Christians and Atheists: Sharing One Planet, Living In Two Worlds

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Adapted from a post originally published October 7, 2005

Blogging has a way of bringing people together who never would have met otherwise. Here, it is Christians and atheists. We don’t tend to run in the same circles in our social lives, and we don’t often talk about these kinds of issues at work, so this is unique in many ways. It’s very stimulating, too, and it’s giving me new perspective, too, on the so-called “culture wars.” I wonder whether we’ve chosen the wrong metaphor. It’s not so much a war between cultures as it is the fact of two worlds, vastly different from one another, coexisting on the same planet.

Christians…

There is a world of those who believe in God as creator of the universe and all life; the sovereign, merciful ruler; the source of all goodness and beauty; the ground of all truth, including moral truth; the One revealed in Scripture and made manifest through Jesus Christ, who lived, died and rose again; the One on whom we depend for rescue from death due to our own rebellion from him; the one who gives life to those who accept it. This world accepts what it means to be a Christian, as LaShawn Barber eloquently summarized it.

… and Atheists

What is the second world? On a spiritual level God certainly knows who is who, but on a level more visible to us, it’s not necessarily easy for us to draw a clean line delineating the difference. Everyone is in a different stage of their journey, believing some things, questioning others. There is a spectrum of belief.

Clearly, though, there are opposite poles on that spectrum, and they are certainly in conflict. This was brought home to me when I wrote the original of the post by a treatise by Barbara Forrest, who testified that week at the Intelligent Design trial in Dover, PA. She is an active atheist; she argues in her paper for “philosophical materialism,” which for her (as for most of us) is explicitly equivalent to atheism. She was then, and apparently continues to be, a board member of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, and she certainly represents pole of belief from Christianity.

The Other World Makes So Little Sense

Having studies some of her work in depth (see here, for example), I have this general impression to offer: She lives in a different world than I do. Her logic leads in directions that make no sense to me; I cannot fathom why she would take the argument where she does. It seems to me that any thinking person should see it the same way, but for the sake of this post, it’s enough to say that we are worlds apart.

Since writing this about Barbara Forrest, I’ve had the same experience replayed with atheist commenters over and over again.

A similar distance separates people on opposing sides of other current controversies: abortion, homosexual rights, atheistic evolutionism, public morality, stem cell research, capital punishment, and so on. Not every controversy can be cleanly characterized according to this two-worlds view (environmentalism, the war in Afghanistan, economic issues, and racial issues, for example), but some of the hottest ones do. Above all, the religion question itself–like the fear that some express (irrationally, in my opinion) that the U.S. is heading toward a rigid theocracy–demonstrates the polarity of which I speak.

The Bible, On Our Two Worlds

The Bible is certainly realistic about this. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you” (from John 15:18-25). This was not paranoia speaking: Jesus himself stood against the order of the day and was killed for it.

Those who follow Jesus still stand against the familiar world order, often called simply “the world” in the New Testament.

 

  • The world says to get ahead; Jesus said, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last and servant of all.”
  • The world says to get what you can get; Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
  • The world says to get even; Jesus said, “For if you forgive men their trespasses [sins, offenses], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
  • The world says to hold on for dear life; Jesus said, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
  • The world says to run your own life; Jesus said, speaking of himself, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
  • The world says to figure things out for ourselves; Jesus said to rely on the Scriptures as the very seed of life.
  • The world says we are self-sufficient; Jesus said, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
  • The world says all paths lead to the same end; Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

We see here two systems, diametrically opposed to each other in their most fundamental values. And why is that? In the passage above where Jesus speaks of being hated by the world, it is because in him the sin of the world stands exposed. Col. 1:13 says believers have been transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. That’s not just Christianity speaking that kind of language: unbelievers have referred to Christians as living in darkness, too. I for one stand with the conviction that there’s more light in Christ than in any other way.

Standing At a Distance

Two worlds. Is it any wonder we don’t always agree in our comments? Is it surprising that explanations of biblical thinking sometimes run lengthy? Is it any wonder that Christians have trouble finding common ground with atheists? We stand at such a distance from each other. For many unbelievers, considering the possibility of a supernatural and sovereign creator is strange, probably even repulsive. For me, the thought of a cosmos barren of such a loving creative source runs counter to what I know and have long experienced to be true.

The God I have known in this way is deeply wonderful and satisfying. I can only pray and hope that some unbeliever will be motivated to explore his reality.

Which World Is the Real World?

This leads to two great questions. The first is, which (if either) of these worlds has it right? The test is which one makes the most sense as a complete system. If I am right–and I’m betting my life on it–then the Biblical viewpoint squarely stands the test of being consistent with its own teachings and with what we know to be true of life and of ourselves.

Meeting One Another In Our Humanness

The second great question is, where shall we meet, we denizens of such different worlds? I suggest it is in our  humanness; for we share more than a world, we share a common human condition. We know what it is to face our joys and our pains. We know particularly what it’s like to be misunderstood, misrepresented, stereotyped. In blogging that happens most often by twisting one another’s words, ignoring key points in the other’s argument, or (most egregiously of all) assuming the other side is intellectually deficient from the get-go. (Sometimes I’ll reach that conclusion eventually, but it takes a lot to get me there.) We know what it’s like not to be listened to.

This, by the way, is one reason I focus a lot here on our essential humanness: if we lose our common grip on that, then I don’t know what could bring us together.  We live in two worlds, but we have to find a place to meet somewhere on common ground.

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115 Responses to “ Christians and Atheists: Sharing One Planet, Living In Two Worlds ”

  1. You say we share a common human condition, and that’s surely true. We all seek physical comfort, prosperity and fruitful lives. This is something we can work together on. This is the only thing atheists care about.

    Christians, on the other hand, are seeking something else in addition – to please God. You need to figure out how the two things relate to each other – physical prosperity and God. They don’t contradict, do they?

    I think atheists are wishing that Christians would get their goals straight and work steadily to build prosperity rather than being distracted and half-hearted and undoing with one hand what the other hand just did.

  2. I’m reminded of this bit I read to my son last night, from the first book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The magicians Nephew, in which Lewis is of course blatantly obvious 🙂

    We must now go back a bit and explain what the whole scene had looked like from Uncle Andrew’s point of view. It had not made at’ all the same impression on him as on the Cabby and the children. For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing: it also depends on what sort of person you are.

    Ever since the animals had first appeared, Uncle Andrew had been shrinking further and further back into the thicket. He watched them very hard of course; but he wasn’t really interested in seeing what they were doing, only in seeing whether they were going to make a rush at him. Like the Witch, he was dreadfully practical. He simply didn’t notice that Aslan was choosing one pair out of every kind of beasts. All he saw, or thought he saw, was a lot of dangerous wild animals walking vaguely about. And he kept on wondering why the other animals didn’t run away from the big Lion.

    When the great moment came and the Beasts spoke, he missed the whole point; for a rather interesting reason. When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song. And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (”only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing – only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring.

    Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, bayings, and howlings. And when they laughed – well, you can imagine. That was worse for Uncle Andrew than anything that had happened yet. Such a horrid, bloodthirsty din of hungry and angry brutes he had never heard in his life. Then, to his utter rage and horror, he saw the other three humans actually walking out into the open to meet the animals….

  3. John Moore,

    I think that atheists who are wishing that about Christians could have their wish just by taking the time to discover what’s true about Christians. Weber didn’t call it the Protestant work ethic for nothing. Europe didn’t outstrip the rest of the world’s technology, science, and economic prosperity because its geography was superior.

  4. There is an instinctive hatred of Christ and Christianity in many atheist blogs , talks , ” chats”. The ones I’ve met are the most proud , agressive , Christ haters that one could ever come across . It seems they don’t want there to be a God because there’d be a judge over their lives . Mockery is never too far away from their lips either . It’s a constant hatred of anything which smacks of Christianity . In general the atheist is the most inconsistent , hypocritical and contradictory person on the planet and they won’t listen because they cannot allow a divine foot in the door . In my view Tom , in general , you’re wasting your time being reasonable with many . Their whole rationale is to undermine Christian philosophy and any other religion . However, Christ is the real butt of their philosophising and vulgarity usually . Now if there are any true seekers of truth then by all means engage but be wary of the ones who seem reasonable but never will come to bend the knee ? Why ? Because they want to be on the throne . They want autonomy and they will take yours and mine if they are allowed . I meet my atheist friend Chris every day and he seems nice on the surface but would do away with anything Christian if he had the power . Mark my words , by all means engage with them but do not compromise your love of Christ when conversing. I believe you’re doing well and being Christlike Tom . I really believe you’re engaging in a loving manner . I can do that as well but I’m not prepared to be led down the garden path and on some rabbit trail by anyone who has an agenda to nullify Christ. We have the Truth ie Christ. What you say is so true : Christ was hated and died for the truth . He was and IS God in the flesh. The atheist ultimately must face Him and decide to go their own path or bend the knee. If they decide for their own autonomy then so be it . That’s their world . We can call them back to our world with prayer and truth in love . That’s what you’re doing .

  5. Tom:

    @3: Except for the problem that Weber’s transfer from a particular theological hermeneutic to the real world is dubious and not well supported: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/12/11099/. And, there is a pattern reflected in other issues: the transfer of a general Reformation Protestant hermeneutic to things of the world is seen, for example, in the pedigree of thinking behind Intelligent Design. We see shades of it in Plantinga’s theistic personalism and Craig’s univocity of being. There is an underlying attempt (based on a particular presupposition) of direct access to God (witness BigBird’s belief that knowledge of the existence of God is directly accessible to the MESs). Part of the problem is a lack of analogous language and the allegorical sense of Scripture (both rejected by the Protestant reformers), which makes the term “direct” unwieldy if understood univocally. There is a general strain of discomfort among Protestants with the concept of God’s otherness or transcendence (certainly not by all, but a significant influence nonetheless), and you’ve read about that in Platcher–ironically opposed to Luther’s take on the matter.

    I realize this has strayed off topic a bit and I’m honestly not trying to be provocative, but it is nonetheless an important perspective from which to consider your post. Also, Fr. Neuhaus’ way-back article from First Things (http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/11/003-can-atheists-be-good-citizens) might offer a better insight of the “two worlds” perspective.

  6. Perhaps ‘culture war’ is the wrong metaphor I don’t know, but when I think about how those who adhere to the culture that atheism as wrought and the atheist’s desire to destroy the culture that was built prior to their secular ascendency (that being a culture built primarily on Judeo-Christian values) it appears to me that if it isn’t a culture ‘war’ then perhaps a slaughter would be a better metaphor.

    As the atheistic secular institutes of the entertainment industry, the news media, education and government advance their agenda with a near monopoly on the public square, Christian voices and philosophy are drowned out and even though Western ideals of egalitarianism, freedom, justice, democracy, human rights, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion, speech and assembly, all grew out of Judeo-Christianity, history has been re-written to imply that atheistic secularism is the real champion of such ideals, all the while those who oppose Christian belief and thought are actually working to undermine many of the ideals listed here.

  7. BTW (off topic):

    Feast yer eyes upon the conclusion from a Yahoo! News article on equality (there are issues with the article–in particular because it hardly makes any distinctions for the application of the term “equality,” but the conclusion is unexpected given the media outlet):

    Equality always wins. And equality became the lodestar of Western culture thanks to Christianity.

    Which can be found here: http://theweek.com/article/index/256556/how-christianity-gave-us-gay-marriage.

    Food for thought… and likely engaging discussion. One thing for certain, it’s not atheism that introduces human kind to dignity affirming-ideas. Atheism does quite the opposite: it introduces humanity to horrific death on a massive scale.

  8. Tom – In your list of what “the world” says… do you think that all atheists believe all of those? Or does “the world” have some diversity?

    Oh, and have you read Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel”? Geography alone doesn’t explain Europe’s technical dominance… but it wouldn’t have been possible without it.

    Holopupenko – It wasn’t atheism that gave us the Atlantic slave trade, or depopulated the Americas, or gave us the term “witch hunt”.

    I suspect you’d say not all Christians took part in those things, and many actively opposed them. That’s quite true. Of course, it’s equally true that not all atheists took part in “horrific death on a massive scale”, and plenty have actively opposed it.

  9. @8

    No. Whether or not an atheist actualizes the potency to act as a monster is immaterial to the point. In all the horrible cases ascribed to Christians, the faith–by its very nature–opposes those acts… which is why Christianity led the way and inspired all abolishment-of-slavery movements. (You may, of course, quibble over certain Christians abusing or misinterpreting the message of Christ… but you would not gain anything from that.)

    Modern atheism is parasitic upon what Christianity bequeaths to the world. Atheism in general is parasitic upon the good because it itself is a negation of the good and an attempt to negate The Good. There is nothing–NOTHING–within the nature (spoken analogously) of atheism that would objectively hinder or stop horrible acts. That you or any atheist would borrow some good from Christianity to then cosmetically cover your tracks will fool no one. Atheism, by its very nature, is anti-human and hence deadly to its core… and the body counts are their to attest to it.

    Keep appealing to Christian goods: you only end up damning that to which you’ve sworn ultimate allegiance.

  10. Ray,
    The term “the world” refers to fallen people and cultures that are in a state of rebellion toward God. There’s a lot of diversity in the world, but everyone has that in common.

    Atheists can be very moral people, but they are still part of that group.

  11. Holopupenko:

    Modern atheism is parasitic upon what Christianity bequeaths to the world. Atheism in general is parasitic upon the good because it itself is a negation of the good and an attempt to negate The Good. There is nothing–NOTHING–within the nature (spoken analogously) of atheism that would objectively hinder or stop horrible acts. That you or any atheist would borrow some good from Christianity to then cosmetically cover your tracks will fool no one. Atheism, by its very nature, is anti-human and hence deadly to its core…

    It appears to me that atheists face a trilemma similar to the Christian trilemma as described by C.S. Lewis. It goes like this. To be an atheist one has to be either:

    1. Dishonest
    2. Deluded, or
    3. Dumb (that is, stupid or willfully ignorant).

    Let me give some examples to illustrate each of these.

    First, to be an atheist one has to be dishonest. I mean this is true for even atheists who are deluded or dumb. However, I think that there are degrees of dishonesty– so in other words, some atheists are more honest than others.

    For example, I respect modern atheists, like the late 20th century thinkers Sartre and Camus, who at least appeared to honestly understand the implications of their atheism. That is, in a world without God, life ultimately has no meaning or value. However, they were still being dishonest, because simply understanding the implications of one’s atheism does not justify it.

    On the other hand, the typical internet atheist with his smugness and condescension (they also appear to be typically male) tries to present atheism as if it were a meaningful world view. Meaningful, that is, until he paints himself himself into a corner, then the dodging and weaving begins. For example, when cornered, he begins to claims that, “Atheism is not really a belief, it’s just disbelief.” If that’s true, then why show up pretending that it’s some kind of belief?

    Second, a posture like the one I have just described above is also clearly delusional. Of course, there may be some serious underlying psychological issues. For example, someone may have been abused by a priest or a minister as a child and that is what lies behind his or her rejection of God. In such cases, where it is warranted, Christians have to own up and take responsibility. I mean both institutionally as well as individually. Brushing such problems under the rug is not acceptable or Christian. On the other hand, the atheist has to be honestly willing to be helped in such cases, which means he (or she) needs to be honest.

    Third, most atheists justify their disbelief or dishonesty by sheer stupidity. For example, some atheists think they have a winning argument when they ask the question, “who made God?” Other atheists try to argue from premises that are clearly self refuting. For example, Sam Harris tries to create a system of objective morals and values that is completely deterministic. (Harris does not accept any form of compatibilism .) How is such moral belief even tenable? Doesn’t ought imply can?

    How then should the Christian respond to the atheist? Maybe that’s a good question for discussion.

  12. SteveK –

    The term “the world” refers to fallen people and cultures that are in a state of rebellion toward God. There’s a lot of diversity in the world, but everyone has that in common.

    Funny. I don’t agree with at least #3 and #7. I also don’t think I can get behind #1 or #2 as presented. I don’t think I have those “in common” with “the world”. If that’s meant to be a characterization of those “in a state of rebellion toward God” – or perhaps more specifically a characterization of atheists as “opposite poles on that spectrum” – then it doesn’t speak to my experience.

  13. Holopupenko –

    In all the horrible cases ascribed to Christians, the faith–by its very nature–opposes those acts

    Well… the majority of Christians agree on that now, sure. But there’s Exodus 22:18, which is still being prosecuted today. By Christians who don’t think it opposes those acts.

    There is nothing–NOTHING–within the nature (spoken analogously) of atheism that would objectively hinder or stop horrible acts.

    As I have (ahem) noted before, that’s correct. Of course, there’s nothing in theism that would objectively hinder or stop horrible acts – just ask the Aztecs.

    Specific forms of theism or atheism can, however, oppose such acts. As I’ve also noted before.

    Modern atheism is parasitic upon what Christianity bequeaths to the world.

    Just like astronomy is parasitic upon astrology, and chemistry parasitic upon alchemy.

  14. Ray,
    Your experience isn’t the issue here. The facts of Christianity are the issue. You can disagree with Tom’s list, and you would still be part of “the world”.

  15. Ray, if you think Christianity is defined by its extremes, then what do you think of Darwinism being defined by the loony who took all those hostages at the Discovery Channel? You know the theoretical connection between Darwin and his beliefs isn’t that far-fetched, after all.

  16. And for this you get the slippery eel award:

    As I have (ahem) noted before, that’s correct. Of course, there’s nothing in theism that would objectively hinder or stop horrible acts – just ask the Aztecs.

    The Aztecs’ conquerors were defying biblical injunctions and papal instructions.

    If you want to define Christianity by those who defied Christianity, then have all the fun you want with it. Don’t expect anyone to take you seriously about anything you say afterward, though.

  17. Modern atheism is parasitic upon what Christianity bequeaths to the world.

    Just like astronomy is parasitic upon astrology, and chemistry parasitic upon alchemy.

    Cute. You get cute points for speaking something so quick, pithy, and glib.

    Sure, it’s uninformed, unexplained, unsupported, unreasoned, and as far as analogies go, simply wrong.

    But still I won’t deny you any of the cute points you earned for it.

  18. By the way, with reference to taking you seriously:

    I have listened to you at length over an extended period of time. I don’t think you take your interactions here seriously yourself. If you did, you wouldn’t try cute tricks the way you are. You wouldn’t try slippery tricks the way you are. You wouldn’t set yourself up as authoritatively informed in areas where you’ve been so frequently challenged.

    When you start taking yourself seriously, I’ll start taking you seriously too. Until then, I’m under no moral or intellectual obligation to do so. That is, I take you seriously as a fellow human being of great worth. You are worth interacting with on that basis, but certainly not on the basis of the quality of your arguments here.

    You could step it up if you wanted, and I’d welcome that.

  19. Tom Gilson –

    The Aztecs’ conquerors were defying biblical injunctions and papal instructions.

    Excuse me. I wasn’t referring to the conquerors of the Aztecs. I was referring to the Aztecs themselves, whose religion – a form of theism, note – commanded and commended sacrificing thousands of people, possibly tens of thousands at a time.

    ‘Theism’ is a very broad category. Why can’t ‘atheism’ be at least as broad?

  20. “‘Theism’ is a very broad category. Why can’t ‘atheism’ be at least as broad?”

    Fine with me. Just as unhappy families can all be different.

    But atheism cannot be broad enough to encompass belief in a personal basis to reality, nor cannot it be broad enough to include teleology; lacking Christ, it is especially weak in explaining the human condition.

  21. Tom,

    I don’t know if this matters to you or not, but there may be others here like me who are following your blog as a refreshing change to the usual rhetoric out there in Christian-Atheist Dialog Land. This may come as a shock to you but the vast majority of believers that I have encountered can barely hold a reasonable conversation on religion or philosophy.

    I have been reading this for months trying to be as open to Christian reasoning as possible to see if I have been wrong all of my life. I have learned much from so many and as a result of this I’m not even sure I could call myself an atheist any longer (I suppose agnostic would be more realistic). And I have decided to never again try to reason someone out of his or her beliefs (a la Boghossian).

    I am not one of those people who is so confident of his own positions that I could stand in front of a podium and defend a position from either William Lane Craig or Sam Harris. Honestly, I have no idea who is right. So I do like to watch the interactions between people that are more informed and intelligent than I am.

    I count Ray Ingles as one of those people, and from what I have seen, he has been very thoughtful and no less kind or serious than anyone else on here. To see you dismiss his comments (@ 19) in that way does not make you appear as sincere (especially when you devoted days to debunking commentators such as Oisin). But if you are just here for yourself, that is up to you. I however am disappointed.

  22. Cue another attempt to argue that naturalism coherently explains the human condition. 🙂

    (okay, I won’t do it again)

  23. Bill, I don’t think Ray has been unkind. I don’t think he’s unintelligent, either. I really do think he’s lacking in seriousness, though. When he trots out Aztec polytheism to show that theism isn’t practiced uniformly, he’s not being serious. He knows that’s not the theism we’re defending. He ought also know that most people distinguish theism from polytheism, even though there is a broad definition of theism that can include it.

    I’m calling him to real serious engagement here, which I think he’s been lacking in since the beginning. I should think that we would all want that of ourselves and each other.

  24. Tom Gilson –

    When he trots out Aztec polytheism to show that theism isn’t practiced uniformly, he’s not being serious. He knows that’s not the theism we’re defending

    When Holopupenko trots out Communist atheism to show that ‘atheism’ leads to horrific death on a massive scale, he’s not being serious. He knows that’s not the atheism we’re defending.

    He ought also know that most people distinguish theism from polytheism,

    If you mean monotheism, there’s a perfectly good word for it, precisely suited to distinguish it from polytheism. Both are subtypes of the broader category of ‘theism’. Hence the prefixes. It’s especially apt to use the broad category of ‘theism’ when contrasting with ‘atheism’, as atheism rejects both monotheism and polytheism, along with several beliefs that don’t fit into the mono/poly split, like some forms of Buddhism.

    And when you present a picture of atheism that atheists can’t recognize themselves in, you might at least suspect that your religious framework is leading you to fail in your duty.

  25. Communist atheism is obviously not the version you’re defending. What deep, foundational principle, other than personal preference, distinguishes it from yours, however?

    That’s a serious question. I’d like to know what there is in your version of atheism that’s founded on some bedrock principle in the nature of reality (or of human reality, at least) that prevents your atheism from becoming violent.

  26. Tom Gilson – Take a look at the Wikipedia entry yourself. When limiting oneself to monotheism, a distinction between “theism” and “deism” might be useful. When contrasting with atheism, it’s misleading at best, for the reasons already noted – atheism is contrary to both theism and deism, among many other possibilities.

  27. I couldn’t help but think of this discussion when I read this article.

    “There is a secular idea that ‘the devil made me do it’ that has turned into ‘satanism made me do it,'” says Lucien Greaves, spokesman for The Satanic Temple.

  28. There is an underlying attempt (based on a particular presupposition) of direct access to God (witness BigBird’s belief that knowledge of the existence of God is directly accessible to the MESs).

    The argument from design is an inference to best explanation. Obviously, knowledge of complexity is directly accessible to the MESs, and we infer that an intelligent designer is the most cogent explanation of that complexity.

    There’s no claim that God is directly accessible to the MESs, and there’s no claim that the designer is God.

  29. Tom: For someone who dismisses an analogy, you’re certainly willing to grant the main point at the time: “I do not claim that theism is necessary for science now.” Indeed, you even grant that it’s “true” that “you [don’t] need astrology and alchemy to practice those disciplines today”.

    I know that there were “helpful principles” in astrology and alchemy, but that doesn’t argue against the analogy. “Experimentation” and “careful observation” are not bundled up with the rest of those disciplines. The point is that chemistry and astronomy have taken what was good about their predecessors without thereby being ‘parasitic’ upon them.

    Just so, we can take what’s good about Christianity regardless of its origins, without being ‘parasitic’ upon Christianity. The Christian worldview helped encourage seeing all people as valuable and having something to contribute – but once people got the chance to demonstrate that, you don’t need a spiritual justification for thinking that. You can just look at the evidence.

    A recent example is the Tuskegee Airmen. It became awfully hard to claim that blacks couldn’t be excellent fighter pilots after they became one of the best, almost certainly the best, bomber escort team of WWII. Possibly some of the people who gave them that chance were motivated by Christian charity. But the evidence after that speaks for itself.

  30. I know that there were “helpful principles” in astrology and alchemy, but that doesn’t argue against the analogy. “Experimentation” and “careful observation” are not bundled up with the rest of those disciplines. The point is that chemistry and astronomy have taken what was good about their predecessors without thereby being ‘parasitic’ upon them.

    Just so, we can take what’s good about Christianity regardless of its origins, without being ‘parasitic’ upon Christianity. The Christian worldview helped encourage seeing all people as valuable and having something to contribute – but once people got the chance to demonstrate that, you don’t need a spiritual justification for thinking that. You can just look at the evidence.

    What evidence?

    Christianity’s doctrines of creation, incarnation, the crucifixion, and salvation all provide deep-reality reasons for considering all persons of high dignity and equal intrinsic worth. No other worldview that I know of has led to that conclusion. Human nature tends powerfully against it: the powerful tend always to make themselves more important. What is there in any other worldview that would command assent? What is there that would cause the powerful to recognize they’re up against something bigger than themselves?

    Alchemy and astrology led the way to real science, not through any theoretical structures, but rather through introducing practices of empirical observation. Chemistry and astronomy were able to take over that part of the ancient studies intact. They imported certain practical methods, and rejected the theories.

    And that’s where your analogy falls apart, for the recognition of human worth is a matter of theory, not of practice. Christianity is a matter of theory inseparable from practice, and practice inseparable from theory; and its theory-set is a unified whole. Secular humanism has adopted a portion of that theory-set, the idea of high and equal human worth, but it has snipped that portion cleanly away from that which supports it.

    So the analogy fails for lack of parallelism. I think it fails as well for lack of evidence. What observations show that humans are of high and equal worth? I can’t think of any. Maybe you can. I’ll be interested to hear.

  31. I do need to address the matter of the Tuskegee Airmen, and all the other circumstances that represents. We have strong evidence that all persons have equal competence, or at least the potential for it given the opportunity.

    Does that translate to equal worth? Does it translate to high dignity? Or does it open the door for more effective exploitation by the powerful? B.F. Skinner denied human dignity. Crick did, too. Peter Singer does, too; all of them on theoretical grounds that make sense on a materialist worldview. So the theoretical underpinning is lacking.

    The practical outworking is bound to fail as well, or so I contend at any rate, since whatever you offer as a theory behind your theory, if it isn’t transcendent—if it isn’t bigger than the bigness of humans wielding power—it won’t restrain the abuse of power.

    Further, what of those who are less competent? Treating groups as groups, it’s possible to argue for general equality. Treating individuals as individuals, inequality is the rule. If you make equal competence your standard you’re opening wide the door for a Platonic division of kings, soldiers, workers, slaves.

    Equal worth does not follow from equal competence. Your evidence does not support your conclusion.

  32. The Christian worldview helped encourage seeing all people as valuable and having something to contribute – but once people got the chance to demonstrate that, you don’t need a spiritual justification for thinking that. You can just look at the evidence.

    Naturalism doesn’t need to justify the objective existence of human value? That’s a new one, Ray, and it got me laughing. It seems there is nothing that purposeless, undirected matter and energy in motion cannot accomplish given enough time.

  33. “This, by the way, is one reason I focus a lot here on our essential humanness: if we lose our common grip on that, then I don’t know what could bring us together. “

    But, of course, “the world” (and by extension, the atheist) espouses greed, selfishness, vengeance, purposelessness, despair, and all manner of shenanigans (see OP). Jesus, of course, espouses the diametric opposite, and of course there’s nothing in between. Christianity Good, everything else Bad.

    And, of course, atheists are “proud, aggressive, Christ-haters” who mock, vulgarize, are inconsistent and hypocritical, and in general sacrifice babies to Satan (see #4). And, of course, atheism is directly responsible for Communism and mass murder (see everything Holo posts), we are “dumb, deluded, or in denial” (see #11), or, my personal favorite, we are all in “rebellion against God” (see #10).

    Why, we’re so close-minded that the idea of a creator deity is “possibility of a supernatural and sovereign creator is strange, probably even repulsive” (see OP).

    “The second great question is, where shall we meet, we denizens of such different worlds? I suggest it is in our humanness; for we share more than a world, we share a common human condition.”

    But remember, of course, that atheism can’t explain the human condition (#22).

    “We know particularly what it’s like to be misunderstood, misrepresented, stereotyped. “

    Oh, the irony.

    Good job on the meeting in the middle and finding that common ground, everybody.

  34. Sault, if Christianity is good, then it is the supreme good, and everything that opposes or contradicts it is bad. That’s just part of the definition of Christian belief. Also inherent in that definition is that if Christianity is not the supreme good then it is the celebration of a supreme evil: the cross of Jesus Christ; for the cross can only be a good answer if it is the only answer.

    (I am speaking here of “Christianity,” the way that Christ and the Bible have taught, and which Christians have followed very imperfectly, with the result that “Christianity” as a social system and structure displays both good and bad. The two senses of Christianity are closely related but far from identical.)

    If you understand what Christianity affirms, and if you stand on the other side of the divide I’ve described, then you’re pretty much committed to judging Christianity to be a great form of evil. If you don’t go that far, then you don’t understand all that’s wrapped up in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

    From your side of the divide, then, you can hurl invective at Christianity’s judgment of the world, not realizing that by so doing you are judging Christianity with equal harshness—or else not judging it, but only by reason of ignorance. Those who know Christianity may question its truths, they may embrace its truths, or they may hate it; they cannot, however, treat it as benignly false.

    So in fact there is no meeting in the middle on our beliefs. Your beliefs exclude mine utterly, just as mine do yours. We can meet on the grounds of our common humanness alone.

    I have frequently disagreed with Holopupenko about atheism being the cause of Communism and its associated mass murders. I have frequently said that the cause lies in human nature and its deep flaws, and that atheism is indirectly the cause by failing to have any principle in it to restrain sin. There have been polytheistic and deistic and pantheistic mass murderers. Atheism doesn’t get any special privilege in that.

    As for the irony of stereotypes, see today’s post. I strongly disbelieve in stereotyping persons. I strongly support the practice of attacking false ideas. I am opposed to insulting people, but I will proclaim it all day long if I think their beliefs and ideas are wrong, dangerous, and harmful—which is the case with atheism.

    If you don’t like that, then look within: you won’t be able to find a way to disagree without practicing the same thing from your side of the divide. The difference is that your side doesn’t include a deep-reality principle of love, restoration, and purpose. Those things are contingent evolutionary accidents, on your view, and they can be shed in a moment by any individual who decides to do so, without violating any deep-reality principles.

    Christianity is about a Creator God who is both love and truth, and who knows how to practice both in full degree.

  35. By the way, if you want to complain about stereotyping, you might want to quit practicing it:

    And, of course, atheists are “proud, aggressive, Christ-haters” who mock, vulgarize, are inconsistent and hypocritical, and in general sacrifice babies to Satan (see #4).

    You make it sound as if we all think that way. I wrote my most recent post to say that I don’t.

    I don’t agree with atheism. It’s a wrong view of reality.

    Further, I think that there is real truth to atheists being Christ-haters, for to spurn his loving sacrifice for you is hateful toward him, to deny his reality is hateful, to ignore him is hateful. You could hardly say you love Christ from your position. (You might selectively like some things about him, but you don’t love his central identity or mission.) But this hate is only overcome as we become overwhelmed by Christ’s goodness. The difference is in his goodness, not ours.

    I think that all persons have a pride problem, that’s only overcome in Christ. Atheists are hardly alone in that. The same goes for inconsistency and hypocrisy.

    I don’t think all atheists are aggressive. Some are apathetic toward God, and to life in general.

    And I think that we’re all in the same boat except as we see Christ’s excellence and are drawn to follow him.

    (You made up the Satanism and child sacrifice part, so don’t blame it on us.)

  36. I didn’t make it clear that I was speaking about multiple people when I wrote that bit. You were not the only person in the thread to disparage atheists. That is why I ended my post with “everybody”. Of course I don’t think that every Christian thinks that atheists are “Christ haters” or are hypocrites or believe that atheism caused Communism or sacrifice babies (yes, I totally made up that part for hyperbolic and comedic effect).

    “Those who know Christianity may question its truths, they may embrace its truths, or they may hate it; they cannot, however, treat it as benignly false.”

    Except that I grew up Christian, left the faith, and after the appropriate time spent healing… found that I don’t hate Christianity. Except for its’ political influence here in America (which in some cases can be destructive) and the evolution-deniers, I don’t really see it as that big of a deal. Live and let live.

    I see, over and over, this stark black-and-white mentality of “us versus them”. How are we supposed to find common ground when you insist that we should hate you?

    Is it because this is a philosophical blog and I’m not philosophical enough to have that kind of ideology? I dunno.

    It just seems so…. unreasonable.

  37. Sault,

    One possible way to find common ground is when atheists who respect Christians tell atheists who despise Christians just because they are Christians to pipe down, though we don’t see a lot of this.

    The same internal method should be applied with Christians who respect atheists to advise the Christians who think atheists are evil just because they are atheists to pipe down.

    Though this will take time

  38. Tom: ‘Your beliefs exclude mine utterly, just as mine do yours.’

    I disagree. Take one of your dichotomies above: ‘The world says to hold on for dear life; Jesus said, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”’

    This evening I was sitting in a church waiting for a recital and browsing your interesting article and associated comments on my phone. Mention was made in the comments of the Aztecs, and I remembered that I had visited an Aztec exhibition just a couple of weeks ago.

    The exhibition of course featured human sacrifice, and the Aztec rationale for sacrifice was along the lines that the gods had sacrificed themselves to give life to humans, so humans were duty-bound to repay the debt.

    I could understand the logic of this rationale – how it could ‘make sense’ within a certain worldview – without necessarily accepting the behaviour.

    In the church tonight I noticed a stained-glass depiction of Jesus on the cross, and it struck me that the Aztec understanding of sacrifice was not too far different to the Christian understanding, except that in Christianity Jesus is the only victim and repays the debt for everyone.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to ‘relativise’ Christian and Aztec belief, merely pointing out that there seems to be an underlying commonality: the notion of life-giving sacrifice.

    So I don’t think it’s the case that Christian beliefs ‘utterly exclude’ the beliefs of others, or vice versa.

  39. Graham, I may have misspoken there, and I hope you’ll understand I don’t think every one of your beliefs utterly excludes mine, and vice versa. The whole point of this post is that we have differences and we have commonalities.

    There is nevertheless a key point of utter exclusion: the meaning of the cross. It is the best or one of the worst things in all human history or imagination, depending on whether it is true or not. If you are questioning its truth, then there’s no contradiction in viewing it as possibly one or the other. If however you deny the Christian message of the cross, then your beliefs about the true nature of reality really do exclude Christian beliefs. There is no middle ground there.

  40. Aztec sacrifice differed completely, totally, and infinitely from Christ’s sacrifice. First of all, it was grossly wrong and evil. It was based on a false conception of sin, of human worth, of God’s view toward sin; and it was the taking of a life that no one had the right to take. Christ, the author of life, laid down his own life freely and with full knowledge of what his death would accomplish.

    The Christian response has nothing to do with any duty to repay the debt to God. The cross is about a free gift granted to us who have nothing to repay with, except our trust and our gratitude. My life of following Christ now is not a repayment but an expression of that trust, gratitude, and love.

    The differences are stark. I could go on but I’ll leave it at that.

  41. Sault, I think you’re talking about seeing Christianity-as-Christians as benignly false. I don’t think you could see Christianity-as-the-worship-of-God-who-died-for-us as benignly false. Not if you’ve really considered the meaning of the cross.

  42. Tom Gilson, working backward –

    I think that there is real truth to atheists being Christ-haters… You could hardly say you love Christ from your position.

    ‘Not loving Christ’ is not the same thing as ‘hating Christ’. Off the top of my head, the alternatives include doubt and indifference. When you say this sort of thing, it really comes across to me as very similar to, “You don’t thank Santa for the presents under the tree? Such ingratitude! You must really hate him.”

    (Of course, JAD already said that atheists must be dishonest, so what does our own experience of our own thoughts and feelings count for?)

    Also inherent in that definition is that if Christianity is not the supreme good then it is the celebration of a supreme evil: the cross of Jesus Christ; for the cross can only be a good answer if it is the only answer.

    The key words being “in that definition”. If someone doesn’t accept Christianity is true, there are more alternatives than ‘it is the celebration of a supreme evil’. Again off the top of my head, it could be misguided, a mistake, tragic, a noble effort badly misunderstood, a step on the path to something better, etc. etc.

  43. Tom, continuing –

    Human nature tends powerfully against it: the powerful tend always to make themselves more important. What is there in any other worldview that would command assent? What is there that would cause the powerful to recognize they’re up against something bigger than themselves?

    Well, you know I put forth the laws of physics as well as human nature. Not many people really think they can violate physical law. Whatever he claims, I don’t think Kim Jong Un believes that himself.

    (Kim’s actually a good example. He has to live in fear of assassination, can’t trust his own family, and his regime is entirely dependent on aid from other, freer countries. Sounds like an awesome position to be in, huh?)

    for the recognition of human worth is a matter of theory, not of practice.

    Well, I’ve raised four five-year-olds at this point, and all of them could grasp the basics of, “What if everyone did that? If you take his toys, why shouldn’t he take yours? Why shouldn’t everybody take yours?”

    B.F. Skinner denied human dignity. Crick did, too. Peter Singer does, too; all of them on theoretical grounds that make sense on a materialist worldview. So the theoretical underpinning is lacking.

    Islam is just as monotheist as Christianity, and many prominent representatives of Islam have… er… done and said some not-nice things in accord with their theology. Just as ‘monotheism’ has room for lots of different theories, so does atheism. Allow me to counter your examples with Jonas Salk.

    And I agree with Steven Pinker and Ruth Macklin that “dignity” is not as good a theoretical basis as “autonomy” for human rights.

  44. Tom – I’m not distorting, you don’t seem to be processing what I’m saying.

    If one doesn’t think that a sacrifice has been made, then one can hardly ‘spurn’ it! I’m not ‘spurning’ the hundred million dollars that Bill Gates might have left on my doorstep; I’m not running to my doorstep because I don’t think there’s a fortune sitting there.

  45. Ray,
    Most of your recent comments take the form: someone disagrees with you or does it differently, and because they do that sufficiently rebuts to what you said.

  46. Ray @52
    Speaking of distortions.

    If one doesn’t think that a sacrifice has been made, then one can hardly ‘spurn’ it!

    Do you take pride in distorting history by denying it? To deny that Christ made a sacrifice is to deny that Christ willfully went to the cross for the benefit of mankind. That is what the historical record tells us. You don’t have to be a Christian to accept that is how it played out historically. You can concluded that Christ was a crazy fanatic and accept it just the same, but for some reason you don’t even want to do that.

    What do the history experts say and why are you *that* willing to take a fringe position when you don’t have to do that? Something is driving you to the fringe. What?

  47. Ray,
    Let me put it to you in more modern terms.

    US soldiers, police and fire fighters, make real sacrifices by serving, working, fighting and dying on your behalf (and mine), even though you might think you didn’t need them to do all of that. They give up a part of themselves so that you might benefit. I’m quite certain that even your neighbors make sacrifices for you.

    Your indifferent attitude concerning Christ’s sacrifice for you is no less offensive than it would be if you were indifferent toward your neighbor that gave up something for your benefit or your local policeman that drove by your house at 2am in order to help keep the peace.

  48. Let me clarify one thing that I mean when I say that atheists are dishonest. I do not wish to imply that in their personal lives they are not capable of being honest. With regards to family, friends and employment etc. I am sure that many of them are very honest, trustworthy and loving. My criticism pertains to their beliefs. And I think that it is justified because my view is God’s view.

    As far as I know the Bible only refers to atheism in only two places: Psalm 14:1 and Romans 1:18-20. Let’s take a closer look at the second reference. In it Paul makes the following points:

    1. Unbelievers “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”
    2. “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” [in the way He has created the world.]
    3. Therefore, “they are without excuse.”

    In other words, they are being dishonest.

    So, if you are upset with me, Ray, you’re upset with the wrong person… I guess you’ll have to take it up with Him.

  49. SteveK,

    @54 – It may be more accurate to say that the historical record tells us that Christ believed he was going to the cross for the benefit of mankind. Whether or not that is true, is not a matter of history, but of theology.

  50. (previous comment deleted)

    @SteveK

    “Your indifferent attitude concerning Christ’s sacrifice for you is no less offensive than it would be if you were indifferent toward your neighbor that gave up something for your benefit or your local policeman that drove by your house at 2am in order to help keep the peace.”

    Indifference is not the same as hatred. There is also a difference between something that I know happened, like a fireman risking his life to rescue a child, or a soldier giving up their life to protect our freedom, and the theological claims a believer asserts about a man who was crucified.

    It is with some hesitation that I accept that historical reality of Jesus’ crucifixion, but it doesn’t mean that I have to accept the theological assertions made regarding it.

    @JAD

    “2. “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” [in the way He has created the world.]
    3. Therefore, “they are without excuse.”

    In other words, they are being dishonest.”

    This assumes that God’s existence has been made plain to me. If it never has, then how can I be dishonest about it? God’s existence was never made plain to me, even as a believer, so how could I possibly be dishonest about it?

    @Tom

    “Sault, I think you’re talking about seeing Christianity-as-Christians as benignly false. I don’t think you could see Christianity-as-the-worship-of-God-who-died-for-us as benignly false. Not if you’ve really considered the meaning of the cross.”

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time contemplating the meaning of the Crucifixion both as a believer and a non-believer. It’s a No True Scotsman to assume that I can only absolutely agree with or absolutely hate Christians, Christianity, Jesus, the Crucifixion, or Christian doctrine. I disagree with some of it, and affirm aspects of Jesus’ life and teachings as good (I suppose I break with many atheists in saying so); I just don’t accept some of the theological underpinnings behind the Crucifixion.

    Maybe if you redefine the word “hate” to include indifference, doubt, disagreement, and ignorance? Please don’t, it makes communication so much more difficult!

    I refuse to be pigeonholed into some arbitrary black-and-white category, and I resent being labeled lazy or apathetic because of it (#42). It would really help the dialogue (and “bridging the divide!”) if you would refrain from doing this sort of thing.

  51. I very much agree with Sault. To disbelieve that the Crucifixion has the significance that it has for Christians does not seem to be “hatred” without greatly distorting that term. By way of analogy, many Tibetan Buddhists believe the Dali Lama is performing a kind of sacrifice (forgoing Nirvana) in order to save all of humanity (or as many as he can) – hence the continual reincarnation. I am simply skeptical that he can do that. But do I hate him because I am doubtful? It’s almost shocking to me that this idea is even being floated on a blog of this character. I can agree that Jesus was an upstanding man and moral character the same way I can feel that about the Dali Lama. I personally have never known an atheist who says that he “hates” Jesus. I wonder if this isn’t just an impression that people can come to when they mostly interact with others through the internet.

    Like Sault, I have also never felt that God’s existence was evident. Both of my parents were non-religious so it just wasn’t an issue that was really discussed. I only started my own endeavors when I was about 8 years old but nothing about God’s existence ever seemed “obvious” any more than the existence of a ghost seemed so. Maybe as JAD has said, I am just too stupid or deluded (I’m always trying to better myself in those areas to become less so). And maybe I am lying to myself (that would seem to be a part of what it means to be deluded). But in my 45 years on this planet, I’ve always been very “anti-lying” and I don’t think anyone that knows me would accuse me of being a liar.

    But then again, maybe JAD is compelled to believe this because of what he has read, not what he knows is true. At least in that case he is being honest. I will continue to strive to be the same.

  52. Bill L

    I can agree that Jesus was an upstanding man and moral character the same way I can feel that about the Dali Lama.

    You’re agreeing with an option that Jesus doesn’t give us. He didn’t claim to be an upstanding man at all so there’s nothing to agree with.

  53. Tom: ‘Graham, I may have misspoken there … The whole point of this post is that we have differences and we have commonalities.’

    I think you may be referring to my comments. I’m happy to accept that we’re talking about differences and commonalities.

    ‘There is nevertheless a key point of utter exclusion: the meaning of the cross.’

    By ‘meaning of the cross’ I assume you refer to the crucifixion-resurrection of Jesus and the promise of redemption and a transformed eternal body for his followers.

    I agree that non-Christians do not accept this doctrine as expressed, and that this is a major point of difference, possibly even a unique one.

    ‘Aztec sacrifice differed completely, totally, and infinitely from Christ’s sacrifice.’

    What we are talking about here are beliefs. Beliefs can be categorised. In this case, we have the category sacrifice. So as far as the category is concerned, the terms ‘completely, totally, and infinitely’ cannot apply with regards to difference, otherwise we would need to apply a new category.

    As such, the terms within the category can only be different in degree, not in kind.

  54. Sault @59
    Bill L @60

    Indifference is not the same as hatred.

    I agree.

    There is also a difference between something that I know happened, like a fireman risking his life to rescue a child, or a soldier giving up their life to protect our freedom, and the theological claims a believer asserts about a man who was crucified.

    The difference I’m seeing is that you are over-intellectualizing one of the responses, and not the other. I’ll explain.

    When you think of people from history that are reported to have sacrificed, do you have an attitude of indifference toward them because you haven’t confirmed they actually did what history reports? No. I don’t either because my reaction doesn’t depend on an overly-rational response. It depends on me valuing the virtuousness of sacrifice no matter what form it takes (you know what I mean).

    Are you indifferent toward fictitious characters in a book or movie that demonstrate sacrifice? No. You appreciate them because you value sacrifice.

    Now, if you can appreciate the nameless faceless people that have sacrificed and even the fictitious people that have sacrificed, why then can’t you appreciate the sacrifice of Christ? Why do you willfully strong-arm yourself into an attitude of indifference.

    Those last two are serious questions.

  55. @59 seems not to understand the significance of what he says (and accepts) re: the correct characterization of “indifference.” In fact, the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. For reference, refer to the population of Hell… and to Revelation 3:16.

  56. SteveK,

    You’re agreeing with an option that Jesus doesn’t give us. He didn’t claim to be an upstanding man at all so there’s nothing to agree with.

    Jesus didn’t have to claim it. The Dali Lama doesn’t have to claim it (he does not). This is something I take from reading the Bible. For the Dali Lama, this is something I take from his actions and writings.

    When I hear someone talk about not casting stones, about loving their enemies, and showing compassion to the outcasts of society, I see this as an upstanding man.

    What it seems you really are talking about is the false trilemma given to us by Lewis. If that is the case, there are too many problems with it in my view.

  57. Ray, are you saying in 51 that the laws of physics command moral assent?

    Your kids may understand equality of human worth. They make a poor example to generalize to the rest of the human race. Plato didn’t think of humans that way. Neither did Aristotle. Neither have most Indians, or Chinese, or Muslims: and they built theoretical structures to support their belief in inequality. You’re all together too sanguine about these things—especially since the reason your kids are getting it is because you’re passing your theory on to them. Not everyone gets taught that way from an early age.

    But what I don’t get is why you keep trotting out Islam as if it said anything about Christianity. DON’T YOU KNOW THEY’RE NOT THE SAME?

    Jonas Salk is not a counter-example to my statement that atheism lacks a theoretical underpinning for human dignity. Sure, atheism has room for a lot of theories. There are moral atheists everywhere. Atheism, however, is not the explanation for their morality. I defy you to show me how it could be.

    Autonomy may be a basis for human rights. So what? Is it a basis for equal treatment? For worth? We weren’t even talking about human rights? Why toss us off on another path?

    As for #52, I understand where you’re coming from. I know you do not think you are spurning anything real. I think you are.

  58. Sault @#59: “Indifference is not the same as hatred,” you say; and of course you’re right, but in this case it’s at least as bad.

    Mr. B at #62: The category is indeed completely different.

  59. What it seems you really are talking about is the false trilemma given to us by Lewis. If that is the case, there are too many problems with it in my view.

    Pretty easy to broad brush stroke this. Care to give us one?

  60. SteveK,

    @63

    Now, if you can appreciate the nameless faceless people that have sacrificed and even the fictitious people that have sacrificed, why then can’t you appreciate the sacrifice of Christ? Why do you willfully strong-arm yourself into an attitude of indifference.

    Well, I can appreciate anyone that believed they were sacrificing (or being sacrificed) for me just the way you can appreciate countless Buddhist monks who sacrificed themselves in order to end wars for a better human future. And I can do this for Christ as well. But this does not mean that the sacrifice had the intended outcome.

  61. BillT

    @68

    The NT could be a great exaggeration and misinterpretation of historical events.

    Thus he would not be lord, lunatic, nor liar.

  62. The NT could be a great exaggeration and misinterpretation of historical events.

    No. It really couldn’t. The growth of Christainity during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses (both believing and skeptical) to the events the NT describes, along with the known accuracy of the text, confirms the validity of the facts it describes. But then Lewis’ trilema stands unrefuted over fifty years after it’s introduction. You at least join a long list of those who believe they have answered it successfully.

  63. BillT,

    I’m sure you realize that people believe things that are not true all of the time. Or should we accept the growth rate of Mormonism as a testament to its veracity? (From what I understand, Mormonism and Christianity had roughly the same growth rate. If anyone has better info, please correct me).

    At least you join a long list of those who believe they have defended it successfully.

  64. You didn’t refute or really even address what I said. (Another broad brush comment and a false analogy). That’s ok with me if it’s ok with you.

  65. Yes, Bill. I’m reasonably familiar with it and the fictions that are it’s foundations. Which, BTW were known as fictions then as they are now. It’s just not a serious parallel.

  66. OK, great. You do agree that belief in the early historical events were important for early church growth?

  67. Bill L

    The NT could be a great exaggeration and misinterpretation of historical events.

    And for this we would need a justification, not merely a vivid imagination. What is your justification?

  68. Yes, given that Christ himself is an “early historical event”. That would, of course, be different than Mormanism which isn’t based on early historical events but based on a fiction.

  69. SteveK,

    I agree with you – a justification is necessary. I don’t intend to go into it here or now. But it is along the idea that the Gospels appear to be a progression of a changing story, that was itself developed from stories that had not been written down for decades. We don’t really know what happened in the very early church. Acts comes to us too late. We have no idea if any of Paul’s “500” ever corroborated the stories. We have no idea if anyone in Corinth ever tried to falsify the story. I know you find none of this compelling.

    You know I have read Cold Case Christianity, and I did find some of the ideas compelling. It was really the first time I opened up to the possibility that Mark could have just been that “initial report” he describes; that the different versions of the story don’t necessarily mean much; etc.

    Right now, I find both explanations plausible. (You should be happy that I have opened up that much). It is why I am sticking around as Tom goes through his “reasons for belief” series. I honestly don’t want to be deluded or stupid any longer than I have to be.

  70. BillT,

    I’m sorry, I should have said “Do you believe historical events surrounding the Mormon Church were what gave rise to its early rapid growth?

    (By this I am referring to the multiple witness of angels and the golden plates. This is what brought in early converts and skeptics.)

  71. Bill L,
    Thanks. I don’t know where you learned that the Gospels appear to be a progression of a changing story. That would be front page news, I think. Can you link to a source for that?

    A lot of your comment was about what we don’t know. You don’t justify a decision based on what you don’t know – so all of your points there don’t help. You want to do it based on what we do know, so I encourage you to focus on this, and don’t worry so much about what we don’t know.

  72. SteveK

    I don’t know where you learned that the Gospels appear to be a progression of a changing story.

    It’s no secret that most non-Christians hold views like this. You could look at anyone from Karen Armstrong to Bart Ehrman to Dan Barker. I know you don’t agree with them. My point is not to get into that here.

    Hey, by the way, if I gave you a PO Box, would you mind sending me $1000? I’ll just have it for a few weeks and then I’ll send you that + $100 in interest in return.

    I know you don’t know if I’ll return it, but don’t worry about that.

  73. Bill L @ #60:

    Like Sault, I have also never felt that God’s existence was evident. Both of my parents were non-religious so it just wasn’t an issue that was really discussed. I only started my own endeavors when I was about 8 years old but nothing about God’s existence ever seemed “obvious” any more than the existence of a ghost seemed so. Maybe as JAD has said, I am just too stupid or deluded (I’m always trying to better myself in those areas to become less so). And maybe I am lying to myself (that would seem to be a part of what it means to be deluded). But in my 45 years on this planet, I’ve always been very “anti-lying” and I don’t think anyone that knows me would accuse me of being a liar.

    Thank you, Bill, for your honest response. I believe that honest questions deserve answers, but that cuts both ways. The purpose of my posts (@#11 & #56) on this thread is simply to ask: ‘Why should I waste my time on people who are being dishonest and disingenuous?’ There are several people (I won’t name names) who show up here who clearly are. For example, I find it to be very disingenuous when someone gets upset or offended when we criticize atheism. Why should they be upset? They themselves have told us atheism is not a belief. Why then get upset when someone criticizes disbelief or non belief? After all, we aren’t really criticizing anything.

    But then again, maybe JAD is compelled to believe this because of what he has read, not what he knows is true. At least in that case he is being honest. I will continue to strive to be the same.

    Anyone who has faith knows what it is like to experience doubt. I honestly have had my doubts at times. However, even during times of my deepest doubts, I have never doubted God’s existence. I don’t see how anyone could. My main argument is really very simple. It goes like this: I exist and I am not the cause of my own existence.

  74. “Do you believe historical events surrounding the Mormon Church were what gave rise to its early rapid growth?

    Like I said, since Mormonism isn’t based on historical events but a fiction, it’s hard to see how it’s growth could be attributable to (nonexistent) historical events. In other words, whatever contributed to Mormonism’s growth it certainly couldn’t be historical events because it’s based on a fiction not historical events.

  75. JAD,

    I’m afraid you’re asking the wrong guy… I also have never understood why people get upset for the criticism of any idea or belief. Of course I understand on a personal level that one does not like having one’s cherished foundational views attacked, but I find that people usually get offended if they have not thought through their beliefs carefully. It has been my (dreadful) experience that most believers become extremely upset when you question their beliefs. A blog like this one is a good attempt at overcoming this issue. Tom (and others) have clearly thought through their positions on most issues and are comfortable verbalizing them. So given that many (most?) people really haven’t come to their positions on religion (atheist or believer) through careful analysis, but rather through emotive processing with rationalizations thrown on top of them (See “The Believing Brain” by Michael Shermer) we should expect that both believers and non-believers will feel attacked if questioned deeply. But for me personally, I love being challenged on anything and everything. I know of no better way to get to the truth. However if you want to get through to others, the difficult question is how to do this in a way that doesn’t drive them away – not easy.

    That’s great for you that you have never experienced doubts about God’s existence. I think it’s even better that you admit that you don’t see how anyone could. I would hope that you use this as an opportunity to admit to yourself that you can not understand the mind of another (completely). The point is, they do doubt this, and they have their own reasons. It may be a danger to simply dismiss them as lairs just because you can not understand things from their perspective; after all, this is as likely to be your fault as it is theirs. Perhaps some are indeed lying. But I suspect that most are not. You can help them work through their thought processes that led them to form faulty beliefs, but if you insist they are liars, you will be unlikely to ever get through to a single person (in fact, you may turn away people who are willing to reason through their beliefs).

  76. BillT,

    OK, let’s try this from another direction… Why do you think Mormonism grew so quickly? Do you think the multiple witnesses had anything to do with it?

  77. But it is along the idea that the Gospels appear to be a progression of a changing story, that was itself developed from stories that had not been written down for decades.

    This just could not be true. We know the Bible we currently have has been confirmed to be the Bible as it was originally written. The textual and manuscript evidence for this is overwhelming. And the Bible that was originally written was written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events it records. There could be no “changing story” as that would have been rejected by those who personally knew what actually happened. For example, we know that the Bible records early creedal statements that theologians (even Ehrman) agree date to within a couple of years of Christ’s death. The “changing story” idea has no evidence to support it and much to oppose it. These are facts that are not really in dispute or could be realistically opposed by anyone honestly following the historicity of the Bible.

  78. Why do you think Mormonism grew so quickly? Do you think the multiple witnesses had anything to do with it?

    What I know for sure, along with anyone else who approaches this logically, is the growth of Mormonism could not have been attributable to “the multiple witnesses.” Why? Because, of course, there can’t be multiple witnesses to a fiction. As to the myriad of other reasons why it grew you can pick any you like. It really doesn’t matter or, more importantly, have anything to do with the growth of Christianity.

  79. BillT,

    You misunderstand me. I am not disputing that the NT that we have today largely represents what was written originally (though some parts have been changed). I am not disputing 1 Corinthians 15 as an early creedal statement. However the important interpretations and belief formations would have taken place between the actual death of Jesus and the time of Paul’s writings, as well as up to the point the gospels were written decades later.

  80. BillT,

    I’m getting the sense that you are both copping out and question begging on the Mormonism issue. But I can’t force you to have a conversation so I will drop it.

  81. However the important interpretations and belief formations would have taken place between the actual death of Jesus and the time of Paul’s writings, as well as up to the point the gospels were written decades later.

    And the eyewitnesses to those events decided not to say anything about the discrepancies when they were written down even thought they were alive and in a position to do so. The disciples were alive when Paul wrote his letters. What, they just let Paul write something but the truth because he was such a nice guy? And the Gospels were written by either the disciples themselves or close associates of them. And all the other church leaders let them write things they knew weren’t true? And all of them coordinated their false “interpretations and belief formations” so they would all agree with one another even though they were written at different times and in different places?

    Do you have any reasoning or evidence that support your allegations? You keep making these allegations. I answer them with explanations, reasoning and evidence (at least in keeping with limits of a combox) and you just make more unsupported allegations.

  82. I’m getting the sense that you are both copping out and question begging on the Mormonism issue. But I can’t force you to have a conversation so I will drop it.

    I have answered every question you have asked as completely and thoroughly as I know how. I have begged no questions whatsoever and I think deserve an apology unless you can show where or how I have done this. Maybe you could state your premise clearly, completely and thoroughly as you can and we can go from there.

  83. BillT,

    Think about this in the context of early Mormonism… Are you telling me that 11 people would have let Joseph Smith fabricate stories about the Golden Plates? Why would they let him do this? Because he was a nice guy?

    If you dismiss the evidence from the witnesses because you conclude beforehand that it could not have happened, I do not see how that is not question begging. What have so many people on this blog continually said (rightly) about people who dismiss the Resurrection of Jesus or other miracles based on the idea that miracles just do not happen?

  84. Bill,

    “Are you telling me that 11 people would have let Joseph Smith fabricate stories about the Golden Plates? 11 whole people! All of whom had something to gain from it. Sure. Mormonism began as a cult with a classic charismatic leader. Those that went to confirm the story of Christ not only had believers to talk to but non-believers as well. Hundreds (if not thousands) of people from all persuasions. That on top of the verification multiple historical and archeological facts contained in the NT.

    Are you trying to tell me that you believe Joseph Smith’s writings were anything but fiction. That’s not a seriously arguable position (that the Garden of Eden was in Joplin, MO?). I mean there is some common sense to be applied here, no? There is no real “evidence from the witnesses.” There is only testimony from those that were in on it. You’re really comparing the Book of Mormon to The Bible? The key facts of the Book of Mormon aren’t as well verified as The Bible despite being only 200 years old compared to 2000 years old.

    Bill, I just don’t believe that is an informed position that there are significant parallels between the beginning of Mormonism and Christianity. The Bible is inarguably the most important book in human history. The Book of Mormon is a, quite funny actually, Broadway musical.

  85. BillT (and indirectly, Bill L),
    I had no idea that Mormons believe that Genesis teaches that human origins began in Missouri. Wow. We aren’t really told where the garden was located (it had to be somewhere), but Missouri??

    Regarding motive, this is something Bill L needs to consider seriously. If you look at the motives of the apostles vs. Joseph Smith, can anyone honestly say these are comparable?

    The author of Cold Case Christianity (which Bill L has read) wrote a blog post on motive and why it is so important.

  86. One of the things I appreciated about physicist Sean Carroll, in his recent (2/21/14) debate with W.L. Craig, was that he committed himself to a world view. He identified himself as an naturalist, not just an atheist. Unfortunately, most of what he said about naturalism, as Craig pointed out, was outside the topic of the debate.

    Carroll’s main argument here appeared to be “that the universe is not what he would expect if theism were true”. How in the world could he know that? How would one ever prove something like that?

    Nevertheless, I appreciate Carroll’s courage. As an atheist, once you commit yourself to a world view you cannot hide behind the facade that you have no beliefs… But of course, again, that requires some courage.

    My point here is that there is not much sense in engaging an atheist if he is not willing to commit, even tentatively, to a world view. Unfortunately, most internet atheists want to engage in arguments without committing to anything. Actually they are not really engaging in any real arguments (what are they arguing for?) They are just being argumentative.

  87. [OK, for the 15th try]:

    BillT
    th
    Let’s break this down a bit:

    11 whole people!

    Serious question: From how many people do we have first-hand (those that witnessed the resurrected Jesus) testimony in the NT?

    All of whom had something to gain from it.

    If I believe I have have given someone a better way of life (via better beliefs) I have gained a great deal (why do you think people evangelize?).

    Those that went to confirm the story of Christ not only had believers to talk to but non-believers as well. Hundreds (if not thousands) of people from all persuasions.

    Aside from Paul, who else went to confirm the story?

    That on top of the verification multiple historical and archeological facts contained in the NT.

    LDS believe they have archeological evidence and facts:
    http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2011/11/best-evidence-for-book-of-mormon.html

    http://www.bookofmormonevidence.org/

    Now, what I believe about the BoM is not the issue. In fact in many ways what you believe is not really the issue. Remember in #71 you said

    The growth of Christainity during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses (both believing and skeptical) to the events the NT describes, along with the known accuracy of the text, confirms the validity of the facts it describes.

    LDS believe that the growth of Mormonism during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events (the visitation by angels and translation of the Gold Plates) confirms the validity of the facts it describes.

    I agree with what you say about the importance of the Bible, BTW. I have not seen the musical, but I have herd (mostly from Mormons) that it is quite good.

  88. Bill L, the software flagged your comment as spam. I have no idea why; it doesn’t relate to any settings I’ve set. I’ve released one of those comments from spam. If it’s what you were trying to say, then we’re good, except I must apologize for the frustration. If you intended something else please message me as you did earlier.

  89. From how many people do we have first-hand (those that witnessed the resurrected Jesus) testimony in the NT.

    The “first-hand… testimony in the NT” is a red herring. The relevant issue is whether the NT records eyewitnesses to the facts and their availability to those seeking confirmation of those facts. The NT records hundreds of people who witnessed the resurrected Jesus. 1 Corinthians 15:6 And there are thousands of others who witnessed his many miracles. All of this is recorded in the NT Gospels and letters and confirmable by anyone who went there and asked. (See below)

    Aside from Paul, who else went to confirm the story?

    From this and your other comment on this you seem to have a myopia about this. So, the story of Christianity is spread throughout the Mediterranean. It contains the blind healed, the lame walking, people being raised from the dead and an incarnate resurrected God. Yet, in 35 years it has adherents and churches in every major city in the region even as far away as Rome. This despite the completely unbelievable nature of these stories. These people travel easily and widely in the region during that era but you think none of them, when they went to Jerusalem, looked up and asked questions of anyone there. They have both believers and non-believers to ask and confirm the validity of these stories. However, you think they didn’t bother, asked no one any questions and took these stories without confirmation, evidence or eyewitness testimony. Does that sound realistic to you at all? I hope not.

    LDS believe that the growth of Mormonism during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events (the visitation by angels and translation of the Gold Plates) confirms the validity of the facts it describes.

    However, the “eyewitnesses” that confirm the “facts” are a small group of insiders. This is the complete opposite of the body of eyewitnesses (see above) to the facts surrounding Christianity and a classic way that cults begin.

  90. BillT,

    It should be pretty evident to you that I am no Biblical scholar. So when I ask a question about the Bible, I am sincerely looking for answers. I should also mention that I am following Tom’s current series as open-mindedly as I can. When I give you these questions and counter-examples, I am more doing so to illustrate the issues and to express some of my personal doubts. In other words, I would really appreciate it if you could answer the questions. If you don’t know the answer, that’s OK. Just say so. But what I am not trying to do is play a “gotcha” game (quite frankly, I’m tired of doing that).

    The “first-hand… testimony in the NT” is a red herring. The relevant issue is whether the NT records eyewitnesses to the facts and their availability to those seeking confirmation of those facts.

    Remember we were talking about this as a comparison to formation of the Mormon Church. Keep in mind your original protest in #71:

    The growth of Christainity during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses (both believing and skeptical) to the events the NT describes, along with the known accuracy of the text, confirms the validity of the facts it describes.

    You protested that many people were witness to the historical events of the NT, and this was both a reason to accept Christianity and reject LDS. Yet there are more recorded witnesses to the historical events surrounding the Golden Plates. You say this is a question of accuracy (and of course I agree) but all of those early Mormon witnesses would have testified about the veracity of the historical events. That is also what you are saying the NT witnesses would have done. So the reasons you gave for accepting the NT witnesses are very similar to the reasons LDS accepted historical events during the formation of the Mormon Church – that is what (according to them) gave rise to the religion. Do you notice now, why I tend to be a bit skeptical?

    The NT records hundreds of people who witnessed the resurrected Jesus.

    Sincere question: do we have any record for this other than the one mention by Paul?

    And there are thousands of others who witnessed his many miracles.

    Do we have any of their records? What do the records of other people like Honi ha-M’agel tell us about the willingness (perhaps credulousness) of people to believe in these events? Or do you believe most of these stories are real and that these others were under the influence of demons or something like that (I’m not making fun with this question – I think this would be the view of another frequent visitor to this blog I have talked to).

    All of this is recorded in the NT Gospels and letters and confirmable by anyone who went there and asked.

    OK, well who did this? Do we have any of their stories (aside from Paul)?

    So, the story of Christianity is spread throughout the Mediterranean. It contains the blind healed, the lame walking, people being raised from the dead and an incarnate resurrected God. Yet, in 35 years it has adherents and churches in every major city in the region even as far away as Rome. This despite the completely unbelievable nature of these stories. These people travel easily and widely in the region during that era but you think none of them, when they went to Jerusalem, looked up and asked questions of anyone there.

    I honestly don’t know. This is something I have been trying to find out. How many people were in Paul’s churches? What was their economic status? [I used to live and work in rural Nepal, and for the vast majority of people, any trip of more than a days walk was a rather great undertaking. Most people would never leave their valley during their lifetime.] What would a skeptic in Paul’s church in Corinth have done? Was he encouraged to go there and check the stories? Did he just accept what he was told as most people do [Most people who follow(ed) Sathya Sai Baba never saw his miracles first-hand, yet they believe].

    What about Peter in Rome? How large was his church? How old was he when he started gaining a sufficiently large congregation? If a skeptical Roman would have gone to Jerusalem, would he have expected to find any original witness still alive? How common where stories of healing among other people of that time? Did most people just accept that way of thinking? [People today claim to be cured by the holy waters of the Ganges or the Enugu – they will attest to these miracles. Do you see the issues?]

    They have both believers and non-believers to ask and confirm the validity of these stories. However, you think they didn’t bother, asked no one any questions and took these stories without confirmation, evidence or eyewitness testimony. Does that sound realistic to you at all?

    Let me say it again: I don’t know. I do think that people tend to just believe what they are told, especially in a superstitious time and culture. If graves really did open and the dead got up and walked around (Matthew 27:52), I honestly would expect that we would have more than one recording of this event (I do recognize this is an argument from silence).

    I encourage you to read over the link I provided in 101. It expresses much of where my doubts lie.

  91. JAD – Note that because you’re taking the word of the Bible, that means that no amount of evidence about an atheist – not their words, actions, anything – could disprove it. And, BTW, arguing with what people have written about God is not the same thing as arguing with God.

    SteveK – Bill L’s covered it pretty well. I don’t hate the Athenians for building a temple to Pan when he asked Pheidippides to on his famous Marathon run. But neither do I think that Pheidippides actually met Pan. Frankly, I think Mark. the earliest Gospel, probably has Jesus’ last words closest to right (Mark 15:34).

    I said that I don’t think Bill Gates left a hundred million dollars on my doorstep, but that doesn’t mean I’m ‘spurning’ his gift. In much the same way, not thinking that a homeless guy left a hundred million dollars on my doorstep isn’t spurning that gift either, even if he claims he did. Doesn’t mean I hate either Bill Gates or a poor homeless guy, too.

  92. SteveK –

    Most of your recent comments take the form: someone disagrees with you or does it differently, and because they do that sufficiently rebuts to what you said.

    I’m not sure I’m parsing that correctly. Can you explicate it a bit?

    If I’ve correctly understood you, I think you’re missing my point. Tom presents atheists as representatives of “the world”, and moreover presents atheists as opposite poles on a spectrum ranging from “atheism” and “Christianity”.

    I’m pointing out that a single line spectrum is far too simple a model to represent the reality out there. Just as politics is usually oversimplified to “right wing” and “left wing”, missing important dimensions, Tom’s model as presented is oversimplified.

  93. Look, Bill, I’m not playing any “gotcha” games here. And again, given what I have provided in my replies to you I find that a bit insulting. I have tried to answer every question you asked. In those answers I provided explanations, reasoning and evidence (at least in keeping with limits of a combox). I really don’t have much more to offer than that. I asked you reasonable questions based on reasonably well supported information and twice your answer was “I don’t know”. On my other replies I provide explanations, reasoning and evidence and your basic reply is “I want more”. There are limits to a combox Bill. Christianity is a faith for reasoning and reasonable people. You seem to be both of those. I hope you use your gifts wisely.

  94. BillT,

    Look, Bill, I’m not playing any “gotcha” games here. And again, given what I have provided in my replies to you I find that a bit insulting.

    I didn’t mean to suggest you were doing that. I am sorry if that’s how my words came across. I merely meant to tell you that I was not trying to do that (because I used to do that in my past – not with you – but I am tired of doing that with people in general). I could see how my words were misconstrued.

    By the way, I don’t know what a “combox” is. It’s not coming up on any searches, at least in a way that makes sense to me. Could you help me out?

    As for your having answered my questions… I think you have answered some. Thank you for that. Honestly, I think you dogged a few of the points, but it’s not that important. I also think it’s appropriate to answer with “I don’t know” when that is the case. Hopefully you feel the same.

    I agree that Christians can be both reasoning and reasonable people, but I feel the same about Atheists, Agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and (yes) even Mormons.

  95. @SteveK, from #63
    “Are you indifferent toward fictitious characters in a book or movie that demonstrate sacrifice? No. You appreciate them because you value sacrifice.

    Now, if you can appreciate the nameless faceless people that have sacrificed and even the fictitious people that have sacrificed, why then can’t you appreciate the sacrifice of Christ? Why do you willfully strong-arm yourself into an attitude of indifference.”

    I appreciate that you, Tom, and others find the Crucifixion meaningful. You see a man, who was also in some way God, sacrifice his life to atone for the sins of Man, in order that we may in some way (depending upon your theology) be united with Him some day. I accept that this is a very powerful event for a Christian. As a Christian, I didn’t have the emotional connection that perhaps others around me did, but I still understood that it was the most important thing that has ever happened for mankind.

    What happens when the theological framework of the Crucifixion is stripped from it? For some, all that is left is a man whose strong religious convictions got himself killed. Without a Christian God, without the conviction of sin, without an afterlife, without the supernatural, there is no longer that overarching connection and meaning for all of humanity.

    I am not indifferent to the idea that a man got crucified, but I am indifferent to the claim that his crucifixion meant much more than that.

    Which leads me to this gem –

    @Tom, regarding #67

    ” “Indifference is not the same as hatred,” you say; and of course you’re right, but in this case it’s at least as bad.”

    So I’m not a Christ-hater, but I’m just as bad as one, if not more so? Lolwut?

    Please, tell me more about why me seeing Christianity as “benignly false” and being relatively indifferent to the theological claims (not the historical claims, but the theological claims) about the Crucifixion puts me on par with those consumed with blind hatred for Jesus!

  96. Sault,
    I could press you further by asking you in what way a man crucified is meaningful at all given naturalism, but I won’t.

  97. @the whole Mormon thread

    No one else actually saw the plates. If you go back to their statements, not in the BoM but their independent statements, they either saw or held an object covered in a blanket or inside a box. There is no archaeological evidence to support statements made in the BoM (e.g. steel or horses were nonexistent in the Americas until the Spanish brought them over). There is no DNA evidence to support the assertions made in the BoM. There is no archaeological evidence of “reformed Egyptian”, the language in which the BoM was supposed to have been written. Joseph Smith couldn’t translate his way out of a wet paper bag – look up the errors in his restoration and “translation” of a hypocephalus, aka “facsimile #2” in the Pearl of Great Price.

    One of the unexpected takeaways from the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit was seeing the Copper Scroll. It was an interesting example of how little information can be packed on one “page”, showing incidentally how impossible the BoM was, from both weight and space considerations.

    Anyway, Mormons are generally nice people, with a good (but insular) sense of community, but are possessed by a corrupt theology and a frighteningly authoritative and opaque gerontocracy.

  98. Sault,

    I would say the story of the Golden Plates is more complicated than you have presented:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Witnesses

    But really this is not the point. Of course we all find their stories unbelievable, but the question is why.

    It is important to remember that early Mormons accepted their accounts and used the testimonies to find validity in the BoM. This is what largely accounts for the rapid rise of LDS.

    On another note, what I do find interesting in this is how the witnesses shifted their stories back and fourth during their lives as to whether their visions were “real” or more “visionary.” It often seems as though the question was unimportant to them, or perhaps the answer could be seen as equally important no matter which is was.

  99. Brilliant essay.

    I just have one correction to suggest. You write:

    “The world says to figure things out for ourselves; Jesus said to rely on the Scriptures as the very seed of life.”

    Where did Jesus say any such thing? Actually, He said to rely on Him as the way, the truth and the life. The Scriptures are about Him but they are not Him. How could they be? There was no solidified, standardized New Testament, agreed upon as canonical by all Christians, until the ecumenical councils of the early 4th century. And Jesus Himself did not write any of the gospels and letters included therein; that task was performed by His disciples. Jesus founded a community of faith — i.e., the Church — and out of that community emerged the Scriptures. That is why Paul calls the Church — not the Scriptures, but the Church — “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15)

    Perhaps this seems like caviling, but if we’re going to evangelize the world, we need to speak truth. The important thing is the Good News — and the Good News was preached by the disciples long before they got around to writing any of it down. We need to keep the cart behind the horse.

  100.