Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians (?)

[Update July 20: I have come to the decision that before God and all readers here, I regret writing this piece. It was poor judgment at the end of an unusually stressful week. The error I made was in forgetting the breadth of the audience that would read it. I know that Christians who read New Atheist or other Internet atheist sources regularly will recognize what’s going on in this parody, because we’ve experienced the things this piece is lampooning. I should have recognized that we would be the only ones likely to recognize it. Atheists would say, “that’s a poor representation of atheism,” and they would be right. I tried to head that off through my disclaimer at the end of the piece, but it was inadequate for that purpose.

Ordinary Seeker commented below that this was a polarizing piece. I think it was, for the reasons I’ve just stated. I won’t remove it, since I can’t erase history that way, but I will express my regrets and apologies.]

Yes, this is a parody piece. Enjoy.

I’ve been forced, reluctantly, to the conclusion that atheists are smarter than Christians. They know lots of important things about life.

  • Atheists know that dead people stay dead. Religious people in the first century didn’t have the benefit of modern science so they didn’t know that was so. Christians twenty centuries later are still just as confused.
  • Atheists know that virgins don’t have kids. Religious people in the first century had a teensy little gap in their scientific knowledge there, too.
  • Atheists can count to 2. They know that 1 angel at the tomb is one less than 2 angels. Christians can’t count that high, so it’s never occurred to us something might need some ‘splaining in the Resurrection accounts.
  • Atheists know there’s no evidence for faith because there’s no evidence for faith. Christians can’t seem to catch on to how simple that is.
  • Atheists know that Christians believe whatever we’re told to believe. Christians have been told to believe that’s not true.
  • Atheists know lots of other things Christians don’t know, but since I’m a Christian I don’t know what they are. (I had to use one of their Internet cheat sheets to help me figure out this much.)

And yes, there are atheists, unbelievably enough, who think Christians are this ignorant of life and our own beliefs.  It’s not all atheists. I don’t know how many they are. I do know that I don’t need to provide links to atheists who say these things about Christianity. You can find the sources yourself in a few seconds on Bing or Google.

Comments 93
  1. Jenna Black

    Tom,

    This is great. Can I add to the list?

    According to atheists, Christians don’t know that miracles cannot be proven scientifically. We also don’t know enough to distinguish between serendipity and the miraculous. We Christians just don’t get it that science and belief in God are “incompatible.” We don’t know enough (presumably about science) to realize that there are so many reported miracles happening every day that it makes the world so chaotic and unpredictable that science can’t “work.”

    We are also spelling-challenged because we won’t admit that God doesn’t need to be spelled with a capital G.

    All of these “ignorant Christians” points I got from blogging with Arizona Atheist, whose followers also believe that Christians are so ignorant that we lie to ourselves and believe what we say.

    Oh, my, how much we can learn from atheists! I guess that’s why they exist, unlike God (god), who we are too ignorant to realize, doesn’t.

    Thanks for the laugh.

    Jenna

  2. John Moore

    I hate the whole discussion about stereotypes and who’s smarter or wiser or more logical or rational or whatever. It’s just generalization.

    On the other hand, would you say that atheists are more sceptical than Christians? Or conversely that Christians are more trusting than atheists?

    Not that it’s necessarily good or bad to be trusting or sceptical – I don’t want to generalize.

  3. Kevin

    I would not say that they are more skeptical. Atheists won’t bat an eye at the preposterous notion that matter and energy have magically existed forever in a magically infinite multiverse of magical epicness. I’ve only known one atheist who applied his skepticism equally, and agreed that every naturalistic explanation is, in his mind, equally as absurd as the idea of God. So no, not more skeptical. Just biased to what they already believe.

  4. BillT

    Some of the information from Tom’s above link deserve their own post.

    It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

    In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

    This is not a new finding. In his 1983 book “The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener,” skeptic and science writer Martin Gardner cited the decline of traditional religious belief among the better educated as one of the causes for an increase in pseudoscience, cults and superstition.

    Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn’t.

    Who’d a thunk?

  5. Kyle

    And of course a parallel parody piece could be done by an atheist about all the things some Christians think atheists are ignorant of. And of course it would accomplish nothing besides giving the people who already agree with it a bit of a thrill for a minute.

    So some people think unkind things about other people. Anything else I’m supposed to take away from this or were you just venting, Tom?

  6. Billy Squibs

    And of course a parallel parody piece could be done by an atheist about all the things some Christians think atheists are ignorant of.

    I suppose you could. But it would be a tactic out of the Ray Ingles Tu quoque playbook. If there exists a problem then it’s not going to be addressed by saying, “Well you’re at it as well. So there :P”.

  7. Ray Ingles

    Billy Squibs –

    But it would be a tactic out of the Ray Ingles Tu quoque playbook.

    Now, that just cries out for a link or two!

  8. Billy Squibs

    Now, that just cries out for a link or two!

    That’s more your style, Ray.

    1) A quick trundle around the internet to see if you could find some Christians up to the same nonsense.
    2) Post links.
    3) Win!

  9. Andy M


    Yes, there is something else to conclude, and it’s pretty important. I’ll let you think it through.

    Perhaps atheists know how to write in such a way that they are clear and precise (tongue in cheek)?

    I’ve rarely seen a blogger (christian or otherwise) who so often has difficulty in simply making a point AND who refuses to clarify when asked.

    If you don’t want people mistaking your point and putting words in your mouth (which you often complain about) try TELLING us what your point is instead.

  10. Tom Gilson

    I know how to write in a way that is clear and concise. I also know when that is my objective, and I know when it isn’t. Not all writing is for the purpose of telling. Some writing is for the purpose of planting seeds and provoking thought. And parody, like poetry, is so much less powerful when transmuted into pedestrian prose.

    I don’t want people putting words in my mouth, you’re right about that. I’m not inviting anyone to say, “This is what you were really saying, Tom.” I am, however, inviting people to say, “Tom, this is what I think you might have been saying,” or something of the sort. That kind of interaction has never been wrong, in my eyes.

    So in this case, I’m giving someone the opportunity to draw an inference. If they are unable to see the point, that would in itself would be interesting to me. Not that I would jump to conclusions: if Kyle doesn’t answer comment 7 or 9, it might be because he’s not interested, or some other perfectly innocuous reason. But look, Andy, the door is open for you, too: what do you think the point of this might be? Can you see it?

    Can anyone else see it?

    I’d hate to think it was necessary to spell it out.

  11. Tom Gilson

    BTW, I honestly believe the challenge I made to Kyle in #9 is impossible to achieve. I’d be happy for someone to prove me wrong.

    In order to meet the challenge, it would have to be on a level that doesn’t require argument, but only everyday knowledge. So for example, to say, “Christians are smarter than atheists. They know the universe couldn’t have just happened on its own,” is to say in effect, “Christians are smarter than atheists because they can follow the arguments from science and or the philosophical difficulties relating to infinite regress, and can reach the conclusion that the universe couldn’t have begun on its own.”

    Compare that to, “Atheists know that people don’t rise from the dead.”

    One is absolutely dead simple obvious, such that anyone who doubts it is dead simple hopelessly stupid.

    The other is arguably true, and I think persuasively so, but to doubt it is not equally dead simple hopelessly stupid.

    For an atheist to match the OP, he would have to match it on an equal level of parody. Maybe I’m wrong, and it can be done. The floor is open, and I’ll be interested to see whether anyone will try it and succeed.

  12. Ray Ingles

    Billy Squibs – Well, no, you just accused me of something, and I’m asking you to substantiate it. Shouldn’t be hard, right?

  13. kaapstorm

    I’ve got some more too.

    Atheists think that conservative Christians lagged far behind liberal Christians and freethinkers in the 19th century when it came to the compassion issues of the day; emancipation, and gender equality.

    Atheists think that conservative Christians lagged far behind liberal Christians and freethinkers in the 20th century when it came to the compassion issues of the day; racial segregation, and gender equality.

    Atheists think that conservative Christians lagged far behind liberal Christians and freethinkers in the 21st century when it came to the compassion issues of the day; denying civil rights to homosexuals … and gender equality.

    That’s because conservative Christians know how to read their Bibles; literally.

    Is there any other way?

  14. Kyle

    Tom, regarding your “challenge”:

    I’m not going to take it up. I’ve read some truly vile stuff from Christians on Facebook and Twitter and people’s own bug-nutty blogs, and I could copy and paste some of it here, but what would it prove?

    Nothing interesting, that’s for sure. Who cares what dumb atheists or dumb Christians think? I’m more interested in what smart people have to say.

    This whole tit-for-tat thing where one side gets insulted and then starts slinging it back at the other side is demeaning to everyone who participates in it.

  15. Tom Gilson

    It’s parody. The point has apparently not come across. I cannot seem to stave off the necessity of a prosaic shift.

    Here’s the point. It is possible to find atheists who see Christians as being deeply confused over counting up to two, or the fact that dead people stay dead and virgins don’t have children.

    I do not think it is possible to find Christians who see atheists as being that deeply confused over such transparently obvious facts.

    It is possible to find atheists who have a virtually inhuman view of Christians and Christian knowledge.

    I do not think it is possible to find Christians with a parallel and equally inhuman view of atheists and their knowledge.

    This is a precise point. I am not saying that no Christian has ever treated an atheist as lacking in knowledge. I am saying it would be difficult or impossible to find a Christian who has treated any atheist as being this deeply and astonishingly ignorant.

    This has nothing to do with tit-for-tat. It has to do with a profound difference between the two groups. In one group, atheists, there are some (not all, but some) whose conception of the other group is virtually inhuman. In the other group, Christians, I do not think you will easily find any who view members of the other group in like inhuman manner.

    Now, what does this say about the overall character of the two groups? To answer that question, I would suggest we take atheists’ most prominent thought-leaders, and consider whether they have encouraged, supported, looked the other way, or disputed this kind of inhuman treatment. Then I would suggest we look at those thought-leaders’ influence and the size of their followings.

    There. I’ve done some of the work for you. I won’t finish it. It’s your turn.

  16. Kyle

    So I should be looking to prominent Christian thought-leaders like Pat Robertson and Bryan Fischer to help me ascertain the overall character of Christians? Should I not bother with the writings of Alvin Plantinga and Edward Feser because those guys aren’t prominent?

    I’d rather look at who’s making sense and who’s treating people decently. Prominence is nearly irrelevant to me.

  17. Tom Gilson

    Kyle,

    I don’t know who Bryan Fischer is. I don’t think Pat Robertson’s influence over Christianity approaches Dawkins’, Harris’s, Hitchens’, and Krauss’s influence over Western atheism.

  18. ordinary seeker

    Tom, you wrote, “This has nothing to do with tit-for-tat. It has to do with a profound difference between the two groups. In one group, atheists, there are some (not all, but some) whose conception of the other group is virtually inhuman. In the other group, Christians, I do not think you will easily find any who view members of the other group in like inhuman manner.”

    What it has to do with, I think, is you believing your group is better. I wonder what you attribute it to, this idea that Christians are better? Do you believe that the Christian ethic makes them better, or that God has somehow made them better?

    I disagree with you of course: I don’t think either group is better at thinking better of the other group. I have certainly seen enough bashing of groups–especially atheists and homosexuals–by Christians here on your blog to know that believing in Christianity doesn’t make the commenters here, at least, any less likely to voice inhuman ideas about others.

    I wonder also why you do so much to polarize people. Is it because you truly don’t believe that compromise, tolerance, simply co-existing is “right”?

  19. ordinary seeker

    You’ve got to be kidding. This whole site is a work of polarization. People solidify the views they already hold in every comment. Surely you know that?

  20. kaapstorm

    Hi Tom,

    You mean like this?

    * Christians think atheists are about as trustworthy as rapists.

    And here (at 32:21) is Lawrence Krauss advocating respecting people but not ideas, nor denying equal rights. (I’ve edited out his “um”s and “ah”s.)

    Lawrence Krauss: [Thanks organisers] … they showed me great respect and hospitality and I want to show them, and you, that kind of respect. And that doesn’t mean I respect ideas, okay, some ideas are ridiculous. And that’s perfectly reasonable, in fact ridiculing ideas is what makes progress. So if I offend some of you I don’t mean to offend you personally, I may offend some of your ideas but that doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, if you confront my ideas, it will lead to a discussion. What does offend me of course is offending personal freedom and equal rights and that’s one of the reasons why I got upset in the beginning of this session, but that’s been fixed and I thank the organisers for that as well, to agreeing to not segregate this room, in the 21st century, is a great step forward, and I appreciate it.

    What bothers me too about the polarization mentioned above, is that it reinforces the association of a set of beliefs with self-identity. There is a great piece in the New Yorker by Maria Konnikova about how linking beliefs with self-identity constrains people from thinking about their beliefs rationally. She doesn’t discuss religion so much as the vaccination controversy, political identity, etc., but her point is general, and well made.

  21. ordinary seeker

    Tom,

    Yes, and as you help Christians solidify their faith, you are also helping non-Christians solidify their beliefs, as they argue against your statements and ideas. If that’s your goal, well–that’s up to you. But you didn’t answer my question about whether you believe it wouldn’t be “right” to do so.

  22. Tom Gilson

    kaapstorm, you make me laugh!!!

    Did you see how Krauss respected William Lane Craig as a person in their debates?

    As for that study, the sample was a convenience sample 100 to 126 undergraduates. Pretty tiny and non-representative. It drives me nuts when researchers and journalists draw general conclusions like “Distrust is central to anti-atheist prejudice” from such scientifically inadequate studies. And they claim to believe in science while doing that!

    Also, this work differed from my example here in that it was a measurement of subliminal feelings rather than overt expression. No one said, “Atheists are as untrustworthy as rapists.” There’s a difference between feeling something about another group and feeling the freedom to say so publicly.

    I’m still not quite sure you’ve got the point, in other words.

    I get yours. I know that there are negative feelings going both directions. That’s not news.

  23. Tom Gilson

    Ordinary Seeker,

    I wonder also why you do so much to polarize people. Is it because you truly don’t believe that compromise, tolerance, simply co-existing is “right”?

    See here.

  24. BillT

    What it has to do with, I think, is you believing your group is better.

    This whole site is a work of polarization

    os,

    This would be pretty easy to prove. Why don’t you take up Tom’s challenge to Kyle? Your above statements are true to the extent that Tom’s statements are false. All you have to do is demonstrate that. Otherwise, your above are just unsupported allegations and at least supporting evidence that Tom’s position is a valid one.

  25. Billy Squibs

    I do not think it is possible to find Christians with a parallel and equally inhuman view of atheists and their knowledge.

    Tom, can you tell what you think a Christian who has an inhuman view of atheists and their knowledge would say or do?

    I ask because it would seem to me that those 100 to 126 undergraduates could fall under those who express an inhuman view of atheists. If the roles were reversed I might be fairly outraged*. And it would seem that tu quoque is a legitimate charge in this case.

    *Of course there might be subtleties to the survey that I don’t understand/ don’t have the time or the knowledge to investigate or appreciate. However, at face value it would seem to me that Christians and atheists both behave badly towards each other at times and the survey is evidence of this. While I can’t this moment think of direct Christian parallels to Peter Boghossian’s “faith virus” and “kid’s table” madness or the hostility evident at the Reason Rally I don’t doubt that these people can be counted amongst the ranks of Christianity.

  26. Tom Gilson

    Billy, I agree there’s something amiss among those undergraduates. But please catch the whole message from which you were quoting:

    I do not think it is possible to find Christians with a parallel and equally inhuman view of atheists and their knowledge.

    This is a precise point. I am not saying that no Christian has ever treated an atheist as lacking in knowledge. I am saying it would be difficult or impossible to find a Christian who has treated any atheist as being this deeply and astonishingly ignorant.

    Does that make sense that way?

  27. Andy M


    I am saying it would be difficult or impossible to find a Christian who has treated any atheist as being this deeply and astonishingly ignorant.

    Paraphrasing from https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2014/04/evidence-for-god-humanism-vs-moral-knowledge-moral-knowledge-part-2/:

    “If only those atheists realized that their moral philosophy leads to our inability to reject Hitler and the Nazis.”

    You still believe it’s difficult? Or do you believe said atheists aren’t ignorant but just evil instead?

  28. Jenna Black

    kaapstorm and ordinary seeker,

    There is some theoretically and methodologically sound research on public attitudes toward atheists where not only people of faith have been queried in surveys but secularists and atheists as well.

    The research study from the University of British Columbia is titled “Do you believe in atheists? Distrust is central to anti-atheist prejudice” by Gervais, Shariff & Norenzayan (2011):

    University of British Columbia study (Gervais et al, 2011) in PDF

    http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~will/Gervais%20et%20al-%20Atheist%20Distrust.pdf

    I wrote the following in a letter I sent to the researcher Will Gervais at UBC:

    I think that distrust of atheists stems in part from an inability of believers to understand how they conduct their moral reasoning and ethical decision-making without reference to the moral principles that stem from a belief in God, not just the lack of a fear of punishment from God. For example, some atheists deny the concept and existence of “sin” based on their non-belief in God and their definition of the term “sin” to be a transgression against God (God’s laws). Some even declare themselves to be “free of sin” or “free from sin” based on their non-belief in God. This is both puzzling and distressing to believers because we don’t know any atheists who we would consider free of sin, regardless of their lack of belief in God. This raises the question: On what set of moral principles, truths, concepts, constructs do atheists base their moral reasoning or determination of right vs. wrong, justice vs. injustice, etc. if not on a belief in some moral absolutes or moral principles such as those we believers derive from the moral/ethical teachings of our religion? This question applies regardless of how we as believers think God rewards or punishes our actions, recognizing that the good boy/bad boy paradigm of moral reasoning is at the lower levels in the stages of moral development.

    I think that you will find this research study worthwhile in discussing perceptions that people in general, not just Christians, have of atheists. I hope this can contribute to the conversation.

    JB

  29. Tom Gilson

    Andy M., you don’t get the point.

    The point you have paraphrased is a summary of an extended argument. To say that “Atheists don’t get the point of this extended argument” is nothing at all like saying, “Christians don’t realize that 1 is less than 2.”

    Do you see the difference there? Do you get it?

  30. Andy M

    I’d love to see where any atheist has made the exact claim that “Christians don’t realize that 1 is less than 2.”

    I believe you’re fighting a straw-man. Which does seem to be a preferred strategy of yours from what I’ve seen. Rather than provide a specific argument that you are addressing you resort to “hand-waving” that “You can find the sources yourself in a few seconds on Bing or Google.” Well no – I can’t. So your unsupported and baseless premise fails before your argument even began.

  31. Tom Gilson

    There’s some poetic license going on here, sure. Why don’t you try this google search instead: “Bible contradictions angels tomb.”

    Google doesn’t deliver everyone the same results, but this is what I got, amidst several Christian responses:
    http://atheism.about.com/od/gospelcontradictions/p/EmptyTomb.htm
    http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/5963/new-testament-inconsistency-opening-of-jesus-tomb
    http://www.religiousforums.com/forum/biblical-debates/14549-how-many-angels-were-jesus-tomb.html
    http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/women_see.html
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2012/04/contradictions-in-the-resurrection-account-2/
    http://www.1001biblecontradictions.com/II3%20-%20Jesus%20%5B465-499%5D.html

    What’s remarkable is that every one of these but one is completely silent toward the possibility that Christians have ever noticed this as a problem. It’s as if they thought atheists and skeptics were the first to notice it; as if Christians hadn’t observed the fact that there were different accounts; as if Christians hadn’t quite noticed that 1 is less than 2.

    So if that level of poetic (parody) license bothers you, then let it be so.

    What about the other bullet points in my OP? Did you have trouble finding them on the Web?

  32. BillT

    I believe you’re fighting a straw-man. Which does seem to be a preferred strategy of yours from what I’ve seen.

    So Andy,

    So far we’ve had both Kyle and os come here and make accusations against Tom and this blog. Neither of them saw fit to back up their claims.

    How about you Andy? If straw-men, as you say, are a “preferred strategy” of Tom’s you should have no problem providing any number of examples. You have hundreds of threads and thousands of posts to use as evidence. Care to back up your claim or were you counting on us just to take your word for it.

  33. Jenna Black

    Andy M. Re: #36

    I offer you a case in point about the dialogue between Christians and atheists from the Arizona Atheists’ website, in particular these comments that are what I would describe as a “pseudo psycho-analysis” of Tom Gilson as an artifact of a discussion of Tom’s chapter “God and science DO mix” from Gilson & Weitnauer, Ed. (2013) True Reason.

    http://www.skepticink.com/azatheist/2014/07/11/clearing-up-the-shenanigans-tom-gilson-and-true-reason/

    You’ll need to scroll down to comments in an exchange I’ve had with two posters, one of whom says that Tom (because he is a Christian, I assume) is “”… caught in the grips of a delusion so powerful that they will sacrifice their reasoning ability to allow them to maintain their false beliefs.” The other poster, in response to my defense of Tom and of my Christianity, accuses me of a lack of “epistemic humility.” These comments clearly convey the attitude that Christians are not only ignorant, but that we exhibit “intellectual dishonesty” and various other forms of moral turpitude in engaging in Christian apologetics. I post on this site through my Disqus account as CodyGirl824.

    Please add this website’s URL to the list of Tom’s examples of “poetic license.”

  34. kaapstorm

    Hi Jenna,

    I’m going to take a historical-critical perspective, which may be difficult for some, but please bear with me for a moment.

    Imagine the authors of the Pentateuch writing down what they consider to be the moral code for the Hebrews. Where did these ideas come from? How did people in the Levant live, in an ethical sense, before Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy were written? Was murder OK? Was rape OK? Was slavery OK? Was theft OK?

    You’ve read the Pentateuch, I’m sure, and so you’ll have noticed that their answers to these questions probably differ from your sensibilities. But they, like all humans, from all societies, (and pre-verbal children, and even chimpanzees) have concepts of fairness, and innate understandings that allow social groups to exist. This has probably been the case for millions of years.

    Now neither chimpanzees nor pre-verbal humans have a concept of God. But they do have some sense of morality. So what moral philosophies are there that do not presuppose an objective morality either by divine ordination, or Platonic ideal?

    Well, there’s more than one. Perhaps the most popular is consequentialism, which comes in a few flavours, but could be summarized as “all’s well that ends well”. (The flavours include whether or not one’s motives should determine the morality of one’s actions. e.g. If you mean to harm someone, but accidentally heal them, was that an immoral act or a moral one?)

    So not only is it possible to have a moral philosophy that does not rest on the existence of God, it is probable that moral philosophy (whether or not we thought of it in those terms) predates, by a long shot, belief in the Jewish God.

  35. Andy M

    @Tom

    Your argument:

    It is possible to find atheists who have a virtually inhuman view of Christians and Christian knowledge.

    Your stated evidence so far:

    What’s remarkable is that every one of these but one is completely silent toward the possibility that Christians have ever noticed this as a problem.

    Really? This is your evidence for inhuman treatment of Christians???

    Lets examine some of those “atheists who views Christians as inhuman”:

    Whatever happened, it must have been pretty amazing. The gospels are inconsistent in how the women react, though.

    The monster.

    And another

    How is this inconsistency explained by theologians of the various major denominations of Christianity, especially the ones that believe in Biblical inerrancy?

    Lock him up! How dare he ask a such a question!?!?

    And here’s the *worst* of them:

    How does a biblical literalist defend the differences? They may say that there were three angels, and different accounts notice different angels. Problem is, that isn’t a very literal interpretation as NO account mentions three angels.

    My position is very logical and plausible. If we are to consider this to be the literal history of an occurrance, then the eye-witness accounts presented are unreliable (as are many eye-witness accounts) and second-hand. Neither Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John make claims to having even been there. Moreover, the accounts were not written down until decades after they occurred. Odds are that they were written when the authors were either senile or already dead. John wasn’t written down until perhaps 70 years after it occurred…

    This man or woman deserves the worst punishment of all!

    Snark aside – if this is the evidence you’re presenting for one of your bullets then frankly you have no credibility. And I don’t think there’s any worth in following up on the others. It’s not up to me to make your case and your poetic license apparently prohibits you from making any case on your own behalf. This blog post nearly reaches the quality of a facebook rant. Being obtuse isn’t the same as being clever and insightful.

    @BillT
    This post *certainly* qualifies as a straw-man since even the author is struggling to find *anything* like the argument he claims exists. I’ll just leave it to you to Google and Bing search it to find other examples.

    Just kidding – I do write things to try to be understood by others even if it does affect my “prose.”

    Here’s another example:
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2009/06/atheism-is-not-a-belief/

    Everything Tom claims “atheism entails” is just wrong. It’s what he claims it entails. Those are claims made by other philosophical systems. I’ve seen many atheists disagree on most of those points.

    From what I can tell Tom has an image in his mind of what an atheist is, what they actually believe (as opposed to what they say they believe), and what their belief system really is (again, opposed to what they say they believe). Whenever I see somebody of one point of view telling me what somebody of another point of view *really believes* I’m skeptical. Usually they’re dead wrong.

    Here’s another example to backup my claim:
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2014/05/creation-design-and-evolution-if-a-theory-could-be-derived-straight-from-metaphysics-would-it-still-be-scientific/

    Smith’s arguments in that dialog are *nowhere* near any atheist’s claims I’ve ever read. And I said as much. But again apparently that “wasn’t the point.”

    Tom doesn’t understand atheists – that much is clear. And that’s fine – understanding a view that is so different from your own is very difficult. But one should recognize one’s limitations and NOT try to represent the opposing argument if one is not capable of doing so. Even in parody. It just comes across as a straw man whenever he tries to.

    In fact this is exactly what Tom is often complaining about atheists doing – representing Christianity as something other than what he believes.

    Take for another example his appearance on the Stand to Reason radio show (unfortunately I have no transcripts) where he and the host Greg talk about how “faith isn’t belief without evidence” and atheists are “twisting the definition of faith.” They then muse about how intellectually dishonest atheists are to not make this important distinction. And this is after they just discussed, without ANY sense of irony, how “atheism is a faith whether atheists claim it or not” and then attack it as a faith.

    If that’s not attacking a straw man then I don’t know what is.

  36. kaapstorm

    Hi Tom,

    I haven’t watched Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig debate for a while, and I admit those kinds of debates frustrate me. The format doesn’t allow participants to learn much. It’s just an exercise in rhetoric. Obviously WLC is a dualist who believes that consciousness can exist independently of a brain and before the beginning of time; LK is a naturalist who believes consciousness is a function of a physical brain, and that science is the best tool we have to find out the nature of time, and the cause of the universe. WLC isn’t going to convince LK, and LK isn’t going to convince anyone whose fame and fortune depend entirely on being a dualist, including WLC. So it seems to me that a debate between them would just be a lengthy form of bickering, in various degrees of politeness. I’m sorry, but not too surprised, that LK is the less polite of the two. WLC is a very polite guy, and LK is less patient.

    I pop past the Thinking Christian occasionally, and I pop past the Thinking Atheist too. It’s a (rather popular) podcast hosted by a former Christian radio host, Seth Andrews. He’s prominent in the “New Atheist” community.

    At the end of his last show he dealt with your exact topic! He was e-mailed by someone called Justin, who wanted to know if other atheists feel the same sense of superiority as he does when meeting Christians. Seth’s response is well considered, and compassionate. I hope his response can win your approval.

    You can find the podcast here. The relevant bit is near the end, at 1:22:14, starting with “I’ve got an e-mail from Justin”.

  37. Jenna Black

    kaapstorm, RE: #40

    Sorry to say, but I don’t see how anything you write in this comment addresses the point I raise in my remarks to the lead researcher Will Gervais from the UBC research study that found attitudes of distrust toward atheists that I posted the link to in my comment #34. The issue that Gervais, et al raise in their research is not the morality of atheists as individuals but general perceptions of atheists as a consequence of their self-identification as atheists or IOW, those who espouse atheism, a non-belief in God or a belief that God does not exist. To the best of my recollection, Gervais et al does not discuss or query the respondents to their survey regarding anything about the Bible, so why do you bring it into this discussion.

    Please allow me to put my understanding of the conclusions of this sociological research from the UBC rather simply and succinctly: People distrust atheists because when someone self-identifies as an atheist, we get a clear picture of what s/he DOESN’T believe in, but no clear notion of what s/he does believe in. If/since a person who self-identifies as an atheist doesn’t believe in God, then on what moral philosophy or moral paradigm does s/he base his/her moral reasoning? This is a legitimate question for anyone to ask since atheism does not suggest or propose any schema or paradigm for moral reasoning and no ethical system or moral code flows naturally and logically from a lack of belief in God.

    You may be right that it is, as you say, “…possible to have a moral philosophy that does not rest on the existence of God” but certainly, you must concede that atheism proposes or articulates no moral philosophy whatsoever.

  38. Jenna Black

    Andy M. RE: #41

    Above in the referenced comment, you say this:

    “Tom doesn’t understand atheists – that much is clear. And that’s fine – understanding a view that is so different from your own is very difficult. But one should recognize one’s limitations and NOT try to represent the opposing argument if one is not capable of doing so. Even in parody. It just comes across as a straw man whenever he tries to.”

    Is the problem in the dialogue between Christians and atheists on the internet in your view that Christians don’t “understand atheists” as individuals? Or is it your claim that Christians don’t understand atheism? I ask because this statement seems to conflate the two things: understanding of atheists as persons, which implies a sort of “psychologizing” about anonymous posters on the internet who one obviously does not know and cannot know personally, versus understanding atheism as a, to use your term, philosophical system.

    Let me point out that I think that trying to understand atheists as people and as individuals through these discussions is something that is quite dangerous and quite misleading. I think that when we post anonymously in an open public forum of any kind, we can take on a “persona” that may not be a true representation of who we are and how we conduct ourselves in real life, real time interactions with others. That said, I do think that it is fair and necessary to frame an understanding of atheism as a philosophical system for purposes of discussion and debate., with the understanding that individual atheists are free to speak up when this understanding does not represent their personal views or understanding of atheism as a philosophical system.

    You should also be aware that on many occasions, I have been told by atheists on the internet that atheism is NOT a philosophy or a worldview or a system, but is merely the lack of a belief in God/god/gods. What is there to understand about the atheist who says that this is all there is to his/her atheism? I can only conclude from statements such as this that I have something that my atheist interlocutor lacks: a belief in God. What becomes apparent very quickly is that the atheist holds lots of beliefs ABOUT God but lacks a belief IN God, and once I understand what s/he believes ABOUT God, I can affirm that if I believed ABOUT God what the atheist believes ABOUT God, I wouldn’t believe IN God either.

    So which is it? Are we Christians supposed to understand atheists or understand atheism more if we hope to improve our dialogue with each other?

  39. Tom Gilson

    kaapstorm, based on your comment, I seriously doubt you’ve ever seen the Krauss/Craig debates. It sounds like you don’t know they used a non-standard format. You also have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about with your “varying degrees of politeness.” This is not controversial: Krauss was incredibly rude. Craig was courteous.

    So much for your speculations.

  40. Tom Gilson

    Andy M, we have it on your authority that I don’t understand atheists, that my “Smith” represents no atheist, and that my statements about what atheism entails are disputed by many atheists.

    My “Smith” is a naturalist, a specific subset of atheists. Most of the time when I write about atheists I specify that I’m speaking of naturalistic atheists. (I missed it when I wrote what atheism entails. I acknowledge the oversight.)

    This time, I was speaking of the subset of atheists who are identified by the subscript I placed after the bullet points. I did not intend nor did I state it as representing everyone.

  41. Shane Fletcher

    Hi Tom,

    “BTW, I honestly believe the challenge I made to Kyle in #9 is impossible to achieve. I’d be happy for someone to prove me wrong.

    In order to meet the challenge, it would have to be on a level that doesn’t require argument, but only everyday knowledge. So for example, to say, “Christians are smarter than atheists. They know the universe couldn’t have just happened on its own,” is to say in effect, “Christians are smarter than atheists because they can follow the arguments from science and or the philosophical difficulties relating to infinite regress, and can reach the conclusion that the universe couldn’t have begun on its own.”

    Compare that to, “Atheists know that people don’t rise from the dead.”

    One is absolutely dead simple obvious, such that anyone who doubts it is dead simple hopelessly stupid.

    The other is arguably true, and I think persuasively so, but to doubt it is not equally dead simple hopelessly stupid.

    For an atheist to match the OP, he would have to match it on an equal level of parody. Maybe I’m wrong, and it can be done. The floor is open, and I’ll be interested to see whether anyone will try it and succeed.”

    “I do not think it is possible to find Christians who see atheists as being that deeply confused over such transparently obvious facts.”

    “Now, what does this say about the overall character of the two groups? To answer that question, I would suggest we take atheists’ most prominent thought-leaders, and consider whether they have encouraged, supported, looked the other way, or disputed this kind of inhuman treatment. Then I would suggest we look at those thought-leaders’ influence and the size of their followings.”

    Why do you think this is a difference in character as opposed to a difference in the things the two groups believe? If an atheist doesn’t espouse a belief in something that is contradictory to the natural workings of the world it would be impossible to make the same type of comments you have in the OP. And it would have nothing to do with Christians having better ethics.

    Cheers
    Shane

  42. kaapstorm

    Tom, you explained, “This is not controversial: Krauss was incredibly rude. Craig was courteous.”

    Are you perhaps asking for a group hug? 😉 Is that what this is about?

  43. Tom Gilson

    I’ve just added this to the beginning of the original post:

    Update July 20: I have come to the decision that before God and all readers here, I regret writing this piece. It was poor judgment at the end of an unusually stressful week. The error I made was in forgetting the breadth of the audience that would read it. I know that Christians who read New Atheist or other Internet atheist sources regularly will recognize what’s going on in this parody, because we’ve experienced the things this piece is lampooning. I should have recognized that we would be the only ones likely to recognize it. Atheists would say, “that’s a poor representation of atheism,” and they would be right. I tried to head that off through my disclaimer at the end of the piece, but it was inadequate for that purpose.

    Ordinary Seeker commented below that this was a polarizing piece. I think it was, for the reasons I’ve just stated. I won’t remove it, since I can’t erase history that way, but I will express my regrets and apologies.

  44. kaapstorm

    Tom, I’m sorry you had a tough week.

    (I’d make some joke about hugs at this point if we were face to face, but without seeing my expression, it would come out all wrong, you might think I was being serious, or, worse, sarcastic, so I won’t.)

    I hope this week turns out better.

  45. kaapstorm

    Hi Jenna,

    You asked, “So which is it? Are we Christians supposed to understand atheists or understand atheism more if we hope to improve our dialogue with each other?”

    I think it’s about understanding individuals more, because it seems to me that you understand atheism perfectly. I agree that “atheism” is a silly nomenclature. It tells you nothing about what it is; only about what it is not.

    I also felt very positive when you said, “once I understand what s/he believes ABOUT God, I can affirm that if I believed ABOUT God what the atheist believes ABOUT God, I wouldn’t believe IN God either.”

    If we give “God” a broad a definition, like, for example, “the cause of the universe”, then I think as the millenia have passed, we have refined our understanding of what that could be. I think many atheists believe that the universe could have had a cause. And if your understanding of God is no more specific than that, then, indeed, I think everyone would be “singing from the same hymn book,” so to speak. 🙂

    But if you think that the cause of the universe is conscious, well now we have a problem. I don’t think the evidence for that is remotely convincing, and I don’t think any atheists would believe that — in fact if they did, they’d be deists, not atheists.

    If you think the cause of the universe cares who you have sex with, again, that’s even more of a problem. Even if the cause of the universe were conscious, I think the evidence given for His playing a role in our everyday lives is anecdotal and the result of cognitive bias.

    But I feel like we are moving in the right direction. I don’t think that these details are as important as this website suggests. I think this website spends a lot of time on the battle between what Tom believes and what he doesn’t believe, and is not spending enough time on the war that is our imperative (as Christians and humanists) to be compassionate, with those who are not compassionate.

    Show me a passage in the Bible that contradicts Leviticus 19:18 (“Love your neighbour as yourself”), and I will show you a verse that cannot be interpreted literally. And who is your neighbour? If you have to ask the question regarding anyone, then the answer is, “they are”. How are we to love them? The way a mother loves her children; actively, fiercely, and relentlessly.

    In order to fulfil this imperative, we must know each other as individuals, not as faceless members of a collective, whose beliefs we want to categorize, and summarize.

    You wrote, “People distrust atheists because when someone self-identifies as an atheist, we get a clear picture of what s/he DOESN’T believe in, but no clear notion of what s/he does believe in.”

    I completely understand your problem. But I don’t think that’s a reason to distrust them. It’s just a reason to find out more about them.

    My “real life” name is Norman. And I prefer to identify myself with what I do believe. I am a naturalist; I believe that the universe had a natural cause, because the evidence for the supernatural that I have come across so far has not convinced me that it exists. But if I find convincing evidence, I would change my mind. I’ve changed my mind before, I’m OK with changing my mind again. And I am a humanist, like my reading of the Bible calls all Christians to be: I believe that compassion is our most important responsibility. I’m guessing that you believe that God gave you that responsibility. Humanists who don’t believe in a conscious, personal God have intentionally chosen that responsibility for themselves. I am that kind of humanist.

    Going forward, maybe ask atheists what it is that they, as individuals, do believe, and take things from there. And I will ask Christians what they believe, because, obviously, not all Christians agree with Ken Ham, or Sye Ten Bruggencate, or Bishop John Shelby Spong, or Karen Armstrong, but they all call themselves Christians.

  46. kaapstorm

    There is something else I want to mention, but I’ll put it in a separate comment.

    We should not allow the battle over what God is, to distract us from the war on compassion. I think a lot of the comments on this site miss the point. It seems to me that this site is all about helping Christians to justify what they already believe. And that’s OK. I disagree with the approach — I think that’s putting the cart before the horse — but it’s not my site, and I respect Tom for encouraging debate, and I appreciate the time and enormous effort he clearly puts into this site.

    But maybe more emphasis could be placed not on where Christians and atheists disagree, but rather on what Thinking Christians are commanded to think about. All the Abrahamic religions have a fundamentalist version, and I think, in each case, it is the result of the death throes of conservative religion, overwhelmed by the dearth of evidence that is increasingly difficult to ignore or excuse, and by the Internet that has allowed people to share their suspicions with each other. Christianity will probably not die; but it must change in order to survive. And I think, I very much hope, in the future it will focus more on that One Commandment; that it will leverage its community, and its rituals and ceremonies to help people with the hardship, and celebrate their joy, in everyday life.

    I didn’t read Tom’s “Gay Christianity” post. I just glanced at it, and how it was about the logic of some guy called Matthew Vine. I could be wrong, but it looked, at a glance, as if neither Tom, nor Matthew Vine, wondered what the mother of a gay son would want for her child. I think it’s perfectly obvious what mothers who love their sons want for them. There are many, many examples. Look no further than Tim Schaefer, son of Rev. Frank and Brigitte Schaefer. That is what compassion looks like. That is what your Bible commands you to implement.

    What side of this argument do you want history to remember you coming down on? Remember those Christians who supported slavery, and racial segregation? Do you want the future to categorize you among them? Come on Christians! What are you thinking?

  47. Tom Gilson

    Thank you for the comments, kaapstorm.

    Christianity does not have a dearth of evidence; rather, the evidence for it is mounting day by day. Compassion is not divorced from truth in the mind of God. As for what side of history I’m on, I suggest you read the history of the eugenic movement in America and Britain as a good warning against making today’s decisions based on “where history is heading.”

    There are significant differences between gay activism and slavery/segregation. Very significant. Therefore it’s an analogy with no force.

    (P.S. in case you’re wondering, my limited Internet time begins later today than I had anticipated.)

  48. kaapstorm

    Oh, Tom,

    Compassion is not divorced from truth in the mind of God.”

    Well I don’t know much about the mind of God, but I would say that compassion is truth, and anything in the Bible that is not compassionate is not literal. I didn’t come up with this exegesis myself. It dates back to Rabbi Hillel, Rabbi Akiva, and Augustine of Hippo.

    Knowing what is compassionate will tell you what is literal.

    Every Christian with a “What would Jesus do?” bumper sticker on their car should scratch it off, and replace it with one that reads “What would Tim Schaefer’s mom and dad do?” Risking your job, and your respect in the eyes of your community, for your love for your son: That is what is compassionate.

  49. Jenna Black

    kaapstorm,

    Thank you for your reasoned and reasonable response to my posts. First of all, keep in mind that the University of British Columbia research study (Gervais et al, 2011) gives a few statistics that indicate that most Christians do not know personally or interact with atheists and if they do, they do not have a “problem” with the atheists they know personally, although they may be subject to stereotypical attitudes about atheists. So the question of getting to know atheists more as individuals is, of course, one positive way of overcoming stereotypes. But what about those people whose only interaction with atheists is on the internet? Or through reading the works of the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or the late Christopher Hitchens? IMO, unfortunately, this sort of interaction with atheists reinforces rather than dispels stereotypes.

    I personally, having been active in the atheist/theist debate blogesphere for a couple of years now, see a disturbing trend. Fewer and fewer people of faith are willing to entering the discussions and sustaining participation on these websites because of the general nastiness and hostility we sense from atheists. Intellectually, I find that these interactions are of diminishing returns. I’ve heard all of the arguments before. There is nothing new or challenging for me there anymore.

    Which brings me to my final point in this post. I love Tom Gilson’s blog because it IS about apologetics, which is the disciplined and reasoned way that we Christians go about sharing our faith with each other and with those who willingly and respectfully want to learn about why we are Christians, what we believe as Christians and how we live out our Christianity in our lives, to the best of our ability. I don’t really think that atheists understand what Christian apologetics are and the role apologetics play in our faith. Apologetics is/are living out the Great Commission: Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. It is not, for us, about “defending” Christianity against its attackers. It’s about sharing and teaching and learning from others questions and challenges to strengthen and deepen our understanding of God and of Christianity to reinforce and affirm our faith.

    I highly recommend this book that will explain in more detail what I am attempting to explain here: Alister McGrath (2012) Mere Apologetics: How to help seekers & skeptics find faith.

    Have a great day!

    Jenna

  50. G. Rodrigues

    @kaapstorm:

    And I think, I very much hope, in the future it will focus more on that One Commandment; that it will leverage its community, and its rituals and ceremonies to help people with the hardship, and celebrate their joy, in everyday life.

    The First Commandment is to love God, Thy Lord, with all Thy Might and Strength and Soul; the second is to love Thy Neighbor. It is not, to borrow Auden’s description of Herod:

    And for me personally at this moment it would mean that God had given me the power to destroy Himself. I refuse to be taken in. He could not play such a horrible practical joke. Why should He dislike me so? I’ve worked like a slave. Ask anyone you like. I read all official dispatches without skipping. I’ve taken elocution lessons. I’ve hardly ever taken bribes. How dare He allow me to decide? Tve tried to be good. I brush my teeth every night. I haven’t had sex for a month. I object. I’m a liberal. I want everyone to be happy. I wish I had never been born.
    — W. H. Auden, Massacre of the Innocents

  51. Tom Gilson

    I doubt very much that in the long view of history, Tim Schaefer’s mom and dad will be known as greater moral geniuses than Jesus Christ, who came to live, to teach, and to demonstrate grace and truth fully realized at one time in one person, (John 1:14-18). If not for the Cross, for which he also came, grace and truth might be opposites. In Christ’s death and resurrection he showed us their unity.

    What would Tim Schaefer’s mom and dad do? Would they speak of the moral truth at the core of all reality? Would they describe for us how we ought to live, to be fully fitted to what we were made to be? Would they tell of the consequences for failing to be who we were made to be? Would they love as Jesus did, pronouncing the true condemnation for sin and then accepting it fully upon themselves?

    Or would they in their compassion lose track of what we were made to be, living out an admirable expression of grace except for its falsehood, its disconnection from the reality of what happens when we fall short of God’s intent for us, his creatures?

  52. Jenna Black

    kaapstorm, RE: #53 and #54

    In comment #53 you say this:

    “And if your understanding of God is no more specific than that, then, indeed, I think everyone would be “singing from the same hymn book,” so to speak. … But if you think that the cause of the universe is conscious, well now we have a problem.”

    Then in #54 you say this:

    “We should not allow the battle over what God is, to distract us from the war on compassion.” (I think you mean the war FOR compassion, no?)

    The use of terms like “problem” and “battle” and “war” bring to mind this question: Why is there are “battle” over people’s understanding of God in the first place? I propose that this “war” is not so much about people’s understanding of God as it is a power struggle over whose understanding of God should prevail as “official” and dominant in our society and in cultures around the world. Why should you have a “problem” with my understanding of God? When you really think about it, does my understanding of God, which is different from yours, really affect you in any way? Should I as a Christian have a “problem” with your understanding of/about God? Should you have a “problem”with a website where Christians come together with other Christians and some atheists, all of whom are willing and voluntary participants in the conversation, to learn from each other?

    Which leads me to this important question: Isn’t the very first step in building and fostering compassion a recognition and acknowledgement that we all have an understanding of God that is formed through different ways of acquiring knowledge, through interaction with others who believe or do not believe in God but mostly through experiences of/with God? IMO, compassion, as I understand it as a Christian, requires two things: humility and respect. The word’s Latin origin conveys the meaning of “feeling with” someone (com=with; passion=strong emotion, feeling).

    I propose that we Christian and atheist interlocutors could enhance our mutual understanding if we drop the “problem” and “war” language in reference to each other’s beliefs. What do you think, kaapstorm?

  53. BillT

    Andy,

    Since this OP has been gone over pretty well allow me to address your claim that the “Atheism is not a belief” thread represents a straw-man argument. Unfortunately, I believe that you have “missed the point” of this post as well. Key to understanding why is your assertion that “Everything Tom claims “atheism entails” is just wrong. It’s what he claims it entails.. Actually it isn’t.

    What Tom is claiming here is not that he believes atheists hold these beliefs but that these beliefs are the logical and rational manifestations of atheistic belief. Further to you missing the point is your unsupported assertion that “I’ve seen many atheists disagree on most of those points.” This demonstrates that you think the post is about a personal opinion and thus can be refuted by another personal opinion. It can’t.

    A couple of case-in-points. The first one will do to start. Atheism entails that the universe is impersonal and amoral.. Atheism is the belief that the universe exists without God. If that’s true, then there can be nothing personal about the universe and there can’t be a morality (thus amoral i.e., without morality) associated with it. The above statement follows logically and rationally from an atheistic understanding of the universe. This isn’t Tom’s opinion nor can it be refuted biased on someone’s disagreement with it. To refute it you must show logically how a universe without God can be personal and moral.

    How about “Atheism entails that the end of physical life is the end of existence.”. Again, this is the obvious and logical result of the belief that the universe exists without God. This isn’t Tom’s opinion it’s a fact unless you can show logically how physical life is not the end of existence. This isn’t what Tom “claims it entails” it’s what logic and reason dictate it entails. You could show us using logic and reason why it doesn’t but just claiming “many atheists disagree” won’t get it done.

    I could go on. I believe that all the statements in that post can be shown to be the reasonable expressions of an atheistic worldview. If you disagree by all means offer up a rational argument to the contrary. However, unless and until you do I think the idea that Tom has offered up any straw-men in that post is without merit.

  54. kaapstorm

    Hi G. Rodrigues,

    I like the Auden quote, but I’m not totally sure what you’re getting at here.

  55. kaapstorm

    Hi Tom,

    Wow. That’s so totally not what I was trying to say. All I meant was that Rev and Mrs Schaefer provide a contemporary example of love for their son, and they put a lot on the line for him. You say they did the wrong thing, and I say they should be emulated. I can see I’m not going to be able to persuade you. But I definitely did not mean to suggest that the Schaefers should replace Jesus in the minds of Christians. I can see how you might have thought that though, and I’m sorry my analogy was misleading.

  56. kaapstorm

    Hi Jenna,

    #57:

    Fewer and fewer people of faith are willing to entering the discussions and sustaining participation on these websites because of the general nastiness and hostility we sense from atheists. Intellectually, I find that these interactions are of diminishing returns. I’ve heard all of the arguments before. There is nothing new or challenging for me there anymore.

    I feel the same.

    I’m sorry that atheists are arrogant and hostile. It shoots dialogue in the foot. In many places I think they already feel like an oppressed minority, and their attitude results in Christians feeling victimized too; it’s a lose-lose situation.

    I’ve also been thinking that apologetics was more about defending what you already believe than about deepening your understanding of God. I will check out “Mere Apologetics”.

    #60:

    Yes, I agree, “war FOR compassion”, where anything that prevents or constrains compassion can’t be right. Yes. That.

    Why is there are “battle” over people’s understanding of God in the first place?

    I think it’s probably because of this. 🙂

    Why should you have a “problem” with my understanding of God?

    I don’t have a problem with your understanding of God. I meant that I think your understanding is problematic in itself, in other words, difficult to support, because I don’t think there is enough evidence for it. (Consciousness is a function of a brain, so if you don’t have a brain then you can’t be conscious. There are some very interesting reasons why humans can, and do separate the idea of consciousness from the idea of a brain. If you’re curious, maybe start by looking up “minimally counter-intuitive worlds”.) But Tom disagrees with me on this, and I’m sure you do too. (Again, I don’t want to digress too much here, but Tom considers alleged witness testimony as evidence, and I don’t. I think witness testimony can add credibility to a claim, but it can’t prove it. And alleged witness testimony is weaker than witness testimony. There are many Christians who agree with me on this one. I’m sure you’ll know of Bishop John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg or Karen Armstrong. I am a fan of Karen Armstrong, and my dad was telling me just yesterday how he is reading Spong at the moment, and how happy he feels that he’s found someone who makes so much sense to him.)

    When you really think about it, does my understanding of God, which is different from yours, really affect you in any way?

    No. I’m with you on this. Even if your understanding of God leads you to do harmful things, it would be your actions that are the problem (the personal kind of problem). We shouldn’t constrain our ideas, only our actions. And, of course, we should test our ideas, discuss them and refine them, just like we’re doing right now.

    Let’s consider those people whose ideas lead them to fly airplanes into buildings. If there were, and I’m not sure there is, but if there were, a way to show those people that their command to kill infidels is made up, invented, and when they die there are not 72 virgins waiting for them, in fact, there is no evidence that anything is waiting for them (despite witness testimonies … suspiciously from people whose brains were still working well enough to store detailed long-term memories), then maybe they would stop trying to fly airplanes into buildings. And doesn’t it feel desperately tragic that so many people are dying for imaginary reasons? And if you knew that those reasons are imaginary, wouldn’t it be a very good thing to try to find a way to show them? How many lives would you be saving? How much misery would you be preventing?

    But it’s their actions that should be stopped. They should still be free to hold their ideas, because discussing ideas is the best way I know of refining them or dispelling them. Simply commanding people not to think something doesn’t stop them from thinking it, nor does it improve their ability to think.

    Should you have a “problem” with a website where Christians come together with other Christians and some atheists, all of whom are willing and voluntary participants in the conversation, to learn from each other?

    Of course not. I’m here, aren’t I? 🙂

    Isn’t the very first step in building and fostering compassion a recognition and acknowledgement that we all have an understanding of God that is formed through different ways of acquiring knowledge, through interaction with others who believe or do not believe in God but mostly through experiences of/with God?

    I’m with you.

    I propose that we Christian and atheist interlocutors could enhance our mutual understanding if we drop the “problem” and “war” language in reference to each other’s beliefs. What do you think, kaapstorm?

    OK. I can see how words like that might not be the best choice. I’ll avoid that kind of thing going forward.

    Thank you, Jenna.

  57. kaapstorm

    Jenna,

    When you said, “… who believe or do not believe in God but mostly through experiences of/with God” it got me thinking.

    Oprah — who I don’t consider a theological expert 🙂 — opined in an interview with Diana Nyad that awe, the emotion, is God. (Her exact words were, “I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, that that is what God is!”) But maybe there is something there. If someone understands God to be a human experience, just an experience, without a reality beyond the natural realm, and if that experience leads you to care for other humans, and to feel the responsibility of stewardship towards nature, that would still be a good thing, right? Inaccurate, I’m sure you’d say, but still good, no?

    (I am way off-topic from the original post, and if anyone would rather pick this up off-forum, my address is kaapstorm ατ gmail δοτ com. I’ll reply-all if people respond.)

  58. Jenna Black

    kaapstorm,

    Again, thank you for this respectful dialogue.

    Allow me please to address the ideas you express about witness testimony. I am glad you use this term because the concept of Christian “witnessing” (a verb) is a huge and vital part of apologetics. Witnessing means giving our testimony about our individual and personal relationship with God and experiences of/with God. You seem to me to be saying that you do not believe or accept this testimony from any person of faith, although your reference appears to me to be to biblical testimony. Perhaps, and this is only speculation, you don’t believe or accept biblical testimony because you don’t believe the testimony of living people, family, friends and associates who you know about their personal relationship with God. In fact, it is understandable that people who do not believe in God don’t believe that a personal relationship with God is possible.

    This is probably the greatest gulf between atheists and Christians. IMO, much more serious than different perspectives we may have on the historicity and credibility of the Bible. We Christians believe the testimony about people’s relationship with God (individually and collectively) in the Bible because we have and have had personal experiences of/with God. Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits (1959, 2004) in his book “God, Man and History” calls these experiences “encounters” with God and says this, with which I totally agree. “If the encounter is experienced in reality, what need of proofs? If, however, the encounter is not part of possible human experience, what use all proof?”

    I have learned from my conversations with atheists that many of them do not believe in a spiritual dimension to reality and deny that something we call “God” can be experienced at all, or perhaps only as you quote Ophrah Winfrey as experiencing God as she understands God. However, there is a solid and credible body of research that indicates that such spiritual, mystical religious experiences are the norm, very common and almost universal among humans. I highly recommend the many books by neuroscientist Andrew Newberg (in order of date of publication) with solid research on this topic:

    Eugene d’Aquili and Andrew Newberg (1999). The mystical mind: Probing the biology of religious experience.

    Andrew Newberg, Eugene d’Aquili and Vince Rause. (2001). Why God won’t go away: Brain science and the biology of belief.

    Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman (2009). How God changes the brain: Breakthrough findings from a leading neuroscientist.

    Andrew Newberg (2014). The metaphysical mind: Probing the biology of philosophical thought.

    I also recommend the work of humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow, who says this in his book (1971) “Religions, values and peak-experiences.” Abraham Maslow says this about what he terms “peak experiences” in his book, Religions, values, and peak-experiences (1971) regarding what he terms “peak experiences” as a feature of the fully actualized human personality:

    “.. to the extent that all mystical or peak experiences are the same in their essence and have always been the same, all religions are the same in their essence and have always been the same. They should, therefore, come to agree in principle on teaching that which is common to all of them, i.e. whatever it is that peak-experiences teach in common (whatever is different about these illuminations can fairly be taken to be localisms both in time and space, and are, therefore, peripheral, expendable, not essential) …we may call [these] the “core-religious experience” or the “transcendent experience.” (p. 20)

    What I attempt to convey here is that experiences of/with God are not only possible, but are a healthy, positive and deeply meaningful part of living fully and being fully human. People’s testimony (witnessing) to these experiences, in whatever language and conceptual frame they use to communicate about them, should not be dismissed or rejected. These experiences are THE evidence on which faith in God is founded.

  59. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    I do not think it is possible to find Christians who see atheists as being that deeply confused over such transparently obvious facts.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=atheists+nothing+exploded

    Oh, and Romans 1:20. It’s literally a doctrine that atheists are deeply confused about a transparently obvious fact.

    I do not think it is possible to find Christians with a parallel and equally inhuman view of atheists and their knowledge.

    http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/klingenschmitt-satan-has-blinded-atheists-fact-theyre-possessed-demonic-spirits

    That would seem to be literally inhuman.

    Bill Squibs – see, that’s the difference between “tu quoque” and finding counterexamples. Tom’s explicitly contending that (some) atheists display traits that no Christians do. Providing examples of Christians displaying those traits doesn’t constitute “tu quoque” but a valid counterexample disproving a positive contention.

    “Not that it will convince you.”

  60. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #67

    How do you see saying that some people are “without excuse” dehumanizing? What I take as St. Paul’s meaning here is that there is no justification for atheism. Let me point out two realities: I also believe that there is no justification for atheism, as do most Christians. And secondly, isn’t this what atheists say to Christians, and all believers in monotheism: that there is no evidentiary basis or justification for our belief in God, the One and Only God? What we have here is a difference of opinion, not an attack on anyone’s character or calling anyone “inhuman.”

    As I see it, Jesus’ advice to his followers as to what to do regarding non-believers is clear: try to teach them what you know and believe about God but if they reject you, move on and leave them to their devices. Dust off your sandals and walk away.

  61. Ray Ingles

    Jenna – The “literally inhuman” phrase comes immediately after, and refers to, the idea that atheists are demonically possessed.

    The part about “a transparently obvious fact” refers to Tom’s bit about “transparently obvious facts”.

  62. kaapstorm

    Hi Jenna,

    Thank you for your comprehensive reply. You started with,

    Witnessing means giving our testimony about our individual and personal relationship with God and experiences of/with God.

    That wasn’t the witness testimony I was referring to, but I might get back to what you’re talking about in a later comment. First let me try to explain what I was alluding to.

    I came across the Thinking Christian a while ago, and I was totally drawn in; I discovered a community of smart people who were interested in the same things I was, and from whom I had a lot to learn. I first posted in Tom’s post on The Faith-Knowledge Connection, Part One and then in the follow-up post, What Does Faith Have to Do With Knowledge? (Faith-Knowledge Connection Part Two), among other things I posed four questions:

    1. (The Kalam Cosmological Argument) Did the universe have a beginning, and a cause?

    2. (Deism) Was the Cause conscious?

    3. (Theism) Does the conscious Cause take an interest in our personal lives?

    4. (Christianity) Is Jesus His divine, resurrected, Son?

    I wanted to know how Tom answered those questions, because if his answers were really convincing, he would manage to convince more people than just me, and we could all move on to … maybe … explaining this to Lawrence Krauss, so that his next book could be called “Correction: A Universe From God (Full Peer-Reviewed Paper Included In Appendix A)” … and Richard Dawkins next book, “My God Confusion: An Apology” … or maybe not 🙂

    I went away with a long reading list. I went through Victoria’s course on Ecclesiastes. (It was fascinating, but instead of agreeing with her that is was about the implications of atheism, I left feeling that it was more about how the author was working through clinical depression without understanding the condition he had. (I highly recommend the TED talk at the other side of my “clinical depression” link.)) I read True Reason — which I kept notes of until I was frustrated by my slow progress, so then I just highlighted passages on my Kindle, and in then end summarised my disagreement in just point, which I’ll get to in a moment. I dipped into Edward Feser, but got distracted before getting far. And I read Lawrence Krauss’s “A Universe From Nothing”. So I did pretty much all the homework I said I’d do.

    The answers I found to my four questions, as I understand those answers, are:

    1. Yes, because of the resurrection.

    2. Yes, because of the resurrection.

    3. Yes, because of the resurrection.

    4. Yes. And here is how we know the resurrection is true in a literal, physical sense: alleged witness testimony.

    It is summarised perfectly in 1 Corinthians 15. St. Paul lists the people to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection. He lists himself last.

    Did Paul have any physical evidence of the resurrection? Not really. First written in Mark 16:19, and then in Luke 24:51, Paul’s evidence was “received (Mark) / carried (Luke) up into heaven”. And interestingly, Paul uses the same word “ωφθη” for what is translated into English as “appeared” for everyone in his list; He appeared to Cephas, He appeared to the twelve apostles, He appeared to five hundred of the brothers and sisters, He appeared to James, He appeared to all the apostles, and finally He appeared to Paul.

    We know how He appeared to Paul. We know that Paul knew how He appeared to Paul: Not physically. The fact that Paul uses the same word for all the appearances might not be because he wanted to look important. It might be because he understood that all the appearances happened in the same sense: Not physically.

    Is my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15 correct? I don’t know. I bet there are a lot of people here who vehemently disagree, and have spent a lot more time and effort studying this than me.

    But the fact that some Christians agree with me, and who have also spent a lot more time and effort studying this than me, maybe even more than you, should give us all pause.

    Whether I am right or wrong is not the point. The point is that it is possible that I might be right. So if your entire understanding of reality relies on accepting alleged witness testimony as evidence, and there is any doubt whatsoever about the literal, physical, meaning of that testimony, then you have to conclude that you cannot be absolutely sure. You can pretend to be absolutely sure to me, to your church, and your friends, and your wife or husband, but deep down, just to yourself, you have to be wondering, “What if the resurrection is figurative? What then?”

    Does that mean it’s the end of Christianity?

    No.

    It means that you suddenly have the freedom and the power that classical Jewish exegetes understood centuries ago: That you can choose how to interpret scripture yourself.

    The Bible is the most powerful myth you have ever experienced — myth in the positive, truth-revealing sense of the word. What makes it so powerful? Its narrative of sacrifice, and love that transcends grief. Does it matter how much of it is literal? No. In fact, literal claims are points of weakness because when any of them are found lacking the Bible loses credibility, and haemorrhages more adherents. What matters is the stuff that people need: consolation, and celebration, and community. That is where Christianity has its strength.

    So, how should you choose to interpret scripture?

    With compassion. That is the only way you increase the power of scripture. Any other way will only dilute or undermine it.

  63. Jenna Black

    kaapstorm,

    I appreciate your taking the time and effort to pursue readings about Christianity, most especially about the Resurrection as a key element (miracle) in the Christian faith. I can describe my own journey in my knowledge about and faith in the Resurrection to address some of your questions and concerns, most particularly this statement of yours:

    “Whether I am right or wrong is not the point. The point is that it is possible that I might be right. So if your entire understanding of reality relies on accepting alleged witness testimony as evidence, and there is any doubt whatsoever about the literal, physical, meaning of that testimony, then you have to conclude that you cannot be absolutely sure.”

    I have believed in God and have had a relationship with God since I was a child, beginning at around age 8. For me, belief in God was a first rudimentary step in my Christianity, because without belief in God and God’s power to perform miracles and to reveal Himself through miracles is essential to understanding, accepting and having faith in the Resurrection. There have been many points in my deepening understanding of the Resurrection that have been what I describe as spiritual experiences as well as just a deepening knowledge from reading the Bible and in my own learning style, avid reading of Bible scholars’ analyses and research. There are several that I can recommend.

    One of the more important books in increasing my understanding of and faith in the Resurrection is this one:

    Simon Greenleaf (1874). The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics (1995).

    This book explains the basis for the credibility of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life events and the Resurrection from the viewpoint of the rules of evidence in British and American law. Since I am the daughter of two attorneys (Mom and Dad), I especially enjoyed this paradigm of analysis, which I think will address your question about “alleged witness testimony as evidence” for the Resurrection.

    Second, and not in chronological order of my reading, is the late John Stott (1971) “Basic Christianity” and in particular his Chapter 4, the Resurrection of Christ. I gained a profound insight from Dr. Stott’s explanation of why the witnesses who discovered the empty tomb, where there was no body but the graveclothes were undisturbed, themselves believed instantly that Jesus was resurrected. A parallel and detailed discussion of this is in Josh McDowell’s (1979) “Evidence that demands a verdict.” (I read the 1979 edition but there are more recent editions.) In particular see McDowell’s section titled “The circumstances at the scene of the tomb.”

    Another great book published more recently on this topic is J. Warner Wallace (2013) “Cold-case Christianity: A homicide detective investigates the claims of the gospels.” I find J. Warner Wallace’s book to be compelling because it is his account of how he became a Christian based on his laborious and thorough examination of the Gospels and other contemporary historical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection using his skills as a cold-case detective to verify the credibility of the testimony of the Gospels and NT. It is a book that IMO every Christian should read and every atheist who claims to critique the NT should read and be prepared to respond to, if s/he claims that the Resurrection never happened.

    As far as I know, you may have done all the reading you intend to do about Christianity, but I encourage you to read and, in addition, ask a Christian whose faith you respect and admire who is willing to “witness” to/with you, why he or she believes in the Resurrection.

  64. Melissa

    kaapstorm,

    Just a thought on your questions.

    I think your question at 2 “is the first cause conscious” would be better phrased as is the first cause personal, living or aware, mainly because you admit that you are associating consciousness with brain function.

    The main problem I see with your post though is that you admit that you didn’t look at the answers given to your questions fully and yet go on to make an argument based on your faulty understanding. Only question four is fully answered by the resurrection, and for 3 the depth of God’s interest is answered by the resurrection but the resurrection is not the sole answer.

    Which makes this statement “So if your entire understanding of reality relies on accepting alleged witness testimony as evidence”. Christian belief is generally based on multiple strands of evidence. Also, why would you think we need to pretend that we are 100% sure. Given what I have learnt and experienced and reflecting on the totality of scripture I think the best interpretation is that Jesus was raised form the dead, but I accept that there is a possibility that I may be wrong.

    I think you will also find that those churches that preach, and individuals that are committed to a bodily resurrection coupled with an holistic understanding of the human being will, in general, sustain a stronger missional, presence in their community over the long term.

  65. kaapstorm

    Hi Melissa,

    I think your question at 2 “is the first cause conscious” would be better phrased as is the first cause personal, living or aware, mainly because you admit that you are associating consciousness with brain function.

    Hmmm. What do you mean by “living” or “aware”? Life has a beginning but the cause of the universe doesn’t. And we know what causes awareness. These are analogies based on our concept of ourselves. In the context of a cause of the universe I don’t understand how they make any sense.

    The main problem I see with your post though is that you admit that you didn’t look at the answers given to your questions fully and yet go on to make an argument based on your faulty understanding.

    The answers I found were not the explicit answers I was looking for. If you can point me to explicit answers to my specific questions, that would be great.

    I would be surprised if you could though, because exact answers that conclusively address those questions would take the world by storm, and that hasn’t happened yet.

    So instead I had to go with what I thought are pretty nebulous answers: The Bible is true, and therefore … God is the Cause of the universe, and is conscious, and takes a personal interest in what we do, and Jesus is His divine, literally resurrected Son.

    And by “true”, Tom, and William Lane Craig, and everyone else whose work appears in “True Reason”, mean mostly literally true, except for the poetry and stuff, but exactly where the poetry begins and ends depends on which Christian you ask. Jesus’ genealogy: Is Luke 3:23-38 literal or poetry? God’s role for women: Does a penis make you the boss? Original sin: literal or poetry? Different Christians have different answers. And this stuff isn’t the “finer details”, where all Christians agree on the broader meaning. This is crucial, pivotal stuff about our identity and how we are to live our lives.

    I’m sure you feel that your understanding is the correct one, and you are certain of that, and all those Christians who disagree, and may or may not have studied this longer than you have, just, somehow, missed the point.

    But can you appreciate how this looks from my perspective? Inconclusive.

    I think you will also find that those churches that preach, and individuals that are committed to a bodily resurrection coupled with an holistic understanding of the human being will, in general, sustain a stronger missional, presence in their community over the long term.

    I find that some of the claims made by those churches are resulting in Christians leaving the faith, because they find their beliefs unsustainable in the twenty-first century. To quote Bishop John Shelby Spong, “Why Christianity Must Change Or Die” (1998), p. 14,

    When those entry and departure adventures of Jesus are accompanied, as they are in the literal biblical texts, by a series of other wonders, which include both a star set in the sky, presumably by God, to mark the birthplace of this Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12) and talking angels who inform us that Jesus will return in the same manner that the disciples had seen him depart (Acts 1:10, 11), it is impossible for me to find a believable faith. I suspect that this is also true for other citizens of this century.

    I, for one, will “Amen Brother!” to that.

    I guess time will prove which of our predictions is correct, but it will probably take a very long time.

  66. kaapstorm

    Hi Jenna,

    OK, about witnessing, and experiencing God. I grew up in the Anglican Church (Episcopalian in the U.S.). I still have experiences that, growing up, I identified as experiencing God; His presence, and my existence in Him, like Acts 17:28. Not only that sense of “awe and wonder and mystery”, but also that feeling of connectedness and belonging. In my late teens and early twenties I moved to a more evangelical church. Now, occasionally, I attend the same church where I grew up, but I don’t feel I belong there any more.

    Nowadays I identify what one might call my “spiritual” experiences as a deep, fundamental, sense of the universe, and of humanity, and my humbling place and role in them.

    Thank you for the reading list. “Cold-case Christianity” sounds really interesting, but I warn you, I’ll be reading it with a book by Bart Ehrman open next to it. 🙂

  67. Melissa

    kaapstorm,

    I would be surprised if you could though, because exact answers that conclusively address those questions would take the world by storm, and that hasn’t happened yet.

    What hasn’t happened is answers being provided that convince kaapstorm but that could be for any number of reasons.

    If you can point me to explicit answers to my specific questions, that would be great.

    Well for starters if you are after an answer to how Being Itself could be living or personal you could go here:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/is-god-of-classical-theism-dead.html?m=1

    I would remind you that just because you don’t understand how something can make sense does not mean that it does not make sense, especially considering that you admit you did not read very deeply into the material. That’s your prerogative of course but, in that case it seems strange that you would seek to put the blame for you lack of understanding onto the materials themselves.

    So instead I had to go with what I thought are pretty nebulous answers: The Bible is true, and therefore … God is the Cause of the universe, and is conscious, and takes a personal interest in what we do, and Jesus is His divine, literally resurrected Son.

    Please point me in the direction of the argument in the material that you have mentioned that begins with “the Bible is true” as a premise.

    I’m sure you feel that your understanding is the correct one, and you are certain of that, and all those Christians who disagree, and may or may not have studied this longer than you have, just, somehow, missed the point.

    I’m sure you don’t know what you’re talking about here.

    I find that some of the claims made by those churches are resulting in Christians leaving the faith, because they find their beliefs unsustainable in the twenty-first century. To quote Bishop John Shelby Spong

    Bishop Spong poses the question as if it is a choice between a wooden literalist reading of the bible or rejection of a physical resurrection. He’d be wrong about that. I’m sure that coupling your faith with strict inerrancy, or being unaware that the objective non-context dependent viewpoint is a myth, or misunderstanding science and what it leaves out of our explanations may lead people to think that Christian belief is unsustainable. My question is why jettison Christianity, rather than these errors?

  68. Tom Gilson

    Which Ehrman book, kaapstorm?

    I’m just thinking you might want to read something more on the lines of a direct point/counterpoint–a Christian-authored book that focuses on the same issues as those that Ehrman covers in the book you choose. Wallace’s book is outstanding but it takes a generalist’s approach.

  69. Jenna Black

    Tom,

    I agree with your point-counter-point recommendation for kaapstorm. For example, I recently read Michael Bird, Craig Evans, Simon Gathercole, Charles Hill and Chris Tilling (2014) “How God became Jesus: The real origins of belief in Jesus’ divine nature”, which is a rebuttal to Bart Ehrman’s book and was published at the same time as his book “How Jesus became God: The exaltation of a Jewish preacher from Galilee.” (Smart move on Zondervan’s part).

  70. kaapstorm

    Hi Melissa,

    I’m sure you feel that your understanding is the correct one, and you are certain of that, and all those Christians who disagree, and may or may not have studied this longer than you have, just, somehow, missed the point.

    I’m sure you don’t know what you’re talking about here.

    You’re absolutely right. I know very little about you. I know that you taught me a lot about biblical morality back in September last year. I know that you grew up in a non-religious house, and studied science at university, but I don’t know what science. I do know that every time I refer to your certainty, you seem to respond negatively. I respect a healthy degree of uncertainty. I think it’s honest, and allows for learning.

    In fact, that reminds me, I heard a brilliant podcast yesterday. Check out the interview with Will Storr about his book.

    I think you’ll like it. He criticises Richard Dawkins, and positively lambastes James Randi, and fans who overlook his shortcomings. He also has some very insightful things to say about dialogue.

    So tell me a bit more about you. What kind of church do you attend? Where do you stand on some of the difficulties I have with literal interpretations of the Bible. I get the feeling we agree on quite a bit. Tell me a bit more about where you think the divide falls between what is literal in the Bible and what is not. Adam and Eve? Original sin? Last year, when you were explaining Biblical morality to me, you said, “It is good for us to be the way we were created to be”. Maybe it’s too early for me to jump straight in with this question, but, as a woman, what do you think women were created to be?

    There’s more I want to reply to, and I’d rather reply after hearing more about you, but I’ll put my reply in a second comment below.

  71. kaapstorm

    Melissa, you wrote,

    Well for starters if you are after an answer to how Being Itself could be living or personal you could go here:

    http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/is-god-of-classical-theism-dead.html?m=1

    I would remind you that just because you don’t understand how something can make sense does not mean that it does not make sense

    I did, in fact, spend quite some time on Edward Feser’s website — often as a result of links you gave me last year. 🙂 You brought up classical theism, and as you know, Aquinas extended the ideas of philosophers who preceded him, Aristotle among them. Aristotle established that the Unmoved Mover must be indivisible because otherwise where did its parts come from; there would have to be a preceding Mover to explain those parts. That seems reasonable to me. Feser himself supports divine simplicity over here.

    Feser addresses the mystery of the Trinity over here, and over here. Part 1 begins with a diagram illustrating the mystery: The Father is not The Son is not The Holy Spirit, and The Father is God, The Son is God, The Holy Spirit is God. The mystery, obviously, is how this is internally consistent, and meets the requirements of divine simplicity.

    I agree that at first glance it certainly does seem self-contradictory, doesn’t it?

    Edward Feser’s point is that this is a mystery, and that by “mystery” he doesn’t mean, as you said, that it cannot make sense; rather that, in the case of the Cause of the universe, we are just too dumb to understand it. And not only kaapstorm! Edward Feser includes himself in “we”.

    It is possible that Edward Feser is right. But it seems more likely that he has bitten off more than he can chew, and he’s just swallowing it whole.

    In the link that you gave, Feser explains what Aquinas means when he wrote, “that being whose act of understanding is its very nature … must have life in the most perfect degree.” It still smells kinda anthropomorphic to me. “Like us, but perfect!”

    It might help if Feser explains what “life in the most perfect degree” means, because he can’t mean the Oxford Dictionary’s definition: “The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death”. But I’m not sure a definition from Feser would get us much closer to establishing God as the cause of the universe, and I’m hoping there is a better explanation.

    About literalism, you said, “Bishop Spong poses the question as if it is a choice between a wooden literalist reading of the bible or rejection of a physical resurrection.” Hmmm, there’s more to it than that. “My question is why jettison Christianity, rather than these errors?” Actually, Spong has spent a lot of effort at resolving those errors, and is working hard at rescuing Christianity from errors like those. You can find out more at his website, including links to his essays, and books.

  72. kaapstorm

    Hi Tom,

    I have two, unread and waiting for me on my bookshelf: “Jesus, Interrupted” and “Misquoting Jesus”. Have you read them?

  73. kaapstorm

    In case anyone missed it in the middle of my reply to Melissa …

    I heard a brilliant podcast yesterday. Check out the interview with Will Storr about his book.

    I think you’ll like it. He criticises Richard Dawkins, and positively lambastes James Randi, and fans who overlook his shortcomings. He also has some very insightful things to say about dialogue.

  74. kaapstorm

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for those links. I’m in the office at the moment, so I’ll have to read them later, but I took a quick glance, and something right at the beginning of the Touchstone Magazine article caught my eye: “A man claiming to be God …”

    What is your interpretation of John 14:28?

  75. Tom Gilson

    “The Father is greater than I” means he is first among equals. There is hierarchy in the Trinity, but not a hierarchy of ontology, where one Person is more God than the others, but a hierarchy by which the Son and the Spirit voluntarily submit to the Father.

    This is standard Christian teaching from long ago.

  76. Melissa

    kaapstorm,

    Sorry about the lack of reply, it’s been very busy round here.

    I’ll take a point from your second comment and attempt to answer some of your questions in your first comment because some of the underlying points are related.

    You write:

    Actually, Spong has spent a lot of effort at resolving those errors, and is working hard at rescuing Christianity from errors like those.

    The problem with this is that his resolution to the problem does not dig far enough into his assumptions about the biblical texts, genre etc. You do the same thing in the questions you ask me:

    So tell me a bit more about you. What kind of church do you attend? Where do you stand on some of the difficulties I have with literal interpretations of the Bible. I get the feeling we agree on quite a bit. Tell me a bit more about where you think the divide falls between what is literal in the Bible and what is not.

    I think both of you are still stuck in the mindset that a biblical text is either literal history (and by this you mean history told from some objective viewpoint or possibly the modern historical genre) or it is metaphorical. The point of the historiography in the Old Testament or the gospels is not to give an account of what happened but rather to give a theological account of the meaning of the events. That is why considerations of how many angels were actually at the tomb massively misses the point. Variations between the accounts in the gospels will generally have a theological point. The metaphors are interwoven with the history. Now that clearly does not mean that none of it happened, or that we can’t have any idea of what actually happened. I think NT Wright’s approach to the resurrection is entirely reasonable as he looks at all the evidence including the beginning of the church. Borg takes a different tack but I think his position is weakened by firstly his motivations for developing an alternative position, which he admits are that modern people just won’t buy into a physical resurrection. The second issue I can see is that it’s very difficult to see how if the resurrection was not physical how it could have the kind of impact that would be required. Metaphor is great but eventually the metaphor has to point to something real. That being said, I think Borg’s take on the atonement fleshes out what the cross means in a new and fresh way that brings out some of the dimensions that may have been lost in the preoccupation with penal substitutionary atonement.

    As to me personally, me PhD was in Chemistry and I am currently half way through a Master of Arts (Theology). Studying theology has allowed me to have exposure to a lot of different perspectives which has been very fruitful for my faith. I’ve also learnt to sit with new perspectives for a while even though my first visceral response may be to reject it. Even if after careful thought I don’t agree, I find there is often something worthwhile to take away. Over the years I have become less certain and have less need to be certain over the more peripheral issues but those at the centre (that God exists, the resurrection, our need for a Saviour, the new creation) have become more certain through my reading and reflection.

    I attend a Baptist church. We have women ministers and I have had women lecturers at uni, so in my opinion being a woman is firstly being a human being with all it’s associated morality, then being a particular human being who is a women with particular experiences, giftings and talents that clue us in to what we should do. I’m still finding what I should be 😉

  77. Donny

    I think that when we speak about atheism and the belief of whether God exists, we are missing one of the major elements of faith. Faith is not simply a belief of whether God exists but a trust God and in your relationship with Him. In today’s world, where miracles are not so obvious, we can understandhen God’s miracles were visible.

    I saw this great video this week that led me to this idea:

    http://alephbeta.org/course/lecture/devarim-what-does-it-mean-to-have-faith

    In today’s world, where miracles are not so obvious, we can understand why faith is difficult to achieve. But a lack of faith is not a new problem; throughout the Bible we see those that have difficulty with faith, even when God’s miracles were visible.

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