worthy of any confidence. References from the Gospels to this source are not justified, although I’m sure many of the Gospel authors privileged their belief that they were.

    the truth of the Gospel narratives,

    How do we know which ones if any are true when there are well established contradictions and omissions between them? Again, the only way to assume the truth of the Gospel narratives is to privilege the premise that they are! Reality does not cooperate with the claim.

    the likelihood that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead

    … along with many others who supposedly left their tombs and graves and wandered the streets… only to promptly disappear from the Gospel narratives altogether. Maybe they, too, were evidence of their divine origins. When you privilege the Jesus account, you skew the justification for your conclusions. Again, a methodological problem…

    the unlikelihood that naturalism is true.

    Well, sure, once you dismiss methodological naturalism, it’s easy to claim it isn’t true. But we act as if naturalism is true and this seems to work really well to navigate the world not possessed by supernatural causal agencies interactive in it, able to suspend how we understand nature to work. There really should be pretty good evidence available today, to each and every one of us, if this were the case. You should be able to demonstrate this intervention, find causal evidence, reveal knowledge unavailable to the rest of us who do not use this kind of belief. Imagine the power to convert us skeptics through, say, faith healing if it could be demonstrated to work for everyone everywhere all the time! Serious consideration would have to paid to the explanation supposedly reveal by the method of this special kind of belief. Alas…

    You conclude with the claim that These are evidences leading to conclusions about the nature of reality, and about events in history are therefore justified. They are, but for very poor reasons that stand in contradiction to the explanations you yourself utilize to read these words.

    Until you recognize why your methodology is broken, you will not be able to appreciate that how faith relates to evidence-based factual knowledge and rational inference is unequivocally wrong. Sure, you can select this bit here and that bit there that appears to be evidential but upon examination is based on privileging premises without justification from reality. This justification comes from us, from those willing to believe, and as Richard Feynman said so eloquently, we are the easiest people to fool, leading us to assert without reasonable justification that (a)t the end of the day, there is evidence for faith after all. No. There is compelling evidence that faith is a method of inquiry that allows into believing what we want to believe. And that’s why the method does not produce knowledge but pseudo-knowledge in the form of explanations that explain nothing independent of our a priori confidence in our selected conclusions.

  50. Benefit of the doubt time: Did you really mean to say this? “Furthermore, the rabbinical community knows perfectly well that the Plutarch is not an historical document.”

  51. tildeb,

    Thank you for quoting some of my original post. It almost produces the appearance of interacting with it.

    Faith does not possess independent existence and so we don’t use evidence from reality to suggest otherwise.

    What on earth does “Faith does not possess independent existence” mean? Who are the “we” who don’t use evidence from reality to suggest otherwise? And why do you think a bare assertion like that carries any weight, when I made an actual argument otherwise in the OP? Same question applies to, “You are incorrect to suggest these kinds of belief claims reveal evidence for the thing, for God. They don’t. They reveal the privileged premise used.”

    Which privileged premise?

    How do we know which ones if any are true when there are well established contradictions and omissions between them?

    Have patience. I’ll answer that later in the series.

    … along with many others who supposedly left their tombs and graves and wandered the streets… only to promptly disappear from the Gospel narratives altogether. Maybe they, too, were evidence of their divine origins.

    Ummm… no. You see, tildeb, we’re not idiots here, in spite of your glaring prejudice against us. We have reasons for concluding that there are differences between the account of Jesus and of these others.

    the unlikelihood that naturalism is true.

    Well, sure, once you dismiss methodological naturalism, it’s easy to claim it isn’t true.

    Earlier I had referred to ontological naturalism, and this was a recap. Did you miss that?

    Imagine the power to convert us skeptics through, say, faith healing if it could be demonstrated to work for everyone everywhere all the time!

    Imagine a God who would spit out a faith healing every time someone dropped a dime in! That’s not the kind of belief he wants skeptics to have in him.

    You’ll probably call that ad hoc. It isn’t; it’s part and parcel of historic Christian belief.

    Here’s the thing, though, tildeb. You act as if you have some knowledge of Christianity, with your references to the resuscitated saints, the supposed contradictions and omissions in the gospels, etc. What you have instead is limited (dare I say cherry-picked?) knowledge of what you’re disputing. If you understood what you’re contesting, you would know that what you’re saying has been rebutted and refuted by Christian thinkers many times over. You would know that if you want to rebut those rebuttals, you need to actually engage with them, not just ignore them.

    Which leads me to a key question. Suppose I could show that the challenges you’ve raised have solid, reasonable, rational, evidence-supported answers. Would you be interested in Christianity in that case?

  52. What you have instead is limited (dare I say cherry-picked?) knowledge of what you’re disputing. If you understood what you’re contesting, you would know that what you’re saying has been rebutted and refuted by Christian thinkers many times over. You would know that if you want to rebut those rebuttals, you need to actually engage with them, not just ignore them.

    There’s your faith-based belief in action misleading you again. Change your methodology, change your beliefs to being justified independent of your privileged premises (in this case assuming you know what I do and do not know).

  53. Okay, I admit it. You’re right, tildeb. I don’t know what you know or don’t know. I don’t know whether:

    a) you are ignorant of the multiple rebuttals that have been made to your points by Christian thinkers, or,
    b) you know about these rebuttals, and are ignorant of the fact that if you want to rebut those rebuttals, you need to actually engage with them, not ignore them.

    I don’t think there’s a viable third option.

    That’s not a “faith-based methodology” speaking there (a term you haven’t yet coherently defined anyway). Those are the two logical possibilities.

  54. Tom,

    There is something here that I am wondering about. You said to tildeb:

    Imagine a God who would spit out a faith healing every time someone dropped a dime in! That’s not the kind of belief he wants skeptics to have in him.

    It’s almost as if you are saying “God does not want to give good evidence and reasons for belief. He wants people to believe for very subtle reasons.”

    Yet the whole point of this series of posts, it seems, is to be able to explain to people that there are good reasons that are almost logically inescapable. Indeed it seems your main problem with people like Peter Boghossian is that he is saying that there is not good/sufficient evidence and you counter that with how there is such evidence.

    So by your previous statement you appear to be saying that God should not give good evidence (In fact he would not have to cure 100% of people – good evidence might be that people are cured in proportion to the strengths of there faith/belief/understanding in Christianity). Yet when we look to the Bible (NT and OT) God continually performs miracles so that people may believe (I have honestly never understood how Christians view that fact that this doesn’t happen anymore).

    So why (as you see it) has he provided such good evidence on the one hand, yet according to you, should not do so on the other?

    Thanks

  55. I’ve got six straights of meeting coming up, which I’m leading, so I don’t have much time to give this a proper answer, Bill. The number one clarification I would like to make in a quick answer would be this: God isn’t a cosmic vending machine: pop in a prayer and out comes an answer just like that.

    God seems to have wanted to give us good evidence but not overwhelming evidence for his truth in Christ. I discuss that further here. I’m sure this won’t seem like a complete answer but it’s the best I can do this morning.

  56. Thanks Tom,

    I understand you’re busy so no worries there.

    Thanks for the link. That was an interesting topic and ensuing discussion. One thing I see as jumping out is the fact that the OP really seemed focused on why there are some people (atheists) who just don’t believe in God. God gives just enough evidence for those who seek him, you say. But this does not seem to be the case since most humans on the earth do believe in a God, yet are not convinced by the evidence for Christianity. So while your argument may seem somewhat effective for about 3% of the people, it does not explain the situation for most people.

    Maybe you know, but not all atheists do not wish for there not to be a God. I think of myself (and I know others) as one who has sought for most of his life to find good reasons (that is why I’m following your series now) to believe. So I kind of feel that the OP is probably only a fair argument (countering the hiddenness problem) for a very small number of people.

    Anyway, I want to again clarify that I am not thinking of a “cosmic vending machine” answer. I’m just wondering why a God wouldn’t provide sufficient evidence for good people who really do seek him and want to believe and know. Moreover, I wonder what this would imply (morally) for a God who would punish those who are not convinced.

    What do your own morals tell you about this? Suppose you lived at the top of a hill in California with a long windy road with treacherous drop-offs around the curves… You have many guests come to your house for a party, where you offer them a gift. Some are suspicious and do not accept your gift. They leave in their cars and unbeknownst to them the gift was actually their break lines. Those who leave without your gift disastrously careen off the cliff.

    I wonder, do Christians (who no doubt see this scenario as horrible) just chalk it up to one of those mysteries of God that we just can not know about – contradicting their own sense of the world – but then tell us how their own sense of the world in things like experience actually confirm God or free will?

    Thanks again

  57. @Bill L:

    I’m just wondering why a God wouldn’t provide sufficient evidence for good people who really do seek him and want to believe and know.

    There are several misunderstandings in the way the question is formulated.

    (1) Maybe this will probably sound strange, even horrible, to your ears — and I am writing it down, at least in part, with a provocative intention — but the disjunction between “good people” and those that “really do seek him and want to believe and know” is a false one. Seeking Him and wanting to know Him, and seeking the Good and wanting to be Good, are one and the same thing.

    (2) “Sufficient evidence” is a purely ad hoc, subjective standard. What you deem “sufficient”, other persons would label as “gullibility”. So your question does not have an answer.

    (3) The question labors under the mistake that if only we were given enough evidence, that we would seek Him and want to know Him. But this is patently false as James 2:19 shows. The error of the demons is not an *intellectual* one, ignorance say, which is what the question is implicitly assuming.

    Moreover, I wonder what this would imply (morally) for a God who would punish those who are not convinced.

    (A) It implies nothing.

    (B) Whether God punishes person x that is “not convinced”, depends on what “not convinced” means in the concrete, particular case of person x.

    (C) In general terms, the answer is, of course God does *not* punish the “unconvinced”; God does not even “punish”, or to be more precise, God can only be said to punish in an analogous sense.

    (D) Underlying the question, is a picture somewhat like this: person x dies; at the Hour of Judgment, God pulls up his Calculator, does the balance between the Good done and the Evil practiced, then makes a mistake (the person is after all, a “good” person) and sends him or her to Hell. But for starters, it is impossible that God makes a mistake, for He is omniscient, so assuming that x is punished, it follows, as night follows from day, that person x was *not* “good”. But more importantly, this is simply the wrong way to look at the problem (to call it that).

    note: This was dashed off in a hurry; I just wanted to highlight what strike me as the errors upon which your questions founder. Since my answer is bound to sound very cryptic, see this, from which the calculator image in (D) above was stolen.

  58. G. Rodrigues,

    Thanks for the video; I look forward to watching the others. But I don’t think her “imbalance of power” argument really worked (no matter what we are still supposedly dealing with the creator of the Universe). But I don’t really see it as central to the argument. I wasn’t really thinking of Hell in those calculator terms… The most common reason I encounter for someone going to hell is more for the lack of acceptance of the Christian God (not for the amount of good or evil someone does).

    But that was my point for the OP that Tom had given me a link to (I was not able to leave a comment on that page).

    So let me try to clarify… I am thinking of someone like a Jain, Hindu, or Buddhist whose moral actions would put most Christians to shame. It could even be a Muslim or Jew (depending on your POV). And perhaps it could be an atheist or agnostic who really does want to know God, but is nonetheless not convinced of the truth of Christianity. The fact is that most of these people do not accept Christianity because they are not convinced by the (rather thin) arguments/evidence given.

    So my question is why would God not provide the kind of evidence needed to convince the reasonable ones among them (unless you think most of the world is unreasonable) instead of the hand-full of people that are mostly born into the culture of that religion? Most of my Hindu and Buddhist friends do not see Christians as “gullible.” They really just tend to find their beliefs no more credible then those of their own culture.

    I think James 2:19 shows well why God giving sufficient evidence for his existence would not take away free will from anyone… it’s a bit like Eleonore Stump says in the video – if given that proof of reality at the time of death, that would not show that the act of wanting fellowship with is genuinely out of love, but rather it is out of avoiding suffering. Well, it seems to me that an omniscient God would certainly know what is in someone’s heart and if the love was genuine, so what would be the problem with providing good reasons for one’s existence if that is what is keeping away those who would prefer a genuine loving relationship? In other words, even if you know God exists, it does not mean you would choose fellowship (thus no loss of free will), and it would not be difficult for God to distinguish those whose love was genuine and those who were not).

    You say that nothing is implied morally by my question, and in any case God does not do the punishing. It may help me to understand then how you would see the gift scenario I presented.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  59. Tom, I really enjoyed this discussion and the comment string. Thanks. Just wanted to add that although I wandered for many years seeking Truth, I did not find Christ till a few years ago after much reflection upon the teachings of various Christian apologists. I was raised Jewish (secular), was a serious Buddhist lay person, found myself very attracted to Hindu devotionalism (bhakti yoga) and many other faux paths to God. I also got an MA in Comparative Religion. I was a true seeker. I resisted Christ due to my emotional preferences and my Jewish background – you don’t join the enemy – but the sensibleness of and historical/evidential support for the Christian message won me over.
    Here’s a question that entered my mind about the new atheists (and these are a class by themselves) who claim no belief in God. Are they lazy or what? Think about it: They are raised in a materialistic culture where material objects or symbols are treated as meaning bearers; so what could be more natural and easy than their going along with it all? Isn’t this precisely what they criticize religious people for? (cultural situationalism – and then invoking the genetic fallacy.) Seems like it requires no effort at all. And this is a good (value judgment here) thing? Of course they cannot understand the religious oriented mind which finds deep satisfaction in the contemplation of God. Is that surprising? Stones or dogs have no belief in God but we are human beings and to not use one’s mind to make the effort to understand the deeper meaning and textures within life seems so pointless (The true implications of atheism, no?). Yes, they are free from moral obligations and duties (though perhaps living an imitation moral life for the time being) but this is like a man who lost a foot and rejoices that he doesn’t have to cut his toe nails on that foot anymore or wash between his toes. I can’t say for sure, but the new atheist community seems like a group of people who are too lazy to think or look deeply into what they dislike so much and would rather keep their juvenile prejudices than humble themselves and vigorously reflect upon and think about what the ubiquitous religious impulse is pointing towards. Is it any wonder that the spokesmen for the new atheism fall into informal fallacies so easily or, even worse, tell their disciples to simple mock religious people? No, I think their problem is that in the case of God and life’s deeper meaning, they are merely sloppy and lazy.