Tom Gilson

Notes for Faithful Word Assembly

Yesterday I had a great time of fellowship with some warmly loving fellow believers at Faithful Word Assembly in the New Orleans area. My message there was, “Jesus Christ: Too Good Not To Be True;” here are some notes to go with that talk.

From the introduction to the talk:

And then there is the talk itself, in the form it was published at Touchstone magazine.

For my brothers and sisters at Faithful Word Assembly, I want to say thank you for your love, your warm hospitality, your eagerness to follow Christ, and your generosity toward me as a guest. God bless you!

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160 thoughts on “Notes for Faithful Word Assembly

  1. Couldn’t the Trilemma argument also work for Mohammad? Which do you say he was – Liar, Lunatic or Prophet? I don’t think even the atheists claim Mohammad was a legend who never existed at all.

  2. No, John, the Trilemma actually has nothing whatever to do with Mohammed. Its terms don’t apply to his situation in the least. Neither does the article I’ve linked to here, for that matter.

  3. But why not? I’m just asking the question. It’s relevant because if you can’t answer for Mohammad, then you can’t answer for Jesus either.

    Why don’t you just go ahead and say Mohammad was one of the three choices? Or explain some fourth choice? I’m just asking.

  4. Ok John, lets start with an obvious one. Christ claimed to be God. Mohammad did not. Mohammad was just what he claimed to be, a prophet. Christ never claimed he was a prophet, he claimed he was God incarnate. See the difference?

  5. John-

    You ask the question as though the lives and doctrines of Christ and Mohammed are synonymous. It’s not that the Trilemma fails as an argument for Mohammed, and therefore, Christ, it’s that Mohammed fails as an equivalence to Christ so the Trilemma isn’t applicable.

  6. It works the same way, because if you claim to hear God talking to you, as Mohammad did, then you’re either lying/joking or else you’re serious. If you’re serious, then you’re either right or wrong. If you’re wrong and God isn’t really talking to you, then you’re hearing voices and you might be schizophrenic. But if you’re right, then the one true God is really talking to you!

    If you agree that Mohammad is a true prophet who heard God’s true word, then you should be Muslim and not Christian.

    If you insist on being Christian, then you must think God didn’t really speak to Mohammad. So do you think Mohammad was lying, or do you think he was schizophrenic?

    Or what? I expect there could be other possibilities, but you guys can’t simply dodge the question.

  7. John, I think maybe you need to re-read what the Trilemma says. It is not just inapplicable to Mohammed, though it is indeed that. The question itself is antithetical to Islam. It can’t apply to Islam in any form.

    I think you’ll see that when you review what the Trilemma says.

    1. There are people who think Jesus was not God, but that he was a good moral teacher regardless.
    2. Jesus claimed to be God.
    3. Either:
    a. Jesus was wrong and knew he was wrong, which makes him a liar, or
    b. Jesus was wrong but thought we was right, which makes him a lunatic, or
    c. Jesus was right: he was God.

    The point of the Trilemma, of course, is not to prove that Jesus was right (that he was God), but to prove that he could not have been a good moral teacher unless he was God.

    Mohammed never claimed to be God. The Trilemma doesn’t fail or fall short with respect to Mohammed, it’s simply irrelevant, and its irrelevance to Islam has nothing to do with its relevance to Christianity.

  8. Do I think Mohammed was lying or schizophrenic? It doesn’t matter, since he was simply wrong.

    There’s another extremely important difference here between Islam and Christianity. Mohammed’s position as Prophet is an honored one in Islam, obviously, but the revelation he is believed to have received could conceivably have been given to someone other than him, according to Islam. It is the message that counts. It’s even believed, in Islam, that this revelation, the Qu’ran, has an eternal past existence. It was delivered to Mohammed, and his role was honored messenger.

    Christianity, on the other hand, claims at its very core that Jesus himself is the center, the foundation, the purpose, the source, the goal. No one but Jesus could have delivered his message, because he delivered it in the person and authority (Matthew 7:28-29) of the living God incarnate. He himself was the sacrifice for our sins. It is not just his message but his actual Person, around which our faith revolves.

    This means that conceivably (though Islam obviously denies this) Allah could have used a liar or a lunatic to deliver his message, as long as that message itself were delivered accurate and intact. But if Christ were a liar or a lunatic, then everything falls.

    In short, there is no relevant parallelism between Christ and Mohammed, with respect to this Trilemma discussion.

  9. John,

    You’re changing topics a bit. Yes, I believe that Christianity and Islam are mutually exclusive. I believe that Islam and Buddhism are mutually exclusive. I believe that Buddhism and Confucianism are mutually exclusive, etc., etc. Certainly all their claims are essentially contradictory. And yes, you have to make a decision on which you believe if any.

    But we were talking about what Christ and Mohammad claimed about themselves. Mohammad said he was a prophet and he acted like a prophet. Christ said he was God and acted like he was God. That’s what is relevant to the Trilemma. It really doesn’t matter who wrote the Koran as it’s validity or lack thereof is contained within it’s pages not with the claims of it’s author. On the other hand the Bible wholly depends on Christ’s divinity. Without that, it’s a worthless piece of fiction.

    In the end, Islam stands or falls on it’s teaching. You really don’t have to believe Mohammad existed at all to accept Islam’s teaching. Christianity though stands or falls on Christ alone. Either Christ was God incarnate or Christianity and all it teachings are simply nonsense. Because of his claims you are forced to make a decision about who Christ really was. Mohammad was just a scribe. He really could have been anyone.

    P.S. I think Tom’s is better than mine but we hit some of the same points.

  10. OK, I’m glad I finally got an actual response from you guys instead of a simple “no” or calling me “obtuse.” Thanks for that. I think it’s a real question that even many Christians might wonder about.

    So if I understand you correctly, you think Mohammad was wrong, and it doesn’t really matter whether he was lying or a lunatic. You say Christ was the message whereas Mohammad was just the messenger. This is a good point that I didn’t think of.

    Tom’s point is especially interesting when he speculates that Allah might have used a lunatic to deliver his divine message. That’s something I’ll have to keep in mind. On the other hand, you think the Koran is a false message, don’t you? Mohammad is a liar or lunatic because he did not hear God’s true voice.

    Still, when you look at the Koran, you can’t fail to see its great beauty and its moral strength, so that makes it hard to believe that Mohammad was a liar or a lunatic. It’s a real puzzle to understand how Mohammad could have produced such a work by himself if he didn’t receive the words from God. That’s where I see a similarity with the Trilemma argument.

  11. My diagnosis is that Jesus suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I don’t know which of these L words you’d try to put that under. I assume lunatic. But narcissists are not lunatics in the normal completely crazy, barking at the moon sense of the word. Yes, they have a delusional sense of omnipotence, omniscience, grandiosity, and their own self-importance, but they are able to function well often very well in society. They can be extremely intelligent, insightful, charming. Their self-importance means they do not follow other’s rules but decide their own rules and tell others what they should do. They hype themselves up and believe their own hype. They have followers. They have philosophies. Think Steve Jobs or Kanye West, the rapper. He plots his own path. He’s not a lunatic but his last album had a track called “I am a God”. He’s not lying. He really believes it and so do his closest fans. Their belief in him feeds his ego and delusion.

  12. John,

    Given that the Koran is the inspiration for jihad and a wave of violence, intolerance and misogyny that has spread worldwide I think you overestimate what a “great” work the Koran really is. If you really understand the history of Islam you would see a religion that has been the cause of as many wars as all of the rest of the world’s religions combined. You would realize that the violence we see today that is associated with Islam is exactly what Islam has brought the world since is inception.

  13. Yes, they have a delusional sense of omnipotence, omniscience, grandiosity, and their own self-importance…

    Well that settles it. Certainly sounds like the Christ of the New Testament. I especially like the comparison with Kanye West. Do you think Jesus of Nazareth would have gone for Kim as well?

  14. Bryan, do people with this disorder willingly undergo torture and death for others? Do the ones who are reputed to have exceptional abilities live their whole public lives without ever using those abilities for their own benefit or advantage?

    Read the accounts of Christ again, and see how well your diagnosis really fits.

  15. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

    Jesus didn’t for one second believe he was actually going to give his life for others. He assumed that since in his mind (and what all his superfans had repeatedly told him) he was unbelievably special he would be selected for special treatment. A rude awakening.

    Narcissists perform good deeds all the time, but only to gain followers, prestige and praise. They have an overwhelming need to be praised and revered, to feed their sense of self worth. If you (or your kind of people) don’t praise them you are worthless “dogs”. Ring any bells?

    Kanye West is an example that shows a narcissist is not a “lunatic” in the normal sense of the word. Narcissists are not all into rap music and booty though (just to be clear for BillT’s sake).

  16. Well Bryan, you’re nothing if not original. Have you spent any real time examining what was actually going on in the New Tesament or you just making this stuff up as you go along. (And just by the way Bryan, have you considered that your above suggestion is so far afield that it may well call into question your mental well being? Just saying.)

  17. 1) Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not uncommon.
    2) Sufferers of NPD sincerely believe they are special.
    3) They sincerely believe they have abilities that no-one else has.
    4) Narcissists are often highly intelligent and persuasive.
    5) People are often impressed with a narcissist’s ideas and self-confidence.
    6) Narcissists attract followers.
    7) Narcissists put on a display for others.
    8) Narcissists live for praise and adulation.
    9) In the course of chasing praise and adulation, Narcissists often achieve great things and help others.
    10) All the actions, the followers (and haters, basically the attention) reinforce the narcissist’s belief in his specialness.
    11) Ultimately of course narcissists are deluded.
    12) People with delusions are not necessarily lunatics. E.g. atheists are deluded, or Muslims are deluded, or Christians are deluded, or all are. Whichever it is, large swathes of the population have delusional beliefs.

    I believe that if you reread the stories of Jesus with this lens, you will observe a much closer fit than you might currently imagine.

    My argument is that lunatic, liar, legend or lord are not the only options. I’m arguing for another option. Obviously you don’t like that option, but attacking me doesn’t refute it.

  18. Googling brings up this:

    I don’t agree with all the points he makes in that article. Neither are they relevant to my core argument that delusional is not necessarily equal to lunatic.

    By the way, Holopupenko, I would advise you not to read on this topic of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It might make you a little uncomfortable in your seat.

  19. Bryan isn’t necessarily making a controversial argument within the scope of the trilema, it’s more of a semantics issue. I would say, however, that if some delusional beliefs do not necessitate lunacy, that lack of a link would probably have to do with the nature and severity of the delusion. Some people might have pretty deluded beliefs about conspiracy theories and are probably not lunatics. If they believe they are the CENTER of a vast conspiracy theory, lunatic might be something worth looking into.

    Other than that, Bryan’s treatment of scripture is so bad it’s really not worth arguing about.

  20. Bryan, this is just wrong. Let’s look at the facts, not at prejudice or suppositions.

    First, you ignored my question: do sufferers of NPD “who are reputed to have exceptional abilities live their whole public lives without ever using those abilities for their own benefit or advantage?”

    Second, you say, “Jesus didn’t for one second believe he was actually going to give his life for others.” You could only conclude that by cherry-picking your data. Look at Mark 10:45, Matthew 16:21-23, Matthew 17:22-23, Matthew 20:17-19, Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 8:31-33, Mark 9:30-32, Mark 10: 32-34, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 9:21-22, Luke 9:44-45, Luke 18:31-34, Luke 22:7-23, John 10:11-18, John 12:20-36, John 16:16-24

    Third, your list of NPD descriptors is tendentiously and unprofessionally selected. The APA says an individual diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder needs to show at least 5 of the following criteria:

    1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
    2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
    3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
    4. Requires excessive admiration.
    5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.
    6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.
    7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
    8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
    9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

    According to the evidence, Jesus had no sense of entitlement, was not exploitative, showed considerable empathy, displayed no envy or belief that others envied him, and was not haughty. He showed no signs of preoccupation with anything. That is to say, there is no indication that he dwelt on himself or his future to the exclusion of other concerns. He associated with the lowly much more than with the high-status persons. Much more. That leaves just item 1, which is completely insufficient for the diagnosis on any account of Jesus. But if Jesus really did the miracles attributed to him, then item 1 is also excluded.

    Fourth, people with NPD do not spark large movements of self-sacrificial service that last for dozens of years, much global movements that last for centuries.

    Here’s the real issue. If you look selectively you can see narcissism (though not NPD) in Jesus. You can see him pointing to himself as the savior of the world, which is a terribly grandiose claim unless it’s true.

    There are also contrary signs, however. There is his total and complete other-orientedness in his use of his extraordinary powers. There is his self-sacrificial death (which I hope by now you’ll agree was his purpose, according to all the evidence). There is his love for children. There is the enduring ethical power of his teaching. There is the love that he inspires. These are not characteristic of NPD; quite the opposite.

    So you have some facets of Jesus that are consistent with narcissism, and some that are absolutely contrary to it. The fact is he fits no pattern at all. He fits no mold. He is unique, sui generis, one-of-a-kind.

    The actual evidence is unequivocal: your claim that Jesus had NPD is objectively false. I suggest you retract it, if you care to stick with objective evidence in forming your opinions. (Your other option is to reveal yourself as someone who would rather stick with his beliefs in spite of contrary facts. I doubt you want to be that kind of person.)

    Then you’ll have to figure out what to do with this unique, category-defying person Jesus Christ.

  21. Bryan,

    Reading the NT through you “lens” necessarily leaves out what Christ actually said and did and not just the extremely narrow focus you offer. In light of his teachings and actions he’s no more likely to have Narcissistic Personality Disorder as be a pink bunny rabbit. You have brought no real reasoning or evidence to your position. Simply a list if personality traits into which you are trying to shoehorn Christ . As I mentioned already, to do so would be to simply ignore the whole of his life, his words, actions and his effect on those around him and on all of history. And, in the context of the Trilemma, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is just a fancy name for lunatic and fails for those same reasons.

  22. I did not ignore your question. I explained that narcissists often help others as a way to achieve their goal. The underlying motivation is not to help others. It is to gain adulation. Jesus wanted adulation.

    I am aware of the APA’s criteria. All those criteria seemed to me to be present in bucketloads when I read the New Testament. I’m not going to find quotes and argue over it. It’s not of that much interest to me.

    My view is legend based on a real person with NPD, such as many other cult leaders.

  23. I wrote and I quote,

    “Your other option is to reveal yourself as someone who would rather stick with his beliefs in spite of contrary facts. I doubt you want to be that kind of person.”

    I’m sorry to find out I was wrong.

  24. By the way, I concede I was wrong about something else, too. You did not ignore my earlier question, as you have correctly noted just now. You just changed it before you answered. You say NPDs often help others as a way of achieving their goals. My question wasn’t about “often helping others.” It was about Jesus’ being consistently, 100% of the time, without exception, oriented toward others’ needs and benefits rather than his own.

    Do you see the difference? It’s huge.

  25. “Jesus wanted adulation,” you say. That’s one criterion out of nine.

    You’re missing the really crucial fact that he doesn’t fit any category, diagnostic or otherwise. He wanted “adulation,” true. (I would choose a different word, but that’s a small thing in light of this discussion.) As I said already, “If you look selectively you can see narcissism (though not NPD) in Jesus. You can see him pointing to himself as the savior of the world, which is a terribly grandiose claim unless it’s true.”

    These things are true of him, yet it is undeniably, objectively true that he shows no further indication of narcissism, but shows himself to be quite the opposite in just about every way.

    He doesn’t fit your diagnosis. He doesn’t fit in your box. He doesn’t fit in the “cult leader” box, either.

    For the sake of your intellectual integrity (if not your soul!), get your thinking out of those confined boxes! Let loose of your prejudices! Think!

  26. Please explain what benefit there would have been for the authors of the New Testament to present stories of Jesus that painted him in a bad light?

  27. Tom
    For the sake of your intellectual integrity, I encourage you to think too. You are not stupid, but that you believe it’s more likely that someone actually is the son of God than claims it and isn’t, is to me astonishing. The amount of evidence you’d require to come to that conclusion… well, I can hardly imagine. But no, a book, some sparse historical evidence, a smattering of philosophy and your feelings are enough evidence. And you dedicate your life to it. And accuse me of not having enough evidence to support a claim that is of little interest to my life whatsoever.

  28. “I’m not going to find quotes and argue over it. It’s not of that much interest to me.”

    Like I said, this is a waste of time.

  29. Bryan @28:

    What benefit was it to them to present themselves in a bad light?

    What genius (see the linked Touchstone article) enabled them to present him in such a blazingly glorious ethical light?


    You’ve raised a very, very, huge question with very widespread worldview implications. You cannot imagine any thinking person reaching the full-scale, broad conclusions I have reached about the entire structure of reality. So you call on me to think, supposing (I guess) that I am not doing so; but in fact I am and I have been thinking, studying, examining the evidence. You do not know (you cannot imagine) the kind of evidence that would lead me to the conclusion I have reached.

    That was pure tu quoque on your part.

    It was in answer to my definite, focused, objective, evidence-available, clearly stated description of an error you clearly made, and which you are unwilling to reject.

    There are multiple ways to respond to that kind of challenge. The wise and honorable way to respond is to acknowledge it. The unwise and dishonorable way is to try to shift the attention onto something else–which is exactly what a tu quoque accomplishes, if it is successful.

    I’m here to tell you that it might have been successful in your mind–it might have allowed you to shift your own attention off the challenge you were faced with–but it didn’t work for me.

    The challenge still stands.

    I’m willing to let your challenge to me stand, too, even though I don’t fall for the tu quoque ploy you attempted to play with it. This whole blog is my extended, large-scale response to that extended, large-scale kind of question.

    That means I’m responding to your challenge, and I’ve been responding to it for ten years now, in different forms.

    That also means that it’s your turn. You have a challenge before you–a much simpler one!–and I’m still calling on you to respond.

    Unless, of course, GM was right just now–which is up to you. He’s only right if you continue making it a waste of time.

  30. P.S. I didn’t accuse you of “not having enough evidence to support a claim.”

    That was pure misdirection on your part.

    Re-read the challenge, if you have the integrity to face it.

  31. No, your blog is justification. It’s rationalizations. It’s chock a block full of confirmation bias. You twist facts to make them fit. Yes, it involves thinking. It takes a lot of thinking sometimes to find an appropriate story that can allow you to continue believing in the face of new evidence while Ockham’s razor rusts on the floor.

    If you were free from bias, you would be able to look at the story of Christ and his “purpose” and see it for what it is: such a nonsensical story as to be laughable. You would have no problem reading the books of Scientology or Mormonism and doing that. Imagine that feeling. That’s what I feel when I read the Bible.

  32. Bryan,
    Then what are you doing here? If we’re all so desperate to pile-drive some fantasy into our skulls, clearly we’re not going to be so easily talked out of it by a few paragraphs on the internet. You’re not engaging in discussion, you’re yelling into a void. I’m absolutely willing to go the distance with someone in a discussion, but I know a rigged game when I see it.

    Here’s a simple test. NASCAR is something that is “of little interest to my life whatsoever.” WHATSOEVER. Take a wild guess as to how much time I’ve spent engaging anyone, online or off, about how NASCAR is an inferior sport to F1 or whatever statement one can even make about NASCAR.

  33. GM, you were right.

    Bryan, if you’re not going to face a simple challenge like the one I gave you, and if you’re going to deflect it the way you have repeatedly done here, then is there any room left for us (or yourself) to regard you as having any intellectual integrity?

    I’m not deflecting. I’m responding. You call it rationalization. I don’t think it is, but whether it is or not, it’s still responding, which is better than playing tu quoque and pretending it’s a high ground position.

  34. I don’t know. A Google search brought me here and then I got into conversation.

    I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I don’t think I could. Argument drives people further into their positions.

    I will leave if you prefer.

  35. You don’t need to leave, if you’re willing to engage your mind instead of playing games.

    You may not be trying to convince us of anything, but you’re sure trying to accuse us of not examining the evidence. Bryan, do you see how hypocritical that appears coming from you here, where you have held your ground on a relatively uncomplicated question where your position has been firmly controverted by publicly available evidence? You’ve made yourself a textbook example of someone who is wedded to his position, and who deflects contrary evidence rather than letting himself admit it might be worth thinking about.

    All you’ve done here since I brought up that evidence has been to deflect. And to accuse. And to try to convince.

    And now, to try to convince us you’re not trying to convince.

    Where is your integrity?

  36. Tom, sorry I don’t know what challenge you’re referring to. If it’s the one to think, well, I think I am!

  37. You don’t know which challenge?


    There’s been exactly one consistently presented challenge, or maybe one plus one, where “plus one” is just another version of the one.

    One: See comments #16, 18, 22, 23, 26, and 27, which show that your diagnosis of Jesus is objectively false, and where you have been tacitly given the opportunity to say, “Well, okay, I was wrong about that.”

    Plus One: See comments #25, 27, and 31 where you were challenged to exercise enough intellectual integrity to say it.

  38. You say it’s about integrity, I say it’s about commonsense.

    There is no historical evidence that you could show me that would lead me to believe even slightly in the claims that Jesus is the son of God. The claim is so outrageous that historical and eyewitness evidence is comparatively completely unreliable.

    If you have something that I could test for myself that would show it, then I’d be interested.

    But seriously, have you read the Bible? I have.

  39. Bryan,
    Argument doesn’t have to drive people further into their positions. That only happens when argument stops being about what’s true and starts being a contest. I’m absolutely willing to believe that you care about what’s true, but a huge step in demonstrating that is asking questions and allowing the possibility for honest, clear-headed answers. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with the answers or accept them as true, but all you’ve done is decided from the get-go that we are all full of crap, and everything that we say must fall under some logical fallacy or self-motivated delusion.

  40. And things like this:

    “But seriously, have you read the Bible? I have.”

    You’re not asking the right question. It’s as if you think we read the events in the Bible which sound crazy (BY THE BOOK’S OWN ADMISSION) and say “Oh, yeah, clearly that would be a thing that happens. You’d have to be a moron to not expect THAT to happen.”

    We get it. It’s NOT along the lines of commonsense. But what is? The universe is founded, no matter what your worldview is, on things that have nothing at all to do with commonsense. Any model of the start of the universe shows something that is completely apart from our day-to-day experience of reality. DNA as “just a thing that happens” has no parallel to what a person should expect as informed by commonsense. None of that means that God is real or not, but at the very least, Reality has some very, very weird things going on in it.

  41. But no, a book, some sparse historical evidence…

    Perhaps some perspective on the “book” and the “sparse historical evidence” might help Bryan. The Bible is the most reliable ancient text in human history. The earliest manuscripts date into the 1st century, within a decade of its writing, and the total number of manuscript copies totals near 25,000. That makes it multiple orders of magnitude better attested than any other ancient text in existence.

    The “sparse historical evidence” contained therein has been found to be reliable when compared with every other source available and confirmed by every relevant archeological find. We know more (and more reliably) about Christ than Julius Ceasar, Alexander the Great or any other person of that time none of which any historian worth his salt doubts the known facts of.

    There simply isn’t a more rational explanation for what we know about Christ than the one we believe. That’s a big reason why we believe it.

  42. GM,

    Have you read the Book of Mormon? If not, you should. Maybe it’ll help you imagine why I find it so hard to take the Bible seriously. I have read the Bible and about a third of the Book of Mormon.

    I was brought up atheist in the UK. Both sets of grandparents were atheist. None of my friends were remotely religious. The only time I’ve been in a church was at a university friend’s wedding (but he wasn’t a believer, the bride was) and I’ve climbed the top of St Paul’s cathedral in London and visited the Sacre Coeur in Paris.

    All of this is to suggest that perhaps it’s easier for me to read the Bible in an objective way than someone who has been immersed in a religion or a religious country and especially someone who has been told by people he trusts that it is true. I am not saying that that is necessarily the background of you or this blog’s readers. I am aware that sometimes people who have not had religious upbringings become Christian. However, I believe these are exceptions from the general rule.

    I actually enjoyed reading the Bible. I think it is an amazing piece of writing. But how can anyone think it’s true? I find it hard to understand, but then I think as humans we have a need to make sense of the world and our position in it. The Bible provides answers. Scientologists find answers in the science fiction of L Ron Hubbard. Mormons find answers in Joseph Smith’s translations of the golden plates.

    As an outsider of religion I’m not satisfied with any of those answers. They are all the same to me. Science fiction.

    That’s not to say that there’s nothing useful in them. Scientology in particular is full of useful tools. The Bible, not so much, in my opinion.

  43. I am aware that sometimes people who have not had religious upbringings become Christian. However, I believe these are exceptions from the general rule.

    This would seem another fact you have some misconceptions about. The reality is that traditionally, throughout history, conversion to Christianity has been is single biggest method of growth. For example, at the beginning of the 20th century there were about one million Christians in Africa. By the end of the 20th century there were some 400 million Christians in Africa accounting for nearly 50% of the population. That rate of conversion continues to this day. Large scale conversion is also happening in mainland China where estimates put the number of Christians somewhere near the population of the United States.

  44. Bryan @40: I’ve read the Bible several times. You’ve deflected the question/challenge every time.

    Do you even know what it means to answer a question without changing the subject?

  45. And Bryan, spare us this nonsense about your reading the Bible “more objectively.” It’s objectively false, based on your own statements here.

    Your conclusion that Jesus Christ had NPD is based on other cult leaders (not the Bible) and a thoroughly, objectively dismantled attempt at matching him to an inaccurate list of NPD symptoms, also not connected in any way to the Bible. Your assessment that he was acting for himself, not for others, is based not on the Bible but on your prejudicial diagnosis of NPD. Your most recent dismissal of the Bible is based on the the low credibility of texts that contradict the Bible.

    In other words, the objective evidence here does not support your position that you’re reading the Bible objectively. It just doesn’t. And yet you keep deflecting.

    You’re deflecting yourself from encountering viewpoints contrary to your own. It’s as objectively demonstrated here as it could ever be.

    And you’re probably thinking that we’re the ones who are doing it.

    Ask yourself, “Have I actually responded to what they’re telling me about the facts of NPD? Or have I changed the subject with tu quoques and etc. every time? If I’m consistently changing the subject as they say I am, why am I doing that? What is it that motivates me not to answer the question directly?”

    Those are questions for you to ask yourself. When you have a non-deflecting answer, then ask yourself whether you still think you’re reading the Bible objectively.

  46. I’m happy to withdraw my “diagnosis”. I did say that I’m not going to find the quotes to support what I said. I don’t want to argue each reference you made. I do apologize for saying something and then not being prepared to properly defend it. I didn’t think through how much effort it would be to argue. I can completely understand that would be annoying. My replies that you saw as avoiding the challenge were intended to explain why I’m not wanting to invest the time that would be needed to argue the case. Again, I can only apologize.

  47. What I meant by objectively is that I was not invested in it being true. The same way you would read books of scientology. The same way you cannot read the Bible, given a major part of your life and this blog is dedicated to it being true.

    That is why I have brought up the Book of Mormon and the writings of L Ron Hubbard, not because I think they are as worth reading. But because they might give you insight into how I feel when I read the Bible.

    I actually do think that scientology has some good ideas (what they call “tech”) mixed in with the low grade science fiction. The Bible I think has fundamentally unhelpful ideas (like sin), though some of the writing is amazing. And most of Jesus’ ideas are reasonable starting points, though far from realistic. The Old Testament is appalling in my opinion.

  48. Have you read the Book of Mormon? If not, you should. Maybe it’ll help you imagine why I find it so hard to take the Bible seriously.

    Huh?? I’m struggling to understand how reading the book of Mormon helps a person determine if the Bible should be taken seriously, or not.

  49. The “more objective” argument can easily descend into a pissing contest. I mean, you were raised by people who believe that God doesn’t exist, so you’re going to bring those preconceptions to reading the Bible. I would wonder if you read the Bible with a reputable commentary to walk you through the cultural complexities of set of ancient texts, because anyone who would seriously call themselves objective would know from the start that they would inevitably project their cultural predispositions onto the work without authoritative guidance.

    Humans DO feel a need to make sense of things, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that idea. Of course, it has occurred to me that maybe that’s what I’m doing with my religious involvement, just plugging answers into ontological blank spots, but I don’t see that behavior ending at the Church exit, and Christianity asks me to sit and work within a great deal of mystery. I’m suspect of anyone who says they have it all “figured out.”

    That’s because no one has anything completely figured out. Reality can’t be explained in any sense that’s completely intuitive. There’s a reason Einstein had real problems with Quantum Theory, and I don’t blame him! IT’S WEIRD! It’s not anything anyone would have guessed. So when I reject, say, Mormonism, it’s not due to the NATURE of the claims: in a world where frogs and elephants run around, the impossibility of monsters isn’t justified by virtue of their strangeness.

    Now, before I go any further, I have to ask: What “useful tools” does the Bible lack, in your opinion?

  50. SteveK, That’s not what I meant. I’m saying it might help you imagine what I think when I read the Bible. The disbelief which I assume you would feel if you read the Book of Mormon is similar. You’re not predisposed to read the Book of Mormon as truth.

  51. “You’re not predisposed to read the Book of Mormon as truth.”

    You have to see how this cuts both ways. You’re predisposed to believe there’s no such thing as any “God’s honest truth.” If you’re somehow able to rise above that pre-disposition, then so are we.

  52. GM, that’s a good question. I think on a personal level: how to find your focus and stay there, how to bring up kids – the details, how to learn quickly and effectively, how to cure diseases, how to deal with your and others’ emotions, how to empathize, how to speak and write clearly, how to build a printing press, how to use electricity, how to predict the weather, how to measure things, mathematics, design, how to answer moral questions that aren’t covered directly in the Bible etc.

    On larger scales: how to handle terrorism and countries intent on war / power, how to keep technology safe, how to run governments, health care, security, etc.

    Obviously there are passages in the Bible that offer hints, but not sufficiently clearly that we (even predominantly Christian America) could be doing what anyone could call a very good job of any of these things, certainly not without lots of our own scientific and creative thought.

  53. GM, yes definitely. I was predisposed to not believe the Bible. But the overall story didn’t make a lot of sense to me anyway. By the way I have the ESV “Study Bible” which has lots of cultural notes and guidance.

    Mostly I was thinking….
    Why is a loving God behaving like that?
    Why would God set it up like this? It’s crazy.

  54. ‘Why?’ and “How?” questions don’t need to be answered in order to reason toward the truths that the Bible intends on revealing.

  55. “You’re not predisposed to read the Book of Mormon as truth.”

    Actually, it’s not predisposition that matters much. As I described above the facts are what is most important and Christianity has the facts on it’s side. Mormonism, on the other hand, has a problem with it’s factual orientation. To a man, the people that in their official version of the events surrounding the beginning of Mormonism, verified Smith’s accounts when questioned “offline” all said that they had not done or seen the things that they said they had. Not that that is surprising for a religion that claims the Garden of Eden was in Joplin, Missouri.

  56. “Mostly I was thinking….
    Why is a loving God behaving like that?
    Why would God set it up like this? It’s crazy.”

    Well, see, THESE are fascinating questions! I would think it very confusing if you didn’t ask them.

    Now, do you at least consider it possible that people have found an understandable, traceable connection between that oddly behaving God, the (what you call) “hints” of say, how to empathize or care for the sick, and the people who started leper colonies? Maybe there’s something in the text, something in the experience of following Christ’s commandments in the context of the narrative of God acting in history towards a certain goal, that you missed? Maybe that thing goes beyond simple confirmation bias?

  57. Strongly worded, graphic, gratuitous insults are always deleted. There was no argument in what you wrote here, Bryan, only empty and inflammatory slander. Please see the discussion guidelines.

    Ironic, isn’t it, in view of the preceding comment?


  58. Sorry, I felt I was only expressing an opinion in a provocative way. Can you please send me the text of I what I wrote so I can tone it down and express it more gently? You have my email address?

  59. You didn’t mean it to be an insult?

    I’m going to post the text here, not so much for the purpose of communicating what you’ve expressed, but so we can all see what you didn’t intend to be insulting.

    New comment on your post “Notes for Faithful Word
    Author : Bryan Howlett


    I know that Christians have managed to find ways
    to reconcile the evidence of evolution with their
    continued belief in the “truth” of the Bible, so I
    have no doubt that there are many excellent
    “reasons” why the God represented in the Old
    Testament is as perfect as Jesus tell us. And why
    the story makes “perfect sense”.

    It’s sad the way religion warps minds, like the
    minds of thousands of Christians through history
    who have dismembered themselves because Jesus told
    them that would be a good idea. And the Qur’anic
    paradise of big-breasted virgins that await
    Islamic martyrs.

    Christianity is to morality what a phishing
    website is to a bank.

    This website is for thinking, not for expressing one’s opinion “in a provocative way.”

  60. Lest you object that I shouldn’t have posted it here in this context, be advised that anyone who has subscribed to comments already got it in their email.

  61. DOH!

    You had me there for a second Bryan. I was starting to think you actually wanted to have a discussion.

    Strawmen are never provocative.

  62. Sure they are, I mean, they can be. They can provoke lots of things–just not good thinking, discussion, or knowledge. Things like division, annoyance, or sometimes amusement…

  63. Fair point,

    Bryan, what exactly did you think would be my reply to something like that? “OH WOW that’s a really powerful and nuanced case against bad exegesis and the abuses of religion! I’m gonna go burn my Bible!”

  64. Thank you. Was there a particular bit you found insulting?

    I imagine the quotation marks in the first paragraph were annoying, but I mean… have you read a G Rodrigues or a Holopupenko post recently? There were no insults directed at individuals. What I said was also absolutely true: Christians have reconciled the evidence of evolution with the truth of the Bible.

    I can provide evidence of people who, inspired by Jesus’s teaching, have plucked out eyeballs, and/or cut off parts of their body if you want. I actually didn’t provide it because I thought that would be too graphic! Do you need evidence of the harm that certain warped interpretations of the Qur’an create?

    The last paragraph was a provocation. Provocation is actually a tool (cf De Bono) intended to make you think: to shake you out of your current mindset and think of things in a different way.

  65. Make me think WHAT!?

    Do you think I’m unfamiliar with the failures of Christians? What would make you assume that I am?

  66. Make you think that perhaps Christianity is sat on top of morality, rather than morality being sat on top of Christianity.

    Presumably you agree that Scientology, Mormonism and Islam are like phishing websites, i.e. enticing you in with pretences to be something they are not. To the extent their teachings differ from real morality, they warp the minds of the people they attract. They cause their adherents to act immorally.

    I go one step further and include Christianity in that list. The argument over homosexual marriage is just one example. In a previous comment I gave a more graphic example of dismemberment. I have also talked about the inadequacies of the “golden rule”.

    You don’t need Christianity to be moral. You only need to think clearly. Religions warp thinking. They cause people to harm other people.

  67. So you’re saying if Christianity is false then it’s moral claims are false.

    Yes. And?

    Could you direct me to the “inadequacies” of the golden rule?

  68. Also, please direct me to where I’ve come close to saying you need Christianity to “be moral.”

    Money causes people to harm people. Food as well. Land. You could throw sex in there too. You might do yourself a favor and realize that no normal person would defend ALL uses of religion in the same way that you wouldn’t defend all uses of knives.

  69. Re: Golden rule example: a mother giving her young son a bunch of flowers on his birthday and he returning the favor by giving her a football on her birthday. Or an extravert inviting his introverted friend to a disco party.

    “Do to others as you would have them to do unto you” is an OK starting point, but it’s hardly the end point. That’s why I claim that thinking is so important and is actually all you need. It’s not about following any religion’s instructions. You don’t need that. You can think for yourself and learn over a lifetime from careful thinking, testing and learning from the results.

  70. I over-inferred it from your #59:

    … how to empathize or care for the sick, and the people who started leper colonies…

  71. Food and knives generally don’t express opinions on morality.

    Religions are unhelpful because you can’t easily go against their teachings if your own thinking leads you away. You end up in a conflict between your own judgment and that of the author of your religious book. You can sometimes find a new way of interpreting the religious book to fit or you just ignore it.

    Remarriage after divorce is supposedly adultery, but, well, no-one really bats an eyelid these days do they? And do you pluck your eyeballs out if you catch yourself eyeing up another woman? Of course not, unless you’re insane or insanely religious.

  72. I don’t say this lightly, but 73 is actually without a doubt the worst analysis of a piece of moral philosophy that I’ve ever read in my entire life. I’ve never encountered ANYONE practicing it along those lines.

    Don’t you think it’s more likely that it means the extrovert would want someone to be attentive to his own types of sensitivities, and thus applies that to his plans to invite the introvert somewhere?

    If you butcher the golden rule to that extent, Im going to have a very hard time taking any of your scriptural analysis even remotely seriously.

  73. Bryan @68, you’re so good at rationalizing you’ve convinced yourself. Congratulations!

    You’ve even read de Bono. I’m sure lateral thinking was exactly your purpose. Have you also read what de Bono wrote about creativity being enhanced by fomenting a divisive and hostile environment? (I thought not. I’ve read him too.)

    Which part do I find insulting? The part where you generalize from Islam and certain tiny minority aspects of Christianity to the complete and utter disdain toward all Christianity, with “Christianity is to morality what a phishing website is to a bank.”

    Was that hard to figure out?


    For you, yes. You’ve convinced yourself. You’re good at this, you know!

    “Thinking is important,” you say. “You can think for yourself and learn over a lifetime from careful thinking, testing and learning from the results.” One way to know whether you’re thinking is by testing whether you can reason. Hasty generalization is a huge fallacy most of the time; certainly it is in this instance. So is misusing authority (de Bono). So is rationalization. This was a ridiculously transparent instance of that.

    Thinking is important. You might give it a try sometime. Feel free to let us know when you’re ready to begin, okay?

  74. Tom, did you read my #70? I explained the line of thinking. I had been hoping that my phishing comment would have been enough to make you think it, but you chose to take offence instead.

  75. My argument is that you can be moral without a book, by thinking. If there are differences between thoughts and the book, it poses a serious conflict for a religious adherent.

    I was not generalizing. I was giving examples of cases where morality in a religious book can lead to immoral acts. I’m not saying that all religious teaching is immoral. Is that what you think I’m saying?

    In #70 I was also saying that presumably you agree that Islam is phishing on morality? Or do you not think that? Is that somehow too offensive a metaphor to use?

  76. Bryan,
    The problem we’re having here is that you’re attacking things that no one here actually believes in. As in, we KNOW religion can be co-opted by criminality, we’re probably MORE upset about it than you are. We can prattle on and on about the abuses of any given religion and get absolutely nowhere because no one here is advocating an abusive mutated form of Christianity. If you have a problem with Islam, go talk to a Muslim. If you have a problem with Mormonism, go talk to a Mormon. Anything else is cowardice.

    If you have a problem with Christianity, argue against it’s orthodox form, which is NOT that hard to access information about. You read the Bible. Good. But, so far, as someone who’s been reading the Bible for decades, you haven’t shown anything resembling an even sophomoric understanding of what you read. You can take that as an excuse on my part, a bullet dodge, if you want. OR you can entertain the possibility that you just have no idea what you’re talking about.

  77. GM, no it’s nothing to do with co-opting religion. It’s to do with conflicts between your own moral thinking and your interpretation of your book. The suicide bombers are not thinking. They are interpreting their book in a very literal way and subordinating their own moral instinct to the book’s.

    In the previous post you commented on I was showing in an attempt at humor what a simplistic application of the golden rule might look like. Of course any thinking person will realize the rule is more like: do to others as they would like to be done to them. The point is thinking and the question of what if there’s a conflict between what I think is right and what the book tells me is right. What then? For me, it’s no problem. For you, it’s a dilemma. Do you compromise your thoughts? Find a way to align them with the book? Find a way to align the book with your thoughts? Or compromise the book? In different situations there’ll be different answers. But it’s a bit arbitrary, isn’t it? And so unnecessary. You don’t need the book! Think!

  78. Funny thing, Bryan @80. You wrote #61 and I read it, then you wrote your rationalization in #68, before you wrote #70.

    Your de Bono rationalization still comes off as unbelievable.

    I “chose to take offense” because your comment was offensive.

  79. Further:

    The point is thinking and the question of what if there’s a conflict between what I think is right and what the book tells me is right.

    Actually, the point is thinking, and the question of whether taking one sentence out of context in a book—as you’ve been doing with your take-down of moral thinking by the Golden Rule, in #83 and prior comments—is the kind of activity undertaken by people who know about thinking.

    The book is a book, not a collection of disconnected proverbs. You said you had read it, right?

  80. Tom, from what you and GM wrote, I think you got completely the wrong end of the stick about the point I was trying to make. I take full responsibility for that. It’s my job to communicate my message clearly. It’s hard to know how to do it when you’re not sitting opposite each other. It would help me if you stay calm and don’t automatically think the worst of me. I understand that you’ve probably faced more than your fair share of trolls, but I’m not sure that think taking offence is the best strategy even with trolls. 🙁

  81. Okay, then feel free to try again.

    Try to give us the benefit of some brains, too. We can think. You’re suggesting we can’t. You think we’re doing handsprings to interpret the Golden Rule according to sensible moral thinking so we can still treat the Golden Rule as Scripture. What you don’t realize is that we treat Scripture as Scripture, and we have thought through what that means. You think we need to do these handsprings, but that’s only necessary to reconcile good moral thinking with your faulty exegesis–not with thinking Christianity.


    Bryan, you discredit yourself so badly. You know NOTHING about me or my religious experience or practice. Literally nothing. All you’re really proving is that a moron can take the Bible and go haywire with it.

    OH MY GOD YOU’RE RIGHT. So what am I supposed to do about that?!

    Here’s a counter-example of discourse, how I would approach something like this. I know some Muslims who are absolutely lovely people and who consider themselves very faithful to their religion and theology. SO I read some parts of the Qur’an when I hear about some Muslims in some parts of the world doing awful things. What do I do? Here’s what I don’t do.


    That’s what you sound like Bryan. Do you think I’m going to gouge my eyes out?

    What I DO say to my Muslim friend is “Hey, you’re way more familiar with this book than I am, I’m really curious as to how your tradition develops exegetical methods and paradigms that helps you carry out your moral understanding of Islam, a lot of which I share and appreciate. Where do you and these other people differ, and what would you say to them?”

    I’m not committing myself to having to agree with all of the tenets of Islam. But if I assume everyone who thinks differently than me is some self-hypnotized ass clown who’s never had a moment of clarity in their life, I’m going to look like an idiot when I try to actually engage people in any kind of meaningful dialogue.

    Figure it out.

  83. Re: 85. It was contrived and supposedly humorous example to illustrate the point I’m making which is nothing to do with the specifics of the Bible’s take on morality, but on the problem of what if your thinking on a subject of morality differs from the book.

    What do you do?

  84. If my thinking on morality differs from the book, then I study, think (BELIEVE IT OR NOT!) and try to determine whether it’s my morality or my interpretation of the book that needs correcting.

  85. And believe it or not, Bryan, Christianity has a long heritage of the same. We think. We study. We dispute. We question. We try to understand.

    Did you know that? (Serious question there.)

  86. GM, You’re still missing my point. My question is:

    What if your thinking on a subject of morality differs from your book’s?

  87. I wonder whether you’d be interested to know how much reading I’ve done promoting ethical values contrary to my own, or to what I believe the Bible teaches.

  88. What if my thinking on a subject of morality differs from your book’s?

    I told you!

    If my thinking on morality differs from the book, then I study, think (BELIEVE IT OR NOT!) and try to determine whether it’s my morality or my interpretation of the book that needs correcting.

  89. Tom, so there’s no doubting the book? That’s not possible, so you have to reinterpret the book or change your reasoned morality to fit what the book says. Ouch either way.

  90. My conviction, Bryan, is that this book, the Bible, is the true revelation, the word of the living God, and that its ethical teaching is therefore better than mine, provided we understand its intent and application correctly.

  91. Bryan, as to your ethical reasoning: what is ethics? What is the good? What is their basis? How does one know the good when confronted with contrary opinions? How do you know that your good is better than Muslims’? What actually causes your goodness to be better than their perceived goodness?

    When you think about the good, in other words, what exactly is it that you think about, other than your culturally instilled personal preferences?

  92. The point is thinking and the question of what if there’s a conflict between what I think is right and what the book tells me is right. What then? For me, it’s no problem.

    Ok, Bryan, here’s a dilemma. The Bible tells me I should not kill. But I have a conflict because I want to kill children for my own personal pleasure. Can you tell me why I should or shouldn’t do it?

  93. Bryan,

    Please answer Tom’s question in #98 without referencing your own culturally instilled Normative construct.

  94. I don’t know if #100 was a response to my affirmation of the Bible as God’s word, or to BillT’s question in #99. (I’d hate to think he responded that way to my questions in #98!)

    If it was a rejection of my stand on the Bible, it was, well, not very cogently reasoned, or at least not articulated in very compelling form.

    If it was an emotional response to #99, well, I can understand that a little bit, since BillT’s question was emotionally charged. The thing is, when one tries to dig down under the emotion to actual moral thinking and reasoning–which Bryan says he supports, obviously–the answer to the question can be harder than it appears. It’s an obvious question on an emotional level but not so much on a thinking level, unless one has a grounded basis for moral reasoning. “Wow. Just wow,” is not that grounded basis.

  95. Bryan,

    In case you’re reading – all moral vectors begin and end in love. Whatever meta-narrative – or meta-ethic – you posit which fails such means as those, such ends as those, is simply wrong-headed and I would strongly encourage you to think harder – and more clearly – if you find yourself buying into any such (ultimately loveless) dis-logic. There is only one Genre on planet Earth wherein love’s ceaseless reciprocity amid unending Self-Sacrifice starts – and ends – every ontological statement. That is in those peculiar – unique – contours of Christianity.

  96. Actually, before I go, BillT, your question shocked me at its complete lack of thoughtfulness. You clearly haven’t thought about it at all. So, I’ll give you a hint.

    Think what are the consequences of killing those children? Not just the immediate ones but the wider ones and the longer term ones? What do you get from killing the kids? And what do you get from that? Think what alternatives might there be to gain similar benefits.

  97. Oh. My. Goodness.

    BillT asks a question, and the questionee concludes BillT “clearly hasn’t thought about it at all.”

    And apparently Socrates was more of a fool than he let on, too.

  98. Bryan,

    You referenced your own culturally instilled Normative construct. Like Romans and their blood sports. Ouch. If you were – instead – THINKING on love as your logical means/ends – then you’d find a much more robust dialogue here.

  99. If Socrates had used questions like that as his opening gambit, I’m not sure he’d have been quite so famous.

  100. Bryan,

    So now you’re favoring your own culturally instilled Normative construct (ouch) AND dismissing Socrates’ method of Q and A should it expose your shortsighted level of approach? (ouch)


    As in #105. Don’t settle for less. As Ultimate Actuality is Love, and as Scripture’s A and Z is “that”, then should anything in me or in my reading of Scripture come short of “that” (Love) – well then me and my reading will have to bend to “that” Actuality – to Love.

  101. Bryan, that’s a deflection.

    Your conclusion that BillT was clearly not thinking at all was prejudicial and lacking in evidence.

    Do you commonly draw evidence-free conclusions that way? Do you commonly defend yourself for doing so?

  102. Bryan,

    You’re the one who said he had answers to dilemmas like the one I posed but it you offered only more questions and no answers. You made it sound like you had solid thinking and reasoning for such quandaries. Do you?

  103. Bryan,
    I’m not missing your point, I’m just refusing to play along the lines of “Either think, or ‘get’ all my morals from a book.” As if allowing a person in history who I think is morally intelligent to teach me something about how I should behave is somehow a mindless process with no complexities or struggles or value. By the by, I’m aware of ethical intuitionism and it’s not quite as bulletproof as you’d like it to be.

    Your question should be “How do Christians find normative ethics in a seemingly disparate set of ancient texts?” If you’re ACTUALLY INTERESTED in the question, I can point you to a book called The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard B. Hays. I’m not going to do your homework for you at this point, because you’re packaging relatively straightforward questions with all of your simplistic prejudices against the religious individual, and it’s incredibly tedious.

  104. Bryan,

    GM makes a critical point: Ethical intuitionism on your end. Talk about verifiable dangerousness – and ontological open-endedness. Forever arbitrary.

    There is no anchor there.

    What if we disagree with the text? That’s easy.

    All moral means and ends must start – and end – inside of (immutable) love’s landscape.

    That is where and how and why Truth sums in Christ.

    God – Ultimate Actuality – is Love, and as Scripture’s A and Z is “that”, then should anything in me or in my reading of Scripture come short of “that” (of love’s landscape) – well then “me” and/or my “reading of” text will have to bend to fit into “that” Actuality – into Love’s Landscape. Into those means and those ends – a genre found summing only in Christ.

  105. Bryan,

    I just wanted to assure you though that I have thought through my question to you. I’ve thought it through very, very carefully and I think my reply is best summed up by the following:

    “And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable “value judgment” that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these “others”? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other?’

    Can you tell me Bryan, why? Why is the above wrong. Why shouldn’t I do as I please.

  106. Oh where oh where has Bryan gone? He was all about telling us that we needed to think but it seems like when he was challenged to do the same he just left. Soooo surprised.

  107. BillT it seems your thinking quickly ran out of steam when you hit the first puzzle. I did give some hints in #106 as to how to think on.

  108. Bryan,

    Answering a question with a question isn’t a reply it’s the coward’s way out. It’s not surprising you took it as we’ve all seen this here before but don’t try and pretend you’ve said anything meaningful. If you’ve got something to say we’re all ears. Otherwise….

  109. You expect me to do the thinking for you, and give you the answers?

    You claimed that you were blocked. I gave you a hint at a direction to move your thinking forward. If you don’t want to try that direction, that’s fine.

  110. In 115. He said that the quotation summed up his thoughts; it appeared to raise a number of questions that I assume he felt couldn’t be answered satisfactorily. I already provided a hint as to how he might answer them, and how his “insupportable ‘value judgment'” may not be as lacking in support as he might initially think.

  111. Wrong.

    He asked you to explain why certain things were wrong, based on your view of reality. That quotation was an extended list of questions for you. Did you miss repetition of that same question at the end?

    You have to understand, he knows how to answer those questions very easily based on his view of reality. He thinks (as do I) that those questions are much more difficult, maybe even impossible, to answer coherently based on your view of reality.

    So no, he’s not stuck or blocked. The only block to progress here is that you haven’t been answering his questions. Maybe you’ll do that now, though.

  112. As for #106, you’re just pushing back the question one step. (This is a serious meta-ethical issue, by the way, and not just games with words.) You write,

    Think what are the consequences of killing those children? Not just the immediate ones but the wider ones and the longer term ones? What do you get from killing the kids? And what do you get from that? Think what alternatives might there be to gain similar benefits.

    Are you a utilitarian? A consequentialist? Hint (since you like hints): define “benefit.” Define, specifically, what it is in your system that makes one benefit morally superior to another. Whose view of “benefit” determines what is right? Why and how? What happens when large groups of people disagree, as in for example, Muslim societies’ versus Western liberal societies’ views regarding women? Who is more right? Who says so?

    These are your questions to answer, not BillT’s.

  113. BillT

    I can only go by what you write. I may have misinterpreted you.

    As far as I can tell from what you’ve written and the questions and assertions you’ve made, you have not given much or any thought that there might be good reasons to look after other people and uphold their rights even in a Godless world. Have you?

  114. Bryan,

    In my #115 I asked you these direct questions.

    Can you tell me Bryan, why? Why is the above wrong. Why shouldn’t I do as I please.

    There is no way that could be interpreted in any way but as a question to you and a challenge to your thinking, not mine. Your above reply is either prevarication or worse.

  115. And again Bryan (though this has been pointed out to you a couple of times I believe) your assertion that “…you have not given much or any thought…” is absurd to the point of comical. No one could be that dense and since it’s quite obvious you aren’t, that leaves only your inability to actually reply.

  116. Or it could mean that he thinks you think your questions are hard to answer. Of course they’re only hard to answer if you reject theism. In other words, you’re not having any problem thinking them through. You’re only having trouble getting him to show us how he thinks them through.

  117. Exactly. It’s a pretty simply and obvious thought experiment. You would have to be totally without any understanding of even the most general theistic response to think I don’t know the answer. Now, in Bryan’s case, given what he’s said so far, I guess that’s entirely possible.

    And that’s ignoring the fact the “my quotation” above actually does address the questions he raised, some generally and some more specifically.

  118. A worldview that doesn’t include factual obligations is a worldview where the answer to BillT’s question is an answer rooted in the only factual reality that remains — subjective preferences of individuals and/or groups and the power to act on those preferences.

  119. Are there reasons we might want to look after other people even if God didn’t tell us to?

  120. Are there reasons we might want to look after other people even if God didn’t tell us to?

    There might be and there might not be. Can you tell me why there should be?

  121. I believe that a moral system that does not require God is inherently simpler than a moral system that requires God. Because the second system has an extra component and a rather complex one at that.

    My questions are intended to make you think and ultimately perhaps realize that there is no need for God in a system of morality. If you don’t want to play along with this line of questioning then that is fine. If you just want the answers then I can understand that, but I’m not interested in doing all the thinking for you.

  122. And “inherently simpler” is beneficial in what way, exactly.

    And again Bryan, we don’t need the answers. We already have them. It’s you that needs to show he has the answers.

  123. Bryan, you were asked several direct questions. You falsely concluded that the questioners had not thought about these matters. The correct context in which to view those questions has been explained to you repeatedly. The question has been put to you: how is morality explained on your system? You have answered with nothing but vague prescriptions that if we were to look at it your way we could figure it out. You have given us no substantive evidence that you yourself have looked at it your way.

    We have all done considerable work on these issues. See .

    Have you? How would we know?

  124. The reason I concluded that you have not thought about it much is that the questions you asked are very easily answered in a Godless system of morality. The fact that you have written extensively does not mean you have thought deeply. The questions are evidence of that. I believe you are blinkered to only give real consideration to a theist system of morality and any thinking you have taken in the direction of a non-theist morality is scuppered by the slightest obstacle, as evidenced by BillT’s quotation.

  125. Still no answers. And here’s the thing Bryan. The really deep thinking atheists who have looked at this like Sartre and Camus and Nietzsche along with a number of modern atheistic thinkers (like Dawkins) agree with us. No God, no morality. You got something to top Nietzsche? Please enlighten us.

    And BTW, if I was so “easily scuppered” why can’t you easily explain why I shouldn’t have been. (This outside of you continuing to intentionally misunderstand my post even after it’s been explained to you.)

  126. C’mon Bryan,
    How does morality work in your Godless system?
    I’ve been patient for 140 posts; throw me a bone………

  127. Robert, Heh heh. Well, maybe you can play along with my questions.

    Are there reasons we might want to look after other people even if God didn’t tell us to?

  128. The ball’s in your court. It’s not a game.
    Everyone has been patient and courteous with you.
    I (and I assume all the others) have heard many atheists’ reasoning for morality outside of a Theistic System. What’s yours?

  129. Are there reasons we might want to look after other people even if God didn’t tell us to?


    Are they good reasons? You seem to think so. What are they, and why are they good?

    Your turn.

    (Bryan, you’re playing a transparent game of evade-and-deflect. You seem to be the only one to whom this is not obvious. The fact that you don’t see it doesn’t change the reality. And the more you keep ducking questions the more boring your answers become. See item 9 here.)

  130. Well I guess you are a poser, as was suggested. I had higher hopes for you. I won’t waste your time any longer……….

  131. You know the truth here RobertNotBob. Bryan knows things so amazing, so secret, so unbelievable, that if he told us he’d have to kill us. He can’t let the cat out of the bag. Why then everyone would know with absolute certainty how morality without a God works and then what? He’d be regaled as the most brilliant thinker of the last 200 years. And you can tell that’s something a person of his modesty and humility just could not abide.

  132. Evade and deflect! Have you actually read any of the responses to my questions?

    Great. So, why might we want to look after other people in a Godless universe?

  133. I believe that a moral system that does not require God is inherently simpler than a moral system that requires God.

    How is it more simple, and why is simplicity the desired outcome rather than truth?

    If simplicity is your goal, it seems to me that you could go one step further and say that life without any moral system is more simple than one with.

    If truth is the desired outcome then simplicity has little or nothing to do with the question.

  134. Also: I’ll give you this further hint into the matter. Having studied and written about answers to this question offered by Plato, Immanuel Kant, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, John Stuart Mill, Mary Midgley, Sam Harris, Richard Joyce, Luke Muehlhauser, Alonzo Fyfe, Thomas Nagel, and undoubtedly a few others whose names do not readily come to mind, along with all the commenters whose thoughts I’ve responded to on this blog, thinking deeply while writing extensively—which actually does prove that I’ve thought about it deeply, if you would take the time to read!—I am ready to state that philosophical naturalism inevitably devolves into what-is, with absolutely no grounding for what-should-be; that all moral theory (what-should-be) offered by philosophical naturalists, even though they may have the surface appearance of explaining why something should be and something else should not, upon further analysis has turned out to be simply a fog covering over mere what-is statements; that although there are apparent exceptions based on personally- or culturally-mediated preferences or desired outcomes, no philosophically coherent and robust moral (what-should-be) basis for these preferences or desires can be found, except for that which also devolves into what-is; and that, on philosophical naturalism, what-is always turns out to be what-is-without-recourse-and-without-personally-selected-reasons, for even if, as is open to some doubt, there is room for free will in philosophical naturalism, the place such free will occupies in the ontology of humanity in our world is insufficiently early, central, and morally authoritative to provide any basis for any moral judgments; so that in the end, the answer to your questions about whether there is any good moral reason for any moral choices, given philosophical naturalism, is no.

    If you disagree, the first thing you should do is not to suggest that I (or others) have not thought about the matter. That will not only earn you quizzical stares of astonished incredulity, it may also earn you the uncoveted prize of having item 9 in the discussion guidelines enforced upon you.

  135. It’s about this time in these kind of “discussions” that I’m reminded of Holo’s opinion on the effects of atheism on rationality.

  136. @148: Yes. I’ve read. You evade answering questions about your point of view by asking us to answer them for you, from your point of view; and when we ask you to pull your weight, you deflect by accusing us of not having thought about it from your point of view.

    The reason we’re not answering from your point of view, Bryan, is because we’re challenging your point of view. The way to respond to a challenge is not by asking your challenger to stand in the way of his own challenge. It is by responding yourself.

  137. Great. So, why might we want to look after other people in a Godless universe?

    Every godless answer to that kind of question devolves, on close analysis, into a what-is, so the answer is this: if we look after other people, that’s what is, and if we don’t, then that’s what is instead. So the answer to your question is, we might want to look after them or we might not, but on your system, the word “should” enters in only illegitimately, on the back of what is, pretending it has something additional of value to offer when in fact it is only a pretender.

  138. I am ready to state that philosophical naturalism inevitably devolves into what-is, with absolutely no grounding for what-should-be;

    This truth also ruins any chance for a naturalist to hold the position that the mind and will of a human being *should be* directed toward anything. It not only undercuts morality as we know it, it undercuts a high view of rationality and any other thing that we place value on because every *should be* is rooted in the *what is* of subjective human preferences.

  139. I posted a comment here that I have now deleted because I decided it’s an unhelpful fork in the road, changing the subject before the first topic of discussion reached an appropriate resolution.

  140. A diatribe against what-is! Blindfolded to reality, you are interested in what you feel should be – what you would like to be – rather than what is. You are not interested in what-is if it doesn’t fit your preconceived notions of what “should be”. It’s the opposite of thinking. The opposite of seeking the truth.

  141. Bryan, one evidence of not thinking is found in making up what other people say and attributing error to them for it. You have managed a tour de force of accomplishing that four times in your first three sentences, viz.,

    1. This was no diatribe against what-is.
    2. I was not speaking of what I (or some general “you”) feel should be, or what anyone would like to be. You, not I, introduced those terms, “feel” and “would like.” (There is actually a very strong distinction in ethical theory between persons’ feelings or desires and their ethical duties, responsibilities, or values. I avoided feeling/liking terms for precisely that reason.)
    3. I did not speak of what should be, or what I think should be, or any such thing. I left ethical conclusions (the things that I think should be) out of the discussion, and left it on the meta-ethical level of whether there could be any such thing as “should-be,” under philosophical naturalism.
    4. I did not say I was uninterested in what-is. Of course I think that what-is cannot naturalistically explain what-should-be. But there’s nothing in that to indicate I am uninterested in what-is. Nothing.

    If however it remains your conclusion that there is not-thinking going on here, I point out that you drew that conclusion regarding BillT based on no-evidence; for there are many reasons a person might ask a question, and not-thinking is but one of them, and you did nothing to determine whether he asked his question for reasons of not-thinking or for some other reason.

    Let me elaborate, since I don’t have confidence you will get it without further explanation. Suppose person S asks question Q, where Q is a question that person R thinks is very easy. Now, given just that information, S’s motive for asking Q could be any of the following: A (not thinking), B (wondering what R’s view is on it), C (desiring to further a conversation), D (wanting to motivate R to think his position through from a new angle), or E, F, G, H, I, … .

    Now suppose R concludes, with no further information given, that S asked Q because of A. What R has done in that case has been to select A and reject B through I, … based on no evidence.

    Now suppose another person, T, comes along and asks Q along with S; and suppose T provides significant documentary evidence of having given Q some thought. In this case if R concludes A, that T is a non-thinker, then R is rejecting B through I, … with no evidence, and R is also selecting A in contradiction to the available evidence.

    In other words, R (which is you, Bryan) is drawing conclusions first without any evidence, and then later, against the evidence.

    Is this a normal pattern for you, Bryan?

    Do you recognize how opposed it is to seeking the truth?

    But (I’m speaking tentatively here, since I don’t have direct evidence or knowledge for it) R might think there actually is evidence after all, for S and T are known to be theists, which R might count as evidence that S and T do not think.

    In that case, R (Bryan) would be drawing conclusions about individuals based on R’s impression of the class to which he has assigned S and T.* We have a term for this: it is stereotyping.

    Bryan, I’m only surmising that it’s a possibility that you were considering that evidence for your position. You certainly don’t have any other! But I could be wrong about that, so I’ll leave this in a tentative form. Were you stereotyping, and if so, is that a normal pattern for you? (And if it fits, do you recognize how opposed it is to seeking the truth?)

    *I say “assigned,” because R makes a choice to give attention to S and T’s theism rather than other characteristics, for example their grammatical skills, their use of logic (including their knowledge of various logical fallacies), their vocabulary, their apparent nationality, their relative politeness/impoliteness, their gender, or any of a number of other classes that R could have attended to.

  142. With that, I’m going to allow one last chance for Bryan or others to say something, and then I’m going to put this thread to rest, as is fitting for “debates” where one person makes up what the other person supposedly says, and refuses time and time again to engage with what the other actually has said.

    I’ll give it another hour or two and then close the comments.

Comments are closed.


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